Dollars & Cents: How & When To Place Sports Bets

Sports are popular. Gambling is popular. It was thus inevitable for sports betting to be very popular – and so it is. To do it sensibly, the sports betting process breaks down into three areas: (1) knowing yourself (your budget, attitude, habits, temperament), (2) knowing your stuff (your knowledge of one particular sport, and your commitment to staying updated), and (3) knowing how and when to make bets. Here is a primer for combining all three. NOTE: We encourage you to comply with all the gambling laws in your city, county, state, and nation. Be aware that some people develop serious gambling problems that can have negative financial, psychological, and family repercussions.


Sports betting rooms look a lot like NASA Flight Control.

As far as anyone can tell, more money is wagered on sports than anything else. It’s hard to know for certain, since there are few legal venues for it, and most bets are “underground,” as well as in the Cyber Grey Zone. We do know that $2.6 billion was bet legally through Nevada sports books in 2009 (from which the National Gaming Impact Study Commission (NGISC) estimated illegal sports wagering at some $380 billion that year). Bets on non-college teams (pro and semi-pro) make up two-thirds of all sports betting in Nevada. The Super Bowl is the big moneymaker for sports books, annually. Still, the $83 million wagered with sports books on the 2010 Super Bowl was just 1.5% of total Super Bowl wagers (because the bulk of the bets were illegal). Internet gambling on sports, as tracked by Christiansen Capital Advisors (CCA), totaled revenues of $4.29 billion in 2005; over twice the amount brought in just four years earlier. Legal and otherwise, the bets keep coming.


Before you figure out your bankroll, you need to get a budget in order.

“Gambler, know thyself.” There’s no old saying like that, but there should be. The very first thing you need to do if you’re considering betting on sports is to understand (and follow) a budget. You do not have to risk financial ruin merely to have some safe and sane gambling fun. If you get serious, and work at it, you may even win. Before you wager the first dollar, however, you need to do a thorough and honest appraisal of your finances. If you are not using a budget now, and don’t know exactly what your income, expenses, assets, and liabilities are, you shouldn’t gamble a cent. You have to know exactly what your financial position is before you can determine how much you can afford to lose. That’s your “bankroll,” and it needs to be separate from your household funds.

You should never wager money that is not in your bankroll. You should never drink while betting, either; no matter how much you insist that alcohol has no effect on you. If you want to win, sports betting needs to be planned and executed in a sober, straightforward manner – unless you don’t mind losing, of course.


Yes, you will have to read and study, and even do math.

Even when you learn enough, and are disciplined and hardworking, the casinos and sports books still have an advantage. Your winnings are more than offset by the losses of the majority, which is an edge you never have as a player. But, there is facet of the casinos’ and sports books’ advantage that you can replicate: research. Professional gamblers that run betting operations spend their lives studying, calculating, maintaining databases, reading athletes’ injury reports, and crunching numbers. This is done across a vast number of team and individual sports, as they have to cover any action that any bettor (in the world now, because of the Internet) might bring their way.

Focus on just one sport’s specialization (your favorite makes sense), and build yourself an edge over the house, since you will develop more expertise as a specialist than a generalist could. Dedicate yourself to the effort, and constantly refine your niche betting expertise.


There are lots of experts with advice, but you need to know how to discern good from bad.

If you do not know about sports betting, or the terminology for various wagers, then you need to add these topics to your study list – and a couple of years to your timeline. You really have no business betting on sports if you are just learning the difference between betting the moneyline and betting the spread, and between a “pick ‘em” and a “push.” Low-score sports like baseball and soccer use a moneyline, centered on $100 for ease of calculation. A moneyline is a wager where no point spread is involved. If the Dodgers are expected to beat the Cubs, L.A. might be -120 and Chicago +110, meaning you pay $120 to win $100 if you think L.A. will win, or pay $100 to win $110 if you think underdog Chicago will. Higher-scoring sports like basketball and football typically use a spread as the most popular bet; however the moneyline wager is still applicable. The margin of victory expected for the winner depends on the type of bet placed. If the Redskins are favored to beat the Falcons by a touchdown, the spread is Washington -7 and Atlanta +7. There are other kinds of bets and terms to learn, too – total points, middles, East Coast line, special Canadian hockey lines, and so forth.

This is not a group of serious bettors. It’s fine to make a party, but don’t expect to win.

A common myth says that odds-makers set the spread or the moneyline based solely on their expectation of the outcome. Wrong. While odds-makers do set the spread based on expected outcome, it is subsequently adjusted based on the expected outcome of the game and adjusted based on where the bettors are placing their money. The odds are created to keep bettors evenly split, which is why you will see movement in the spread from day to day.

If too much money is wagered on one side, the house will “balance the action.” For example, if an unusually large amount is bet on the favorite, odds-makers may add a half point to the spread to bring more action to the underdog.


Time is pretty confusing as it is, but timing your sports bets right can be mind-bending.

Wagering on sports events often depends on timing, whether using sports books in person, betting online, or using other legal (or illegal) means. Some bettors bet on the release of the odds, especially when they believe they are more expert in the sport than the odds-maker(s). The downside to this is time, also – the time between the odds being placed and the game taking place, when injuries or weather could foul up your calculations. Another timing option is to watch the sports betting lines and track the moves against your own best analysis of the game. Remember that it’s the number of bettors, not their positions or judgments, which is in play and will affect the ongoing adjustments of the spread or moneyline. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

There’s money to be made, if you’re good – and lucky.

Another new and exciting option in the world of betting is “live betting” where participants can actually place wagers in the middle of a game play. Various sports books now offer this option and it is the most interactive in the betting arena. Live betting allows users to place odds on everything involved when watching a game. For instance, when participants are watching a football game, they are able to wager on everything from; which score play will occur next, which team will be the first to score or even the team they believe will be the next to get a first down. A last option is waiting until the last moment to place a bet. This ensures there will be no movements on the game. There’s not any set rule for how the ups and downs of the moves will go (or end up), but at least they will not be a factor at the very end. Some professionals would advise consistency – play every bet the same way – while others recommend a broader approach.


As you learn more, and put your learning to the ultimate test with money, you will develop your own style as a natural result. You must understand that anything less than total commitment, will keep you forever a hobbyist. If you want to make money as a sports bettor, hit the books – first the library books, then the sports books.