probably just rubbed your forehead and thought, This
is getting complicated. I know it seems that way,
but once you understand the basics, they apply to
Let's go over
the money line. So far, we've determined that most
sports wagers are based on points. Whether it's the
line that one team has to cover, or the total number
of points scored in a game, giving or taking points
is a good way for the sports website to even out the
chance of either team winning the wager. This system
works very well in football or basketball where there
are a lot of points scored, or at least there is the
potential to score a lot of points.
But what about
games or events where there are no, or very few, points
scored? In these cases it is not possible to even
out the chance for either team to win. A couple of
examples will make this easier to understand. Let's
start with the most common money line in sports-baseball.
Many years ago, before sports wagering was legal in
Nevada, the betting lines were set primarily in New
York, Detroit, and Chicago. In the early 1900s, baseball
was truly America's game, and it garnered most of
the betting action. Betting lines were expressed as
odds. The Yankees could have been 6/5 favorites over
Boston in a particular game. Odds lines are always
expressed as the amount of money you stand to lose
compared to the amount you stand to win. In our Yankee
versus Boston example, you have to put up $6 to win
$5. The $5 odds line was popular in the early 1900s
because $5 was a common amount bet on a game-that
doesn't seem like a lot now, but five bucks was a
lot of money back then. We'll discuss, in detail,
how the lines are set a little later in this chapter,
but for now let's just say that if the linesmaker
thought that a particular baseball game was evenly
matched, and he was charging no juice or handling
fee, the game would be 5/5 under the old system of
odds lines. You would risk $5 to win $5.
If the linesmaker
thought one team was considerably better than the
other team, the odds line might be 7/5-you risk $7
to win $5. Remember, odds lines are always expressed
as the amount you risk compared to the amount you
stand to win.
The odds line
based on a $5 bet was fine until the normal, or average,
amount wagered went up. On larger amounts it was hard
to calculate, and the easy answer was to base everything
on units of ten. A 6/5 line becomes a 12/10 line.
A 7/5 line would be a 14/10, and so on.
Now that we've
got everything based on units of ten, I think you
can see where we're headed. An odds line of 7/5 is
the same as 14/10, which is the same as saying that
you will risk $14 to win $10, or $140 to win $100,
which all boils down to the fact that you risk $1.40
to every $1 you bet. Congratulations! You have just
arrived at the money line!
money lines are normally used for wagering situations
where it is impractical or impossible to even out
the wager using points. And you must also understand
that each wagering situation we have dealt with so
far has been assuming that you are betting the favorite.
The same Yankees 6/5 over Boston that we started off
with has now become Yankees minus 120 over Boston,
or the Yankees minus $1.20 over Boston. Why did we
say "minus 120"? Because you will lose,
or be minus, $120 for every $100, or $1.20 for every
dollar, that you bet on the favorites, the Yankees.
We said "minus"
for another reason. It's the opposite of "plus,"
which is the way the bet would read if you took the
underdog. When you bet the underdog, you have a chance
to win more than the amount you wager. It's your possible
reward for betting on the team that is not supposed
to win. Keep in mind that this wager has not been
evened out by adding or subtracting points. This wager
is strictly based on who wins the game.
Let's say you
like Boston in this game against the Yankees. You
bet Boston plus 120 over the Yankees. Now the money
line is working in reverse for you. If you bet $100,
and Boston wins, you win $120. You would win $120
for every $100 you wagered on Boston.
If the line shown
on the sports website board was Yankees minus 160
over Boston, and you bet Boston and they won, you
would win $160 for every $100 bet.
So how does the
sports website make a profit on money line bets? To
explain, we need to go back to the points line. When
dealing with a points line, we know that the juice
is normally 10 percent of the bet, and is charged
to those players who bet the favorite. There is no
juice charged for handling a wager on the underdog
on a points line bet.
We know that
in theory the points line is set and adjusted to hopefully
attract an even amount of money on both teams so that
the sports website essentially pays the winners with
the losers' money, and keeps the 10 percent for handling
When the sports
website posts a money line on a game or event, it
sets and adjusts the money line to hopefully attract
enough wagers on the underdog so that once again it
would be able to pay the winners with the losers'
money. Taking a chance on losing more than you stand
to win is the penalty for betting the favorite. And
taking things to an extreme example, you could not
expect the sports website to give you an even-money
bet-risking $100 to win $100-on a game where the world
champion Green Bay Packers, who are 14-0, are playing
the New York jets, who are 1-13, and whose star quarterback,
running back, and wide receiver are injured.
So let's assume
that the money line has been properly set, and the
sports website has enough wagers from the losers to
pay off the winners. That works out fine, except for
one thing: There's no handling fee for the sports
website. You can't add the handling fee to the money
line because the bettors are already paying a hefty
premium for wagering on the favorite. The obvious
solution is to take the handling fee from the bettors
who played the underdog.
Here's where I think the sports websites can take
advantage of the bettors. The juice on points line
bets is always 10 percent. It is for all practical
purposes a 10 percent or ten-cent line. On the other
hand, the juice on money line bets varies from sports
website to sports website, and from event to event.
If a particular sports website is running a 10 percent
line, it takes ten cents from the payback based on
every dollar wagered on the underdog. If you bet Boston
plus 140 and Boston won, everyone who bet $100 on
the Yankees minus 140 would lose $140, but you would
only win $130. A fifteen-cent line (15 percent) would
give you $125, and a twenty-cent line (20 percent)
would give you $120.
For years and
years, until wagering became more competitive because
of legalized sports betting in Nevada, baseball was
bet on a twenty-cent, or 20 percent line, because
that 6/5 odds line that equated to 12/10 was actually
a twenty-cent line. As sports wagering became more
competitive, sports websites dropped the line to fifteen
cents, and ultimately to ten cents, or 10 percent,
the same as on points line bets. Most websites now
use a ten-cent line for baseball. If the line is higher,
make your wagers elsewhere.
As I said earlier,
the handling charge on money line bets varies from
sports website to sports website, and from event to
event. You will know if the line is something other
than 10 percent if the payback is listed after the
underdog on the board in the sports website.
The payback on
the underdog varies as the lines get higher and higher
because the favorite in a particular betting situation
becomes more and more a prohibitive favorite, like
our Green Bay-Jets example. The sports websites will
gladly take your money on the favorite in hopes that
the favorite loses, no matter how high the money line
goes, but they are not quite as willing to pay out
high paybacks on the underdog when there is a major
upset. You'll see that major difference when the positive,
or plus, money line is posted after the underdog.
you want to place a wager on a boxing match. Mike
Tyson is to fight another one of Don King's tomato
cans, and Tyson is almost a guaranteed winner-the
tomato can has virtually no chance of winning. In
a wagering situation like this, you won't see lines
like in baseball. The money line you see posted in
the sports website is Tyson - 2500, Tomato Can + 1800.
That money line means that you will have to risk $2,500
to win $100. There are no points in boxing just a
winner and a loser, and in this case Mr. Tomato Can
has no chance ... well, no chance? There is always
a chance. Ask Buster Douglass, who went off a forty
to one underdog against Tyson in Japan. Quick ...
give me the money line on that fight. Risk $40 to
win $1, $400 to win $10. Now, remember that money
lines are based on $100 wagers, so, risk $4,000 to
win $100. If you have $1,000,000 to put down to win
$25,000, you'll probably win the bet, but you have
to be absolutely crazy to make that bet. Most players
who have that kind of money to bet aren't crazy, so
the sports websites take very little action on these
types of bets. It's a tough situation to be in on
either side of the bet. If you bet the underdog, the
chances are very good that you are throwing your money
away, since most favorites in that money line manage
to win. You can't bet the favorite because we've already
established that you're not crazy, and the fact is
that Vegas really doesn't want a lot of action on
these money lines.
The sports websites
don't like to be put in positions where they stand
to lose several more times than they can win, so they
make the handling charge much larger than normal to
minimize their risk. In the Mike Tyson minus 2500/Tomato
Can plus 1800 example, the sports websites will take
your $2,500 for every $100 bet on Tyson if Tyson loses,
but they will only pay out $1,800 for every $100 bet
on Tomato Can. That's a $700 handling charge-pretty
It's also a pretty
extreme example, and long shots do occasionally come
in. Evander Holyfield started off as a twenty-one
to one underdog against Tyson. A lot of very knowledgeable
boxing fans took Vegas up on that one, and by fight
time Holyfield was down to a six-one underdog, because
the line was adjusted down as more and more money
came in on Holyfield. Even with the rapid adjustment
of the line, Vegas lost millions when Holyfield won
Most money lines
are not as extreme as the examples above. I used them
to help you understand the difference between a points
line and a money line, and to demonstrate that you
must know how much you are risking compared to how
much you stand to win.
Money lines are
posted on games where there are also point lines-football,
for example-to give you the option of giving or taking
the points in a game, or playing the game "even"
as far as points go, where you only have to pick the
winner, but risk a higher dollar loss if the favorite
website has its own formula for converting point lines
into money lines. As an example, in our Notre Dame
minus 11over USC game, the money line would be something
like "Notre Dame -270, USC +230." In this
case you would risk $270 to win $100 to bet Notre
Dame, and you would win $230 on a $100 bet on USC.
On money lines
in football, or any other event for that matter, you
simply have to pick the winner. It's just another
option when considering how you want to place your
So what does
it all mean? How does the juice affect you? How do
you calculate your win percentage on money line bets?
Does it matter which way you play? Let's look at some
On straight line
bets where the juice is 10 percent, you must win 52.4
percent of your wagers to break even. For easy verification,
if you placed 1,000 wagers of $100 each, you would
have to win 524 of them to win $52,400, to balance
out losing 476 wagers since you lose $110 (476 x $110
= $52,360). As a professional handicapper, I can on
average hit about 65 percent on football, about 60
percent on basketball, and over 70 percent on baseball.
Boy, that baseball
number sounds impressive! We'll get to that in a moment.
If I hit 65 percent in football, and you take that
win rate and calculate the return on your money, you'll
find that it represents a 24.9 percent return over
a five-month season. That's a 57.8 percent annualized
return, and that beats the S&P 500 by a long shot.
head again? If you bet one hundred games, $100 per
game, and won sixty-five games, you would win $6,500.
You would lose thirty-five games at $110 each, for
a total of $3,850, winning a net total of $2,650.
Since your total exposure on one hundred games would
be $11,000 if you lost every game, your return on
investment would be $2,650 divided by 11,000, or 24.9
percent over the five-month season. Annualized, that's
57.8 percent! The 60 percent win rate works out to
14.5 percent over four months, or 43.6 percent annually.
Very impressive numbers-and it's a lot of fun, too!
While we're talking
about win percentages, a word of caution: In the world
of professional handicapping, many unscrupulous firms
will tell you that they hit 80 percent or more, and
I will tell you in big bold letters, that is simply
an outright lie!! In over thirty years of professional
handicapping contests in Las Vegas-contests that have
attracted the very best handicappers in the country-no
one has ever hit over 70 percent for the season.
Let's get back
to baseball, the money line, and our 70 percent plus
win rate. There's one basic principle here: The higher
the money line, the higher your win percentage has
to be to break even. The equivalent money line on
a points line bet-where the juice is 10 percent-is
minus 110. We've already seen that you must win 52.4
percent to break even. In baseball, it is not uncommon
to see money lines where one team is minus 150, minus
160, or more. The highest line I can personally remember
seeing in baseball was minus 340, which means that
if you bet $100 on a minus 340 favorite and lost,
you would lose $340.
From a professional
standpoint, we seldom use games where the line is
over minus 150. Playing 150 games, or games that average
minus 150, you must win 60 percent of your plays to
break even. Playing minus 200 favorites, you have
to win 66.6 percent to break even. So you can see
that the higher the favorite on the money line, the
more you must win, percentage wise, to break even.
Our 70 percent
win in baseball during the 1996 season was done with
an average money line bet of minus 128. It should
be very obvious to you that you must have a lot of
self-discipline and good money management skills to
wager on sports using the money line.
Now that you understand some of the basics, let's