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October 23, 2014

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No need to be intimidated, rookie: Here’s a beginner’s guide to placing sports bets

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Odds are posted at the LVH sports book during the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament Thursday, March 20, 2014.

For the uninitiated, sports books can seem intimidating this time of year.

They go from rather desolate stretches of the casino in the middle of summer to jam-packed dens of commotion during football season. The raucous environment and beaming number-filled boards can overwhelm those unfamiliar with the protocol of gambling on games. Avoid the pull of the action no more. Here’s a basic guide on how to place a sports bet.

    • The first step

      Either position yourself in front of the betting board or grab a line sheet to find the team you want to wager on. To the left of the team name, there will be three digits known as a rotation number. Make note, as you’ll need to head to the betting window and give the ticket writer the number corresponding to your team along with the amount you want to gamble.

      Example: In the first NFL game of the season, the Seattle Seahawks host the Green Bay Packers next Thursday as a 5.5-point favorite. If I believe the Packers will win or stay within 5.5 points and want to bet $100, I’ll say, “461 for $100” to place my bet.

    • The juice

      If I wanted to win $100 with my Packers bet, I’d need to adjust my bet size to $110. That’s because the house typically keeps 10 cents out of every dollar as its juice, also known as vig. Therefore, if there’s equal action on both sides of a game, the sports book is guaranteed a profit.

    • Parlays

      Many casual gamblers like the idea of risking a small amount of money to win a lot. Thus, they are drawn towards parlays, which allow bettors to string together several bets with a higher payout if they all win. Parlays typically range from 2-teams to 12-teams, though it can depend on house rules at each individual sports book. If in addition to the Packers, I choose (472) Jets minus-5.5 against (471) Raiders and (465) Vikings plus-6 at (466) Rams as my other bets, I can parlay them by saying “461 with 472 with 465.” A $25 bet, for instance, would pay out $150 as the odds for a three-team parlay are 6-to-1.

    • Parlay cards

      Sports books can make parlays convenient with an offering of cards listing all the games with fill-in bubbles to hand over at the counter. Although parlay cards are sometimes a fine option, be wary. Avoid playing cards where “ties lose,” as will be clearly labeled at the top, or when payouts aren’t as much as the standard 6-to-1 for three teams, 10-to-1 for four teams, 20-to-1 for five teams, 40-to-1 for six teams, 75-to-1 for seven teams, 100-to-1 for eight teams, etc.

    • The money line

      Let’s say I don’t think the Packers need the 5.5 points anyway; I believe Green Bay will beat Seattle outright. I can skip right over the point spread and play the moneyline instead, which is a bet on the Packers to win straight-up. The payout will be bigger, as Green Bay is a plus-200 (risking $1 to win $2) underdog to beat Seattle. The potential prize is much less on the Seahawks as they’re a minus-240 (risking $2.40 to win $1) favorite in the game.

    • The total

      Popularly known as the over/under, totals give bettors a number and ask whether a game score will eclipse it. The total, which is almost always listed to the right of the game, in Packers vs. Seahawks is 45.5 points. If I think there’s no way these two teams combine for nearly seven touchdowns, then I’ll want to wager on ‘under.’ Either of the two team’s rotation numbers works for totals, so I can announce either ‘461 under’ or ‘462 under’ to the ticket writer and get the same ticket.

    • Minimums and limits

      These depend on the sports book, but the majority of shops in Las Vegas impose a minimum $5 wager. Betting limits vary more widely, though $10,000 is often considered maximum at many properties during the week. Casinos tend to loosen up and take larger wagers closer to kickoff.

    • Cashing out

      The best part comes last. After winning a bet, simply hand it over to the ticket writer and collect your money. Or, better yet, if you are having fun, place another wager to stay in the game.

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