Sports Betting 101: Should you Bet to Risk or Bet to Win

April 3, 2020 11:56 PM

Read the first two parts of Bankroll Management and the rest of the Sports Betting 101 series.

One critically important aspect of Bankroll Management that largely gets overlooked or ignored is the option to "bet to risk" vs. "bet to win." They might sound similar, but knowing the distinction is crucial. 

Betting to risk means you are betting a specific amount of your choice regardless of the odds. If you lose the bet, you lose whatever amount you risked on the game. If you win the bet, your payout is determined by the price of the odds.

Betting to win is completely different. It means you have to risk a pre-determined amount based on the odds in order to win your desired amount. Betting to win often means having to risk more, especially when it comes to betting on favorites and moneylines.

Betting to risk and betting to win can be confusing, especially for new bettors. So let's offer a real-world example to illustrate the difference. 

Let's say the Los Angeles Dodgers are a -150 favorite on the moneyline. You want to bet $100 on the Dodgers. If you bet to risk, this means you are risking $100. Based on the -150 favorite price, this means if the Dodgers win the game you win roughly $66.67, plus you get the $100 you risked back. If the Dodgers lose the game, you lose the $100 that you risked. 

On the flip side, if you bet to win $100 on the Dodgers, this means you would need to risk $150 up front based on the -150 moneyline price. If the Dodgers win the game, you win $100 plus you get the $150 that you risked back. However, if the Dodgers lose, you lose the entire $150 dollar that you risked. 

By betting to risk, you have far more control over your bet. You decide how much you want to risk, instead of letting the price of the odds dictate your amount.

Betting risk is also a smarter play when it comes to spread or total bets. For example, let's say the Denver Broncos are -7 on the spread at -110 juice. The common way to phrase this would be "you have to lay $110 in order to win $100 if you want to bet on the Broncos -7." That would be considered betting to win. You could also bet to risk $100 on the Broncos at the -110 juice, which means if they cover the spread, you would profit roughly $90.91 based on the -110 juice. Long story short, don't fall into the trap of thinking you always have to pay the additional 10 cents on top of what you want to bet. Instead, you can bet to risk and the payout will be determined by the odds. 

The dangers of betting to win become more amplified as you make more and more wagers. For example, let's say you want to bet on the Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees. All three teams are -150 favorites on the moneyline. If you bet to win $100 on each, this means you would need to risk $150 on each bet, which totals $450 combined. If all three lose, you lose the full $450 you has to risk. 

However, if you bet to risk $100 on all three teams and all three lose, you only lose the $300 that you have to risk. By betting to risk instead of betting to win, you saved yourself $150 in losses. 

Does betting to risk and betting to win change if you bet on underdogs instead of favorites? The short answer is yes. 

Let's flip the moneyline prices and say the Cubs are a + 150 underdog. If you bet to risk $100 dollars on the Cubs and they win the game, you win $150 dollars based on the plus-money underdog price, plus you get the $100 that you risked back. If you bet to win $100 on the Cubs, you would only have to risk $66 dollars and 67 cents based on the + 150 underdog price. If the Cubs win the game, you win $100 dollars plus you get the $66 dollars and 67 cents back that you risked. If the Cubs lose the game, you lose the $66 dollars and 67 cents that you risked. 

On the surface, it might seem as though betting to win is the smarter bet when it comes to betting underdogs. After all, it allows you to risk far less up front. However, you must remember that betting to win on underdogs cuts into your potential profits and forfeits the advantages of plus money payouts. 

Say the Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees are all + 150 underdogs. You bet to win $100 on all three, which means you risked $66.67 on each one, totaling roughly $200 overall. If all three win, you win $300 plus you get the $200 that you risked back.

However, if you bet to risk $100 on all three and all three win, you win $450 based on each team's + 150 price, plus you get the $300 that you risked back. 

By betting to risk instead of betting to win, you increase your underdog payout substantially. In this case, you would win $450 betting to risk on all three + 150 underdogs versus only winning $300 by betting to win. Betting to risk earns bettors $150 dollars more in profit. 

For these reasons, bettors should always bet to risk, never to win. Sure, there are pros and cons when it comes to betting favorites and underdogs. But overall, the name of the game is about limiting your risk and maximizing your reward. Betting to risk affords bettors this opportunity. Betting to win does not. 

If you place a bet online or through a mobile app, you will see two boxes where you can enter how much you want to bet on the game. One box will say "risk" (typically the first box on the left) and the other will say "win" (typically the second box on the right). Once you plug in your desired amount in the risk box, it will automatically generate the converted payout in the "win" box based on the price of the odds. 

If you are betting in person at a physical sportsbook or casino, you would walk up to the cashier, also known as the window, and tell the ticket writer behind the counter if you want to bet to risk or bet to win, along with the amount you choose. If you don't say anything and just hand them $100 dollars in cash, they will automatically convert the $100 dollars into a bet to risk proposition.

The ticket, also known as a betting slip or betting receipt, would show three numbers: the ticket cost, the payout labeled "to win," followed by a number that says "to collect." For example, if you bet $100 on 49ers -3 at -110 odds, the ticket cost would be $100, the "to win" would be $90.91 and the "to collect" would be $190.91. If the 49ers cover the spread, you would walk back to the ticket window after the game, give them your ticket and they would hand you $190.91 back in cash.

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