Sure, at its most basic, the return of football is its own reward. But perhaps you’re like me and looking for a way to make even the most uninteresting games have a little bit of excitement and put some skin in the game for you. Enter the glorious world of sports wagering.
Admittedly, sports wagering is not for everyone and there’s more reasons to not do it than to do it, but if you have disposable income and live near a place where this is an option, then combining making some dollar bills with watching some football isn’t a bad way to spend your time. You haven’t truly lived until you have been on pins and needles for a mid-week SunBelt game where a final drive is going to determine whether it’s a backdoor cover or a perfect weekend.
If you’re a “sharp”, then you can skip this part. Even if you aren’t one, but you know what they are, you can probably skip this part, too. But if you’re a newbie and just trying to understand those things like point spreads, parlays, and “juice”, then this is the section for you.
Without a point spread, you’re wagering on who would be the winner. That’s not so easy sometimes, like when two Top 5 programs meet. But what about the weeks were a top ranked program takes on a Mountain West bottom feeder? How about if Eastern Michigan played USC? There has to be something to level the playing field. Allow me to introduce you to the point spread.
The spread forces gamblers to make decisions and adds another layer of mystery to a wager. In the aforementioned USC/Eastern Michigan contest, probably 100% of the gambling public would pick the Trojans, and they would almost assuredly be right. Vegas hates being wrong, so much like the 6-deck blackjack deal, they try to level the playing field and assign a point spread. Let’s say it was 34.5, with USC being the favorite. That would mean if you saw “USC -34.5 vs. Eastern Michigan” that for you to bet on USC, they would need to win by 35 points or more. A victory with a lower point difference or an outright EMU win, and your wager is lost. Make sense?
Payouts are sort of a tricky thing. Usually there’s 10% “juice” on a wager against the spread. Let’s look at it as 100-based. To win $100, you’d bet $110. Lose the bet and you’ve lost the $110 you wagered. Win the bet and you get $100 on top of your original bet, or $210 total. If you’re a sports book CEO, your ideal balance sheet means that you’ve taken an equal amount of money on both sides of a spread. Let’s say 100 bets are made for USC -34.5 and 100 bets are made for EMU +34.5. Regardless of the outcome, the $100 payout per winner is paid by the $110 per loser, with the Casino making a cool $10 on each wager for doing nothing but setting the lines and taking the risk. What a country.
We’ll get into exotic betting as the season goes on as opportunities present themselves, but for now we’ll stick to the three most common things you’re likely to encounter as someone wagering on sports. The first is the ATS (or Against the Spread) wager that we just outlined. The second is a “Moneyline” wager, where you believe a team that is an underdog, or “getting points”, wins outright. Think EMU with that aforementioned +34.5 line is going to get the outright win? Take them on the moneyline and increase your payout. Most wagers will list a moneyline payout next to the underdog. Let’s say next to EMU in the example we are using you see +3500. That means if you bet $100 on EMU to outright win, you’re looking at a $3500 profit. There are also times when you see a negative moneyline number. For example, in our USC/EMU showdown, you might see USC -7500. A negative moneyline is the amount you have to wager to win $100. In this case, $7500 because USC is favored so heavily. Moneylines are a great option when a team is a small underdog (3 points or so) and can win the game.
The final thing we’ll cover in our week 1 primer is parlaying your wagers. Think of parlays as a chain. It’s one wager that links two or more independent wagers together. To win the parlay all of the individual wagers have to win. So let’s say you take a three team parlay, the above USC/EMU example along with Ball State/Indiana and Toledo/Ohio State. The three individual games make up one parlay. Add more teams and your payout goes up. A three team parlay generally pays out 6 to 1. An 11 team parlay at 1233 to 1. You can also include a moneyline wager to increase a payout as well from those amounts. Different people will tell you different things about the strategy of using parlays and their relative values. I will just say that in the right time, with the right makeup, parlays can be utilized as another tool. However, in the long run, making chained together wagers requires you to be right at a much higher clip to be profitable. Use them wisely.
Week 1 MACtion Lines
So now that you know about the various options, I’ll give you my ATS picks on a weekly basis. I’ll also be tracking the weekly performance so you can choose whether or not to use this information as you go through your daily lives. Standard warning about don’t use this kind of thing for illegal activities in your area and don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose. We’re only going with FBS v FBS games this week partly because I already feel like more than enough of a degenerate and also because those lines are notoriously hard to find if you can find them at all.
Syracuse Orange (-5) @ Western Michigan Broncos
Kent State Golden Flashes @ Illinois Fighting Illini (-16.5)
Marshall Thundering Herd (-2) @ Miami-Ohio Redhawks
Northern Illinois Huskies @ Iowa Hawkeyes (-10.5)
Central Michigan Chippewas @ Kentucky Wildcats (-17)
Bowling Green Falcons @ Oregon Ducks (-33)
Akron Zips @ Nebraska Cornhuskers (-26)
Fearless Leader’s Hustle Belt Week 1 Bet-kakke picks
Western Michigan (+5)
Northern Illinois (-10.5)
Play of the Week: Oregon -33
Some tricky lines this week. I’ve always said that in the first three weeks of the season is when you make 90% of your bankroll for the rest of the year. The lines are wonky, the info is scarce, and Vegas doesn’t hold the usual edge that they usually do just because of a significant lack of time to do the research on everything. Good luck and always be cashing!