Professional football is the king of pro sports in the United States. Professional football draws the largest TV audience of all pro sports in America. If that’s not proof enough, understand that NFL games also draw the biggest live audiences, and that’s saying something considering the size and fandom of NCAA football games. To top things off, pro football is the most gambled-on sport in the US. Lest you forget, the Super Bowl is by far the most exciting sports event in the USA, a marketing juggernaut, an event like no other. Clearly, Americans love pro football.
As more and more Americans discover they have the ability to place online bets, we’re getting more and more requests for information. We’ve prepared this page as a guide for our readers in the United States who’re interested in online football betting.
An FAQ for First Time Online Football Bettors
What is online football betting?
Online football betting is using the Internet to place wagers on professional football games. Online football betting differs from traditional sportsbook betting only in its use of the Internet. Substitute an online bookmaker for the guy behind the counter at a Vegas sportsbook, and you’ve got online football betting.
Isn’t it illegal to bet on football online?
This question is tricky to answer. In America, we have to deal with three layers of gaming law. The federal government has its share of laws, but most gaming regulation in America is done at the state level. To further complicate things, some local governments (county and city) have their own gaming laws in place. You can see why this question gives us a bit of a headache.
Let’s start with federal law – is there any federal law that declares online football betting illegal? There is, but that sounds worse than it really is. The Federal Wire Act of 1961 declared wagering on sports across state lines “by wire” illegal, and the Department of Justice clarified this in 2011 to focus on Web-based sports betting exclusively. But there’s an important caveat. The US government is not in the business of arresting individuals for placing bets on sports. The Wire Act is designed to attack the operators of illegal gambling, not the participants. The federal government is not coming to your house to press charges for placing bets on the NFL.
What about state laws? Yes, some states have banned online gambling in general, so if you place a bet on football and you live in one of those states, you’re breaking the law. The list is: Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. In those states, it is illegal to place any wager online.
As for local laws, Ythey’re so convoluted and they change so often that it’s impossible for us to keep our finger on that particular pulse. If you’re concerned about a local gambling law, consult a lawyer in your area familiar with the gaming industry.
Where can I place a legal online football bet in America?
The US online gambling market is a complicated thing. It’s even more complex when it comes to the sports betting marketplace. That’s because the US government has an enforceable law which says, plainly, that placing sports bets across state lines using the Internet is illegal. What’s worse, this law has been on the books in some form for sixty-five years. But as we’ve already said, this law shouldn’t be a concern for you, the sports bettor. The Department of Justice is interested in big fish – lawsuits that bring down multi-million dollar operations and put the heads of these organizations in prison. They never have, and as far as we can tell never will, arrest Joe Blow for buying a $100 parlay once a week during the NFL season.
The 2006 UIGEA bill adds another wrinkle. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act became law by being tacked onto a unanimously-approved anti-terror omnibus law. While the goal of UIGEA was to end all online gambling in America, it fell far short of that mark. The only thing that a sports bettor has to deal with in regards to UIGEA is the fact that it’s hard to send and receive money as an online gambler than it was before UIGEA passed.
We said all that to say this – so long as you’re placing sports bets with an offshore company, you’re not technically breaking the law. You’re certainly not breaking the law in any way that will attract the attention of law enforcement. That means you’re free to make an account at any online sportsbook that accepts US customers.
The odds formats used for online bets on football are the same that are used for betting on many different sports. If you already know how to wager on basketball, baseball, or hockey games, you’ll immediately recognize the betting options available for football bets.
NFL bettors use four different types of bets on NFL games: money line, point spread, game totals, and parlays. These four bets make up the vast majority of (if not all) bets placed on professional and college football. Each of them acts a bit differently.
The Money Line
Bookmakers create the money line in the hopes of bringing in balanced bets. That is, their goal is to make both sides of the contest attractive, so that they profit regardless of how the game turns out. The money line is popular in part because it’s easy to read, and you can glean a lot of information about a game from a quick glance at a money line.
Beating the money line is as easy as picking the team that’s going to win outright. The money line is created by oddsmakers, who evaluate each team against its opponent and create a line that honors the favorite as well as the underdog. The difference in odds created by this balance of favorite and underdog is desirable for the bookmaker, but can be tough for the bettor to beat.
Here’s a totally made-up money line to use as an example:
Money Line Betting
What do we learn from these two simple lines? For starters, the Colts are identified as the favorite. How do we know that? The favorite in a money line is always marked with a “-” sign. We also know that the game is taking place in Houston – the team on the bottom is always the home team. Since the favorite is marked with a “-” symbol, the underdog must be the one marked with a “+” symbol. In other words, just from looking at the line, we know that Indianapolis is favored to head down to Houston and walk away with a road win.
What about those numbers next to the team names? Each team’s number indicates something different. For the favorite (in this case, Indianapolis), the number indicates how much you have to bet in order to win a $100 payout. For the underdog (in our example, the Texans), the number indicates the payout for a successful $100 bet. If you want to win $100 by betting on the Colts, you’ll need to drop $210. If you place a $100 bet on Houston to pull off the upset, your payout will be $170.
The Point Spread
A point spread is a different tool oddsmakers can use to create a balanced set of bets on both sides of a contest. The point spread is a number that stands for the difference in point totals between the two teams. It sounds complicated, but here’s an example of a made-up point spread to give you an idea of how it works:
Point Spread Betting
Denver (Away) -13
Oakland (Home) +13
We get a lot less information here than we do with the money line. In this example, we know that Denver is the favorite, because their point total is reduced by 13 to equal the Raiders’ point total. We also know that Denver is the visitor, and Oakland the home team, since the home team is always listed at the end.
In this example, the sportsbook has decided that the Broncos are going to beat home-team Oakland by 13 points. If you want to bet on Denver, the team’s final score must be 14 points or more above the Raiders’ score. If you want to be successfully on Oakland, the Raiders have to either win outright or lose by fewer than 13 points.
The simplest way to bet on an NFL game is to bet on the game total. Also known as “over/unders,” game totals represent the oddsmakers’ educated guess about the point total between two sides in a match. It works like this – the sportsbook will set a number (something like 40) and accept bets on both sides of that total. If you think the teams will score more, you bet the “over.” If you think the teams will score less, you bet the “under.”
Parlay bets are a popular way to bet on pro football. So popular are parlay tickets, a handful of US states now sell them as part of their state lotto system. Parlays are sometimes considered exotic wagers, in that they pay off potentially big rewards for a small investment, and the odds are often very long, depending on the size of your parlay ticket.
So what is a parlay ticket? A parlay bet is a bet placed on the outcomes of multiple games on the same day. A parlay ticket has to be made up of at least two games and generally no more than twelve on a single day of NFL play. Parlay bettors pick the size of the combo bet, and obviously the more teams you add to your ticket, the larger your potential payout. A parlay bet only pays off if all the selections on the ticket are correct.
Here’s an example pay table for a parlay card. Note how the payout increases exponentially as you add more games to your card:
Number of Teams
Payout (For a $100 Bet)
16 to 1
20 to 1
40 to 1
75 to 1
100 to 1
150 to 1
300 to 1
300 to 1
450 to 1
600 to 1
How can you use this information to become a better football gambler? Smart bettors incorporate all four of these styles of bets for different situations. While we don’t recommend that novice sports bettors jump in and start wagering with parlays or other exotic bets, you’ve learned plenty about money lines, point spreads, and game totals to get out there and start placing pro football bets like a seasoned veteran.
How to Place an Online Football Bet
Placing a bet online is easier than betting in a live sportsbook. The atmosphere is much less intimidating. You can’t really make a mistake, since the bets are laid out for you. Your living room is probably more comfortable than even the fanciest sportsbook lounge, especially considering you can place an online sports bet in your underwear or from the bathtub or whatever.
Though every online sportsbook offering football bets uses a slightly different interface, the basic idea is the same. Log in to the sportsbook where you have an account. You’ll find football bets listed in a prominent location – sportsbook operators know that Americans have a lust for football betting, so they make NFL bets easy to access. Sometimes you’ll have to find NFL bets on a drop-down menu, or in a list running down one side of the screen.
Once you’ve found the football bets, you’ll find a list of available games, along with some other options. The fancier sportsbooks online have streaming game links and other ways to follow along. Regardless, you’ll see every NFL game bet available that day, which is usually most games for the week, minus a Thursday or Friday contest mid-season.
Each contest is like to have its own drop-down menu of available odds formats and bet styles. You can choose a straight-up wager, your odds format, and other options as you click through and research the game. You can easily add a game to a parlay ticket – most online sportsbooks make this option easy, since they want to encourage exotic bets. Once you’ve built your wager, it’s time to confirm it, then way for the game to play out.
Football Betting Strategy
We could write volumes on the subject of sports betting strategy. Handicapping, the act of comparing the abilities of two athletes or two teams, is an art unto itself. The world’s best bettors are constantly studying, learning new techniques, and producing new content for us to study. It’s a vast echo chamber, and there’s no way to cover it in a “crash course” format that won’t leave you wanting more.
Below you’ll find our most powerful football betting tips for newcomers. We’ve distilled thousands of words of strategy down to the five critical elements of a beginning sports betting regimen. If you follow this advice, then continue to do your own research on the subject, you’ll be a better and more confident football bettor.
1. Take advantage of football’s schedule.
The NFL’s schedule is beneficial to new bettors, because it offers an extended period of down-time between games. Sure, every now and then a team is dealt a short week. Sometimes, a team will play on Sunday night and then turn around and play again on the following Thursday. But even in those rare short week cases, bettors still have four days to do research, to handicap matchups, and to shop for the best lines before they have to decide on a wager. Some Web-based sportsbooks open their NFL lines as early as Sunday night. That means that NFL bettors can act and react at a slower pace. It also gives you time to study and adjust your strategy for new situations.
The NFL schedule benefits bettors in another important way – some game odds aren’t released until later in the week, due to an injury, a trade, or some other big shift in the team’s makeup. Even in these situations, you’re unlikely to have to make a big betting decision in a matter of hours, thanks to the stately pace of the NFL’s schedule.
2. Ignore the talking heads.
If you’re brand-new to NFL betting, you’re not likely to know much about handicapping. You probably don’t know how to compare two teams. It’s tempting, in that situation, to put ESPN on at all times, in the car, at home, even at work. ESPN delivers easy-to-digest news and opinions, and you probably already pay for ESPN. Heck, the radio station is free. We say you should probably ignore ESPN, stop watching Sportscenter, and turn all the talking heads off during the NFL season. At least while you’re betting.
Face it, these guys are there to entertain us. They’re not there to provide legitimate insight into the game. Not the kind of insight you need to actually gain an edge on the bookmaker. Remember, the bookmaker is one of the best in the world at handicapping, at comparing two teams, at predicting sports future. You’re just some guy who works in Accounting. Arming yourself with the dime-a-dozen pieces of advice that any idiot with a TV has access to is not arming yourself at all.
Your task is to find alternative sources of information that do a better job than ESPN, Fox Sports, and the rest. Elsewhere on this page, we identify some sources of information that will actually help you learn to out-fox the book, from time to time. One day, you’ll have a regular list of sources to trust. For now, your best bet is to do all your research on your own, stick to one or two games a week, and follow the rest of the advice in this section.
3. Bet consistently.
For your first season of online NFL bets, we recommend that you decide ahead of time how much and how often you’re going to wager during the regular season. The playoffs are a different animal altogether, and we cover that strategy elsewhere on the site. During the regular season, you’ll want to create a unit bet size, and bet consistently.
Creating a unit bet means betting the same amount on every game. Here’s how we recommend newcomers do it – take your bankroll for the season, divide it by seventeen (the number of weeks of the NFL regular season), then divide that number the total number of games you want to bet on per week. Here’s an example – let’s say you have $2,000 to wager for the coming NFL season. That gives you $117 to bet per week. Since it’s your first year betting, you should probably bet no more than two games. That leaves you with a unit bet size of $58 per game. Think of it this way – if you identify a game that you have a strong feeling about, you could always double your bet on that game and skip betting on the second game.
Why are we betting so consistently? If you’re not a professional sports handicapper, you have no business giving any weight to one bet over another. You just don’t know how to handicap games yet, at least not well enough to be deciding to bet $200 on THIS game, but only $50 on THIS one. Remember, the oddsmakers are smart, they’re good at this, and they’ve been doing it since before you were born. That’s not to say that they never make mistakes – just that you, as a novice, are unlikely to be able to find and exploit them.
4. Practice patience.
You’re not going to get rich overnight by betting on NFL games on the Internet. In fact, odds are you’ll NEVER get rich betting on NFL games on the Internet. Remember, this is supposed to be entertaining. If you learn to practice patience, you’ll enjoy sports betting more, which is really the same as winning more often. None of the tips on this list are designed to actually turn you into a person who knows more than the sportsbook. Instead, you’ll notice, they’re designed to help you enjoy yourself while you bet.
Some weeks, you may not feel strongly enough about any contest to place a bet. Other weeks, you may decide to place a double-size bet on one contest, because you’ve found a great line or have some insight into the outcome. Remember that if the odds are too long, there’s a reason for it.
Being patient and practicing patience as an NFL bettor means being prepared to lose.
The world’s best sports bettors struggle tooth and nail to achieve a win rate above 50%. If professional sports bettors only barely win more than half the time, how well do you think you’re going to do? Be realistic – be patient.
5. Use a reputable sportsbook.
Don’t sign up with the first online sportsbook you find. Don’t sign up with a sportsbook just because it offers NFL bets. Don’t sign up with a sportsbook without doing your research. Check the many online blacklists for mentions of any sportsbook you’re about to send money to. If nothing else, put the book’s name in a Web search and see what people are saying. The downside to signing up with a scam site? You could literally lose every cent you send them. Or they could refuse to pay you a legitimate win. With so many legit sportsbooks still serving the US market, and plenty of sites to find reviews and lists of scam operations, you have no excuse for signing up with a disreputable book.
Betting on the NFL is as American as the Second Amendment. It is part of our birthright – at least, that’s how many of us feel. Though some in the federal government have been trying to shut it down for years, and others at the level of state government are still actively pursuing its prohibition, betting on the NFL on the Internet is still legal. We’ve covered the basics of placing online NFL bets, and even outlined the legal landscape. It’s now up to you to put our advice into practice.
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