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Sports Betting Basics

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Sports Betting Basics
Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Sports Betting Basics

If you've ever wanted to place a bet on a sporting event, but were overwhelmed by all the talk of odds, point spreads, bookies, and sportsbooks, relax. We'll have you ready to join the action in no time. While at first glance the world of sports betting can seem to be a complex one, it's not nearly as daunting as it may first appear.

Sports gambling has been around since the beginning of the United States, and the colonists were known to have wagered on fighting, horse racing, and even cockfighting. Gambling was a long-time tradition in England and it was only natural the colonists would bring their love of gambling across the ocean with them.

In the 1800s, pedastrianism was the sport of choice among gamblers. But the sport eventually fell victim to race-fixing and other corruption and the public lost confidence in it. At that time baseball was beginning to grow, but as the popularity of baseball increased in the later part of the century, so did baseball betting, and the popularity of wagering on the sport was brought to the forefront during the 1919 World Series, which will live on in infamy as the Black Sox Scandal.

College sports, such as football and basketball, began to catch the public eye in the early stages of the 20th century, and over time, those two sports soon rivaled baseball as popular betting activities. For a number of years, football and basketball bets were placed using odds, a practice that still takes place today and is known as betting with the money line. For a detailed explanation of the money line and how it works, see Understanding Money Lines.

The Advent of the Point Spread

The only problem with the money line is that a number of the college football and basketball games were mismatches and all of the gamblers would be betting on the same team, which is not what the bookmakers want. In the 1940s, the bookmakers changed the face of sports gambling forever when they came out with the point spread. For a detailed explanation of the point spread and how it works, see Understanding Point Spreads.

Simply stated, the point spread is a handicap placed on the expected winner of a football or basketball game in points. If the Lakers are expected to roll past the Clippers, the point spread on the game could be as high as 20 points. Basically, that means 20 points are subtracted from the Lakers score or added to the Clippers score for betting purposes. If a gambler places a bet on the Lakers, they must win by 21 or more points for the gambler to win their bet. Those placing bets on the Clippers will win if the Clippers win the game or lose by 19 points of less.

The primary purpose of the point spread was to help the bookmakers balance their books. Instead of the vast majority of gamblers all betting on the same team, there were more bets placed on both teams. Because the bookmakers make the bettor risk $11 to win $10, balanced action will guarantee the bookmaker a profit regardless of which team wins the game.

The television explosion of the 1950s was another boost for bookies, as sports and television was a perfect match. People soon found out that a wager on a game would add to the excitement of watching the game and sports gambling has been growing at a steady rate every year.

The Start of Totals

Bookmakers aren't dumb and they quickly realized the more betting opportunities they had for the public, the more wagers the public would make. That thinking led to the creation of totals. Totals, or over/unders, is a betting proposition where gamblers wager on the combined final score, without any regard to the winner of the game.

For a detailed explanation of the totals and how they work, see Understanding Totals.

Betting against the point spread, with the money line, or on totals are the three most popular forms or sports betting that take place today. In recent years, bookmakers have continued to come out with additional betting opportunities, such as parlays and teasers.

These two bets are explained in greater detail in How to Bet Parlays and How to Bet Teasers  and an excellent in-depth look at betting NFL teasers can be found in the NFL Teaser Betting Guide located on the Top Betting Reviews website.

You're now well on your way to joining the exciting world of sports betting. For the next step, how to begin placing bets, read Getting Started in Sports Betting .

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