By now I think I’ve made it clear that I almost never bet actual money on sports. But I enjoy the Protect Your Unit game, and even more than that, I enjoy the language of gambling, whether it’s poker, handicapping, or anything else you can bet on. I even like listening to bad beat stories, which make most people run for the hills.
To help you sound like a smart bettor even if you’ve never put a dollar on a football game, I’ve put together a glossary of handicapping terms that Collin, Gary, and I throw around in posts and on our occasional GAMBOLLLLLLcast. I tried to make this all things to all people, so some entries are extremely basic and others are pretty advanced.
When a losing team covers the point spread at the end of a game with a cheap score that has no impact on who wins or loses. Backdoor covers can be very exciting (or painful) depending on how late in the game they happen and/or how cheap the points are. If you had them getting more than 7 points, Navy had one of the great backdoor covers of all time against USF last October. If you had Navy getting less than 7, it was a bad beat.
Betting on a team rashly and illogically without checking the fundamentals. Often bets made on a public team are bad action.
A bet where your process was good but the gambling gods (or Gamblor, if you prefer) hit you with a very unlucky loss. We nearly had an epic bad beat last November when Wake Forest was a 35.5-point underdog to Louisville and led going into the fourth quarter, only to see Louisville come very close to covering. The final score was 44-12.
When a team wins by more points or loses by fewer points than the point spread set on them. If USF is a 7-point favorite and they win by 10, that’s a cover. On the other hand, if USF was a 7-point underdog but only lose by 3, that’s also a cover.
The team the oddsmakers predict will win the game. The number of points they are favored by is expressed with a minus sign. If USF is a 7-point favorite, they are listed as USF -7.
Basic information you should research before betting on a team. Fundamentals include team strengths and weaknesses, how they match up with their opponent, injuries, home/away, weather, etc.
These are typically offered before a season or a playoff series begins. Common futures bets in college football include team win totals for a season, postseason award winners, odds of making the College Football Playoff, and so on.
When a team is an underdog, they are getting points. When you choose to bet on them, you are taking (or grabbing) the points.
When a team is a favorite, they are giving points. When you choose to bet on them, you are laying the points.
If you make a bet in advance and you’re worried about losing, sometimes you can hedge by making a smaller bet on the opposite outcome to reduce or even eliminate your losses. For example, let’s say you bet $100 on Ohio State to win the national championship at 5-1 odds before the season. They make it to the championship game, but they have to play Alabama and you’re not sure they will win. So you bet $200 on Alabama to win at even odds. This means instead of winning $500 or losing $100, you’ll either win $100 (if Alabama wins) or you’ll win $300 (if Ohio State wins).
At some sports books, you can make bets on the point spread and the over/under while the game is in progress. Either you’re betting on the entire game knowing how the first few minutes have gone, or you’re betting on whatever happens from the exact moment you lock in your bet until the end of the game. Collin is a master at in-game betting, particularly bets made at halftime on what will happen in the second half. Sometimes you can create a nice middle for yourself by making a clever in-game bet.
A smart handicapper will decide what they think the point spread of a game should be before they see the actual line. If my fundamentals tell me USF should be a 14-point favorite in a game but the line is only 10 points, the 4-point difference is juice.
Juice is also another word for the vig.
Sometimes a team coming off a big win won’t be as motivated to play their next, weaker opponent. This should be part of your fundamentals.
Not every sports book offers the same odds. Always look around for the most favorable odds on the bet you want to make. Don’t lay 7.5 points on a team if you can lay 6.5 points instead. It can make the difference between winning and losing.
“look ahead” spot
If a team has an important game following the current game, they may be caught “looking ahead” and play badly. This should be part of your fundamentals.
middle/catching a middle
If the line on a game moves a lot, you can try to “catch a middle” and win two bets on the same game, while risking very little. For example, let’s say USF starts the week as a 14-point favorite and I bet on them to cover. The line goes up all week, and by game day they are a 19-point favorite. Then I bet on their opponent to cover the 19-point spread. If USF wins by between 14.5 and 18.5 points, I win both bets. (This is what we call “winning both showcases” on the GAMBOLLLLLLcast.) If that doesn’t happen, I still win one of the two bets and all I would lose is the vig on my winning bet.
If you don’t want to bother with point spreads, you can pick one team or the other to win on the money line. For the favorite, the money line is the amount of money you would have to bet to win $100. For the underdog, the money line is the amount of money you would win if you bet $100. Example: USF is -$200 on the money line. If I bet $200 on USF on the money line and they win, I win $100. Their opponent is +$250 on the money line. If I bet $100 on their opponent on the money line and they win, I win $250.
If you like an underdog team enough to pick them outright, always bet the money line.
When the underdog team not only covers the point spread, but also wins the game.
A simple bet where a line on some aspect of the game is set, and you decide if it will be exceeded or not. The most common over/under bet is on the total points scored in a game. Others include win totals on futures bets, or some proposition bets.
A bet where you combine several bets into one, and all of them have to come through for you to win. You win a fixed rate based on how many bets are in your parlay. In Protect Your Unit, a two-bet parlay pays off your wager at 2.6 to 1. A three-bet parlay pays off at 6 to 1. Larger parlays can be made in sports books, but not in our game. If any part of your parlay bet loses, you lose the entire bet. In sports books, a push also loses, but in our game, that bet is removed, and the wager is treated as a smaller parlay.
The point spread (or line) is the number of points one team is favored over the other. When you bet the spread, you are betting on whether you think a team will win by more points than the spread or not. As bets are made during the week, the point spread can go higher or lower, which may change your process.
Your fundamentals are one part of your process, along with finding the right odds, making the right size bets, and not chasing bad action. You can’t control the results of your bets, but if your process is consistently good, your chances of being profitable in the long run are much better.
proposition bet/prop bet
Typically offered at the Super Bowl or other event games, these bets have little or nothing to do with the outcome of the game. Examples of prop bets include who will score the first touchdown, if a certain kind of scoring play will happen, how long the national anthem will be, stat comparisons to another sport, if there will be a streaker during the game, etc.
protecting your unit
Your unit is all the money you have set aside for gambling. (Always, always set a budget and stick to your limits.) When you’re ahead, it’s OK to be more cautious with your bets so that you stay ahead. Use the same process you did before. Don’t start making big, crazy bets because you think you’re in the zone. That’s the fastest way to stop winning. Stay within yourself and protect your unit.
A team that the general public bets on because of their popularity instead of their week-to-week value. Public teams in college football include Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and USC. Bets on a public team can often be bad action.
When a game is decided by the exact number of points in the point spread, or if a over/under lands on the exact number, it’s a push. You neither win nor lose and you get your original bet back.
Another word for professional handicappers. When they bet on a game, they can sometimes move the point spread by themselves. If you’re on one side of a bet and the sharps are on the other, prepare to lose.
Another word for the general betting public.
Extra points added to a point spread by a sports book for specific teams. This can be because the team has an overwhelming home-field advantage, or because they are a public team and they want to make it harder for those bets to win. Much more common in NFL betting. Alabama may be the only team in college football where the tax exists.
A teaser bet is a form of parlay where you pick multiple teams against the point spread, but you buy down the spread by a certain number of points to increase your odds of winning. For example, if you have a two-team teaser on teams favored by 14 and 9 points and the teaser lets you buy down six points, the teams only have to win by more than 8 and 3 points for you to win the bet. Like in a parlay, if any part of your teaser doesn’t come through, you lose.
Because of the increased odds of winning, payouts are lower on teaser bets than they are on parlays. Teasers are very common in NFL betting, where point spreads and margins of victory are much lower.
The team the oddsmakers predict will lose the game. The number of points they are an underdog by is expressed with a plus sign. If USF is a 7-point underdog, they are listed as USF +7.
When you win a bet against the point spread, the sports book will charge a vig on your winnings. If you win a $50 bet, you get your original $50 back, plus another $50 minus the vig (typically around 10%). This is how the sports book stays in business. They’re trying to make money on sports betting, just like you are.