Sports betting is legal in 55 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, and you've probably seen and heard the multitude of commercials, billboards and other forms of advertising.
But what if you want to get involved but aren't sure how, or are a little intimidated by all of the numbers and sports betting terms?
You’ve come to the right place.
Most odds in the United States are written with a minus (-) sign for a team that’s expected to win a game (called the favorite) and a plus (+) sign for a team expected to lose (called an the underdog), followed by a number greater than 100.
That number is used because odds are written based on the assumption of either a $100 bet or $100 of winnings. You’re free to bet more or less than that, and the odds remain proportionate, but 100 is the baseline.
The closer to 100 the odds, or line is, the closer the contest is expected to be. A -110 line means you must bet $110 to win $100, with the house taking a 10% cut. A +110 line, then, means you can win $110 with a $100 bet. Odds listed as “even” mean any bet would win exactly that amount (plus the original wager back).
On every bet, the house will take a cut. This is referred to as the juice or vig on a bet and can be anywhere from 5% to 20% or more. The typical juice is 10%. For this reason, a bet that’s seen as a 50/50 choice typically has a line of -110 on both sides — if you win, you double your money, minus the 10% the house takes.
As the number increases, so do the stakes of the wager. A +500 bet means you can win $500 with a $100 wager; this is also known as 5-to-1 odds. Meanwhile, a -500 bet means you must wager $500 to win $100 (plus your original wager back). A heavy favorite means you must bet a small fortune just to win a few dollars, while a successful bet on a long shot could net you an enormous return on a small bet.
Because it can be difficult to identify those underdogs, and because betting on heavy favorites requires an enormous risk for a small payoff, a more popular way to bet is on the spread. This is most commonly used in football and basketball. Instead of drastically changing the odds for a favorite or underdog, sportsbooks tell you the number of points they’ll add or subtract from a team’s final score to determine the winner of a bet. For instance: If you bet on a team listed as a 5-point favorite (commonly listed as -5), that team must win the game by more than five points for the bet to cash. If they’re a 5-point underdog (listed as +5), the bet is cashed if that team wins outright OR if it loses by less than five points. The odds on spread bets are typically close to -110.
Because of the house’s cut, bettors must win well over 50% of wagers to make a profit. This is difficult; even the best sports bettors in the world are happy with a 60% record, so the margin for success is thin.
With that in mind, sports gambling should never be relied upon for income. In the long run, gamblers are more likely to lose than they are to win, so never bet more than you can afford to lose. Sports betting is a source of entertainment only.
Sports betting glossary
FAVORITE: The team or player expected to win a contest. This is normally denoted by a minus (-) sign, both on spread and money-line bets. Against a spread, it’s often said that a favorite is “giving points” or “laying points.”
FUTURES BETS: These are long-term wagers on a team’s or player’s performance over the course of a season. It could be to win a league, division or conference championship, or it could be an over/under on a team’s win total for a season. These bets usually have less variance and thus can be easier to hit, but they also require payment for the wager up front and don’t cash until the season finishes. Most sportsbooks offer futures throughout the season; the odds change based on teams’ performance and other factors such as injuries.
Examples: The Saints are +1000 to win the Super Bowl. LSU is +700 to win the SEC football title. The Houston Astros’ win total was 88½ this season.
HOUSE: The entity accepting a bet and promising to pay out a winner; usually a physical sportsbook or its mobile app.
JUICE: The rake the house takes on a bet. This is typically 10% but can be 15% or higher on certain bets, which is why bets that are considered even odds often carry lines of -110 or -115 and why some underdogs only pay even money. Also called vig or vigorish.
JUMPING THE FENCE: The term for when a line moves to the point where the favorite and underdog switch places.
LIVE BETS: Most sportsbooks — and virtually all mobile apps — offer live betting within games. This allows a bettor to place a bet based on the flow of a game, either on the spread or the over/under. The catch is that it usually comes with increased juice.
MONEY LINE: The simplest kind of bet involves a wager on which team (or player) will win. Sportsbooks will list odds for each team with a minus (-) sign for the favorite or a plus (+) sign for the underdog. The higher the number, the bigger the favorite, which lessens your payout when you bet on a favorite and increases it when you bet on an underdog.
Example: The Saints are -240 favorites against the Panthers. A $240 bet on the Saints to win would pay out $100 (plus the original $240). The Panthers are +180 underdogs, so a $100 bet would pay out $180 (plus the original $100).
ONE-HALF BETS: Bets can be made for one half of a game, usually both on the spread and the over/under. First-half bets are placed before the game; second-half bets can be placed at halftime. For baseball, the equivalent is first five innings bets.
OVER/UNDER: The total number of points (or runs, or goals) scored in a given contest by both sides. Bettors can wager on the “over,” often denoted as “o67½” or the under, denoted as “u67½.” Also called a total.
Example: The over/under on the Pelicans-Warriors game is 231½. If the game finishes 120-115, no matter which team wins, that’s a total of 235 and over bettors cash their tickets. If it finishes 115-110, under bettors win.
PARLAY: A type of bet that combines two or more individual wagers in which all of the bets must be successful for the player to win. The odds are increased exponentially for each bet that’s added; a two-way parlay on even-odds bets pays +260; a three-way parlay pays +600.
Example: A $20 parlay on LSU to cover -7 against Ole Miss, the Saints to cover +3 against the Patriots and the Alabama-Auburn game to go over 62½ points would pay about $120, but all three conditions must be met for the parlay to cash.
PROP BETS: Short for “proposition,” this type of wager is on a specific outcome within a contest, rather than the final result. They’re famous at big games, especially the Super Bowl, but can be found for nearly any NFL game and many other contests throughout the year.
Examples: Alvin Kamara rushing yards, over or under 87½; Will Jameis Winston throw a touchdown pass?; Will the opening coin toss come up heads or tails?; Zion Williamson total number of points, rebounds and assists, over or under 41½.
Some prop bets are offered for nearly every game in certain sports, such as “no runs first inning” in baseball or “both teams to score” in soccer.
PUSH: Essentially a tie, when a bet neither wins nor loses. If the spread or over/under of a game lands exactly on the number, the bet is considered a push and all bets are refunded. Also can happen if certain conditions on a bet are not made (a game moves date or location or a starting pitcher is changed in certain baseball bets, for instance).
Example: LSU is -13 against Kentucky and wins 34-21. All tickets both on the Tigers and Wildcats are a push, and money is refunded.
SPREAD: The most common kind of bet is wager on a number of points (or runs, or goals) that a team must either win by or stay within in order to cash a bet. Also called a line.
Example: LSU is favored by 6½ points against Texas A&M. If you place a bet on LSU -6½, the Tigers must win the game by 7 or more points for you to win. If you place a bet on Texas A&M +6½, the Aggies must lose by 6 or fewer or win the game by any number of points.
TEASER: A type of parlay bet in which the bettor receives extra points on each leg of the parlay in exchange for worse odds than a typical parlay. Teaser odds can vary significantly; a three-leg, seven-point teaser might be listed as -120 at some sportsbooks and -160 at others.
Example: A seven-point teaser on the following lines (Arkansas +13, Falcons +6½, Titans-Colts over 49½) means you win the bet if Arkansas covers +20 points, the Falcons cover +13½ points and the Titans-Colts combine for over 42½ points.
UNDERDOG: The team or player expected to lose a contest. This is normally denoted by a plus (+) sign, both on spread and money-line bets. With a spread, it’s often said that an underdog is “getting points.”
VIGORISH: Another term for juice; the cut the house takes from each bet. Often shortened to "vig."
Tips for specific sports
The staff at the Las Vegas Review-Journal has its own Betting 101 that includes tips for how to place your bets at the window, and also the following sport-specific tips that might come in handy:
— Overtime counts. If a 4-point favorite wins by 6 points in overtime, then the favorite wins against the spread and on the money line. The score at the end of regulation means nothing.
This most frequently helps or harms bettors with college football totals. College football can easily spill into multiple overtimes, meaning a game that ended 20-20 in regulation could end up 38-36 in three OTs or higher.
— The 55-minute rule. Games must go 55 minutes for bets to count, even if the outcome of the bet is a foregone conclusion. This usually comes up because of a weather delay in a college football game that has turned into a blowout.
— Overtime counts. Same as football.
— Extra innings count. If the road team scores five runs in the top of the 10th inning, all five runs count against the total.
— Pitchers listed or action? The starting pitcher plays a large role in baseball betting. Bettors have the option to “list” the pitcher when placing their bet, meaning that the bet only counts if the listed starting pitcher in fact starts the game. If there is a change before the first pitch, the bet is refunded. If a bettor chooses “action,” then the bet goes forward even if the pitcher changes before the game, though the odds may be adjusted.
— The run line. A version of against the spread betting for baseball lets bettors either lay 1½ runs with the favorite or take 1½ runs with the underdog. Because winning by more than one run is unlikely, laying 1½ runs usually results in a “plus money” price, while taking 1½ runs with the underdog usually means the bettor has to lay a price.
— When are bets official? For full-game total bets and run-line bets, the game must go the full nine innings. If weather shortens the game, total bets are refunded, even if the over already has been clinched. In general, games become official after five innings, and money-line bets still will be paid for a shortened game, as long as it goes five innings.
— Overtime counts, with a twist. If the overtime period is scoreless, regular-season games move to a shootout format. For betting purposes, the shootout counts for exactly one goal, no matter how many are scored in the shootout. If a game is tied 2-2 at the end of regulation, the final score will be 3-2 no matter what. That means if you bet under 5½ goals and a game ends 2-2 in regulation, you have won, no matter if three goals are scored in the shootout. If you bet under 6½ goals and a game ends 3-3 in regulation, you have lost, no matter if the overtime period is scoreless.
— The puck line. A version of against the spread betting for hockey lets bettors either lay 1½ goals with the favorite or take 1½ goals with the underdog. Because winning by more than one goal is unlikely, laying 1½ goals usually results in a “plus money” price, while taking 1½ goals with the underdog usually means the bettor has to lay a price.
— Most games do not have overtime, so you must consider three options when placing a bet: Team A to win, Team B to win or a draw. If the game ends in a draw, you only win if you bet on the draw. Any bets on a specific team are losers.
— Sportsbooks also usually offer a “Draw no bet” or DNB line, in which case you can bet on either side, and a draw will result in a push instead of a loss. The odds are adjusted accordingly, so you won’t make as much doing this as you would on a three-way bet, but you’re also protected against a draw.
— In case of tournament play, when games can go to overtime or penalty-kick shootouts, overtime does not count for most bets. You bet on a three-way line for the original 90 minutes (plus stoppage time), and any bets on the goal total are also for 90 minutes only. So if a game goes to overtime at 1-1, a bet of under 2½ would win even if two more goals are scored in overtime.
— In tournament play, you also can bet on a team “to advance” or “to lift the trophy.” This bet would include overtime and penalty kicks; it’s a bet on which team will emerge victorious, no matter by which method.