There are a number of different ways to wager on professional sports, so let's review some of the most common ones. Over-under bets, also known as "totals," have the bettor wager against a number representing the total points scored in the game, betting on whether more or fewer total points will be scored. In an NFL game, if the bookmaker's total is 38, an "under" wager will win if fewer than 38 points are scored, and an "over" wager will win if more than 38 points are scored. If exactly 38 points are scored, all bets are considered ties and no money changes hands.
A bettor typically gives the same 11-to-10 odds on over-under bets that I described above, but some books will try to charge 6-to-5 (an 8.3 percent edge) on over-unders.
If you want to be consistently successful betting over-unders, stay away from bookies who have either of these rules. The usual way to bet sports is in single-game bets at 11-to-10 odds. This can be a bet on one team against the point spread, or an over-under bet on the total points scored in the game. However, there are other types of bets offered by bookies that seem appealing on the surface because they offer bonuses that do not exist on straight onegame-at-a-time bets. Let's examine a few, and see why you should stay away from these "sucker" bets.
In parlay bets, a bettor chooses two or more teams against the spread spread and all must win for the bettor to collect. Thus, going 1-1 (one win and one loss) on a twoteam parlay produces the same result as going 0-2. In either case, the bettor loses. Twoteam parlays usually pay 13-to-5 odds. If someone bets $ 50 on such a parlay and both teams win, he collects $ 130. If either or both team lose, he loses the original $ 50 investment. On a three-team parlay, a bettor who wins all three games is usually paid at 6-to-1 odds. Losing any of the three games counts as a loss. A winning $ 50 bet gives the bettor a $ 300 profit. In the rare event of a tie in any of the games (the margin of victory is exactly the spread) the parlay is reduced to the next lower number of games. For instance, a tie and two wins on a three-team parlay makes the bet a two-team parlay (at 13-5 odds). Because the odds of winning one game are 1 in 2, and the odds of winning the second game are 1 in 2, multiplied together the odds of winning both games in a twogame parlay are 1 in 4, or 3-to-1 against. Thus, the fa ir payout odds should be 15-to-5, but they are not, they're 13-to-5. On a two-game $ 50 parlay there are three ways the bettor can lose $ 50 (Team A loses, Team B loses, or both teams lose) and one way the bettor can win $ 130 (both win). On average the bettor will lose $ 150 (3/4 losses) for each time he wins $ 130 (1/4 wins). The bettor will in the long run lose $ 20 of every $ 200 he risks, for a 10% disadvantage-more than double the 4.55% disadvantage that a bettor faces betting one game at a time giving 11-to-10 odds! The odds only get worse as the bettor picks more and more teams in the hopes of cashing in on higher payouts.
A variation of parlays is parlay cards, or "sheets," where a bettor must pick at least three games from a list, the typical payoff for winning all three being 5-to-1. The payoffs for correctly picking more games get more and more enticing, but the odds of winning are worse. In most instances, any game ending in a tie against the spread results in the whole card being considered a loss. Also, parlay-card bettors are almost always required to put their money upfront before the games are played, and count on the operator to pay if he wins.
Parlay cards feature even worse odds because they require at least three games picked and the payouts are worse (5-to-1 instead of the usual 6-to-1 on a normal threadbag parlay). Millions of people get suckered into playing sheets because the payoffs seem so lucrative. However, what they do not realize is as the payoffs grow, the odds against them skyrocket.
Reverses are almost always bet with illegal bookies. The most common reverse is the two-team reverse, where the bettor picks two teams against a spread, and both must win. Although the bettor is paid 4-to-1 odd if both teams cover the spread, the same bettor is penalized if he goes 1-and-1 on the bets. Using a $ 100 reverse as an example, here are the potential outcomes:
A) Both picks win - the bettor wins $ 400 - 1 in 4 chance
B) One pick wins, one pick loses - the bettor wins $ 100 on the first game but loses $ 220 on the second for a total loss of $ 120 - 2 in 4 chance
C) Both picks lose - the bettor loses $ 220 - 1 in 4 chance
Reverses are another sucker bet but continue to attract people expecting to cash in on 4-to-1 odds. Like two-team parlays, there are four possible outputs with a $ 100 reverse, illustrated above. For every $ 880 risked, ($ 220 risked for each of the four possible opportunities) the bettor in the long term will lose $ 460 for every $ 400 won. The $ 60 loss on a total of $ 880 risked means the odds against you are 6.8%; Nearly 50% greater than a standard one-game bet.
TIP: The best bet is betting the point spread or over-under on individual games. 11-to-10 odds is almost always the cheapest price you can give. As a savvy bettor, resist the urge to spring for appealing payoffs in the hopes of bucking serious odds against you. This leads us to the Second Rule of sports wagering:
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