Prop Betting 101

Propositions are the only wagering opportunity that bookmakers routinely lose money on. In case you’re not familiar with prop betting, it means a wager made on anything other than a point spread, moneyline or total.

For NFL football betting, common examples include:

Online sportsbooks like 5Dimes and Bet365 combine to offer dozens of unique propositions for each game of the NFL season. As I mentioned in the intro, they often lose money on this form of wagering. In this article I’ll explain why it is so and where to bet online.

Why Bookmakers Often Lose Money on These Bets

BookmakerSportsbooks accept millions of dollars in wagers on point spreads, moneylines, and game totals. During the NFL season, for instance, there are 13-16 games each weekend that a bookmaker stands to profit handsomely on if he manages his positions well.

Meanwhile, propositions are a much smaller market, offered as a novelty wager, mostly for the purpose of player retention. With the need to create lines for hundreds of these bets each week, a bookmaker will often use a very simple formula such as weighing each team’s stats with league averages to create a rough line.

From there he keeps he keeps the betting limits down to $200 to $500 maximum per bet, and adjust the lines as action comes in.

There are three reasons proposition bets can be profitable:

1) Bookmakers spend little time creating odds for each individual bet. It is therefore very well possible for the punter to have analyzed a certain bet far more than anyone with the betting site, or any of his peers wagering on the line.

2) With small betting limits, serious sports bettors eventually graduate from these types of bets. While there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of bets with $5 to $30 +EV each, many professional bettors simply don’t have the time. This creates more opportunity for the lower limit professional to build his bankroll or increase his season profits.

3) These bets attract fan bias. On my NFL betting page I covered the reasons fading the public doesn’t work, as fans don’t influence betting lines on main markets such as the point spread, total and moneyline. In prop sports betting the opposite occurs; novice bettors often do shift these lines; this creates value for the smaller limit professional.

Line Shopping is the First Key

Proposition BetsOne the easiest strategies for beating NFL props involves comparing lines at several online sportsbooks. Doing so I’ve routinely found situations where I know for a fact a bet is +EV without needing to pull any stats or research them.

An example came last NFL season where there was a bet on total sacks in a New York Giants game. At dozens of sites I shopped including Bookmaker, 5Dimes, BetOnline, Sportsbook and others – the line for under 3.5 was between -110 and -120.

Amazingly, I eventually found Bovada had under 4 -105, which was no question a +EV wager. Another example came in a Miami game where Intertops had Chad Henne’s total passing yards at o241 -110 and TheGreek had u284 -110. Here I made a $550 to win $500 wager at each site effectively giving me 20 to 1 ($50 to win $1,000) that his passing yards will between 241 and 284, which I’m certain hits often enough to be a profitable bet.

Common Sense Tips

There are few things that should be common sense when it comes to prop betting, but just to be certain I’ll go ahead and cover them here.

1) Don’t bet on it if it can’t be beaten over the long term. For example, a popular Super Bowl prop is the coin toss flip. Betting heads or tails at -105 is a suckers bets. While these bets can bets can be fun, if your goal is to make money, you should avoid all bets that are not beatable long term.

2) Be careful of bad lines. When shopping for betting lines, if you find a line that is so far off it seems too good to be true, it’s best to check with the site it is offered with before wagering on it. This advice is critical, as what could happen is you end up in a no win situation.

If you wager and the bet loses it will of course be a loss, however if you wager and it wins the bet might get voided as having been a bad line. So again, be very careful of any lines that look too good to be true. When it doubt, phone the betting site, or send them an email, to confirm the line is correct before wagering on it.

3) Check that your wagers are graded correctly. While this can happen anywhere, 5Dimes is highly reputable betting site with a notorious track record of incorrectly grading these wagers. This relates to the fact that it’s not uncommon to find four hundred or more of them on a given game at 5Dimes.

With so many to choose from it very could be possible, that you’re one of just a few people to have wagered on a given bet. If they happen to grade this bet incorrectly as a loss when it should have been a win, it just might turn out no else reports it. While you should check your tickets for all forms of online wagering, it is especially important to check them when betting on propositions.

Pricing NFL Props

To be brutally honest, it would be extremely foolish for anyone doing this for a living to share how to go about pricing specific bets. The reason for this should be obvious: if you understand how to handicap and price bets before the betting odds come out, you’re one more competitor they have to deal with beating them to soft lines.

Now with this said, a few former professionals have shared their knowledge and included them in books:

Sharp Sports Betting by Stanford Wong – While this book was written in 2001 and some of the material is outdated, the theory and math included in it is excellent. This book will get you in the right mindset.

Conquering Risk by Elihu D. Feustel – This book was written by well-known SBR moderator Justin7 who used to work for Pinnacle Sports where his roll included authoring the weekly column The Pinnacle Pulse, and setting and managing prop betting lines. The book itself is not all for beginners, as it’s advanced, covers market theory and predictive modeling. It does however have some solid information and is also a great overall read for anyone aspiring to become a professional sports bettor.

In order to increase the chances you’re not disappointed by having read this long article, I’m going to go ahead and breakdown how one specific prop is priced. This way you’ll have something to work with while waiting for Amazon.com to deliver those books you just ordered.

Which Team Will Score First?

This is a simple a bet and rather easy to price. First, what you need to do is shop as many betting sites as possible on the first half odds in order to get a good idea of what the odds are without juice.

Let’s take the case where the consensus line is Patriots -4.5 -115 Jets +4.5 -105. I happen to know off hand that 5 points is extremely rare push rate on first half line, and that -4.5 -115 / +4.5 -105 is about the same the same as -5 -110 / +5 -110.

So for this, I’ll assume the betting market is predicting the Patriots will win by 5. Now if the over under on the half time is set at 21.5, then predicting a first half score is easy. I just need to come up with a score that has the Patriots winning by 5 and the total scoring 21.5 points.

So with that, my prediction is: Patriots 13.25 points / Jets 8.25 points. I can now price the no-vig odds of the Patriots scoring first using the following equation:

-100 * (Favorite Score / Underdog Score)

So doing the math I get -100 * (13.25 / 8.25) = Patriots -161 so likewise the Jets are +161. Next I’d go to 5Dimes.com check the line and then go to as many other betting sites as possible looking to beat the odds 5Dimes is offering.

While it’s possible to find some value doing this – the even better time to use this formula is when market conditions have just changed. For example if a starting QB has an injury in practice and is out for the game, betting markets react quickly. So now you’re sitting with a new half time and new full game point spread and total, but more times than not the odds for the prop will lag behind a bit. If you understand what I’ve just covered, you can find some serious value this way.