Going back more than a generation, to Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder trying to skirt around the true NFL odds on CBS’ groundbreaking NFL Today pregame show, there was an unspoken relationship between the league and gambling. At the time, and in an era that would continue until 2018, the only place to legally place a wager on the NFL was at Las Vegas casinos, but now sites such as BetUs Online Sportsbook are available.
Despite the lack of legality and the NFL’s persistence over the last fifty years that gambling, allegedly operated by organized crime interests with wagers handled by local bookmakers, the league doggedly maintained rules that teams needed to release injury information in the days leading up to Sunday’s games. It has always been a mystery as to why the league felt compelled to mandate the release of such data and who really benefitted from such information, outside of gamblers.
Clearly, the landscape has changed over the past several years, but while the increased legalization of sports betting may have expanded the audience and participants who place wagers, new gamblers need to understand that the processes around setting NFL odds and lines has continually been modified and fine-tuned by sportsbooks operators,
Unlike other sports like golf, where handles were relatively low prior to the growth in wagering, the NFL has always, at least in the United States, been a high source of wagering activity, regardless of legality. So even though it may seem as if all of this interest is new, those in charge of operating the behind the scenes activities have a decades-long head start on new entries into wagering.
The House Edge
There are some built in advantages for the house that may not be immediately noticeable for those new to sports betting, particularly with a high profile sport like the NFL. Three wagers are the most prevalent using NFL odds: against the spread, moneyline and over/under on the total points.
For spread wagers, regardless of which side of the bet is taken, the odds are generally -110. This means that to win $100, the bettor needs to wager $110, giving the house a 10% advantage, even if they fail to balance the amount of money bet on both sides.
For moneyline wagers, a wager on a -140 favorite requires a $140 bet to net $100, but the underdog most likely will be at +120 or so, meaning a $100 wager nets $120. If the sportsbook has done a good job of staying on top of their bets, their goal is to have the same amount, or close to it, bet on both teams.
If that happens, let’s say the underdog somehow pulls an upset, which results in the $140 wagered by the favorite bettors getting paid in $120 increments to the underdog winners, resulting in a $20 per bet profit to the sportsbook. Because of this dynamic, sportsbooks have little or no interest in who wins the game, as long as they’ve managed the tried and true process appropriately.
The over/under wagers are similar, with each side of the bet generally set at -110, unless the sportsbook is trying to incent more bets on either the over or under, in which case they may offer +100 (even odds) or as low as -120. Eventually, regardless of the type of wager, the odds and lines are continually adjusted not to reflect that actual outcome of the contest, but to limit exposure of the sportsbook to who wins the game and how many points are scored.
How to Win With NFL Odds
Even though sportsbooks have many years of experience and the odds essentially in their favor, virtually guaranteeing that they come out on top from a business standpoint, it doesn’t mean that individual bettors can’t find a way to consistently win. After all, as we’ve pointed out, the goal of the sportsbook isn’t necessarily to provide an accurate total for the game or even a spread that truly reflects how a game will transpire.
The way to win by betting NFL games is to take all emotion out of the wager and rely instead on data and trends. Of the three types of wagers described earlier, the one that tends to trend in a certain way is the over/under total points bet, which doesn’t mean that the sportsbooks are incompetent, but that bettors lead them in a direction that results in lines ending up far off from the actual game results.