Various Betting Definitions and Terminology
Glossary of Terms
Back Door Cover – when the outcome of a sports wager changes late in a game, even though it has no impact on the actual game. Most often referred to when a 10 point underdog in the NFL is losing by 14 with 6 seconds left and scores a TD to ‘back door cover’ the spread. Could also occur to some extent in other sports (more likely referred to as simply a ‘sick beat’, i.e., you bet under 9.5 total runs in a baseball game and its 2-2 in the 11th inning and the visiting team scores 6 runs to win 8-2).
Balanced Action – when the sportsbook taking bets has about equal money on both sides of the bet, meaning no exposure and a simple commission collection exercise.
Bookies – your local bookmaker or individuals who take your sports bets. They tend to act like a Las Vegas ‘sportsbook’ on wheels. You call or email in a bet and they show up/settle with you weekly. Some are nice gentlemen, some aren’t. Like in all manners of business, some respect their clients and business, some do not.
Convert Odds – ‘Odds’ (see definition for introduction) tend to come in two forms: American (moneyline format) or European (decimal). Most online shops allow you to choose how you want your odds formatted (often at the top or bottom of the site). American sportsbooks (at the Wynn, Venetian, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, etc.) tend to show odds in the American format. For mathematical calculations (see ‘parlays’ and ‘expected value’ for examples), the European system is superior. If the American odds show: -125/+115, you can convert the -125 to European decimal odds by adding 100 to the numerator and dividing by the bet, so it is (125+100)/125 = 1.8. -125 is the same as 1.8. -125 means risking $125 to win $100 and 1.8 means you get back $80 profit for every $100 risked (and had your risked an additional $25 on the wager, you’d get back $20 more with the same ratio and you’d be at the same point as with the American style wager). For the underdog, simply add 100 then divide by 100, so +115 is (115+100)/100 = 2.15. Under the American style system you get +115 so a $100 wager gets you $115 of profit. Under the European style system you get back a total of 2.15, or $215, which after your cost makes a $115 profit.
NOTE: a few sharp sportsbooks will not allow customers to bet correlated parlays.
Dog – short form for underdog. Betting the ‘dog’ tends to be better associated with a ‘positive expected value’, since most ‘squares’ bet favorites.
Expected Value – This represents the theoretical return on your wager. I.e., if you think two teams are evenly matched, each team will win 50% of the time. If the line is -130/+110 and you bet the underdog, getting +110 you are getting a ‘positive expected value’, as the bet wins 50% of the time but pays you more than double your money. How much more? The best way to calculate this is to ‘convert odds’ to European/decimal where +110 is 2.1 (see ‘convert odds’ if you are not comfortable with the math). The chances you win multiplied by your payout is the ‘expected value’. Therefore, the chances you win, 50% x 2.1 is the value. .5 x 2.1 = 1.05. Since 1.05 is greater than one, it’s a profitable wager (of .05 or 5%), producing a ‘positive expected value’. This example of 5% positive expected value is considered a HUGE edge in sports betting.
Juice – the commission the ‘Sportsbook’ operator charges you to place a bet. See ‘How do the sportsbooks make money’ above for details. Review ‘5×2 Commandments of Sports betting’ to determine where to place a bet.
Laying – betting the favourite (with the points or moneyline). I.e., if the NY Giants are favorite by 4.5 pts at home to the Dallas Cowboys and you bet the Giants, you are laying 4.5 pts (or odds), meaning they must win by 5 for you to win. Opposite side – if you bet the Cowboys you are ‘Taking’ 4.5 pts (or plus money with the ‘dog’).
Linemakers – these are the leading ‘Sportsbooks’ in Las Vegas and online who first set the line. As soon as the Miami Heat beat the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2013, the finals were set versus the San Antonio Spurs. The ‘Linemakers’ set a line. Bettors then bet into that line and ‘Sportsbooks’ adjust by moving it. I.e., the line opened as Heat favored by 6.5, but bettors were impressed with the Spurs recent sweep of the Grizzlies and bet the Spurs, forcing ‘Sportsbooks’ to lower the line (in this case it dropped to 5.5) to try and get ‘balanced action’.
Middle – this is the dream of every bettor and every ‘Sportsbook’s’ nightmare. It occurs where the line moves and the final ‘middles’. The most famous example of this was Super Bowl 13. The Pittsburgh Steelers opened as a 4.5 point favourite versus the Dallas Cowboys. People bet the underdog Cowboys +4.5 so Las Vegas dropped the line to 4, then 3.5. At 3.5 some of the same people bet the favorite Pittsburgh Steelers -3.5. The final score in Super Bowl 13 was Pittsburgh 35 Dallas 31, a spread of 4. A clean ‘middle’ for some bettors (who won with Steelers -3.5 and Cowboys +4.5).
Moneyline – meaning a wager on who will win, with no point spread. The money line requires the favorite to lay odds, i.e., you risk $150 to win $100 and the underdog gets odds, meaning you risk $100 to win $150. Since the Heat (in the above game 1 NBA finals example) are the favorite you need to risk more with them and since the Spurs are the ‘dog’ you get odds. The favorite is said to be ‘minus $150’, written as -150 meaning you need to risk $150 to win $100. The dog is said to be ‘plus $150’, written as plus $150 meaning you get $150 for every $100 risked.
Odds – This is the payoff on your bet and generally represents your chances of winning. American odds at sportbooks come in the ‘to’ variety, meaning you get those odds PLUS your principal back. So if you bet on a team that is a two-to-one ‘dog’ and risk $25 you will get back $75, your bet PLUS 2x your bet profit. Under the European odds system or decimals, the formatting comes in the ‘for’ variety, so the exact same bet as above would pay 3.00 meaning you get back a total of 3x your wager. As before, if you wager $25, you’d get back 3x 25 = $75. Please see ‘convert odds’ for a more detailed explanation.
Over/under – aka the total. Meaning a wager on the TOTAL points scored in the game. In game 1 of the NBA finals the ‘total’ was 188 so if you bet ‘over’ you need a sum total of 189 or better (i.e, a final score of 100-89) and if you bet ‘under’ you need a sum total of 187 or less.
Parlay – Occurs whenever you are making 2 or more wagers on a single ticket. For example, the La Kings are pick-em at home to the Chicago Blackhawks and the RedSox are +140 vs the Yankees. If you want to parlay LA and the RedSox you can, and the odds multiply. Use the European odds for ease of calculation (see ‘convert odds’ for details). Pick-em is 2.00. +140 is 2.40. So the parlay pays 2.00 x 2.40 = 4.80 so you get back $480 for every $100 wagered, or $380 of profit. Bettors love betting parlays because the payoffs are big, but so is the risk as you need to win the whole parlay/all the bets. Try to avoid parlays unless they are ‘correlated parlays’ as they add to your volatility, but do not increase your ‘expected value’. See my ‘5×2 Commandments of Sports Betting’ for a more in-depth explanation.
Point Spread – see ‘spread’ for definition
Positive Expected Value – see ‘expected value’ for definition
Proposition Bet –also referred to as ‘prop’ bets or ‘exoctics’, these can be more complicated wagers. There are 2 types: in game and season long.
In Game Prop Bets: this could include an over under on how many rushing yards Adrian Peterson gets in a game or the number of points scored in the 2nd quarter.
Season Long Prop Bets: this could include bets on which team will win the Super Bowl (before the season or playoffs starts), or, an over under on how many total wins the Green Bay Packers will have during the 16 game regular season.
Public Money – opposite of ‘Sharp Side’. There are also ‘public money’ teams, i.e., popular teams (the Dallas Cowboys – America’s team), or big market teams (the Ny Knicks). These teams tend to be overvalued and the ‘sharp side’ is to bet against them.
Sick Beat – see ‘back door cover’
Sportsbook – The places (primarily in Las Vegas) in North America, where you can legally place a bet. The large ‘Sportsbooks’ are located in the major casinos along the strip (Bellagio, Caesars Palace, MGM, Cosmopolitan, Venetian, Wynn, etc). There are also virtual ‘Sportsbooks’ or online ‘Sportsbooks’ (5Dimes, Bet365, Pinnacle, Ladbrokes, etc), often located on an island or in the UK.
Spread (or point spread) – meaning a favorite has to win by x number of points and if they win by less or lose, the other side, or underdog wins/covers the spread. I.e., in game 1 of the 2013 NBA finals the Miami Heat were a 5.5 point favorite over the San Antonio Spurs. If you bet the Heat you only win if they win by 6 or more. If they win by 5 or less or lose, the people betting the Spurs win. In betting terms the Heat are said to be ‘minus 5.5’, written as -5.5, meaning they have to win by MORE than 5.5 to win. The underdog Spurs are said to be ‘plus 5.5’, written as +5.5 meaning you have them to win PLUS 5.5 MORE points so they can lose by 5 or less and you still win.
Square – the people betting the ‘public money’. Your friends who just saw Denver/Manning crush at home and are now going into KC to face the lowly Chiefs and are ONLY ‘laying’ 7.5 pts. This is usually viewed as a suckers bet. ‘Linemakers’ saw Denver crush and know people love betting Peyton Manning on the road so they inflate the line and let the public bet the poor value play. The ‘Sharp Side’ is betting the ugly KC Chiefs as a home ‘dog’.
Taking – opposite of ‘laying’ defined above.
Total Handle – the total amount of money the ‘Sportsbook’ takes in on a game. See ‘How do the sportsbooks make money’ for details on operations. See the sections on ‘how to bet’ or ‘explaining the odds’ to better understand how ‘Sportsbooks’ make money.
Tout – a person (usually male) who makes their living claiming they can produce winning sports betting results, usually at a unrealistic figure. I.e., against the spread in the NFL producing a win rate of 55% is challenging and few, if any, win 60%. ’Touts’ on TV/radio/online claim to win at 70 or even 80%. They charge $ for their picks and do NOT refund/care if you win/lose. Its a short term cash grab.
Underdog – the team less likely to win. Opposite of the favourite. See ‘dog’ for expanded definition.
Value play – Making a pick because it has a positive ‘expected value’. I.e, an underdog may only win 22% of the time, but if it’s a big dog paying 4-1, which is 5x your wager, 5 x .22 = 1.1, or a 10% premium (see ‘expected value’ for detailed math), it’s a great ‘value play’. This may be an ugly wager on a team that usually loses but it’s a ‘value play’ because it will generate profit long term.
Vig – or vigorish. Same as ‘juice’ defined above