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Best of John Grochowski

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Sports betting 101

25 September 2007

For someone spent, oh, a couple of decades or so working in newspaper sports departments before turning my attention from batting averages and quarterback ratings to house edges and basic strategies, I'll admit to being really bad at sports betting.

It's not so much the losing bets that bother me, as the ones I thought I had sussed out, but failed to put my money where my mind was. The Atlanta Braves in 1991, when I really liked their young pitching even though they'd finished last in '90. They won the National League pennant. I didn't bet them. The New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXV against the St. Louis Rams. Betting $100 on the Pats would bring $340, and I thought that was a ridiculous overlay. I was right, but I didn't bet it.

To sidestep into horseracing, one day six or seven years ago I thought I'd spotted something in the Racing Form. I thought the three longest shots in the field in the early line were also the three best horses. I walked into an OTB, planning to make a $12 trifecta box, so that if they finished as the top three in any order, I'd win. But there was a little rain, I worried about track conditions and put away my 12 bucks. Of course, they ran 1-2-3, and the trifecta paid more than $8,000.

Typical. When I have something scoped out, I talk myself out of it. If I actually bet an event, it's pretty certain that I've missed something.

Nonetheless, now that the National Football League and NCAA football seasons are under way, those more willing to take a sporting chance will mob the Nevada sports books on weekends. Nevada remains the only state in the union with full-scale sports betting.

Those crowds include a large novice contingent, of course, those who venture into sports wagering only to add a little extra interest as they root, root, root for the home team. For them, here are a few basics before you put your money.

**The most common way to bet football involves point spreads. That's something even non-bettors are familiar with, as they see teams listed as 7-point favorites or 3-point underdogs every week. If you bet on a team that's a 10-point favorite, and they win 21-14, you lose your wager. To win, your team has to win by more than 10 points. If they win by exactly 10, you get your money back. And if they win by less than 10 or lose the game, it's bye-bye bankroll.

The house gets its edge by tacking an extra 10 percent on the wager. For a chance to win $10, you must bet $11. If you win, you get back $21 --- your $11 in wagers, plus $10 in winnings. Lose, and the house keeps the whole 11 bucks.

**Alternatively, you can bet on the money line. You'll see plus or minus figures on the big board in the sports book. If Team A is listed at -170 and Team B at +150, it means that you would have to bet $170 to win $100 on Team A, or that betting $100 would bring you $150 on Team B. There are no point spreads involved, you're just betting on who wins the game.

**Along with the point spread or money line, you'll have the option of betting the over-under. Over-under is a wager on the total points scored by both teams. If the line is 48, you can either bet the over, that the total score will be more than 48 points, or the under, that the total score will be less than 48. If the total is exactly 48 points, you get your money back. As with point spread bets, the house charges a 10 percent vigorish --- you must bet $11 to win $10.

**Multiple-wager parlays are available, but at a high cost in terms of house edge. If you want to bet that Team A wins against the point spread in one game, and Team C wins against the spread in another game, you can make a two-team parlay. Both teams then must win, or you lose your bet. If you have winners on both games, then you're usually paid at 13-5 odds. Bet $5, and get back $18 --- your $5 wager and $13 in winnings.

That's tempting, but the true odds against winning on both bets are 3-1. If this were an even bet, you'd get $15 in winnings on your $5 wager instead of $13. That gives the house a 10 percent edge. It's awfully difficult to win at any game with a 10 percent house edge.

So it goes down the line. Three-wager parlays typically pay 6-1, instead of the true odds of 7-1. Beyond that payoffs can be variable, but odds tend to get worse with more wagers in the parlay. I've often seen four-wager parlays paying 10-1 instead of true odds of 15-1, and that's just awful.

That makes parlays bets to avoid. But then again, I'm very good at avoiding sports wagers, even those that turn into the ones that got away.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 6 to 7 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9), streaming at www.wckg.com.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski