When it comes to watching sports, there are a few simple things that can improve the experience: good friends, good snacks, a good chair, and — oh yeah — winning a big stinking pile of money or prizes.
But while sports betting adds to the excitement on the field (or on the track, or in the ring, or in the octagon), the insider jargon can make it feel inaccessible to someone who’s never placed a wager. To help you get started, here are some key terms a sports betting first-timer will need to turn a buck.
The bookie is the center of the sports-betting galaxy, around which all other things revolve. Also called the bookmaker or sportsbook, this is the person or organization that takes bets and pays out winners. Normally, the bookmaker will also set the odds — the probability that a given outcome will happen, also known as lines — but this can also be handled by an oddsmaker (or linesmaker). Odds can be represented in a few different ways depending on the type of bet you’re placing. Check out MyBookie.net for a running list of odds on a bunch of games.
A common way of representing odds is moneyline odds — numbers that show how much each side of a bet will pay out. A negative number indicates that a team or competitor is the favorite, or anticipated to win, while a positive number indicates they’re the underdog, or anticipated to lose (more on favorites and underdogs below). Here’s an easy-to-follow example of a moneyline:
Team A: -110
Team B: +150
Looking at this, you know that Team A is the favorite. The number -110 represents the amount of money ($110) you’ll need to bet in order to make a $100 profit should that team win. The number beside the underdog Team B shows you how much money you stand to make ($150) on a bet of just $100. As you can see, betting on the underdog is greater risk, but higher reward.
Bookies make money by drawing a commission on bets called vigorish, derived from the Russian word vyigrysh for “winnings” (but if you want to sound like a real high roller, just call it the vig or juice). You can most easily see where the juice comes into play in a -110 line. If you need to pony up $110 for a chance to win $100, that extra $10 goes toward the juice. Sometimes bookies will lower the juice as a way to incentivize bets on a particular side.
Quite simply, action is another word for a bet placed with a bookie. By setting and adjusting the lines and the juice, bookies strive to attract an equal amount of action on each side of a bet to ensure they make money no matter which side is victorious. And as a bettor, it makes sense to have action on both sides of a bet, too, in order to mitigate losses. This is called hedging a bet.
Favorites and Underdogs
The favorite, or chalk, is the team or competitor favored to win a contest. When a favorite is considered to be exceptionally strong in the eyes of bettors, they’re said to be a lock. On the flipside, the underdog, or just the dog, is the team or competitor deemed less likely to come out on top, with a longshot not having much else but a prayer. Someone who always bets on the favorite is a chalk player (not to mention pretty dull at parties, probably).
While technically anyone who places a bet can be considered a handicapper, the term is most often associated with experts who analyze the world of sports wagering professionally. One could say they’re sharp bettors — people who wager with insight and skill, sometimes emboldened by an edge, or an advantage they believe to have over others on a particular bet. Compare them with a square, a somewhat derogatory term for an inexperienced bettor.
Playing the Moneyline
Moneyline bets are placed on strictly moneyline odds, like the ones we talked about earlier. With these bets, you are simply choosing which team or competitor — the favorite or the underdog — you think will win the contest without any other considerations. Putting your money on the favorite is called laying the price, while wagering on the underdog is known as taking the price. Moneyline bets are most common in sports where the final scores are low, like in baseball and hockey.
In the simplest terms, when you bet the spread, you’re betting on whether a certain margin of points will be met. There are a few different ways a bet like this can go, but here’s a basic scenario: If the spread is 3.5 points and a team wins by 4 or more, that team is said to have covered the spread. Betting on the favorite in spread betting is called laying the points, while betting on the underdog is called taking the points. The juice is expressed via a moneyline, usually set at a standard -110. Spread bets are most popular in football and basketball, where final scores tend to be higher.
Totals, Over, and Under
As the name suggests, a totals bet is governed by the total combined points scored by two opposing teams. When betting on totals, you’re not actually betting on who will win the game either, but whether the combined score will be greater (“betting the over”) or less (“betting the under”) than a certain value determined by the sportsbook. Like point spreads, totals are normally expressed in half-numbers to avoid a tie, called a push in the betting world. The moneyline is normally set at -110 denoting a juice of 10%.
A proposition or prop bet is an exotic type of bet in which people wager on elements of a game that don’t directly affect its outcome. While not for the timid, these bets can be a lot of fun, as some of the wackier wagers in the past have included what color sports drink would be dumped over the winning coach’s head, or whether or not a streaker would run onto the field. But, if you’re just starting out, you may want to just stick with a straight bet, like the ones above.
A parlay bet is when you combine more than one wager, so your money can ride from one bet to the next. You have to win all bets in a parlay, otherwise you’ll lose everything. Parlays are popular because they come with larger payouts.
Now that you’ve got some of the most important betting terms down cold, it’s time to start winning. To get your first piece of the action, visit MyBookie.net to predict games and win prizes.
Chris Vespoli is a Senior Strategist for Studio@Gizmodo and a freelance writer/producer. This is his website.