Five Things to Know Before You Gamble This Weekend

New to gambling on college football? Here’s some advice to get you started.


With summer drawing to a close and school starting back up, the next few months ahead may seem like a drag to get through. However, the end of summer means the start of a new season, one millions worship in a cultish fashion. Football season is back, and with it a reenergized gambling industry. As thousands of content creators push game picks left and right, here are five things to consider before betting on the football games this weekend.


Am I being responsible?


The first and most important question to answer before gambling on anything is whether you’re being responsible. When you place a bet with a sportsbook (a company that runs sports gambling), it is real money and has real consequences. Left unchecked, gambling can become an addiction. Ask yourself or ask a friend: Should I place this bet? Am I gambling too often or in too large quantities? Before you gamble, create a budget plan. You have to plan as if the money you gamble is gone. Never gamble with money you can’t afford to lose.


What does “moneyline” mean?


In football, the moneyline (commonly referred to as a “pick ‘em”) simply refers to who’s winning or losing the game. However, don’t think big sportsbook companies will let you get away with just betting on the best team in the league all season. The sportsbooks will create odds—which are numbers used to force a large bet on a team—so that more people will bet on the spread.


What is the spread?


The spread refers to the favoring of one team over another. In sports gambling, the favorite, or the team favored to win, has a minus sign followed by a number. For example, the Kansas City Chiefs could be favored -4.5 points against the New England Patriots. That means, in order to win the bet, the Chiefs have to win by 5 points. The Patriots would be considered the underdogs. Underdogs are allocated the same number as the favorite, but with a plus sign in front. Therefore, the Patriots in this example would be +4.5-point underdogs. This is where gambling gets tricky. If the Patriots lost by 4 points or less, or won the game outright, then they would win the bet. When betting the spread, you must have a lot of faith in one team to cover the points, because that bet can only be won if the spread is covered. Underdogs can still lose the game but win the bet. When Alabama beat Mercer 48-14, an unequivocal blowout, those who bet the spread in favor of Alabama still lost their bets because Alabama was favored by over 50 points.



What are odds?


In simple terms, odds are the chances one team has of winning or losing a game. Teams that are loaded with talent are much more likely to beat a team (or cover a spread) than a team that’s rebuilding their core. Sportsbooks use algorithms—in a way, gambling on themselves—to compute the numbers for each team. Let’s say the Chiefs are playing the New York Jets. The Chiefs have recently won a Super Bowl and been to three consecutive AFC Championship games. Over the past decade, the Jets haven’t performed as well, suggesting that the Chiefs would easily win this game. A sportsbook, noticing this, would then create the moneyline odds. Last year, the Chiefs were -3500 and the Jets +1400. If you bet the Chiefs’ moneyline, you wouldn’t win much if they won. If you bet on the Jets and they won, you’d win quite a lot of money—but the odds of the Jets winning are slim, so it’s a decidedly riskier bet.


However, there can be evenly matched games when the odds are in the low hundreds, which means safer bets. The higher the odds go, the more you have to pay to win less. Additionally, sportsbooks can change the odds at their will. It’s important to keep an eye on the odds, because changing odds can reveal a sportsbook’s faith in a team.


If this seems confusing, you’re not alone! Odds take some time to figure out. Remember, if good odds are in the low hundreds, then they generally have good value. Most sportsbooks websites will even do the math for you, showing you how much you can win with whatever dollar value bet you place.


What is the over/under?


The over/under is another way to bet on a football game. Essentially, it’s a number determined by the sportsbook that estimates the total points in a game. For example, say the Chiefs and Patriots are playing again. The over/under—the total compiled points between the team—may be 47.5. You can bet on this game taking the side of over, meaning more than 47.5 points are scored, or under, meaning under 47.5 points are scored. When in doubt, measure the team’s offensive and defensive stats against each other.


Okay, now that I know how football gambling works, what team do I pick?


After studying the odds, it’s time to choose your team. It’s always fun to bet on a hometown favorite, but be responsible and as objective as possible. As a Giants fan, I recognize that my team hasn’t exactly been on fire in a while, so I don’t bet on them every week.


All aspects of the game should be considered before placing a bet, but some key components to keep in mind are offense, defense, and the effectiveness of the coach. But there are never any guarantees in sports gambling. I’ve found listening to podcasts and watching game highlights to be super useful strategies when learning how to place smarter bets.


I look forward to football season every year because, to me, football is one of the most exhilarating sports to watch—especially when you have a few bucks on the game. Gambling is a learning curve, and you’ll lose, even just a little bit, every week. I can’t remember the last time I had a perfect weekend! But—and I can’t stress this enough—responsible gambling is the best kind of gambling. Don’t bet your groceries or rent money on a game. And if you think you or anyone else you know has a problem, never be afraid to ask for help or call 1-800-GAMBLER.