No one becomes a sports betting expert overnight. It takes months, if not years, to turn from a rookie bettor into an experienced veteran. The first step is learning how sports betting works and understanding some of the language and terminology that bettors use.
Over the coming days and weeks, we will be using this space to discuss several Sports Betting 101 topics. Today, let's start by focusing on a few basic fundamentals, including sportsbooks, oddsmakers and how lines are set.
The most common way of placing a bet is through a sportsbook, popularly referred to as a "book" or simply "the house." These are the facilities that accept bets and give out money. There are two kinds of sportsbooks. The first is a physical place like the South Point in Las Vegas, where you walk up to the cashier, known as "the window" and place your bet in person. Physical sportsbooks are usually located inside or next to a casino. They are considered a sports bettor's paradise because they are filled with wall-to-wall big screen televisions showing dozens of games that bettors can watch and root for their bets, also known as a "sweating a game."
The second type of sportsbook is located online. Once you create an account with the online sportsbook, you can place your bets through a computer, tablet or a mobile app. Mobile apps have become increasingly popular in recent years due to the immediacy and convenience.
Physical sportsbooks employ a vast staff of employees to make the operation run smoothly. This including cashiers, known as ticket writers, supervisors, accountants, risk managers, security officers, betting analysts and technicians. But the most important person at a sportsbook is the head oddsmaker. The oddsmaker is the smartest person at the sportsbook. They are math experts with unparalleled betting knowledge and decades of experience in the industry. They know betting and money like the backs of their hands.
The head oddsmaker is the person who creates the odds for all the different games, matchups and events that bettors can wager on. Creating the odds is popularly referred to as “setting the line.” It’s important to remember that there are hundreds of different sportsbooks and not every book posts the same odds a given game. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the region, the clientele and a basic difference of opinion on what the line should be. Some books cater mostly to casual or recreational bettors who bet for fun, known as "Average Joes" or simply "the public." Other books cater to more serious, professional bettors who win at a high rate and bet large amounts. These are considered sharp bettors, known popularly as "sharps" or "wiseguys."
To determine what the odds should be on a given game, oddsmakers rely heavily on advanced mathematics, scientific formulas, computer algorithms and experience. They also take into account power ratings. A power rating is a statistical representation of how strong every team is compared to each other. It focuses on key statistical categories and considerations like margin of victory, strength of schedule and much more. By comparing each team's power ratings and crunching the numbers, oddsmakers will get a rough estimate of what the line should be.
Oddsmakers then adjust or tweak the line based on home field advantage, injuries, specific head-to-head matchups, scheduling and even weather. If a team suffers an injury to a star player or a team is playing their second game in consecutive nights, known as a back to back, that is factored into the odds. If a football team with a bad offensive line is facing a team with a great defensive line, that is also factored into the odds.
Once oddsmakers set the line, it is then released to the public. The initial line is called the opening line, or "opener" for short. Bettors can then pick which team they want to bet on. Generally speaking, the goal of the oddsmakers, also known as bookmakers, is to set a line that garners balanced 50/50 money on both sides. This way they can limit their risk and mitigate their liability.
Once a line is released, the limits are low. Limits are the amount of money the sportsbooks will accept on a given wager. The sportsbooks use this initial period when the line is first released as a “feeling out” period to see how the early market reacts. Sportsbooks want to protect themselves from professional bettors betting big amounts early and taking advantage of an incorrect or off line, known as a “soft “ line. The books allow professional bettors to bet on games at low limits to help them shape and mold the line to its strongest and most accurate number. Once a universal line is established, known as a "consensus line," then the market takes over.
It's important to know that betting odds are fluid and constantly changing based on the money and bets or "action" the sportsbooks are taking in. The books will adjust the line up or down based on which side is taking in more money. Once books have gotten a read on the market and are able to identify which side the sharps are betting, where the public is and where their liability exists, they will then raise the limits closer to game time and allow bigger bets to come in. Once the game starts, the full-game odds close and you can no longer bet on them.
Full-game odds are the most popular odds to bet on. But sportsbooks also offer other odds to bet on, including first-half odds and first-quarter odds. At halftime, the books release a second-half line based on how the first half went. For halftime bets, bettors must quickly place their bets before the second half begins. Throughout the game, many sportsbooks also offer live-lines that are constantly being adjusted based on how the game is playing out. This is known as in game wagering and has grown in popularity in recent years.