How Does Sports Handicapping Work?

Sports handicapping is used by casinos to create interest in sports gambling among casino patrons. A good sports handicapper sets a line with odds on a sports event. These odds are supposed to be weighted (or handicapped) where half the betting money is bet on one team and half the money bet is bet on the other team. If that happens, then the casino payouts are the same, no matter who wins. Because the casino has a house edge (called a vig or vigorish), if equal money is bet either way, then the casino makes money. If too much money is bet in either direction, then the sports handicapping didn’t work properly and the casino is exposed to chances for a losing bet.

How the Betting Line is Set

First, a sports handicapping expert is hired by a casino to set a betting line. A sports line is simply a bet with odds on either side of the bet. For instance, if the New England Patriots are playing the Indianapolis Colts, then he handicapper tries to determine which team is the favorite and which team is the underdog. A sports handicapper generally doesn’t reach the handicap at random. There will be a lot of factors put into the sports line.

For instance, homefield advantage is generally assumed to be a 3-point advantage in football. So if two teams are considered evenly matched and would be an even-money bet on neutral field, then if they met at one team’s home stadium, the home team would be a 3-point favorite. Look at the Patriots and Colts. If the Patriots were considered a 1-point favorite on a neutral field, then they would be a 4-point favorite if they were hosting the Colts. But if they were going on the road to face Peyton Manning and friends, then those 3-points would be assigned the other way, and the Colts (a 1-point underdog on a nuetral field) would be 2-point favorites over the Patriots at home.

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There are a lot of other factors that go into sports handicapping besides home-field advantage, though. Certain star players might give their team special bonus on the betting line. Other factors, like weather or injuries, are taken into account. That’s why you’ll occasionally see a list of sportslines where a couple of games don’t have odds. One of the teams’ star players is probably injured and the sports handicapping expert is waiting to see what the injury news is later in the week. NFL Injury Reports come out on Wednesday, and you might see a casino wait until Wednesday to set a line. A casino wants to set a sports handicap as early as possible, of course, since waiting a couple of days means two days with no bets being made on that game.

Sports Handicapping Odds

Let’s go back to the Colts-Patriots game. Let’s assume the Patriots are at home and have are a four-point favorite. The sports line will be listed in the casino or in the newspaper as New England Patriots -4. The minus symbol means the Patriots are the favorite. If you see Indianapolis Colts +4, this means the Colts are a four-point underdog. If you bet on the Patriots, they have to win by 5 or more points for you to win your bet. If you bet on the Colts, they have to either win, tie or lose by less than four points to win. If the Patriots win by 4 points on the dot, then the bet is a push and both sides get their money back.

You might occasionally see a line where one team is favored by a number and a half-point. For instance, you might see the Patriots favored by 4.5 instead of just 4. You’ll see this listed as as +4 1/2. This eliminates the chances of a push, so one side is going to win the bet. So if the Patriots are -4.5 underdogs, they need to win by 5 or more points to win the best. The Colts, on the other hand, would need to win, tie or lose by 4 or less to win the bet.

Sports Handicapping Money Lines

Some gamblers don’t want to bet against the line. They don’t want to have to worry about favorites and underdogs. Instead, they want to be able to bet on team’s straight up. Unfortunately, it’s seldom that you see a game that’s a true even-money bet. That’s where the moneyline bet comes in.

A money line bet lets you bet simply on who wins. The handicap doesn’t factor in sportsline odds, or +/- points added to the final score of the game. The handicap instead is the amount paid out, with the winner being the straight out winner.

Once again, let’s go back to this imaginary Colts-Pats game.

If the Colts were the underdog, you might see the moneyline bet listed at Colts +200. If you bet on the Colts, they have to win for you to win the bet. If you win, then you get paid 2-to-1 odds. So if you bet $100 and win, you win $200.

If the Patriots are the favorite, you might see the moneyline bet listed as Patriots -150. If you bet on the Patriots, they have to win for you to win the bet. If you win, then you get paid at less than 1-to-1 odds. So if you want to win $100 on this bet, you have to bet $150.

Therefore, the odds are administered by how much you get paid out. For the favorite, you’ll end up getting less than 1-to-1 odds, such as the 1-to-1.5 odds of the -150 bet. For the underdog, you’ll end up getting more than 1-to-1 odds, such as the 2-to-1 odds in the previous scenario.

In the case of really big mismatches, you can see moneylines at +500 or even +1000. Sure-shots will have to bet between $500 and $1,000 to win $100 (or that same ratio for smaller bets, of course).