Note: This article is intended for experienced sports bettors interested in the advantages of online sports betting as opposed to “grounded” wagering. It assumes that you are already familiar with such sports gaming concepts as point spreads, making the spread, parleys, parimutuel, gambling lines, and juice (vigorish).
If there really is a sure thing, it’s this: Online sports books are a better bet than brick-and-mortar sports books.
There are a number of reasons for this, not the least being variety. The average online sports book offers betting lines on all the major sporting events and racetracks covered by Las Vegas sports books, offline betting parlors, and illegal bookies plus less-common global events and propositions that never make their way to any terrestrial betting windows. We can’t guarantee this, but if you visit enough online books you will probably find odds on obscure propositions such as whether or not your favorite soap opera character will be killed off by season’s end.
Variety aside, online sports betting offers significant benefits even if you limit your action to major sports like football, basketball, and baseball. The major benefit involves, as you might expect, winnings. A betting “line” can be stated as either a point spread — the Steelers plus 10 points to win the Super Bowl — or odds, Barbaro at 5-2 to win the Derby. In either case, the opening line (usually called the morning line in horse racing) is created by professional oddsmakers and more or less continually adjusted as the event nears. The line (odds) fluctuates at the racetrack based on the amount of money bet on each entry at the “windows” – as the amount wagered on a horse goes up, the amount that will be paid if he wins goes down. Online books and illegal bookies tend to follow track odds fairly closely, though there are some variations depending on the amounts wagered at the individual book.
Point spreads are another matter entirely because there is no direct tie between what bettors are wagering and changes in the spread. Adjustments to point spreads – called “moving the line” – are made by the oddsmaker(s) at each gaming parlor (or, as in many Nevada sports books, supplied by outside oddsmakers). While they do reflect which team is generating the most wagers, there is no absolute mathematical relationship between the amount put on each team and the line. Instead, the oddsmakers tinker with the spread to generate maximum action and encourage people to support the underdog.
Let’s say the point spread on the Super Bowl is Pittsburgh plus 10 and the betting is slow because many people feel Seattle can’t come within a touchdown and a field goal of the Steelers. In this scenario, the oddsmakers might change the line to Pittsburgh plus 12, meaning that the Steelers would have to win by at least a touchdown and field goal plus a two-point conversion, safety, or second field goal to beat the spread. Under those circumstances, Seattle could become a much more attractive betting proposition.
Sports betting lines are classical examples of capitalism in action. The bookmaker in the above example is selling two products, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks. If the supply and demand for each of those two products balances, he makes a profit equal to the markup he applies to each purchase — known, in betting circles, as “juice” or “vigorish” and in that other citadel of gambling – the stock market – as “commission.”
If, on the other hand, the demand for one team is much higher than that of the other and the bookmaker keeps accepting bets on the more popular contender, he could wind up losing a bundle. Therefore, he changes the odds – i.e. the betting line – to generate more action (remember his profit is a form of commission, so more action equals more profit) and balance supply against demand. Since betting lines are dependent on the nature of the action at a particular sports book, the more “books” you have to choose from, the better the odds (pardon the pun) that you will find a favorable line,
To return to the Super Bowl just one more time. If you like Pittsburgh and think they will win but aren’t sure that they’ll win in a walk, you will want to scour the sports books for the one offering the best line against Pittsburgh. For you, to put it another way, Pittsburgh plus 7 over Seattle is a better bet than Pittsburgh plus 9. If you like Seattle, maybe not to win outright, but to at least keep the game close, the opposite is true. The fact is that there are simply more sports books in cyberspace than there are in any contiguous geographic area except, possibly, Southern Nevada. And the time and effort it takes to check the lines at, say, a dozen online sports books is a fraction of what it would take to visit the same number of brick-and-mortar sports rooms.
Another factor is geographic bias. The supply-and-demand at street-level sports books is easily influenced by the emotions of the people in the immediate gambling market. If you don’t believe us, just check out the Vegas lines every time the UNLV Runnin’ Rebs get into the higher levels of the NCAA Finals or the (relatively) nearby USC Trojans make the Rose Bowl. Remember, at the final whistle, the law of supply and demand rules. Whether or not the sports book makes or loses money depends on balancing the two. If people are betting their hearts on the Rebs and the Trojans despite the likely outcome of the games, it will affect the line and make it hard to get down a bet with an optimal chance of winning unless you happen to be one of those gamblers who enjoys betting against the line.
Online casinos, of course, draw gamblers from all over the world and “fan-based” blips in the line covering most American sporting events are much smaller. (This is not, however, necessarily true in such high-profile and nationalistic world events as the World Cup and Formula One racing.)
Are variations in the line important? That depends whether you consider winning your bets important. Single or even fractional differences in point spreads can result in dozens of losers being turned into winners (and vice versa) for serious sports gamblers each season.
Finally, there is the question of the “vig.”
Nevada and most legal U.S. sports books cut pretty closely to the traditional 110 percent rule – the gambler wagers 110 percent of what he hopes to win. ($110 to win $100, $1100 to win $1000, etc.) Many online books, however, offer better deals on vigorish in order to attract business and because their operating costs – not having to build and maintain a $1.2 billion casino, for example – are less. Betting $108 instead of $110 to win $100 may not seem like much of a saving, but multiplied by hundreds of games over the course of a year or season, it is.
So there you have it, the case for sports betting on line. Is there also a case for brick-and-mortar sports books? Of course. Free coffee, maybe even free beer or whiskey. Waiting in slow-moving lines in front of a betting window. And, of course, if it’s July and you’re living in an un-air-conditioned apartment in Las Vegas, you can’t beat the nearest sports book as a place to hang your sweat-stained Stetson.