Look around your local sportsbook and you’ll see the betting board dominated by the traditional “ball” markets—basketball, baseball, and especially football. These markets can be further broken down into professional and collegiate leagues, and even foreign alternatives like KBO baseball in South Korea.
As a result, most recreational players looking to explore sports betting begin the journey by focusing primarily on basic ball-based markets. And that’s a shame, too. Because as you’ll see below, three exciting, action-packed, and potentially lucrative sporting events that are slightly off the beaten path provide a ton of bang for your sports betting buck.
1 – The FedEx Cup Playoffs on the PGA TOUR
With regular season tournaments, their 150+ player fields, and the prestigious foursome of “Major” championship tournaments like The Masters, new golf bettors have plenty of options to choose from.
The PGA TOUR’s season-capping series of three tournaments known as the FedEx Cup Playoffs coincided directly with the NBA and NHL postseasons this year. Because of this, many newfound golf betting enthusiasts devoted their bankroll to the old-school ball sports while skipping the FedEx Cup chase altogether.
Longtime pro Dustin Johnson captured his first FedEx Cup by going 1st-2nd-1st in the three playoff events, culminating in a wire-to-wire victory in the 2020 TOUR Championship tournament. And while the 2020 edition is in the books, here’s how you can take advantage and beat the books when next year’s FedEx Cup Playoffs roll around.
First things first, here’s a quick crash course on how the event plays out:
During the course of 40+ regular season events, all players on the TOUR can parlay their performance into playoff points.
At the end of the regular season, the Top 125 point-earners qualify for the three tournaments comprising the playoffs—the Northern Trust, the BMW Championship, and the TOUR Championship.
What lends this trio of PGA Tour events their playoff nature is how the initial 125-player field is whittled down to the final 30 contenders, each of whom earns a chance to win the $15 million top prize payout.
Using the traditional four-round tournament with scoring against the course’s par, players compete to bag prize money and additional standings points. After the Northern Trust, the top 70 points earners make the proverbial cut to play in the BMW Championship.
From there, the top 30-point earners survive to take their shot at the TOUR Championship. In an unusual twist that makes betting even more entertaining, that each member of that 30-man field is assigned a starting score under par to begin the final tournament.
This year, it was Dustin Johnson on top at (-10), followed by Jon Rahm at (-8), and so on down the list. The beauty for bettors when it comes to this three-tier format for the FedEx Cup Playoffs is readily apparent.
First off, you can simply fire one or more “futures” bets on the eventual FedEx Cup champion. For example, ahead of the 2020 Northern Trust, the Top 25 players according to the Bovada online sportsbook were listed as follows:
2020 FedEx Cup Champion Odds Before Playoffs Began:
Dustin Johnson – (+175)
John Rahm – (+275)
Justin Thomas – (+550)
Webb Simpson – (+1000)
Rory Mcllory – (+2000)
Collin Morikawa – (+1800)
Bryson DeChambeau- (+2000)
Xander Schauffele – (+2500)
Daniel Berger – (+2500)
Tony Finau – (+4000)
To put these moneyline odds into perspective, Xander Schauffele—who brought back $2,000 for $100 futures bettors—fought his way back from a 7-stroke disadvantage in the TOUR Championship to place tied for second place.
You can also bet on the winner of each preliminary playoff tournament to give yourself several sweats spanning the course of three weeks.
Golf betting isn’t all about the champions either, so adding wagers like head-to-head contests between two or three players, Top-5, -10, and -25 finishes, and in-game betting adds more dimension to the fun.
2 – The World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event Championship
With its cushioned chairs and felted tables, poker may be more of a “mind sport” than a physical activity.
But I can tell you this much about top-tier No Limit Texas Hold’em tournaments, the players sitting at the final table of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event are sweating more than any of those pro golfers listed about.
To begin with, given the $10,000 buy-in and field sizes that regularly top 6,000 unique entries, weaving your way to the WSOP Main Event final table is like finding a needle in a haystack. Many of the game’s top pros have never even sniffed a final table appearance, thanks in large part to the single-elimination system and the sheer number of opponents to wade through.
For that reason, the nine-handed final table—where prizes ranging from $1 million to $10 million are up for grabs—is typically comprised of just one or two pros against a lineup of recreational players.
This lack of familiarity with the participants can make handicapping the Main Event final table a tall task, both for bookmakers and bettors alike. But if you’re in the mood to gamble on gamblers competing on poker’s grandest stage, the WSOP section of your favorite online sportsbook is the place to be.
Check out how the chip leaderboard, and the associated odds on each player to emerge triumphant, stacked up heading into the 2019 WSOP Main Event final table:
2019 WSOP Main Event Final Table Winner (Opening Odds):
As you can see, the various chip stacks accumulated on their path to the final table have a direct impact on how books set poker odds. For example, despite his status as a recreational player without much experience under the bright lights, Hossein Ensan’s monster stack made him a big (+175) favorite. ESPN broadcasts every hand of the final table on its flagship station.
Conversely, despite holding roughly half the chips as opponent Zhen Cai, experienced pro Dario Sammartino actually offers better odds to win. In the end, Ensan bested Sammartino heads up to claim his first WSOP gold bracelet and a whopping $10 million payday.
WSOP Main Event betting is made even more unpredictable by the ability to bet before the final table is set. When the field has been cut to 27 players, most online sportsbooks and many in Las Vegas and America’s legal jurisdictions begin posting their opening odds.
Chip stacks can be built up and busted in a matter of minutes, sort of like sports betting bankrolls, but I digress. And because of how fluid a poker tournament can be, Garry Gates only needed to score two early double ups through Ensan to completely erase the latter from the field in ninth place. Backing longshots can provide tremendous value to bold bettors.
If you have any interest in tournament poker, knowing which players thrive in high-pressure situations can also give you a great leg up over the books.
3 – Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, NYC
Think of this one like the WSOP, only for gustatory gladiators who gobble up frankfurters instead of flushes and full houses.
Each year since 1916, on the July 4th holiday, the famous Nathan’s Hot Dog stand on Coney Island has played host to an eating contest for the ages. You probably remember seeing highlight clips from the event’s glory days, when Japanese gurgitator Takeru Kobayashi hoisted the “Mustard Belt” six straight times between 2001 and 2006.
Kobayashi’s historic run started when he consumed 50 hot dogs and buns (HDBs), utterly demolishing the previous record of 25.5. He reigned supreme on the competitive eating circuit, one which also owes a debt to ESPN for broadcasting the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest, until 2007.
That year, American rival Joey Chestnut set a new record with 66 HDBs to 63 for Kobayashi. Chestnut has won every year but one since then, and this summer, he extended his world record to an astounding 75 HDBs.
With the stranglehold Chestnut has on the event right now, and for the foreseeable future, the real drama in betting on the Nathan’s contest comes from that world record mark. Every year sportsbooks set odds on Chestnut’s chances to eat even more, and almost every year he shows up to do just that.
He was a (+120) dog to make it happen in 2020, so bettors enjoyed a slight bump for backing the legend. As for the outright winner, Chestnut’s superiority over the field typically tabs him as a (-1200) favorite against the field.
For a more competitive matchup with better odds, look for the HDB spread bets that pit Chestnut against the runner-up’s final tally using the following odds:
2nd Place Eater
In the case of the 2020 contest, Chestnut easily managed to cover this (-15.5) spread by beating runner-up Darron Breedon (42 HDBs).
You can also wager on the women division’s dominant champion Miki Sudo at similar odds. Sudo’s world record stands at 48.5 HDBs after she eclipsed former titleholder Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas’ mark of 45 HDBs this summer.
Finally, check out the prop betting menu for fun wagers like whether or not an eater’s lack of “vomit control” will spark a recount, or whether an overtime “eat off” will be needed to settle the score.
While the bulk of a sports bettor’s workload is obviously devoted to traditional ball sports, finding time for a few fun larks is worthwhile. In fact, because bookmakers spend so much time and resources handicapping their biggest markets, you can even find exploitable edges when you size up the alternative betting boards.
Putting a piece of your hard-earned bankroll on a poker pro or a champion eater might seem crazy, but don’t knock it until you try it. Trust me when I say that some of the most intense sweats and strangest cashed tickets have come courtesy of the bets listed here.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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