How to Place a Sports Bet

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Published: 26/09/2010

Placing a sports bet for the first time can be rather daunting. There is so much information available, so many lines of numbers to sort through. It appears that everyone else knows exactly what’s going on and what to do. The ticket writers at the sport betting windows may seem too busy to help a new punter out. And online, the only assistance available is a help section that may use unfamiliar terms and references.

But placing a sports bet can be quite easy if broken down into simple, manageable steps. The easiest bet to start with is called the “money line.” It is a wager on one team or individual to beat another in a one-on-one match-up.

To begin, pick an event of interest, such as the football match between Ajax and Milan. Based on past results and current conditions, it should be an even match, but because Milan are playing at home, they are the slight favourite. Let’s see how to back Ajax for an upset.

The first step is to decide how much one is willing to wager. This is as much a function of how much the bettor can afford to lose as it is of how much he/she wishes to win. If only one bet will be made, the entire amount can be placed on Ajax to win. But if more sides are going to be backed, the bettor’s bankroll should be divided according to the amount of confidence he/she has in each wager.

Next, the bettor needs a place to make the bet. In the U.K., bookmakers handle “action.” In the United States, the bet takers are called “sports books.” It is also possible to make wagers on the Internet at sports betting web sites. Convenience will be a factor in choosing where to bet, but it is also possible to compare the odds offered and go with the one that offers the highest payouts.

With a team chosen, an amount to wager, and a location to bet, it is time to read the money line. These are the numbers posted next to the names of the teams in the match-up. They can be found on the “board,” an electronic display of all current odds available, listed on a paper odds sheets or on the corresponding web page.

Money line odds are given in one of three forms: fractions, decimals, or American three-digit numbers, plus or minus. Depending on where the bet is placed, one or all three may be posted. Perhaps the easiest to understand is fractions, which are widely used in the U.K. If Ajax are posted at 17/10, a winning wager of £10 will return £17. If Milan show at 8/5, a successful £5 bet will pay £8 or £10 will pay £16. The slightly better payout for Ajax is because they are the underdog.

There is a third possibility, too. If the two teams battle to a tie score, bets on either side will lose, so odds are also offered on a draw at 9/4. Again, that’s £9 collected for a £4, or £22.50 for a £10 wager.

Translating fractional odds to decimal odds is rather easy. Simply divide the numerator by the denominator and add one. That means 17/10 for Ajax is equivalent to 1.7 + 1 = 2.7, the 8/5 for Milan is 1.6 + 1 = 2.6, and the 9/4 draw odds are 2.25 + 1 = 3.25. The payouts are the same. It is just a different manner of representing them. The underdog will always have a bigger decimal than the favourite.

American-style money line odds are similar. Do the same division and multiply by 100. Ajax would be listed at +170, Milan at +160, and the draw at +225. The payouts are the same. However, American odds sometimes show as negative numbers for favorites. This happens when the fractional odds would be less than one, such as 3/5. In this case, the denominator is divided by the numerator: 5/3 = -166. Only favourites ever have negative odds.

All that remains now is placing the bet at the teller window. Because the ticket writer cannot possibly remember all the match-ups offered, it does no good to say, “I’d like £10 on Ajax to win, please.” Instead, look for the ID number on the board that is associated with Ajax. It will look something like this:

#429 Ajax 17/10
#430 Milan 8/5

There may be other numbers on the same line, which are for other types of bets, but those can be ignored for the purposes of betting the money line. What’s important is the ID number, because that is what’s used by the ticket writer to key in the wager. Simply say, “#429, £10, money line.”

The ticket writer will enter the information into his/her computer, accept the cash wager, and issue a paper receipt. Be sure to look at the receipt carefully. It must indicate the ID number, the side chosen, the odds offered, the amount wagered, and the date/time of the bet. Online, the receipts are electronic. This is the ticket that will be redeemed when Ajax beats Milan 3-2.

Having been through the process a couple of times, one can begin to appreciate why it seemed so complicated at the start. More wagering options mean more opportunities to find winners, and the hunt for those is called “handicapping”—the next level of placing sports bets.

Published on: 26/09/2010

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