Seasoned visitors to Las Vegas distinguish between betting on dumb luck (like table games) and making bets where the outcome depends on skill (like poker). The Sports Book is in the second group. This article introduces sports books to the uninitiated.
Where are the Sports Books in Las Vegas? Virtually every one is part of a casino. They are separated from the gaming floor, and usually in a completely different room. Just head for your favorite casino and look around or ask someone.
What are Sports Books Like? Unlike the main floor, where you find lots of noise and flashing lights, the sports book is quieter. Your focus is on the large screen (or screens) that display ongoing sports events. Frequently the race book and the sports book are placed together. Individual seats with personal TV’s are mainly for race book patrons who watch closed-circuit broadcasts from tracks. A bar is never far away, and waitresses pass by frequently to take drink orders. Like the main casino, there are no windows; however, you will find at least one clock — for keeping track of closing times for bets. Near the entrance one or more windows, like those for bank tellers, will be open to receive your bets.
Summary of the Procedure. Enter the sports book. Smile. This should be a relaxed and agreeable place. Look at the “board” (usually electronic or LED), which tells you what “lines” (available wagers) are being offered. Make yourself comfortable. Write down what you want to do (if you haven’t already). With time to spare, go to the window and announce your bet or bets, one at a time. Follow a set routine. First, hand over the money. They don’t make change, so don’t hand over more than you want to bet. At the same time, clearly announce the amount and the number of the line. There’s no need to say the team name or the game, as that is understood from the line number. (You may need to say one or two more words if the bet is on totals, a “prop” bet, or if you want to “buy” a point or two.) Receive your ticket and check it before you leave the window. If there was a mistake, and you leave, you’re toast. Then, enjoy the contest. If your ticket wins, cash it. Otherwise, hang on to it for your taxes. That’s pretty much it.
Lines and Props. The “board” displays each event, and each team or contender is in its own “line.” The visiting team is first, the home team is second. For many sports, the favorite will have a number next to it with a minus sign. This is “the spread.” If the favorite wins by more than “the spread,” a bet on the favorite wins. If the favorite wins by less, or loses, a bet on the “dog” (underdog) wins the bet. If the final score exactly matches the spread, it’s a “push,” and nobody wins. Wagers are returned. If “the spread” shows a half point (like 3.5), it means the “push” is not a feasible outcome.
The “line” on any team is the amount to bet in terms of $100. If the favorite is at “-110” (the standard line), it means that a bet of $110 will win $100 if it wins (plus the amount of the bet). If the dog is at +100 (also fairly standard), it means that a bet of $100 will win $110 (plus the amount of the bet). Thus the winner takes $210 home no matter what, but the risk was $10 more for the one betting on the favorite and the reward was $10 less. If no amount is listed in the line, the presumed bet is -110/+100. If a different number is posted, then that amount is the required risk to win $100 (if on a favorite) or the amount you win for a $100 bet (if you pick the dog). Of course, you can bet any amount you like (within upper and lower limits). These numbers just indicate the proportions at play.
Next to the “dog” there will be another number, usually the total number of points to be scored in the contest. You are free to bet “totals,” meaning you wager whether the combined score does (or does not) exceed the predicted number. Totals bets are even wagers unless otherwise specified.
This system works best for games with high and variable scores, like basketball and football. For baseball, hockey and soccer, a slightly different approach is taken. The line will show the wager without a spread. Instead of spotting the favorite a certain number of points to bring the bet to the -110/+100 ratio, the wager might be -240/+140 with no spread. The heavy favorite will probably win, but the reward is small ($100 versus $240 risked). The dog will return $240 for every $100 wagered (including the amount bet). Different formats for individual performance sports (like golf, tennis and auto racing) are used. Lines are not posted for events involving subjective judging (like figure skating).
“Props” are wagers on specific events other than the outcomes of athletic contests. You might be able to have action on who wins the Nobel Prize for literature, or who scores first in the Super Bowl, or if there are more penalties in a given football game than double faults in a given tennis tournament. There is no end to the variation possible.
Handicapping. The thing that makes the sports book a place for knowledgeable players is this: The “props” or “lines” offered by the house have been “set” by experts who study the teams and players and work hard to predict outcomes with precision. If you feel that your study of the competitors leads you to a different conclusion, then you have a good chance of winning. You have a positive “edge.” Of course, you need to be right, or more nearly right than the lines maker. Handicapping is the secret to success. It is the application of research and reason to outcomes that have some deterministic characteristics and others that are subject to random variations. For this reason you may see several sports book patrons with laptops, working away at their handicapping before deciding finally whether and what to bet.