Football is by far the most popular sport for bettors, whether we’re talking about the NFL or the college game. The teams play once a week and have a much shorter season than the NBA, MLB, or NHL and while there are a ton of NCAA football programs, there are far fewer than in college basketball.
With tons of wagers on football, you’ve probably guessed why sportsbooks pay so much attention to the action on the pigskin. It’s where books assign only the best oddsmakers, and it’s where they make the majority of their money.
Because football betting is public in nature – with every American and their neighbor a supposed expert – the market plays an extremely large role in setting the price, or point-spread. That’s the first and most important lesson of football betting 101: Always remember the point-spread is a reflection of public perception of the quality of the teams in question, and isn’t a prediction on the part of oddsmakers.
When you see the New England Patriots as 7-point favorites for their game against the Miami Dolphins, it means oddsmakers have assessed the public opinion of the matchup. In this particular case, the public expects the Patriots to beat the Dolphins by a touchdown, so in order for bettors to cash in on New England, it has to win by more than seven points. Anything less than seven points and the Dolphins have covered the spread, even if they lose the game outright.
After sportsbooks release a line, or spread, they let the public tell them how accurate it is. For instance, oddsmakers could open the Pats as 7-point favorites, only to receive a vast majority of plays on New England. This means the public thinks the Patriots are going to win by more than seven points, and that’s why they’re putting their money with them.
The ideal scenario for books is to take in equal action on both sides, so as to maximize their profit regardless of which team wins against the spread (ATS). This way the Dolphins-Patriots game pays for itself; if New England wins against the spread, the house can use the money wagered on Miami to pay the winners, while keeping some juice or vigorish for itself.
Juice is the industry term designated for the commission the house takes for handling a wager. In most cases, sportsbooks take 10 cents on the dollar for bets against the spread, meaning you have to put down $110 to make $100. Knowing this, it’s pretty easy to see why sportsbooks have an interest in hauling in equal money on each side of the ledger.
Oddsmakers attempt to achieve this balance by adjusting the line depending on how bettors react to their initial posting. Again, if the Pats open as 7-point favorites, but two-thirds of wagers come in on New England, that’s not optimal for the house. Oddsmakers could then move the line in the Patriots’ favor, making the Dolphins bigger underdogs so it’s easier for them to cover the spread.
The same principle applies to the total or over/under, which is a wager on the combined number of points two opponents will score in a head-to-head matchup. If oddsmakers set the total at 40.5 points for the aforementioned Miami-New England game, it means a wager that plays the “over” needs the teams to combine for 41 or more points for the bet to cash. Any combined score of 40 points or less and the game plays “under” the number listed by oddsmakers.
For more info on Week 2 of the 2009-2010 NFL Season, check out the video below courtesy of BetUS.