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understanding point spread in sports betting

For many of us, betting on sports adds an extra layer of excitement. It's that sense that you have something at stake and are more than simply a spectator. While football season is upon us again, the reality is that sports betting is a year-round occupation. This is your chance to join millions of sports fans, sharks and mathematicians and test your theories with more than just words by placing a bet with cold hard cash.

If you are considering joining in on the fun and potential winnings, but you are not an experienced gambler, it can seem extremely confusing. This is understandable since there are an almost limitless number of layers to understand. Plus, a poorly placed bet means the loss of real money. This isn't fantasy sports or some online game where you are wagering fantasy points. To be successful at gambling on sports, the first step is to become comfortable with the idea that you might lose. You should never wager more than you are prepared to lose. While the thrill of winning big is an incredible sensation, it's only that way because you've picked the right team, horse, or player and succeeded where others have failed.

This guide is intended to be a primer for the novice gambler to help get him started with understanding the fundamentals of the occupation. So now that we have the disclaimers out of the way, it is time to learn how the sports betting works and how you can make educated, smart bets.

Big Bets or Lots of Smaller Bets

Perhaps you are a hardcore fan, and you feel that you understand the game well enough to make a little money or have a little fun with casual betting. There's absolutely nothing wrong with simply placing individual bets on your favorite teams that you think will win. Other people though prefer to place several strategic bets. Your strategy here entirely depends on what your objective is.

Do you simply want to have an extra reason to cheer that much harder for your favorite teams - or are you looking to make money. While there is no guarantee of winning in any circumstance, being strategic with your bets can lead to improved returns since you have more chances to win ... and there is less emotional connection that might lead you to support a team for the wrong reasons.

Technology and Research Is Essential for Success

I remember going to the track with my grandfather when I was a little boy. He always had a newspaper and a betting magazine with a list of tips and odds. We've progressed a lot since then with easy access to real-time information about virtually every aspect of any sport. If a player sprained an ankle in practice, we'll know that by social media merely seconds after it happened from anywhere in the world. The challenge with that though is that there is sometimes too much information to simply run the simulations in your head. Luckily, there is software out there to help run game simulations and betting trends.

Other sources of information include looking at message forums, following hashtags on Twitter, as well as setting up news alerts through Google.

vegas sports book

How to Read the Spread

There are two main ways in which games can be wagered: point spread and moneyline. While either option is available on all major sports, baseball and hockey are generally wagered by moneylines, whereas football and basketball are more commonly bet according to point spread.

Since football season is here, we will focus on point spreads. You have probably heard of one team being favored by or being given a certain number of points, and this number is indicative of which team the experts favor. These betting lines are generally written in this format:

Tennessee (-3) vs. Georgia (41)

When a number is preceded by the minus/negative symbol, this team is favored to win and the number indicates by how much. In this example, Tennessee is expected to win by at least 3 points. The second number is the expected point total for the game, and this is used for over/under bets-- we’ll get to that in a moment.

In this example, Tennessee would need to beat Georgia by at least 3 points to cover the spread. If you bet on Tennessee, and they only won by 1 point, you would lose your bet. You will often see point spreads including one half point (-3.5), and this simply means they must win by more than that amount.

Over / Under

The over/under or point total bet is relatively simple, and the winner of the game is irrelevant in these wagers. This is simply betting that a certain number of points will be scored in the game-- the combined total of both teams’ scores. You have two options: over or under the projected point total.

If you were to take the over in our example, you win if the combined score is over 41. Over wins if the final score was:

Tennessee     24

Georgia          20

With this score, the actual point total is 44, and therefore the over bet would win. You can bet either the over/under or the point spread or both. If you were to take over and Tennessee, you would win both bets since the final total is over 41 and Tennessee won by more than 3 points.

mgm mirage sports book betting slips

Betting Odds and the Moneyline

Another common betting method involves the moneyline. These wagers do not involve point spreads, and you would simply select one team. However, the amount you can win is determined by the moneyline and betting odds. There are three standard ways to display the odds: fraction, decimal and American.

In football, the odds will almost always be displayed in the American format, for obvious reasons. This style is based on a standard bet of $100, and the math can become a little complex.

The odds will either be listed by the team name or implied to be -110. The number indicates how much must be wagered in order to win $100. So if the odds for your team are -110, you could bet $110 to win $100-- ending with a total of $210, with the $100 winnings and $110 original bet.

Decide Where You Are Going to Make Your Wager

Last but certainly not least, it is essential that you pick the right place to place your bets. For many people this first foray into the world of sports betting is by handing a few dollars to a friend who "knows a guy" or even just a friendly bet between friends. However, once you start looking at this seriously it becomes important to place your bets in the right places. There is no shortage of online sites willing to take your bet, but most of these are overseas and are not regulated. In certain states, you can make sports bets via your phone (such as with MGM's mobile sports betting app). Plus there are OTB locations in many states for betting on horse racing.

For the ultimate thrill though, you can't go wrong by taking a guys weekend trip to Vegas and spending a weekend with your buddies in a sports book at one of the resorts. This will be a safe and regulated environment with no cover charge, plenty of drinks, comfy chairs, and tons of other stuff to do before and after the games.