You already know that you can wager on who will win any given game and what the final score will be. But there are other bets that go beyond picking winners and predicting game scores. These are bets that reward forward thinkers and those with knowledge of individual stats.
The three main types we’re looking at today are:
- futures betting,
- prop betting, and
- live betting.
Some of these bets will be settled in a matter of minutes (or seconds!) while others will stay on the board for weeks, months, or an entire season.
Before we get into specifics, note that there is one major downside to futures and prop betting: bookmakers tend to gouge you on the payout by over-rounding the implied probability way past 100-percent. So you often have to be very confident in your wager in order for it to be a smart move, financially.
Betting on futures
While every bet is technically for an event in the future, actual “futures” bets are long-reaching wagers that can go months, even years before settling. Futures are most often bets for who will win a championship, or which individual players will win major awards, and since there are so many possibilities, they feature sizeable odds for every choice (unless you’re dealing with the 2018 Warriors).
The Super Bowl is one of the most popular futures markets. Long before Week 1 kicks off, every NFL team will be given certain odds to win that season’s Super Bowl. Favorites, like the Patriots, usually sit around 5/1 to 10/1, while the worst teams in the league, like the Browns, start the year around 150/1 or 200/1. Everyone else will lie somewhere in between.
Like any other odds, futures will shift over time. The main reasons for movement are (a) the quality of a team’s play and (b) major injuries or trades. Because futures odds tend to be relatively long, the movement in the odds can be drastic. Given the short nature of the NFL season, a team’s odds to win the Super Bowl can shift from 80/1 to 50/1 in a single week if a team posts a very impressive win. Or they can plummet from 20/1 to 100/1 if they suffer a catastrophic injury, like when the Raiders lost Derek Carr in Week 16 of the 2017 season.
Those long odds are the biggest appeal of playing the futures market. You can bet on multiple teams or players to win, and still be in line to make a profit if any of your bets cash.
Aside from Super Bowl futures, NFL win totals are probably the most popular futures bet. With win totals, sportsbooks will project how well a team will perform (in terms of regular-season wins) and bettors can either take the over or the under.
Here’s how win totals will be represented, roughly:
Though win total bets don’t offer big payouts (generally +100 or -105 at best), they do give bettors a chance to bet on teams that aren’t anywhere near a championship. For example, though the Browns aren’t worth backing at 200/1 odds to win the Super Bowl, a bettor may see view their win total of 4.5 as too low and take the over, meaning that if they finish 5-11 (or better) on the season, the bet will cash. The obvious attraction of this is that you can bet on teams you’re actually interested in, even if they aren’t viable Super Bowl contenders.
Another attractive attribute of futures is the opportunity to hedge your bets down the line. What do we mean by “hedge?”
Hedging your bets
A hedge is when you bet against a future bet you’ve already placed to guarantee a profit. Let’s say you put a $100 bet on the Cleveland Indians before the 2016 MLB playoffs at 8/1 (+800) odds, meaning you would win $800 if the Tribe won the World Series. The Indians went on to reach the World Series, where they were underdogs against the Cubs, who were -190 favorites. At that point, you had two options: (1) stick with the Indians and pocket $800 if they prevailed, but get nothing if they lost, or (2) bet a substantial amount on Chicago, guaranteeing yourself at least a small profit, no matter the outcome.
Let’s look at the numbers in practice.
If you went with option (2) and bet $380 on Chicago at -190, you would win $200 if the Cubs won the World Series. Subtract the $100 futures bet you put on Cleveland, and you’d still be $100 in the black. If the Indians won, you’d make $800 on your futures bet and lose the $380 you wagered on the Cubs, amounting to a $420 profit ($800 – $380). There are plenty of variations on how to hedge, from just covering your initial wager, to figuring out how to get the same return no matter who wins. For the latter, use the equation below.
x = (p+b)/r
x = amount you should bet on hedge
p = the profit you stand to make on the first bet
b = the first wager you made
r = (decimal) price of the second wager
Most North American sportsbooks do not allow bettors to include futures in parlays, while U.K. books are more accepting. Most U.K. books also offer the ability to cash out on futures.
Cashing out, like hedging, is another way to profit off a future without committing to one team winning. Essentially, you are settling the bet before the event has reached its conclusion; at certain sportsbook, you can also cash out on single-game wagers.
Say you bet $100 on the Ottawa Senators to win the Stanley Cup before the 2017 season at lengthy 60/1 odds, meaning a potential $6,000 payout. After the Sens made the playoffs and went on a little run to the Eastern Conference finals, their odds shortened all the way to 9/1. At that point, the sportsbook might offer you $500 to cash out right then, rather than take the chance of you having to pay you the full $6,000. Even though the expected value of the bet is $600 (9/1 odds = 10%), they’ll offer you less because, well, it’s better for their bottom line, obviously.
Making prop bets
A proposition bet, more commonly known as a “prop,” is a side bet tailored to specific events and outcomes within a single game. These are the bets you will find when you click the “more bets” option on an event. Props aren’t really their own type of bet, however. They will always resemble a type of bet we’ve already covered. But it’s still helpful to look at them in isolation.
Since there’s so much going on in any one sporting event, there will be a wide variety of props available. Some will focus on specific players, some will focus on teams, and some will focus on the broader game.
Player Props – These are props that are tied to an individual’s performance in the game, and specifically, on the scoresheet. You can bet on:
- player totals: the book sets a number for points/assists/yards/etc. and you can bet the over or under, e.g. “LeBron James Total Points: 28.5.”
- which player will score first: much like futures, these will usually have a huge field of possibilities, each with long odds
- player vs player performance: the book pits two players against each other and you bet on the player you think will produce more points/yards/etc, e.g. “LeBron James vs Kevin Durant Total Points.” If there’s a huge advantage to one side (like Tom Brady vs Mark Sanchez Passing Yards) then the prop will include a built-in spread (like Brady -95.5 yards).
Like any other bet, player props will vary each game based on matchups. A running back’s total rushing yards could be 95.5 one week (when he’s playing the Browns), and down to just 65.5 the next (when he’s playing the Seahawks).
Team Props – These are akin to player props, but team-focused. With NFL games, you may, for instance, be able to bet on which team will score first, which team will run for more yards, which team will be leading at halftime, and much more.
Game Props – Basically, any prop that isn’t tied to an individual’s or team’s performance fits under this umbrella. Will the game go to overtime? Will the team that scores first win? Will the total score be an odd or even number? Game props are mostly two-option props, but there are some that offer a larger field of options, like guessing the exact number of goals or exact final score in a soccer game.
Alternate Lines – These are props that offer different spreads with different payouts that correspond to the adjustment in the spread. If the original spread for a game is New York Giants -3.5 over the Philadelphia Eagles, then an alternate spread of New York -9.5 would have much longer odds for the Giants (e.g. +250) and shorter odds for the Eagles (e.g. -400).
Live or in game betting
If you don’t get a bet placed before the window closes, you can still join in on the action. Most sportsbooks have the option of putting action on a game as it’s happening. This is known as “live betting,” or “in-play betting,” and books will update their odds as the action happens, giving bettors a chance to make wagers on both the overall outcome and props.
Moneyline, ATS and game-total bets are all available with live betting, as are some special props that can only be accessed in-play. For example, in NFL live betting, you can bet on the outcome of the next play: with options like completed pass, rush, turnover and more. In baseball, you can bet on how every at-bat will play out. The options are almost endless.
Due to the rapidly changing odds, books offer live betting in a separate window. There, you can enable a “quick bet” option, allowing you to pre-select a dollar amount to wager, and then place wagers with a single click.
Given the unique nature of live betting, books give themselves additional protections, such as:
- limiting the maximum wager limit (because live betting allows bettors to work with more information than is available pregame);
- declaring no action in more circumstances (when scores and odds are changing so quickly, mistakes will be made. Books rule no action more often during live betting if game scores they’re showing are incorrect or their updates are lagging).