Frequently Asked Questions about Sports Betting

This is the rec.gambling.sports Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list.

Most of the information in the FAQ was taken from the Art Manteris book "Superbookie". Published by Contemporary Books Inc. Copyright 1991.

Changes or additions to this section of the FAQ should be submitted to:

Page last modified: 2-15-96

Table of Contents

Section S: Sports Betting
S1 Where can I bet legally on Sports?
S2 What sports can I bet on?
S3 What is "the spread"?
S4 Why do I have to bet $11 to win $10?
S5 What are all of the different types of bets?
S6 Can I make a million dollars with one bet?
S7 Who makes the odds?
S8 Do I have to be over 21 to bet on sports?
S9 What is the minimum bet that must be reported to the IRS?
S10 Are there any good books or articles on sports gambling topics?
S11 What internet resources and sports computer data services are available to those interested in sports gambling?

Q:S1 Where can I bet legally on Sports?
A:S1 (Philip Galanter)
Leaving aside various forms of (animal) racing, there are at least four ways to bet on sports in the US, and of these two are legal, one is illegal, and one is ambiguous.

You can bet legally at licensed Nevada Sports Books, and illegally with bookies in virtually every town. Most of the following describes the ins and outs of gambling at sports books. There are two points worth noting here. First, Nevada Sports Books can set up phone accounts, but will not accept wagers across state lines. Second, odds with illegal bookies are often worse than those one can get in Nevada.

Betting with offshore (international) sports books seems to be on the rise, and promises to spread from phone services to internet based online services. From the point of view of bets and odds offered, these books are similar to licensed Nevada Sports Books. The legality of these services is, at best, ambiguous. There are claims and opinions on all sides of the argument, but few legal precedents. In addition, some offshore books are run by old trustworthy firms, some are fly-by-night scams, and many are somewhere in between. Cavaet Bettor.

The last way (and other than in state Nevada betting the only other clearly legal way) to bet on sports in the US is the Oregon Lottery. This was described as follows in a rec.gambling post:

The Oregon lottery is alive and well as far as football betting. The game is called sports action. The line is set by Jim Feist. It is set and printed on Wednesday and does not change. This can work to the bettor's advantage due to changes in team lineups due to injuries and such. The minimum wager is $2.00 and the minimum number of games bet is 3. The payoffs for a three game win is $5.00 per dollar wagered. Four games gets $10.00 per dollar wagered. All other wagers are paid on a paramutual fashion. For example, a seven game winner usually pays around $160 to $350. The maximum number of games that can be bet have a winner. A week or two ago $14,000 carried over in the 14 pool. There are also some games that are called special play games with over/under total score. The line seems to be fairly consistent with the Vegas line on the Wednesday that it is set.

Q:S2 What sports can I bet on?
You can bet on any sport the Sports Book you are wagering with covers. At most books, this includes professional and college football and basketball, professional baseball, professional hockey, and horse and dog racing. Every now and then Sports Books will offer proposition bets (see below) on events like professional golf tournaments and the Indy 500 and the like, but not on a regular basis for other events in those sports.
Q:S3 What is "the spread"?
The spread is a point advantage given to a weaker team that is expected to lose by X number of points. This is the odds makers way of making even bets possible for a Sports Book. Usually if you bet against the spread you make an 11-10 bet. This means that you win $10 if you bet $11 for a total of $21 if your team covers the spread.

A team covers the spread if it wins the game with the score modified by the spread. If Dallas and Washington are playing and the spread is (Dallas -7), then Dallas has to win by at least 8 points to cover. Half-point spreads are also possible.

Q:S4 Why do I have to bet $11 to win $10?
This is one of the many ways the Sports book makes its money. In an ideal situation, the same amount of money will be bet on both sides of the line and the Sports Book will take its 10% from the losing side. If $55000 ($50000 and an addition $5000 to make the bets) was bet on Washington and $55000 bet on Dallas, no matter who wins the game the SB will make $5000. In case of a tie, all money is refunded. This is a rather simplified version as the spread moves when one side becomes more heavily bet on.
Q:S5 What are all of the different types of bets?

Proposition bet

A prop bet is a bet the SB offers at odds and conditions of its choosing. Prop bets can be exotic bets like which team will score the most touchdowns, which team will shoot the most three pointers, which running back will rush for the most yards, etc. Most prop bets are offered at 11-10 odds, but some of the exotics will be offered at better or worse odds, depending on the bet.

Money Line Bets

A money line bet is a bet on the straight up total of an event or the odds for a straight up prop bet. There are two totals given for either side on a money line bet. A negative and a plus side.
			Dallas		-170
			Washington 	+150
What this means is that for every $17 you bet on Dallas, you win $10 if they win. For every $10 you bet on Washington, you win $15 if they win. This is the way SB's make money off games by not giving points.

Spread Bets

These are the standard bets to make. Basically a proposition bet at 11-10 odds where the conditions are you give or take points on the team you are betting on hoping that the modified total of your teams score beats the other teams straight score. Bets on the spread are often know as straight bets because they pay even money (minus the 10% vig).
			Tampa Bay	+19 1/2
			Miami		-19 1/2
This means that if you bet on Miami, Miami needs to score at least 20 more points than Tampa to cover. If you bet on Tampa, the score must be at least within 19 for you to win. The bottom team is almost always the home team.

Over/Under Bets

These are also 11-10 bets on what the total of the game will be. If the total posted on a game is 39 1/2 points, then you can wager that the total score of both teams added together will be either over or under the posted total. Betting the over is known as "betting on the ball", betting under is known as "betting on the clock".
			Chicago		-5 1/2 	-180	1:00 pm
			Atlanta		+5 1/2	+150	42 1/2
This gives the money line, the point spread, and the total for the game. It also tells you that Atlanta is the home team, and the game starts at 1:00 pm. As far as I know, this is the standard posting at mosts Books.


A parlay bet is betting on the outcome of two or more events, and getting higher odds than betting on the outcome of both events. The drawback is that the odds aren't right and that you must win all of the events to win the parlay.
		# of plays	Standard Odds	True Odds	
		----------	-------------	---------
		2 plays		    13-5	   3-1
		3 plays		    6-1		   7-1
		4 plays		    10-1	   15-1
		5 plays	    	    20-1	   31-1
		6 plays 	    40-1   	   63-1	
		7 plays		    80-1	   127-1
The more events parlayed the worse the odds shift in the casinos advantage. The advantage for the player for parlays lies in the fact that he can bet more on the same game (spread and over/under) and he can bet more on two teams who are playing at the same time.

In order to be competitive, some casinos offer ties-win parlay cards. This greatly helps the player. The Las Vegas Hilton SB is one of these.


A teaser bet is a bet where you can move the spread by a set amount, but have to pay to do it. You must bet at least two teams like a parlay and win both. You can move the spread by on all the games by the set amount.
Football Teasers
	# of teams	6 pts		6 1/2 pts	7 pts
	----------	-----		---------	-----
	2 teams		11-10		5-6		5-7
	3 teams		8-5		3-2		6-5
	4 teams		5-2		2-1		9-5
	5 teams		4-1		7-2		3-1
	6 teams		6-1		5-1		4-1
Basketball Teasers
	# of teams	4 pts		4 1/2 pts	5 pts
	----------	-----		---------	-----
	2 teams		11-10		5-6		5-7
	3 teams		8-5		3-2		6-5
	4 teams		5-2		2-1		9-5
	5 teams		4-1		7-2		3-1
	6 teams		6-1		5-1		9-2

Buying a half point

You can shift the spread a half point in your favor by laying 6-5 odds instead of the standard 11-10. This is called buying a half point. You usually want to stay away from this bet except on three point spreads on football games. This is also know as "buying the hook".
Q:S6 Can I make a million dollars with one bet?
Sure. Bet $1,100,000 straight up.
Q:S7 Who makes the odds?
A:S7 (Philip Galanter)
Las Vegas Sports Consultants Inc., establishes the odds for about 75% of the licensed Sports Books in Nevada, as well as for the Oregon State Lottery. It is run by Michael 'Roxy' Roxborough. He also operates as a consultant on gaming strategies, management, marketing, and personnel. Most illegal books in and out of Nevada draw their odds from what is posted at the various casinos. Transmitting gambling information across state lines for the purpose of placing or taking bets is illegal. News items about point spreads and the like can be reported for informational and entertainment purposes only.
Q:S8 Do I have to be over 21 to bet on sports?
Q:S9 What is the minimum bet that must be reported to the IRS?
Well all gambling wins and losses are supposed to be reported to the IRS at the end of the year, but if you bet more than $10,000 at once, you must fill out some IRS paperwork at the ticket counter. All money won must be reported to the IRS.
Q:S10 Are there any good books or articles on sports gambling topics?
A:S10 (Philip Galanter)
Here are some sports gambling related books I've found to be useful, in suggested reading order for beginners. The obscure ones I've purchased from the Gamblers Book Club, although I don't know if they are still in print. I tend to like writers that are objective and more interested in your winning than being a fan.

Orkin, Mike. "Can You Win?", W.H.Freeman and Co., 1991. IBSN 0-7167-2155-4 (soft)

Presents a general overview of gambling presenting the real odds of various games. It only assumes a high school level of mathematics understanding. The 32 page section on sports betting doubles as a guide to the various betting options available, and there is also a 16 page section on horserace betting. A brief treatment on Kelly betting as applied to sports gambling is included.

An overview concentrating on the question posed by the title, the author concludes the sports section with the observation:

"If you're going to gamble, which games should you play? I recommend sports betting. There are two reasons for this: 1 - Unlike in roulette, craps, and keno, it's impossible to prove that you can't win in the long run. 2 - When you win, it's because you're smart, and when you lose, it's because somebody fumbled."

Sugar, Bert Randolph. "The Caesars Palace Sports Book of Betting", St. Martin's Press, 1992. IBSN 0-312-05058-5 (paper)
The author is a well known sports writer and Las Vegas insider. A good popular introduction to sports betting with equal amounts of information on betting terms, options, odds, and the like, various considerations for each major sport; advice on handicapping based on matchups, streaks, injuries and stat.s; history and color; and money management.
Manteris, Art, (with Rick Talley). "SuperBookie - Inside Las Vegas Sports Gambling", Contemporary Books, 1991. IBSN 0-8092-4430-6 (cloth) 0-8092-3845-4 (paper)
A good second book to read, after perhaps the Sugar or Orkin books as an introduction, Manteris shares his observations as the Director of the Hilton Race and Sports Organization...aka the SuperBook. Interesting stories about the early days, why the house doesn't always win, how point spreads are set and moved as a practical matter, how the house calculates its take, scams, mob involvement (now mostly not) and more.
Peter Asch and Richard E. Quandt. "Racetrack Betting - The Professors' Guide to Strategies", Praeger Publishers, 1986. IBSN 0-275-94103-5 (paper)
Written by 2 academics from Rutgers and Princeton, this book seems to be a trustworthy analysis of betting at the horseraces. Included is an overview and analysis of popular strategies, subjective and objective analysis of available information and statistics, utility functions as applied to the public and wagering behavior (important given the paramutual basis of the odds), and the bottom line on some complex systems by the authors, Ziemba, and Quandt which seem to actually work.
Bob Carrol, Pete Palmer, and John Thorn. "The Hidden Game of Football", Warner Books, 1988. IBSN 0-446-39091-7 (paper)
While addressing sports betting only in passing, this book concentrates on innovative methods for detailed sports statistics analysis leading to accurate predictions. "Scientific" handicappers will find this book very stimulating.
Miller, Colonel J.R. "How Professional Gamblers Beat the Pro Football Pointspread - a step by step textbook guide", Flying M Group, 1993. IBSN 0-9636500-0-9 (spiral bound)
This is a self published specialty book available from Gamblers Book Club or by mail order. While the quality of most spiral bound gambling editions are suspect, this book is reasonably good. It provides a detailed analysis of how a serious gambler factors in pointspreads, power ratings, injuries, motivations, weather, and statistics to win over the long haul. The section on money management should be taken with a grain of salt, as it proposes flat betting as almost optimal, a modified plateau system as even better, and the "Kelly system" as a formula for disaster, in a rather unqualified way.
Michael Roxborough and Mike Rhoden. "Race and Sports Book Management - a guide for the legal bookmaker", (publisher not noted) 1991. IBSN 0-31-53873-6 (spiral bound)
Written by "Roxy" Roxborough, the provider of the spread and other services to most major sports books in Nevada via his Las Vegas Sports Consultants Inc. This book covers in moderate detail the mechanics of running a legal sports book, including setting and moving the spread, various economic measures such as the handle and practical hold percentage, overlays, parlays, limits, the law and regulations.
Pascual, M. "Bankroll Control - the mathematics of money management", (publisher not noted) 1987. No IBSN noted.
While poorly published (xeroxed, white-out corrections, hand written corrections and page numbers) this odd and perhaps difficult to find spiral book is a treasure trove of practical analysis applying Kelly betting to sports and racing gambling. Theory is light and presented with (hand drawn) graphs where possible. The book presents a numerical recipe approach to even complicated betting scenarios such as simultaneous games, simultaneous single and multiple parlay plays, win-show-place betting, and more. Also included are some useful tables (variables include % of wins, number of teams, variations to include parlays or not) showing optimal bets, risk and expectancy. Also included are some program listings in BASIC for (now mostly obsolete) hand calculators that may be useful as pseudocode.

The cosmetics do not, however, inspire trust. It would be nice if a r.g math weenie would review it.

Q:S11 What internet resources and sports computer data services are available to those interested in sports gambling?
A:S11 (Philip Galanter)
Web Sites
where sports information is kept within the rec.gambling FAQ. (The entire rec.gambling FAQ is at
where Jim Feist provides useful sports gambling information (intro, rules, lines, LV sports books) as well as ads for his tout services.
a good "jump site" with links to all manner of football information, including betting info.
used to manage an NFL Pool, but also has links to sports gambling information.
provides general sports information including schedules and team statistics some might find useful in handicapping.
provides power ratings, statistics, and other information of interest to NFL handicappers.
Sports International's on-line sports betting service.
E-Mail Lists (John Chandler)
has offered an NFL handicapping contest for several years. The weekly results are posted in rec.gambling so only potential contestants need contact him directly.
can be contacted for what is by most accounts the best resource for racing fans. Join the list-server for all manner of discussion and information for the beginner and the advanced handicapper/gambler.
can be contacted to join a list-server which provides lines and discussion of popular sports such as football and basketball.
provides periodic line and pick information along with information about their tout service.
FTP Sites,, or
all anonymous ftp sites in support of the Derby mailing list noted above.
Commercial BBS's
Computer Sports World (702-294-0191)
provides raw historical and current data for sports and race fans, as well as analysis software for computerized handicapping. CSW also provides other related information services.
Bloodstock BBS (800-354-9206)
seems to be a (the?) definitive resource for racing information used in handicapping.

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