The Basics of How to Place a Bet and Sound Like You’ve Done This a Million Times
Whether you’re entirely new to sports betting or you just need a quick refresher so you don’t sound stupid at the ticket window, we’ve got your back. Following is a quick primer on how you bet on NFL games.
What You Can Bet On
To be clear, you can bet on just about anything. If you’d like to wager money, a sportsbook will give you plenty of ways to do so. There are some bets, though, that are the most common when you’re betting on the NFL and we’ll focus on those here.
Betting on the Spread
For every NFL game there’s a spread. Basically the sportsbook will look at the two teams (let’s say the Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions in this example) and decide which team is likely to win. Based on that, the bookmaker will apply a point penalty to the team most likely to win. That point penalty is the spread. By applying a point penalty, the bookmaker is encouraging more people to bet on the underdog, or less likely to win team.
When you’re betting on the spread you’re not betting on which team is the better team. Rather, you’re betting on if the favored team is that much better.
For example, if most people thing Green Bay is likely to win, you may see the spread written as Green Bay -7. This reads as, “Green Bay is a seven point favorite.” If you bet on Green Bay, in this instance, you are betting that they not only win, but they do so by more than seven points. Green Bay -7 is the same thing as Detroit +7. If you bet on Detroit in this example, you are saying that Detroit will either win OR they will lose by less than seven points.
When you bet on a spread you are betting on one of the teams to exceed expectations.
Betting on the Total
Maybe you aren’t sure whether Green Bay or Detroit will win, but you think it will be a high scoring game. In this case, you can bet on the total of the game. For every NFL game sportsbooks will also set a total: it’s the sum of each team’s score at the end of the game. You can bet whether the total will be over or under the oddsmakers’ prediction.
For example, if you see Green Bay -7 21. That reads as, “Green Bay is a seven point favorite and the total of the game will be 21 points.” If at the end of the game, the score was Green Bay = 17 and Detroit = 10 then your total game score was 27 points. If you bet over, you win your bet!
Betting on Who’s Going to Win
If you really don’t want to deal with point spreads and game totals, you can simply pick which team you think will win: Green Bay or Detroit. This is called a moneyline bet. For a moneyline bet, you need to consider the vig (or the odds) set by the sportsbook. Most vigs start at -110. This means that “in order to win $100, you have to bet $110.” That extra $10 is a fee or penalty to the sports book. It’s how Vegas stays Vegas.
If oddsmakers always offered a -110 vig for matchups, they would lose money over time because bettors would keep picking the more favorable team or opponent. Thus, oddsmakers increase the vig in order to discourage betting on favorite teams. If the odds are set at -300, we would read that bet as “in order to win $100, you have to bet $300.”
If Green Bay is a huge favorite in the game against Detroit, the vig is going to be steep. The bookmakers will force you to risk a lot to win a little. Vigs are -110 or close to it when games are toss ups.
Betting on Random Things
Are you, by chance, in Vegas for someone’s bachelor or bachelorette party? And you couldn’t care less about sports, but you find yourself in a sportsbook because that’s where your friends are? You can still have fun placing a bet: consider a proposition “prop” bet.
A proposition bet is a defined outcome bet such as yes or no, up or down, over or under, heads or tails, etc. For example, the 2018 Super Bowl had a proposition bet for whether or not the national anthem would last over or under two minutes in total length. Pink was signing the national anthem and she had never been on record singing the national anthem and, thus, there was plentiful speculation about how long her rendition would last. Everyone sings the national anthem at a different length. (FYI: Pink’s national anthem lasted 1 minute and 53 seconds.)
If you want to get in on the action, but really don’t like sports or numbers, consider betting on something like the coin toss. The sportsbook will have something fun to keep you betting even if NFL games aren’t your thing.
How to Place Your Bet
Place a Straight Bet on the Spread
Back to our example, if the spread reads: Green Bay -7, you would read that as: “it’s a seven point spread,” or “Green Bay is a seven point favorite.” As a bettor, you select one side to bet on.
You write or say the spread based on the side you are betting. If you take Green Bay -7 this means you are accepting a seven point penalty at the end of the game; you believe Green Bay will win the game against the Detroit and they will do so by more than 7 points.
To take that bet you would write or say “I bet $X on Green Bay -7.” If you do not think Green Bay will win OR you don’t think they’ll win by more than seven, you would write or say, “I bet $X on Detroit +7.”
Place a Straight Bet on the Total
If the line is: Green Bay -7 21, you can simply bet “over” or “under“ on that total game score of 21.
Place a Moneyline Bet
If the line is Green Bay -7 21 and the odds are -120, you know that in order to win $100 you have to bet $120. Thus, if you want to bet on Green Bay to win, you simply write or say, “Green Bay to win.”
Note: the odds (-120 in this example) are a ratio. You do not have to put down the full $120. Instead you could bet $12 and win $10. Conversely, you could bet $240 and will $200.
Like we said above, there are plenty of other types of bets and betting scenarios, but this will get you through a basic visit.