Halftime Sports

Why Sports Betting Should Be Legalized

March 3, 2015

Every year when March Madness rolls around, tons of people participate in bracket pools in which real money is wagered and either won or lost.  In fact, March Madness alone is a billion dollar betting industry, as evidenced by Warren Buffett’s billion dollar bracket.  Most people do not realize that these bracket pools are technically illegal because real money is being wagered.  Fortunately, the sports gambling police do not take this issue very seriously and people can participate in these bracket pools with no fear of getting caught. I think it’s time to treat the rest of sports gambling in a similar fashion.

In this piece, I’ll explain some different forms of sports betting and will conclude by explaining why the legalization of sports betting could promote an increased popularity and hype for American sports.

Basketball and Football Spread Betting:

In both basketball and football, there is something called a point spread.  This a number that the favored team has to give up and the underdog team would get. Here is an example of how it works:

Favorite: Oklahoma City Thunder Spread: -3.5 Underdog: Los Angeles Lakers

Betting: -110 both sides

So, in this example, the Lakers get 3.5 points and the Thunder will have to give up 3.5 points.  If the final score is Thunder: 112 Lakers: 110, the Lakers have covered the spread and you would win your bet with the extra points that the Thunder had to give up.  The -110 odds mean that you are required to bet $1.10 in order to win $1.00.  The reasoning behind this is that Vegas will make money if 50% of people bet each side no matter what.  The lines are set up so that the action is about even on each side.  In order to make these types of bets currently, you have to be physically in Vegas or put in bets with shady offshore companies.

Without legalized gambling, rigging and point-shaving have become significant problems in professional sports in the past twenty years. For example, NBA referee Tim Donaghy was found guilty of being involved with some betting mob rings. Legalization would help eliminate some of these rigging problems as gambling would become far more public and much less secretive.  Here are a few other example of how betting works:

The Moneyline:

In this format, you simply pick the straight up winner of any game with certain odds attached to the game.  Here is an example of how it works:

Anaheim -131 @ Dallas +119

If I want to bet on Anaheim, this time I need to put up $1.31 to win $1, because they are a favorite and I’m not getting any compensation with a spread.  Conversely, if I bet on the underdog, I can bet $1 to win $1.19, because I am getting compensated a little bit for selecting the underdog.  This is simpler than the spread format, and you can receive a huge payout for betting on extreme underdogs to win.


In this format, you have to predict something that will happen in the future.  You are given a list of teams with a set of odds and you can bet on any one of them to win an event in the future.  Here are the current futures for the NCAA tournament champion:

Kentucky: 10:13

Wisconsin: 15:2

Duke: 9:1

Arizona: 10:1

In order to win money by betting on Kentucky, you would have to bet $13 to win $10 and have Kentucky win the NCAA tournament.  UK is obviously a massive favorite, at worse than 1:1 odds.  Futures are typically extremely unpredictable, but if you are right then you will win a lot of money.  Last year UCONN was 75:1 before the NCAA tournament began.

Player Props:

The last type of betting I want to explain is player props.  In this format, you choose to bet the over/under on the number of points, rebounds, or assists a player might have.  There are far more examples, those were only a few of the statistical categories.  Here’s an example of how it works:

Points Over/Under Lebron James: 28.5 Betting Odds -110

In this case you bet $1.10 to win $1.00 by betting that Lebron will score either over or under 28.5 points. People who utilize this type of betting generally have an affinity for certain players and prefer to bet on players rather than teams.  Again, Vegas sets the line so that action is 50% on both sides.

I hope you enjoyed reading about how betting works. Betting and wagering are fun ways to gamble money and make sports appeal to many who might not be typically excited to follow professional sports. Within the last 10 years, the popularity of March Madness has become increasingly popular as friends around the country have sought to create betting and wagering pools on the tournament. Hopefully in the near future, states will legalize more forms of sports betting, which could subsequently increase the popularity of all American sports.


Photo Credit: Flickr.com user – vegas_3, Baishampayan Ghose

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