Prospector Sam's Simple Guide to understanding Sportsbetting


December 9, 2020 11:39 PM

I’m still here guys! Two weeks in and no email or call telling me how Dimers made a huge mistake by picking me up to write for them. I’m going to put that in the win column. In fact, they actually came to me with a content idea, which I am happy to oblige for my brutal corporate overlords (just kidding, these guys are incredibly nice and really let me do whatever the hell I want).

Only time will tell how much they come to regret this, but I am here to pull together a list of terms for the new gambler or casual observer who has no idea what’s going on when their friend yells about a shitty backdoor cover. Why me? That’s honestly a good question. If you’re looking for a simple page to skim and get some easy learning, I’m probably not your guy. For that, go look up “sports gambling terms” on the google machine and I’m sure you’ll find a thousand options. But my feeling, which I think (hope?) is shared by Dimers, is that the world of sports gambling isn’t meant to be like that.

Gambling is fun, exciting, and erratic. This isn’t learning how to cook the perfect thanksgiving turkey or instructions for putting together your new IKEA shelf. When you throw down money on a game, you’re choosing to invest yourself in a form of entertainment that is emotional and even a little bit irrational, where there is no perfect formula. And if that’s the case, why not make learning and reading about gambling a little less formal, and a little more engaging. That’s where I come in.

There is certainly nothing formal or traditional about my writing, and I can put a spin on this learning exercise that will make it a little bit more amusing than a simple rundown of every term you need to know. Or maybe Dimers just wanted to exploit my free labor a little bit more? I suppose we’ll never know.

So here we go, a list of all the key betting terms that everyone should understand. Whether it's for your own betting purposes, or just to be literate with your degenerate friends, this will cover almost every word or phrase that is used on a regular basis by gambler (I’m sure I’ll miss something, but that’s just part of the deal).

Logistical Terms – Learn How to Bet


Book: The real “brutal corporate overlord”; The book is the company/site where you place your bets. Maybe its an actual place or a person if you like to be very old-school, live in a casino or are just plain old set in your ways. These people earn money hand over fist off of the common man, and all they have to do is give us the tools.

“Juice”: How does the Book make money? They take a cut, of course. You thought you would win $10 if you bet $10. Nope. In almost every book, the standard bet pays out 91 cents on the dollar. So if you lose, you lose all your money, and if you win, you get less than what you bet in profit (but you DO get your stake back). Now you understand why Books can pay 8-figures for a state gambling license, and still make a huge profit.

“The Board”: These are your bets. All of them, in one glorious, disastrous place. The board is more of a metaphor than anything else, since there isn’t really one big page with every bet currently up for play, but it sounds cleaner this way.

“Ticket”: A common way to refer to your bet, harking back to a time when you actually got a physical piece of paper for your wager.

“Unit”: Everyone has their number. This is the standard amount that you bet on a game to make it worth your time. Depending on how rich and how risk-averse you are, it could be anywhere from a dollar to hundreds of thousands. One of the keys to gambling is to find that sweet spot where you are betting enough to make the payout meaningful, but not enough to cause you real pain when you lose. And then you’ll probably ignore it and bet way more than that.

“Payout”: Those sweet, precious doubloons that pop up in your account after a win. No better feeling exists for a sports gambler than seeing that extra money (before you turn around and lose it again).

“Limit”: Most books have some cap on how much you can spend. I’m not sure if that’s true any more, since these companies have enough money to take whatever risk you are willing to place, and because they verify your funds when before you place a bet. But, theoretically, there is a ceiling on how much you can bet. I assume you have to at least talk to somebody when you’re one of those rich people dropping $100,000 on a pick. But I doubt I’ll ever have enough money to know.

“Spread”: This is what you’re actually betting on. It's very rare that the two teams playing (or whatever else you are betting on) are exactly even in terms of the likelihood that they will win. The actual “skill” of the book is that they set a line for any given matchup. For example, team A is playing team B, and team A is better. Well, how much better? The line is set at the expected outcome for the game based on the two teams playing. Team A is expected to win by 3, the line is set at -3 for Team A. At the end of the game, you take that number and subtract it from their final score, and boom you have your outcome. Team A won 13-11, but didn’t cover because the spread was -3. You get it now. Here’s a cookie.

Odds: Taking the best odds is super important to long term profitability, let me make that clear (you can compare all the books' odds here)! I wanted to include this in the Spread definition, but it's probably best stated separately. Your odds are what define your payout. As I said before, the standard bet pays out 91 cents on the dollar, which is written as -110. Yeah, that’s fucking annoying, I know. Why is it written that way? -110 is the same as saying 100/110, which is our 91% payout. But not every bet is standard. Say you want to bet on something a little more risky. The odds will be a bit different for you because the book expects that there is less chance you will win, so they will entice you with more money. The number gets higher, and flips at 100 to go into positive numbers. So if you see a +200 bet, you’re looking at a 2 dollar payout for every dollar you bet (200/100). This part takes some time to get used to, and even I still get confused sometimes (but I don’t claim to be all that smart, in my defense). If numbers aren’t your thing, this will be by far the least fun part of sports gambling.

“Pick Em’”: A bet where the payout is exactly 1:1. It’s the only time you wont see a positive or negative number for a bet.

“Cover”: WINNER WINNER, CHICKEN DINNER. This is the term used when you get the bet right. It’s different than saying a team won, because a team can win a game but not cover the spread or vice versa. If there is one great quote to live by in life, it's this; good teams win, great teams cover.

“Push”: When the book was so spot-on that nobody wins anything. The outcome hit the exact line, and you get your money back. Better than losing, but feels like a big waste of time.

“Didn’t Cover”: No! get your bad vibes out of here devil!

“Line Shift”: You might have guessed this already, but lines aren’t stuck in one place. Books are imperfect, and sometimes lines are set at the wrong number. How do they know to move it? More money is getting placed on one side of the bet than the other. Line shifts are a big deal nowadays because the Books are very rarely “wrong.” So why do they still shift? The Public (see below, but its pretty damn self-explanatory) is notorious for betting in ways that are consistent but not always correct, like over-betting favorites. Or maybe, after a line was set, a major player gets hurt which changes the expected outcome. Overall, always make sure to check if there has been significant line movement. It might tell you that there is importance news that you missed, or it might signal that the Public is being stupid again.

“Opening Line”: If you are literate enough to read those words, you now know what they mean without me explaining them to you.

“Money Line”: Maybe you don’t want to bet on the spread. Maybe you think and underdog is going to win the game, and you want to bet on that. Well, do we have a gift for you. The money line lets you bet on the actual result of the game. It's almost like being an actual fan who cares about the outcome (sometimes gamblers forget that normal people care more about who wins than who covers). The odds will be adjusted accordingly, so that the underdog has higher odds and the favorite has lower odds to cover the money line. Want to be a savvy gambler? One good way to do it is to effectively bet favorites on the money line. I’m a crazy person who prefers more risk though, so that’s a route I rarely take.

“Total”: Another popular way to bet on a game. The total is simply that – the total number of points for both teams. It's set the same way as the line, but all you do is pick whether you think the combined point total is going to be above or below that figure. Gamblers are notoriously bad at betting this, because people want to see more scoring when they watch sports. I wont lie, I’m just as prone to it as anyone, and I bet Over's more than I should. It probably has more to do with the fact that I just avoid betting games where I like the under because I hate watching and hoping for a game to be boring, but there is still some missed opportunity there.

“Over/Under”: You pick one or the other. Very, very simple. But pick the over unless you are a sad person that wants to rid the world of sunshine and rainbows.

“Halftime Bet”: Feel very strongly about one team playing better in the first half, but not the full game? This puppy is for you. Not my style, but it's not a completely uncommon way to go.

Live Bet: Now we start getting into the real degenerate territory. And no type of betting is more desperate than live betting. It is what it sounds like; odds adjusted during the game to match the current status of that game. Its often used when a gambler has already lost their bet and takes another shot at the live odds to bounce back. Live betting is a dangerous game (especially when alcohol is involved), so be careful...

“Prop Bet”: I’m sure you’ve heard about people betting on the Super Bowl coin toss. That bet falls into this category. Its basically all of the other stuff you can bet on, that ranges from pretty acceptable, like if a player will score a touchdown, to the bizarre, like how long the national anthem will take to finish. It can be a fun option, but once you start betting consistently on props you know you’ve hit hard-core gambling status.

“Alternate Spread”: Want to take a spread that is entirely different from the real one? Sure, there’s a way to price that for you. Books will basically take any action you want as long as the money is right, so you can adjust any line to fit your needs. Is the team you want to bet on 3.5 point favorites, but you want to protect yourself against a 3-point victory? Boom, take the alternate spread at -2.5 and you can add that safety for a drop in payout price.

Futures: I hate futures, but they are a part of gambling so I’m obligated to discuss them. It’s exactly what you think. You can bet on outcomes like the team who will win a championship at the end of the season or who will be the MVP. Basically, if you like taking long shot bets and tying your money up for months, this is for you (though I’d suggest a savings account instead). Here's an example👇


“Parlay”: My favorite way, and the absolute dumbest way, to gamble. A parlay is a bet that increases your odds exponentially by tying games together. You have to get every pick right to win, but you get a higher payout the more games you choose. Basically, it’s a good way to waste your money once you get past about 4 picks, but its fun to put down $10 on a 15-team parlay in hopes that you hit and win $100,000. Like playing the lottery, but maybe worse odds.

“Teaser”: Did you really like the idea of tying your bets together, but want to a safer option? That’s where the Teaser comes in. I imagine some guy like me realized how much money he was wasting on parlays and came up with this idea to save himself. Basically, you tie multiple picks together but you also get extra points to “use” for your benefit (with that amount depending on the number of games you pick). Take a two team teaser; to get back to standard odds, the bettor gets 6 points to use as they wish. Its for wimps in my opinion, but I also like to lose money, so what do I know.

“Round Robin”: This is a series of parlays created for the same set of games using permutations. Once you get into round robin gambling it's over. Just go find help.

RELATED: Sportsbooks in your state

Bettor Slang – Things Sports Gamblers Say


“Public”: Ok, now we’re getting into stuff that doesn’t have any real explanatory value, but you will sure as hell hear come up. The “Public” is the collective bets of everyone who put money on the line/total/etc. If the majority of the money favors one side over the other, you’ll hear things like “the Public is on Team A.” Basically, it’s a way of knowing the book is about to make a lot of money because gamblers are fools and the book always wins.

“Handicapper”: The person setting the line. You might think it was all done by computer these days, but you’re wrong. There are still little minions working for the Book adjusting lines or updating live odds. Those guys/gals are your handicappers.

Sharp”: Someone who is really good at gambling, or even does it professionally. This idea of a gambler who is better than the book is hard to find anymore because the amount of data and analysis involved in setting lines makes the margins slim. But there are still people who are good enough at this that they can be seen as sophisticated or more knowledgeable than the rest of us. I am not one of them.

“Fade”: This just means to bet against something. If you have a dumb friend who loses all the time, you can “fade them” by taking the opposite of what they bet to win money. Another common form of doing that is fading the public to try to avoid traps that the average gambler is falling into.

“Favorite”: The team who is favored to win. I should not have to explain that to you.

“Dog or Underdog”: You have been living under a rock, go make some real friends before you start betting.

“Straight Up”: Another way to refer to betting the money line. If Jimmy says “I took Team A straight up,” that’s what he’s referring to.

“Bad Beat”: Yeah, this is self-explanatory, but the pain that a gambler feels from a Bad Beat hurts down to the core. It's not just that you bet and lost, it’s the way you lost. It could be a meaningless score as time runs out, or a horrible mistake at the end of a game that was extremely improbable. If you talk to any seasoned gambler, they will be able to recount stories of bad beats that have stuck with them and that they will never forget. It's almost a right of passage.

“Sweat”: Things are coming down to the wire on your bet and it's not clear which way it will come out. That’s when you’re Sweating the game. Basically, what every gambler lives through on a daily basis and the rush that we all live for, even if we hate it.

“Backdoor”: Similar to a bad beat, it’s a way of referring to an outcome that hits when it probably should not have. More specifically, it usually refers to a team that was an underdog who covered with meaningless points (as far as the actual outcome) at the end of the game. You probably hear this term from the guy who won, and not from the guy who lost on a TD in the last minute to cut the score to a 20-point margin. That guy will be yelling about a bad beat.

“Laying Points”: Betting on the favorite, it refers to the fact that you are giving up points on your bet. You need them to win by more than a certain number, and that number is the points you are laying.

“Taking Points”: I’ll give you one guess to figure this out.

“Buying Points”: A specific way to refer to Alternate Spreads, where you are willing to take worse odds to lower the line in your favor. It’s a common approach to provide protection against more common final score lines, like the field goal victory scenario mentioned above. Basically, you’re paying for a better line with a lower payout. Hence, “buying.”

“Lock”: The term a gambler uses to refer to a bet that will CERTAINLY HIT. If you hear this, call that person an idiot. Avoid saying it at all costs. One thing I know from gambling most of my life is that there is no such thing as a lock.

“Value”: On the other side of the coin, this is the term you should use. Have you analyzed the performance and stats of the teams facing each other and decided that the line is a bit off what you think it should be. There is value on that bet because you have better odds, or a better line, than you think you should have. That doesn’t mean its guaranteed to win, but it does mean there is a better opportunity to win than you would expect.

“Against the Spread or ATS”: When you look at the standings for a professional league, you will see the record for each team. There is also a running statistic of how teams have done over the season relative to the line for each of their games. A team might have a bad record, but have won more often against the spread, or vice versa. Gamblers respect those teams who cover consistently.

“Hedge”: A way to refer to protection from losses. If you’re hedging your sports bets, you probably just shouldn’t be here. Pony up and live with the risk.

“Off the Board or Line is Down”: This happens every so often when a significant event causes the book to remove the game from betting, either temporarily or permanently. Most often, it's because a major change has occurred (think significant injury). If you see a line is down, start digging for more information.

“Chasing”: Last, and certainly least, is Chasing. Chasing is the lowest of the low. You’re already down money, and you are frantically trying to win it back rather than accept that you’re going to be out some cash. It can lead to miraculous saves, but it can also dig the hole way deeper. This is truly playing with dynamite (something I know a bit about as a prospector), and its probably a smart idea to avoid Chasing all together. But I do it all the time, so do as I say and not as I do.

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