BASIC TRAINING

Introduction

Sportsbetting 101

Choosing a Sportsbook

An Introduction to Major Wager


Introduction

This work was put together from November 2001 to March 2002, and is a collaborative effort of four Major Wager regulars: Buckeye, Patton, The Philosopher, and Turkoman1963. We have chosen a "roundtable discussion" format, where each person is given an opportunity to address each question, and to respond to what the others have said. We felt that this format was the best way to allow each author to speak from his own unique perspective and experiences, rather than having all points of view melt into one.

Our intention is to provide information and opinions on some very basic things that should be of considerable help to a sportsbetting beginner, or a newcomer to the world of offshore sportsbooks. However, we do at times go beyond the basics and discuss some matters in a way that we hope will be of benefit to sportsbettors of an intermediate level and above as well.

The questions and topics we address are organized into three main categories. The first is matters pertaining most directly to sportsbetting, both in general and specifically offshore. The second is the criteria for choosing an offshore sportsbook that best fits your needs. The third is an introduction to the Major Wager website itself.

Any and all views expressed herein are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of the owners of Major Wager.

Good luck, and remember to wager intelligently and responsibly.

Buckeye
Patton
The Philosopher
Turkoman1963

Buckeye was introduced to gambling as a kid by his favorite uncle, who would take him to the track every once in a while, and would let him "share" in big football wins by giving him a cut when he helped root home the winners. As an adult, early on his gambling was entirely limited to 2-3 forays a year to the Las Vegas tables and sportsbooks, office betting pools, and then some casual offshore hoops betting by phone. When he discovered online golf betting offshore, he began betting sports more frequently and more seriously. Today, his fortes are golf match-ups, college hoops, and parlays, and he also likes to (inconsistently, unprofitably) dabble in football and table games in Vegas. He is an admitted "major square" trying to become less of one via "annoying the wise guys" at sites like Major Wager into revealing their "black magic" secrets! He has also learned not to bet on Ohio State, his alma mater, every game they play--just every other game! He grew up idolizing Tom Weiskopf--"Nicklaus is too easy to like, I want the underdog to win"--and still has a penchant for picking perennial under-achievers to root for in all sports.

Patton started out in sports gambling as a lad when his family made occasional trips to the racetrack. As an adult he has wagered on horse racing with varied success. He was introduced to sports betting on the internet over a year ago, and began sports wagering with advice he gleaned from several online wagering sites, principally Major Wager.

The Philosopher is an ex-academic and writer with extensive experience as a sportsbettor, with an emphasis on the NFL. He has been wagering fairly seriously offshore for several years, and bet sports on a more casual basis for many years before that. Here at Major Wager, he writes the sportsbook reviews, periodically posts freelance articles on the home page, is on the three-member Mediation Board, and has been a regular poster almost as far back as the site's inception.

Turkoman1963 began his hobby as a sportsbettor when his grandfather regaled him with stories of his bookmaking days competing with Al Capone in the early 1930s in Chicago. While he hasn't come close to that bit of daring--with the possible exception of cashing on a 50-1 shot in the Santa Anita Handicap--Turkoman1963 did develop a love for all sports, be it a World Cup qualifier or a Wings-Avalanche Bloody Wednesday. His best gambling advice is what his grandfather passed on: Have fun, never bet more than you can afford, and if everyone is betting one way, bet the other.


Sportsbetting 101

Realistically, can a person expect to win at sportsbetting? If so, what are some of the main factors that separate the winners from the losers?

Turkoman1963:
You can be a successful sportsbettor if you follow these simple four rules (and believe me, it is not easy to follow them):
1) Bet more when you are winning and less when you are losing;
2) Always shop for the best price on the game you are playing;
3) Never bet a game because it is on TV and you have nothing to do, unless you have a strong opinion on the game;
4) Bet more on the games you love and less on the games you like. This is important because often I hear about someone betting a meaningless Wednesday hockey game and losing a bundle and then winning a tiny amount on the NFL game he/she talked about all week long.

Patton:
The key operative word in this question is "can." Everyone agrees beating -110 is extremely hard to do in the long run. The key to success in any endeavor is discipline and that is doubly true here. If a person follows the rules Turkoman outlined above, he will certainly maximize his chance of success, for they help impose that discipline.

My only quibble would be with "bet more when winning and less when losing." To be sure, I feel the bet size should be in proportion to starting bankroll, and if you win or lose a lot, you should adjust the bet size or unit. That would take care of situations where you bet a lot on a silly flier but too little on a game you truly liked. If you really don't like the game, don't bet it. But to adjust your bet size during a winning or losing streak is asking for trouble, because eventually all streaks end. Either way you lose money--by losing more at the end of a winning streak or by failing to win more at the end of a losing streak.

Buckeye:
While I agree with most of Turk's list, I would characterize his "rules" as mostly money management tips rather than ways to win. We'll get to money management in more detail in the next question, so I'll comment on that later. I do think money management discipline is 75% of successful sports betting, but let's look at the other parts a little. I will exclude middlers and scalpers, as they are practicing more of a form of arbitrage than pure gambling. They are exploiting weaknesses in the market for profit. Nothing wrong with that, but I'll address my present remarks instead to those trying to win games.

I like to compare one's chances of long term success in sports betting to playing blackjack successfully in a casino. Very few reach the level of professional in either endeavor. Some blackjack players are able to reach the level of competent card counter, but it takes a great deal of practice and reading and skill development to get there. In most cases, it likely takes years of all three.

A second group, and probably the largest one, is the wannabes who often are just "hunch" players who think they know how to beat the game and won't admit their lack of dedication or skill or success. Their failure to keep records or track their sessions makes it easier for them to fool themselves into believing they are successful, or at least they think they could be if they ever got "lucky."

A third group is those who just play blackjack for the fun, with no delusions of riches, and no thought of ever "turning pro." This might include some skillful players, say "strict" basic strategy proponents like moi, but this group is differentiated by their setting of realistic goals and expectations in playing a game they know they can't beat long term.

I believe the same is true for sportsbetting. There are the select few pros who have the discipline, and are willing and able to commit the time and effort to do this "black art" successfully. There are the many squares who just bet recreationally in order to have some fun, and who hope to get lucky here and there, but they have no illusions that they are betting in such a way as to make them likely long term winners.

Then in between these two-and in the most dangerous position of all-are the masses of people who are convinced they've got this sportsbetting thing beat, or would if not for the inordinate number of bad beats and fixes and such they are plagued with, when in truth, they haven't put the work in, haven't developed the necessary discipline, knowledge, and skills to be winners.

Another stark truth is that playing for years doesn't necessarily make one sharper. The fact that some touts claim "40 years in the business" shouldn't impress you too much. Skill and experience aren't always synonymous. That is true about a lot in life but particularly important to keep in mind in sportsbetting contexts. Otherwise all those grizzled homeless types hanging around Vegas sportsbooks would be millionaires.

It takes a great deal of work and skills in money management, handicapping, and betting strategies to become successful. Most of us need improvement in one or all of those areas.

The Philosopher:
This is something I feel strongly about, and I think in some respects what I have to say will be different from what you're used to hearing.

1. There's an important sense in which it isn't difficult at all to win at sportsbetting. We sometimes talk about how hard it is to overcome the bookie's built-in 11 to 10 edge, but as more than one Major Wager poster has said in the past-only half-facetiously-"Who the hell bets 11 to 10 any more?" When you put up 11 to the bookie's 10, you have to hit about 52.4% of your plays to break even, but offshore you will find countless books where you can bet baseball at 10.5 to 10, and bet football and basketball and sometimes other sports at 10.7 to 10, 10.5 to 10, 10.2 to 10, and even 10 to 10.

OK, with all but the last one, you still have to hit some miniscule amount over 50% to break even or win at sportsbetting, but we're just getting started. Don't forget that you also can shop lines, typically getting an extra half point or point-and once in awhile more-compared to if you put all your bets in at one place. Right there you've just turned a few losses into pushes and pushes into wins, and once in a blue moon turned a loss into a win. That 52.4% break even point that had already dwindled due to vig discounts is pretty much gone now.

But there's more. You're also routinely getting bonuses of several types just for posting up offshore. So let's add all that free money into the pot.

Furthermore, books offer you various additional options in arranging your bets, such as teasers, buying points, money lines, etc. Now if every single one of those options are sucker plays and there are never any circumstances where you are better off using them than just making a straight bet (an assumption that's flat out false, in my opinion), then all those extra options don't hurt you. You just ignore them as if they weren't there. But if any of them even occasionally are advantageous to the player, then we've just pushed things yet another increment in the direction of the player.

Note that I haven't said a word about handicapping yet. Let's say it's a myth that we can really predict the outcome of any sports event at a greater than chance rate. Let's say that the bookies have some god-like ability to set the number such that there's always an equal chance of the game landing on either side, and that therefore players might as well be flipping coins in making their selections. Given what I've said in the preceding paragraphs, I contend that you should be able to break even or better in the long run as a sportsbettor even if you are such a coin flipper.

So whereas a lot of people envision the bookie as having this huge head start, and worry about what extraordinary thing they can do through their handicapping to overcome it, I say you're starting even or better, and that if you lose, it's because you blew it.

Play with confidence. This is beatable. A chimp flipping coins can beat this half the time or more. So should you.

You don't lose because you're struggling uphill against daunting odds. You lose because you're undisciplined. You lose because you let yourself be stupid. You lose because-as in the sports cliché--you beat yourself. You lose because, whatever you think, winning is not your first priority, which leads to:

2. Perhaps the single most important thing you need to do as a beginning gambler has to do with your attitude and goal. You have to decide, why are you betting on sports in the first place? What is your goal?

"I want to win money" is, of course, the obvious answer. But it also happens to be a false answer for the majority of gamblers. That's why they lose. It's not the 11 to 10. The 11 to 10 evaporates in no time flat, as I described above. It's because winning is not, in fact, their highest priority. If you truly wanted to win, then you'd be doing so.

Almost everyone has other, competing, goals when they gamble. They'd like to win, but they also gamble because it's a social activity they can do and talk about with their friends, because it makes it more entertaining to watch a televised sporting event, because it enables them to show a form of loyalty to their school by betting on it, and so on.

Perhaps most important is just the emotional "rush" of gambling. Many people like the feeling of "action," and the desire for this feeling motivates their gambling far more than does any goal of winning.

It's like a person who tells you he buys drugs in order to resell them at a profit, or in order to use just enough to keep him awake and alert to cram for finals so that he can graduate and enter his high-paying career of choice. A financial motive may well be a part of it as he claims, but we all know that for an overwhelming majority of people who buy drugs, they enjoy and crave the sensation of using them. It's not (just) about the money.

Similarly, many people enjoy and crave the gambling rush quite independent of any expectation of financial benefit. It's not about winning; it's about that subjective sensation they experience when gambling.

Now, mostly what I've been talking about here are factors that are largely neutral. I mean, if you can flip coins and still end up even or a little above in sportsbetting, as I have maintained, then really it shouldn't matter if your choices are influenced by home town loyalty or your desire to enjoy a televised game with your buddies.

But sometimes a gambler's other goals or motivations aren't just irrelevant to winning, but actually counter-productive. Some of what's commonly said about addicts strikes me as pop psychology blather, but there is probably some truth to the notion that many problem gamblers "want to lose" on some subconscious level, or are "punishing themselves" by gambling and losing.

People-and there are a lot of them--with these emotional issues are going to semi-intentionally do things like bet irresponsibly high amounts where they cannot ride out losing streaks. Or they're going to have mental blocks about seeking reduced vig opportunities or shopping lines, because a rational cost-benefit approach like that takes all or most of the "rush" out of gambling for them. And it's the "rush" they're addicted to. They need to be playing on the edge, they need to be taking unwise risks, or the activity would lose its appeal.

Again, why are you betting on sports? If you want to win, you'll calmly and rationally and intelligently assess every betting decision you make in light of that goal and that goal alone. Should you bet this game at all, which side should you bet, how should you bet it, how much should you bet on it, where should you bet it, etc. are all things you need to decide as a sports bettor. If your answer to each is justified by "Because this choice is better for my long term expected return" than you're on the right track. If other factors are creeping in, then don't be surprised when you lose.

As an ideal gambler, you'll want to jettison all these motivations that can detract from your profits. But at the very least, you should try to become as aware of them as you can. You might make a conscious decision that winning isn't everything to you, and that's fine. Maybe you'll decide that you like betting on the home team even when it's slightly the worse play objectively, because you choose to value that feeling of having your money staked on the same side as your loyalties, in addition to valuing winning. No problem. But at least make that decision with eyes open, and do what you can to mitigate the financial damage caused by such decisions.

3. In my opinion, another key rule for the budding sports bettor is to be very wary of folk wisdom and superstition (which can often amount to the same thing).

It's very important in sportsbetting (and this happens to be true of life in general, come to think of it) to bear in mind several key facts:

A. People are stupid.

B. Most of the things people believe, they have absorbed over time just from hearing the people in their social circle assert them.

C. Insofar as they could be said to learn anything from their own direct experience instead, most people are overly influenced by vivid anecdotal evidence, which furthermore tends to be strongly colored by their preconceptions anyway.

You will hear a lot of confident assertions-including from us in this piece--from well-meaning people trying to further your gambling education, such as "Never bet parlays or teasers; they're sucker bets," "Always bet the same amount on any wager you make," "Always bet on home underdogs," "Never bet more than 2% of your bankroll on any single bet," "Always bet against the team that's coming off a Monday Night Football win," "Always go with your first instincts; never talk yourself into backing off or switching to the other side," "Never increase your bets when you're on a winning streak, since you're due for a loss," "Bet favorites early in the week and underdogs late," etc. But, alas, some of these are sound, some are unsound, and some are indeterminate.

Why would a typical person believe that home underdogs tend to beat the spread at a greater than chance rate? He believes it, whether he realizes it or not, because when he was young, the guy down at the sports bar who spoke the loudest and most confidently when he had had a few beers, belittled someone for betting against a home underdog and announced that "everybody knows" that you should never do that. He believes it, because once someone put that idea in his head, he noticed several occasions where home underdogs comfortably covered in TV games he was watching (and didn't notice the occasions when they failed to). And ever since then, he's just kind of taken it for granted.

Sometimes such folk wisdom is true, but when it is, it's largely a matter of coincidence. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, as they say.

Before you believe any of these things, investigate it yourself and make sure you fully understand the evidence and how it allegedly supports this conclusion. For example, instead of being like this typical person, sit down with an NBA almanac of some kind and records of betting lines, check all the games where the road team was favored, and see how often the home underdog has beaten the spread. If you find that, say, the home underdog has won over 50% of the time in nine of the last ten years, and that the cumulative percentage over that period is about 54%, then it looks like you have indeed found decent evidence in at least one sport for this alleged phenomenon.

Again, look not only at the evidence, but whether it truly supports the conclusion. Let's say you are looking into whether 6 point teasers are profitable in the NFL. You crunch numbers from several seasons and discover that 75% of the time, the teaser points didn't matter-you would have lost even with them, or you would have won even without them. Only 25% of the time did the game land in that teaser range where getting the extra points made the difference between winning and losing. From this, you conclude that teasers are a bad bet. "3 out of 4 times, getting the extra points doesn't even help you," you tell people, "You'd be better off just betting them as straight bets or parlays."

But you're wrong. Even if this evidence were accurate (I'm just picking numbers out of the air by the way; don't take any of it literally), the conclusion doesn't follow, for multiple reasons. (I'll leave it to the reader to figure out why.)

So, in summary, don't go by what "they say." Figure things out for yourself. Don't believe something until you fully understand it, fully understand the reasons or evidence for and against it, and fully understand the logical connection between the two.

By the way, which of the examples I mentioned several paragraphs above are sound and which are bogus? I'll leave that up to you to figure out too. That's kind of the point.

4. Get into the habit of very detailed and accurate record-keeping. Write down everything about every wager that even might be important for you to know later.

What if you want to know how you're doing at college basketball compared to NBA? Or you want to know if the balance the sportsbook operator gives you at the start of your next call is accurate? Or you want to know if your "gut" picks in hockey are hitting at higher than chance rates? Or you want to see if losing tends to adversely affect your handicapping and snowball against you? Or you want to see if the picks you made specifically on the advice of Barnaby the Tout are really hitting at anything like the rate he led you to believe he was capable of when you signed up for his service?

With accurate records, you can go back and check all these things.

5. You don't have to have a doctorate in mathematics, but you'll want to have a good, solid grasp of the basics. I can add, subtract, multiply, divide, do percentages, etc., and that already puts me light years ahead of countless gamblers. If you're comfortable with those operations and at least don't have a total math phobia when it comes to working with numbers in general, you should be OK.

Better yet, though, is to have those basics plus some further background in statistics.

Intelligent sportsbetting entails such things as understanding odds, and assessing the statistical significance of certain evidence. The better you are at math, all else being equal, the better you'll be at sportsbetting.

6. A final major factor that's largely a matter of attitude is the realization that there's always enormous room for improvement in sportsbetting.

You always can do a little bit more research before making a bet. You always could have investigated a sportsbook a little more carefully before posting up there. You always could do another number crunching project to slightly increase your edge in a certain sport. You always could be a little more disciplined about not letting your emotions cause you to bet more on a game than you otherwise believe you should.

Do you understand all the bet types and when, or even if, to use them? Do you know what factors to look for in predicting whether a line is more likely to go up or down during the week? Do you know how to factor the weather into your handicapping? Do you know which teams tend to try to actually win their exhibition games and which do not? Do you know which baseball totals land most often, and why?

All of these and a thousand more are things you can find more out about or get better at. Every step you take adds that tiny bit more to your edge.

Turkoman1963:
This is probably our most important topic because it started out with whether and how you can win and veered off into "why are you playing?" which is related.

The "rush" as The Philosopher points out, is why most of us play. Otherwise, we'd be in cow futures. We love the idea of having action, an opinion, a Franklin (or several) on a particular game and finding out if we are right.

But you cannot let this rush destroy your discipline. You have to remain in control.

Also, as The Philosopher pointed out, you should shop for the best bonuses and the lowest vig so that when you make your plays, your rate of return will go up. For instance, say I like the Magic tonight in the NBA against the Clippers. The Clippers are a two point favorite. I can take the Magic +2 and lay $110 to win $100 or I can bet the Magic on the money line and lay $100 to win $115. I'll let you figure out what is the better bet over the long run, but you can see that there are many options to wagering and how you fund your wagers.

I too believe in detailed record keeping. I keep a ledger of every bet I make. I do this so I can track what kinds of wagers are the most successful for me (football parlays where I buy points) and what are the least successful (European soccer favorites and NBA home favorites).

Patton:
I think the foregoing discussion makes one thing clear to a casual reader: we think you can succeed, but it will not be easy. First, you have to acquire enough knowledge so that you understand a particular sport, or subsection thereof (a certain league, conference, team, or even a coach or player) better than the public. In order to do this you must develop the empirical evidence-record keeping--that demonstrates you have done so. Second, you must have the discipline to act only when you have an advantage and can come out ahead based on that knowledge and understanding. As mentioned, money management is a key factor in this second part. However, this is not an "overnight" process, but entails a lengthy apprenticeship that is performed mostly by oneself, making the task particularly difficult. But it can be done.

What advice would you give about money management? Related to this, should you bet different amounts on different games? Should you bet more when you're ahead? When you're behind?

Turkoman1963:
You cannot be a good handicapper unless you employ sound money management. Of all the factors we've discussed, the key component is money management.

My best advice regarding money management is to allot a fixed amount for wagering that is strictly for gambling and then slowly but surely find your rhythm. What works best for you? Are parlays the most profitable? NFL sides? Teasers? Betting five games a week? Five games a day? Hard to say what would work for you--everyone is different, but there will be one area where you will excel, and you should try to capitalize on it.

I don't advocate betting the same amount no matter what. There are games you simply will like better and you should pounce on those contests. Likewise, if you are bored and have nothing to do on a Tuesday night and the Mavericks are playing the Lakers and you want to wager and you kind of like Dallas, I say play the game, but don't bet nearly as much as you do on the Giants-Eagles game you love on Sunday.

There are some excellent handicappers out there who win at a rate of greater than 50 percent, and yet are losers because of bad money management. Nothing is worse than betting ten units on a game that you barely have an opinion on (because it's on TV) and losing, and then having the bet on that game you waited for all week (that was not on TV) win easily, and you realize you only wagered one unit on it.

As for winning streaks, they are golden and rare and I believe in squeezing the lemon until it's dry. I respect that others will disagree here but this has proven time and again correct. Press when you are ahead, and when the streak is over, decrease. When you are losing, go down to 1/2 or 1/4 unit and wait until you come out of your slump.

Patton and I disagree when it comes to pressing a winning streak, but perhaps that is only because I base it on my personal statistics. When I'm hot, when I'm choosing the right games and finding odds that give me an edge, I tend to press and build up a bankroll. When I'm cold and you hand me an extra TD in the NFL just because I'm a good customer, I'll still lose the wager, and thus I've learned to reduce my wagers significantly when I can't buy a winner.

This is very important. The psychology of sports wagering is a huge factor in determining your long-term financial health.

Patton:
As far as streaks, I have had the opposite experience, but my experience is limited largely to straight wagers. So, I find that it is best for me at this stage to stick to a fixed amount per game. This is probably good for someone who is still developing his handicapping abilities as I am, since if you have only a vague idea what your winning percentage is over the long haul (and here I agree that record keeping is very important), you shouldn't vary bet size.

In fact, I think that even many veteran handicappers have a difficult time "handicapping" their own selections. The New York Post has a very lively section for its sportswriters in which their NFL selections are posted, along with their "Best Bets." Of course, some have a great Best Bets record, but many others have a Best Bets record that's worse than their full record of all picks--the opposite of what you'd expect. Ditto for the records of multi-star plays I've seen for some touts; the winning percentage for "Five Star" plays can be less than that for one or two star plays.

My advice for newbies is (1) to establish a bankroll that is only for gambling and (2) to stick to a fixed percentage of the bankroll per bet--1-2%. In fact, someone just starting out is probably better off betting only $10 or so a game anyway until he becomes more confident and polished in his handicapping skills. Of course, keep detailed records of each bet. Then, as you find your strengths and weaknesses, act accordingly. But generally, sticking to a fixed percentage of bankroll will get you through the inevitable losing streaks. I would never increase or decrease the bet size unless it was in response to a change in the size of my bankroll.

Buckeye:
This is one topic where I seem to know more about what not to do (what I call negative money management ) than what to do! I agree with those who warn against all the "square traps". Those would include chasing, or betting more not because of the strength of the play but because you are behind for the day or week. Another major square trap is betting all the TV games. Other "newbie mistakes" include playing all favorites, or just betting the board (all games) to have action. All of these involve departing from the strength of the pick and falling prey to outside considerations that are destructive to one's bankroll.

I have different strategies, and bankrolls, by sport and bet type. I suck at handicapping baseball, for example, so when I bet on it I keep it to an extremely low bankroll, and the lowest stakes imaginable. The less experienced and skillful you are at a sport, the more you should stick to plain vanilla straight bets for very low stakes. Until you prove a proficiency, these sports should be treated as purely entertainment, in my opinion. I don't advocate throwing away a lot of money on any game "just to have action."

For some sports, I use a flat bet system as I have yet to prove to myself, or establish a track record, that I have any chance of an edge long term. I am resigned to the fact that I am betting them for fun and likely to be lucky to break even. For other sports, I have more confidence in a "multi-tier unit" system as I have demonstrated to myself that I can choose which picks are stronger than others even while they all are advantage plays. I also have a "parlay bankroll" for use with the sports where I have consistently been above break even. My style of money management and bankroll for each sport depends on my past record and demonstrated proficiency in the sport. The better I am at a sport, the more confidence I have in a multi-tiered system and the bigger bankroll I allocate for it.

In general, I used to think handicapping was the be-all, end-all, of sportsbetting. I am still a major "square," but I now recognize that money management and betting strategies (line shopping, vig shopping, knowing when to buy points and not to, etc.) are often at least as important as handicapping. Like with casino gambling, it is not just the vig, but poor money management that accounts for much of the losses by the average player.

To me, discipline is the absolute cornerstone of any money management system. Pick a system and stick with it for the whole season. If you don't know what to do, as a raw newbie, then I really like the advice of Patton and Major Wager poster KingOfTheSquares and others to bet the book's minimum straight (often $10) on your games and chart them until you prove to yourself you are consistent enough to venture into higher, and more complex money management systems.

If you are betting -110 and picking less than 52.38% winners, no system will counteract that, so be sure you can beat that magic break even mark before betting more. For most, that means risking only disposable income and keeping it entertaining and a hobby. Thinking you know too much is much more dangerous than being considered a minnow. Books may not want us to know, but many speculate that more than 95% of all sportsbettors lose. I've also seen quotes about most offshore bettors having less than $500 in their account. So don't feel alone or self-conscious if you are playing for fun or just playing low stakes for now. Don't get wrapped up or impressed by pros, or fauxs, bragging about betting thousands. Many are full of it, or are losing thousands as a result.

The Philosopher:
I have mixed feelings about most of the advice that I hear people give about money management, because I think there are drawbacks to pretty much all the truisms. "Don't bet more than you can afford to lose." Well, yeah, I suppose as a rule of thumb I agree with that, but if you never bet in such a way that losing would hurt, you'll never be in a position to win meaningfully either. "Don't bet more than you can afford to lose" strikes me as not unlike "Don't fall so much in love that you can end up getting hurt," or "Don't quit your present stable job to embark on a more speculative career" and the like.

Sometimes life is about gambling. And interestingly enough, sometimes gambling is about gambling too. Spend all your time making sure you can avoid the lows, and you might find you're missing out on the highs as well.

Would you tell someone "Never start a business if the business's failing would adversely impact your life"? Or "Never start a business with borrowed money"? If you're going to approach gambling seriously, you have to treat it like your business. To gamble successfully requires capital, and it requires the nerve to risk that capital.

On the other hand, since we are directing this work primarily at newbies and more recreational players, I wouldn't want us to stray too far in the opposite direction from the "Don't bet more than you can afford to lose" advice.

With this in mind, I would say that three key points to remember in managing your money and determining how much to bet are:

1. You'll lose in the long run if you are betting with a negative expectation.

2. If you're betting with a positive expectation, you can still lose if you bet so much at a time that a bad early run wipes you out and prevents you from getting to the long run.

3. If you're betting with a positive expectation, you can partly miss out on your opportunity by betting less than you could have, and hence winning less than you could have.

You need the right balance between too much risk and too little risk (and hence too little reward). If you are a beginner, concentrate more on avoiding the former (#1 and #2). Later in your career you can worry about avoiding the latter (#3).

Most people, especially when they're starting out, are a lot more apt to bet irresponsibly high than to not bet enough. So until you have some kind of solid evidence to go on that you have a long term positive expectation at sportsbetting, you should err on the side of caution.

In fact, you could even make a case for not betting at all until you know what you're doing. Maybe spend a season or more charting what you would have bet according to whatever system you propose to use, and see how you would have come out.

The drawback to this kind of dry run is that it may be difficult to fully duplicate "battlefield conditions." When you're betting real money, you can misspeak on the phone placing your bet, you can be out of money in your account at the sportsbook that has the best line, you can lose discipline and make a bet that it isn't clear your system calls for, etc. Depending on precisely what kind of system you're testing, it may or may not be possible to learn anything by betting it in a make believe fashion instead.

The next step up is to bet real money, but to bet a very small amount, like $10 per game as has been suggested. Only bump it up when you've got plenty of evidence that what you're doing works.

Focusing now on Point #1, you should completely ignore any betting system you hear about that allegedly overcomes a mathematical disadvantage. People swear by such systems, because just by chance, some people using them can be successful, especially in the short run. Just like out of a hundred touts (or baboons) picking at random, at least one will likely hit 60% or better in a given season, a random small percentage of the people who try any betting system will end up quite a bit ahead of the norm.

What I have in mind are the ubiquitous systems that tell you to double up after a loss, or increase by one unit after each win, or do this or that after you've won three or more in a row, etc. Every last one of them is total hogwash. If you're betting where the house has the edge, none of these fancy ways of ordering your bets is going to give you a positive expectation over the long run. (This is why all "systems" for craps or roulette or any other form of gambling with a built-in edge for the house are worthless. People convince themselves otherwise when they win using one, but such an outcome is pure luck.)

No fancy system like that can make you a winner if you are betting with a negative expectation. And actually a non-fancy system like "Bet the same amount every time" is no better and no worse. What you need to do is to get that edge in your favor. Nothing else can save you. It's all a mirage.

The typical fallacy of such systems is that they are based on the outcomes of already completed wagers. (For instance, you've won several in a row, so bet big to take advantage of your being "hot;" or, to the contrary, you've won several in a row, so bet small because you're "due" for a loss, etc.) But except in special cases, your sports bets are going to be independent wagers, and there is no non-superstitious justification for treating them as connected parts of a "run."

Granted, there is an indirect sense in which the outcomes of previous wagers can have a bearing on how much you should bet on your next wager, namely, the following:

Your optimum bet size for any given wager is largely a function of three main factors: The size of your present bankroll, your likelihood of winning the wager, and the odds at which you are making the wager. Obviously one of the things that affects the size of your bankroll is whether you have been winning or losing thus far. So in that indirect way, it is indeed the case that, all else being equal, you should typically be betting more after a win and less after a loss.

But keep in mind, this applies only when you have a positive expectation. If you have a negative expectation, your optimum bet size is zero.

Turkoman1963:
I guess I differ a bit from the advice that it is OK to bet if it hurts a little. I think that you should bet so that it doesn't hurt! The psychological effect of losing too much when you are starting off can be devastating. Better to set aside exactly what you can afford to lose and budget that amount into one or several selections that you feel confident about.

Newbies especially need to get a grasp for what they are successful at. You don't bet the same amount on a Tuesday night UCSB-Pepperdine basketball game where you don't know any of the players names, as opposed to an NFL side where you know every handicapping factor (injuries, weather conditions, team trends) and feel extremely confident.

What sports are best to bet on?

Buckeye:
There are several levels this can be approached from. The first is that if all other things are equal, the sports with the lowest vigorish/hold, and most games/lines to choose from, would appear to be the most vulnerable for bettors. So baseball, with its uniquely low standard 10 cent line, and large number of games, would be an obvious choice for U.S.-based sport bettors.

Since nothing is ever really equal, the second level to consider, which may be the most important factor, is the expertise of the linesmakers for the sport and the availability of pertinent handicapping information to linesmakers and the general public. Handicapping can be looked at as an "information war". The greater the disparity between your information and the linesmakers', or your information and Joe Public's, the softer the lines will be for you, and thus the more advantage you have.

For these reasons, the less generally popular the sport, the more real expertise and knowledge gives you an edge in handicapping it. Non-major sports, like tennis, golf, and NASCAR, are often thrown out-by both sides of the counter--as the most beatable, because linesmakers and Joe Public don't have the plethora of information sources that other sports provide. No injury reports on the AP wire tracking every hangnail, few statistical studies or databases to be mined, no national TV shows analyzing games, and in general less overall knowledge about these sports. These sports also tend to have more disparity in lines, as they are less "Don Best" influenced than the major sports now are. They are less popular with pros and scalpers, because their betting limits are lower, and they aren't as widespread and uniform in offerings.

The third level is your own "fan interest" in the sport. This often overrides all other considerations. Though some players have no fan interest in the sports they bet, most players tend to bet the sports they enjoy the most, the ones they watch on TV or go to in person, the ones they actively follow by choice, for those are the sports they are confident they know best. If a handicapper is to spend even 10 hours a week analyzing stats and angles and conditions of a sport, it sure helps if he has a passion and genuine interest in the game to start with.

For example, football is so popular among bettors in the U.S. that it dominates the market and pervades our society. It is thought of as un-American to not be glued to a TV for the Super Bowl, and to not have a "square" or a sheet in the office pool is considered blasphemous. It is arguably justified for a typical American bettor to focus on football.

So my opinion is that the less popular sports are more easily handicapped and beatable than the major sports, but not everyone has the interest or dedication or knowledge to exploit those sports and their relatively softer lines. It may take half as much work for you to beat NASCAR as it would to beat the NFL, but if you are a football fan who finds auto racing deadly dull and would have to force himself to put even a quarter as much work into handicapping NASCAR as football, you're actually better off sticking with the sport that's tougher to beat.

The Philosopher:
My thoughts overlap a great deal with Buckeye's. I would look at the following factors:

1. Bet the sports with the lowest vig and/or the most line shopping variation. Buckeye's example of the dime line in baseball is right on point here.

2. Bet the most obscure sports, where you have a chance to be one of the few people who actually is knowledgeable about it. If you know a lot about women's tennis, or some small college and a few of the teams it plays each year in basketball, you may well be ahead of the linesmakers already, since they offer such things as an afterthought at lower limits.

3. Cutting almost exactly in the opposite direction, bet the sports that are likely to draw the most uninformed square money. Remember, in a sense, the betting public really determines the line; the bookie is just trying to put it where he'll get roughly equal action on both sides. Since everybody and their brother bets NFL, Kentucky Derby, etc., you'd think there is an awful lot of "dumb" money affecting those lines.

4. Bet the sports where you have the most personal interest and experience. Don't bet something where researching it will be a tedious chore.

When I decided to become more serious about sports betting, I opted to concentrate on the NFL. Since I was still something of a neophyte, I wasn't really aware of #1, or at least wasn't thinking about it. I mostly was thinking about #2 and #3. I wasn't sure if it was better to be where the squares are or where almost nobody is. I kind of let #4 break the tie for me. I felt I had a head start on the NFL since that was the sport I was most interested in, so I decided to devote myself to that.

I now lean more toward the view that #2 is a stronger factor than #3. In retrospect, I tend to believe that if I had devoted the same number of hours these last few years to something like NASCAR rather than football, instead of just doing pretty well, I'd probably be stinking rich.

Turkoman1963:
I concentrate on the small areas where I believe I have a good feel for the sport in question. Obviously, I have no idea who will win a cricket match between India and England, whereas I might have a very good feeling as to whether Tennessee will cover a seven point spread against LSU.

Also, you have to factor in a key question: Do you do this as a hobby or for income? If it is the former, then all the more reason for most people to wager on the Tennessee-LSU game rather than the cricket match, especially since the cricket match is not even on American television.

Since I live on the West Coast, I think I have a good grasp of Pac 10 football and basketball and, according to my records, have done quite well when concentrating on those two areas. When I venture outside my area of expertise to, say, MAC Basketball, I am lost in the wilderness.

Now, this is not to deny that many a bettor has done quite well concentrating on a small niche, like MAC basketball, since most people don't follow it. But unlike the stock market, sports wagering is also supposed to be fun, so while I might have a better chance of winning on Weber State tomorrow night if I really study the game, I much prefer concentrating my efforts on whether Quincy Carter can string two good games in a row and thus, should I take the 4 points and the Cowboys this Sunday against the Giants.

There's also an element of bravado in all this: it is much more fun to tell your co-workers or friends that the Cowboys are a "mortal lock" this Sunday than to breeze in one morning extolling the virtues of William & Mary's point guard and how you should take the points against the Citadel.

Patton:
Many years ago, after he made the Magellan Fund the most successful mutual fund in history, Peter Lynch wrote a book on stock investing. I can't remember the name of the book but the advice was generally as follows.

You can beat the stock pros by developing information from your own life. Take a number of positions in different stocks that you believe will do well because the companies provide goods or services that appear to you to be valuable and unique.

A sports "investor" can pick up two things from this. First, it is possible to beat other bettors if you can gain an insight into a particular sport that only a few people have. This means, to me, that you should have a real love for the game to start with. Then develop that into a knowledge that enables you to understand better how that sport "works," and the factors that affect outcomes in it.

Lots of people try to handicap solely with numbers, and add a little about injuries, weather, etc. into the mix. But the intangibles are also extremely important to consider. If you have a better knowledge of what those intangibles are, and how they affect your chosen sport, you have a big edge over the competition.

My experience has been that hard, quantifiable data (stats) is easier to come by than intangible information, making the latter more valuable. Everywhere you go you can find free statistical data on the internet. Getting into the intangibles, however, requires more digging. At best you will actually view the games and see how the teams and players interact with each other in the heat of battle. If you can't do that, there are also lots of stories, and commentary, about games. But in either case, to get the intangibles, you need to spend time and exert a lot of effort. Since everyone's time is limited, you are correspondingly limited in the degree to which you can dig up and consider intangibles.

To take Turkoman's example about betting a Weber State game versus betting a Dallas Cowboys game, you are more likely to make money on more obscure information about Weber State than the better known information about Quincy Carter and the Cowboys. Most people have insufficient interest in Weber State and its conference to develop intangible information about it that will give them an edge over other bettors. But everyone and their uncle is tracking Quincy Carter's performance and has a good idea how he will perform this weekend against the Giants, making this information less valuable.

The second thing people can take away from Peter Lynch is his advice to have a number (in the case of the Magellan Fund, a vast number) of picks against which to apply your edge. That means a sport in which there are a number of betting opportunities. Of course, you should only bet when you feel you have an edge, but you are more likely to find them in sports with many games. Baseball and basketball have been mentioned already, to which I would add hockey, if that's your thing.

Thus, I would stress personal interest first. If you have no interest, you won't work hard enough to succeed. Second, I would put the number of games or betting opportunities. Third, I would put the level of knowledge and skills of the other bettors, who are, in effect, your competition. But none of these factors should be ignored.

Buckeye:
Following up on a point Philo made, I would say "inside" knowledge, or at least concentrated knowledge about a sport or league is a very good way to exploit even a major sport. What Turkoman called "niche betting" is a very salient point. Studying and knowing a small school "hoops" conference could be more valuable, time wise, than trying to cap the entire 300+ NCAA field. Concentrating on your favorite conference, or local area conference, can be a good way to keep from "stretching" to weak plays. Some successful handicappers only handicap a small portion of the sport. Some will even team up and break the league into sections for each to specialize in.

The important goal is to try to gain an edge over Joe Public who is throwing darts or flipping a coin. Any edge that can be gained, whether through unpopular sports or conferences or teams, can be exploited. I think this is a more likely productive effort than trying to bet "steam" or know where the smart versus square money is. I guess that is because I believe more in handicapping games than in handicapping money moves (as in where is the money coming from and whom is it going on).

One point I'd like to make that runs counter to some of what we've said is that it can be a mistake to confuse the fan interest of watching and enjoying games with real knowledge. The natural biases of a fan can actually detract from one's handicapping. Sometimes an objective view, like "number crunchers" use, can keep you from falling into the "I just know this team is due to ..." trap. For some, it is better to bet on sports they don't care about, as it brings objectivity.

Scalpers and middlers, for instance, often remove the emotion of whom it is they are betting on from the equation. They concentrate on the line instead of the team. There is a lesson in that perspective, in my opinion. Their only interest in the teams is how the linesmakers or the public views them, not how they themselves view them.

This is where your purpose in betting comes in. If you are doing it for amusement, and have no delusions of grandeur, then by all means bet on your favorite sports. But if your interest is in making money from betting, then a sport that you have developed biases (very possibly faulty) in over years of "fan interest" may be the last place you should look to bet for profit.

The Philosopher:
In summary, we really can't name a specific sport or list of sports that is best for everyone. All we can do is mention some of the factors that we think are most important in making that decision. And many of those factors are relative to the individual bettor.

What about the tout services that sell picks? Are there any good services at reasonable rates?

The Philosopher:
I guess the easy answer here is "no."

Now, in principle, there's nothing impossible about it being fair and appropriate for one person to sell his picks to another. If I put 40 hours a week into handicapping, and you lack the time or skills to do so yourself, then we might enter into an agreement for you to pay me for the results of my labor. If I'm good at handicapping, the upshot is we both benefit from this deal. I get whatever I win on my gambling plus this additional fee from you, and you get winners you wouldn't have been able to pick yourself, and end up ahead gambling even after paying me for them.

But in the real world, this almost never happens, for a number of reasons.

The main problem is, these tout services you see advertised are 99% marketing and 1% handicapping. Pure and simple, you don't make money as a tout because you are good at picking games, any more than Miss Cleo receives the most paid calls seeking psychic guidance because she is the most skilled at divining the future. You make money because of how much and how well you market yourself.

You might say, "Well, I'll just go with the ones with the best past record," but that's not as easy as it sounds. Those that report their own record are often lying or at least being misleading. Those that are monitored by some "third party" might secretly be affiliated with the third party (or actually be the third party). Even if you monitor the picks for awhile yourself, you have to remember that if thousands of touts picked games by flipping coins, according to probability theory a certain number of them would go on superficially very impressive, but ultimately utterly meaningless, hot streaks. So what does it really tell you that so-and-so is 12-3 on his last fifteen "Pick of the Weeks" since you've been monitoring him?

You'll probably find it at least as challenging to figure out who is and is not a skilled handicapper as it would be to simply do your own handicapping.

Furthermore, there are many handicappers who share their picks publicly on sites like Major Wager and countless others. You can get those for free. Are most of these picks worthless? Probably. But no more so than those of the average tout you have to pay. If you must let someone else pick your games for you, go with the freebies.

Almost everyone around a place like Major Wager will tell you flat out, "Never buy picks from a tout." For the most part, I agree.

Patton:
I am going to agree with you here, Philosopher. I got started on this path over 20 years ago with one of the legendary sports touts. He sold my name to other touts (some of whom I suspect were actually the original tout in a new disguise). To make a long story short, I found out there is no free lunch. In fact, it was a very expensive "lunch" in the end.

With the Internet today, there is a new avenue for these touts to market themselves. It has also opened up access to talented handicappers who sell their picks. But as you point out, Philosopher, even these people have to spend time marketing themselves, a task that takes away from precious handicapping time.

But why pay at all? For the net is also a path bringing us information and resources we never had before, and much of it is free. The guys on Major Wager are a great example. Newbies should definitely become acquainted with the regulars who have posted picks for the benefit of others and have stuck around. They should learn to avoid the touts who come in, post a few picks, and leave if their record goes south.

There are also countless other sites that offer free picks, many of them belonging to touts. A fellow at the website Cappers Access lists his own picks and has literally dozens of links to other free pick sites if that's what you're interested in.

However, the time spent "handicapping the handicappers" might be better spent in learning to handicap one or more sports yourself.

Turkoman1963:
I use tout services when they offer free picks. I like to see how they arrive at their selections and sometimes that information is useful. I don't have the time or wherewithal to research how Towson State has done the last three times they've played BYU at BYU, or how their leading scorer is coping with that sexual battery charge he's facing, so that kind of information is useful and sometimes it will lead me to play a Towson State when I normally would pass the game.

But to pay for touts is just not in my vocabulary for the same reason that I don't sign on with any stock broker who calls me up during dinner to tell me about a hot stock that I must jump on. If they were so good, they'd just make the plays themselves and not call me and interrupt my veal piccata.

Buckeye:
I also think paying for picks is a waste of time and money. There are some services and newsletters that provide stats and analysis and angles, not just trends. Those I would consider paying for, if the fee is nominal. Many touts are salesmen, as Philo noted, much more than handicappers. I am interested in why you like Seattle, not just that you like them, particularly if I am expected to pay for such information.

Even some previously successful handicappers see their performance drop off when they turn tout. Some speculate that it messes them up, as they now have the marketing aspect to do and they "sweat the picks" more and change their techniques and criteria and end up failing.

How should one go about handicapping a game?

The Philosopher:
Later we'll talk about how to bet a game advantageously (shop lines, look for the lowest vig, etc.), but for this question, let's talk just about actually trying to figure out who's going to win a game, by how much, etc.

I think there are two main general approaches to handicapping, though they overlap somewhat, and most bettors probably use a combination of the two.

One is more substantive, and one is more a technical analysis of "trends."

The first type of method is where you research as much as possible about these teams specifically and this game specifically, weigh all the relevant substantive factors as best you can, and arrive at your best educated guess as to the likely outcome. There is a lot of subjectivity here, a lot of reliance on your "gut" to tell you what to consider and how heavily to weigh it.

If you're betting on Baltimore because their defensive line is bigger, stronger, and faster than Pittsburgh's offensive line, because Pittsburgh has poor coaching, because Pittsburgh's best linebacker is out with an injury, because Baltimore has to win this game to make the playoffs and will likely play with a greater urgency, etc., then you're using this method.

The key to this method is research, research, research. The more informed your opinion or intuition is, the better.

The second method involves looking for specific trends that appear to hit at a greater than chance rate, and then betting the games that fit these trends.

For example (these are all made up by the way), "In games where a rookie pitcher is making his first career start, his team wins 45% of the time," "When Notre Dame plays its third consecutive home game as an underdog, it beats the spread 70% of the time," "Teams that have gained more yardage than their opponent for at least three games in a row beat the spread in their next game 59% of the time," etc.

Most touts seem to rely more on this second method. ("Bowling Green has beaten the spread the last seven times they were coming off a double-digit road loss," etc.) I think this method appeals to a lot of people because there is a certain precision or objectivity to it, compared to subjectively analyzing the game itself and all its complex substantive factors. I mean, Bowling Green either is or is not coming off a double-digit road loss; there's no ambiguity about it.

But for what it's worth-and many, many gamblers will disagree with me here, including a few who are actually successful-I'm mostly very skeptical of the "trend" method of handicapping. I'm open-minded, but I believe that the overwhelming majority of such trends have little or no predictive value whatsoever.

One reason I say this is because there are an infinite number of possible trends like this, so of course you can always go back after the fact and find as many as you want that have hit at a surprisingly high percentage. But you want to identify the ones that will continue to hit at that above chance percentage, and I think that is a very elusive task.

So, yes, I don't doubt it if someone tells me that in the last twenty years in the NFL, the team with the starting quarterback with fewer letters in his name has beaten the spread 60% of the time. But I refuse to make the inference from that to the conclusion that in the next game, I have a 60% chance of winning if I bet on the team with the starting quarterback with fewer letters in his name.

For all intents and purposes, I ignore trends and concentrate on trying to figure out who is the better team and by how much. But I think that puts me in the minority.

Buckeye:
I wholeheartedly agree with Philo's "trend"-betting analysis. To me, it is the difference between "causation" (information with predictive value) and "correlation" (what most trends really are, which may be coincidence based) that makes trends questionable. Trends also extend into past years when the team's make-up, coaching, personnel, competence, etc. may have been dramatically different. Trends often go over the boundary of what I call "temporal significance," in that they are too old and of little or no relevance to the game in question.

On the other hand, if you can find a "causal root" to the trend, then I call it an "angle," and angles are a very productive handicapping tool.

One handicapping angle I use in my college basketball handicapping that is a tad obscure is a 2-3 year old recruiting analysis. Instead of just concentrating on how many starters are back and how good the incoming freshmen are, I look to see where the upper class talent was ranked, by recruiting analysts I respect, and what bench jockeys may be more able to step up (have talent) on some teams than others. It helps with my power ratings and identification of teams that are likely to be underrated and overrated at the beginning and end of the season. It's like looking at free agent acquisition in the pros, but few have the recruiting info I do. (It has been a hobby of mine that predates betting.)

I tend to value "power ratings" as a significant and somewhat objective tool for handicapping. How one arrives at their own ratings is subjective, but once you develop a method or formula(s), then comparing two teams or players etc. to predict score or differential (spread) can be a good start to an objective approach.

Many publications post ratings and some handicappers will copy them, using their own home-grown tweaks. For instance, I will adjust the home court/field advantage in college sports up, for some teams, compared to most ratings I've seen. I feel it a bigger disparity than most magazines or Sagarin use.

Many handicappers use some form of power rating exclusively. I look at them as a starting point and as a way to throw some objectivity into handicapping. Positional stats match-ups, records, scoring averages, etc. are also important "quantitative" elements to consider.

Subjectively, factors like motivation, coaching acumen, "hot" and "cold" teams/players, revenge factor, contrasting playing styles, etc. also can be considered.

In most cases the more work you put into your handicapping, the better quality it will be. I do find that I can "over analyze" some factors and get caught up in one angle too much and forget about the big picture. But I make no claims of being a great handicapper at most sports. I'm always trying to learn from the success of others.

Turkoman1963:
While one can burn the midnight oil studying the trends and intricacies of a mid-season LSU-Vanderbilt battle, you can still lose your wager on a fluke play, a bad bounce, or a terrible call. I call this the "What could go wrong?" factor and it does play a part in my handicapping.

For instance, say I really like San Francisco at home versus New Orleans. The 49ers have won four straight while the Saints have been blown out three in a row. Add to this that New Orleans humiliated the 49ers earlier in the year when San Francisco's quarterback had the flu and now the quarterback is healthy--in fact, he's thrown 126 passes without an interception and was just named to the Pro Bowl!--and you can see why the 49ers are favorites. But why only 3 point favorites? Why is the line so low? The 49ers should kill them! When a line looks too good to be true, I become suspicious. Why? All factors point to a San Francisco blowout, yet that line won't budge off 3. Maybe there's something out there that I don't know about. It is this "What could go wrong?" factor that has saved me from many losing wagers.

On the other hand, if I still feel that San Francisco will win by three touchdowns, nothing will deter me, with the possible exception being an Act of God or a visit from my mother-in-law, the God-fearing, John Kyl-loving, I-will-change-you-and-get-the-hell-off-that-Internet-now, fun-loving-woman whose company I so enjoy.

I should say that I also discount trends in my handicapping. The fact that the New York Rangers have not lost at Ottawa in seven years after they win at Toronto has absolutely no bearing on my selections. This "trend betting" is one of the great ruses of our time. Who cares that Pittsburgh has not covered their next game after two consecutive road losses six years in a row? It's a fluke. The players are different, as are the coaches, stadiums, and refs.

What are some good sources of information for handicapping purposes and for sportsbetting in general?

Turkoman1963:
For soccer information, I go to sportinglife.com. For handicapping, I go to phoenixsports.com and sportslynx.com and search their soccer forums.

For football, I read all the sports sites: espn.com, sportsline.com, profootballweekly.com, covers.com, then I go to various forums including Major Wager to gain more insight.

For baseball, I read espn.com and the local papers of each team.

For basketball, I go to nba.com and also read the local papers.

I'm not a large enough bettor to spend so much time researching that handicapping becomes a full-time job, or to employ somebody else to do it. Instead, I try to gather the general information and then go to various forums to see the reasons behind other people's selections before making my own pick. (I do this just in case someone at Major Wager, for instance, reports on Saturday night that Jeff Garcia has got the flu and is doubtful for tomorrow's game, that kind of thing.)

The Philosopher:
If anything, there are too many sources of information nowadays. You're more likely to get buried in more information than you can realistically process than you are to be lacking anything.

There are many general sports websites that can be useful, such as those run by CBS Sports, CNN/SI, the Sporting News, ESPN, etc. Or you can use sites more specific to one sport, such as the one run by Pro Football Weekly. Plus, of course, there are always the non-virtual versions of these (you can subscribe to physical magazines and newspapers, in other words).

I've found that fantasy sports websites can often have a lot of information that overlaps with what is relevant for handicapping. For example, I get a lot of my day-to-day NFL information on roster changes and injuries and such from one called KFFL.

It can also help to check out local newspapers. The Web greatly facilitates doing this, as most newspapers are at least partly online. I haven't found this to be quite as valuable as I anticipated, because really a lot of the general sites I mentioned above are, in effect, already culling those sources for you and reporting most of the information that is at all important, but once in awhile you can get some information on something like whether coaches are leaning toward playing an injury-hampered player or not.

A good compromise between the national and the local is that a site like that of the Sporting News provides links to writers from local newspapers from each team in each major sport, and they post pretty lengthy updates two or three times a week. This isn't the best place for "breaking news" type stuff, but it's a way to get information on which players are having surprisingly good or bad seasons so far, and the like.

For news and statistics and such that are more openly gambling oriented, a couple of sites that people seem to use a lot are Covers and Vegas Insider.

To check the betting lines, you can either go to the websites of individual sportsbooks, or use Don Best (free for delayed odds, will cost you a fortune for live odds). There are lesser known lines services like that with different or fewer books, including Tip-Ex and one run by Jim Feist.

You can routinely pick up useful handicapping and wagering tips in the Forums right here at Major Wager. It's not uncommon, in fact, for posters to moan and groan about how their edge is declining in value precisely because so many "secrets" are being revealed.

For news on offshore sportsbooks and other gambling tidbits, there's Major Wager, the Prescription, Bettorsworld, and a few smaller sites.

The best source for books on gambling and sportsbetting is probably the Gamblers Book Club in Las Vegas. You can check them out in person if you go to Vegas, or you can get items by mail order from them.

I consider Gamblers Book Club to be a mixed bag at best. I've bought a few things from them, and I've browsed in their store in person at length. The problem is, a great deal of gambling material, including what you'll find there, is pure garbage. It's riddled with logical and mathematical howlers such as I've rarely seen outside a John Patrick "So You Want to Be a Gambler?" infomercial. So a lot of what you'll find in that store is of little or no value (not to mention you'll be paying $40 for a one hundred page large type "book" that looks likes something somebody typed up in his basement and had bound at the local Kinko's), but then again, you will also find worthwhile items there if you search long enough.

There are a lot more sources, but that's just a few off the top of my head.

Buckeye:
For football and basketball handicapping, I like covers.com, in particular. I also use many of the others mentioned already. For golf handicapping, one of the best cappers I've ever run across in any sport has his own website--Stanley's (www.tour-tips.com)--which is invaluable to any serious golf bettor. I also spend hours on golfonline's stats pages as well.

Philo brings up a very good tip, I know that I have gained a lot of insight through some fantasy stats and sites. It sharpens your awareness of players and teams and can help your handicapping skills. Yahoo's fantasy leagues have some stats that are as germane to betting as they are to selecting fantasy rosters.

I also use links off of various "watchdog" sites like Major Wager. Some other sites give links to hometown papers for teams, or team websites, that have some relevance.

I also use pre-season magazines and newsletters to develop power ratings. I typically grab up a half dozen or so and use them to check roster changes, draft analysis, and stats etc. in determining my initial ratings.

Once you've decided whom or what to bet on, how can you bet it most advantageously?

Turkoman1963:
This is an area where I want to continue to improve. Let's say I love Dallas against the New York Giants and the line around town is Dallas +3. Do I simply bet it at the book I use the most and be done with it? Only takes me 10 seconds or so to click in $110 to win $100 on Dallas +3. Or do I now begin my real work: shopping for the best price and the best line?

For instance, let's say there is a book that has no vig Fridays and I can play the game there at Dallas +3 $100 to win $100. Or I can shop for a book that offers money line wagers on Dallas. Now Dallas has to win for me to collect. Searching the net, I find five books ranging from Dallas +125 to Dallas +135. If I take Dallas +135, I now can wager $100 to win $135.

Or say we are talking about a basketball game, such as Seattle versus the Los Angeles Lakers. I simply go through my list of books and find the best price. Some books offer lower vig, say wager $105 to win $100 on basketball for one hour each day. Besides looking at the vig, I'm also shopping the lines. I might find, for instance, that Seattle is at +8 at most books, and +8.5 at some. In the end, I take the best combination of vig and the line.

The key to being a successful handicapper is to maximize your wins and to do that, you need to find the best bang for your buck. It's a buyer's market--all you have to do is start shopping.

The Philosopher:
It's hard to overstate how important vig shopping and line shopping are to successful sportsbetting.

Let's look at some numbers: If you're playing at standard vig, which is risking $11 for each $10 you stand to win, or "-110" odds, then in order to come out ahead, you have to pick at least 52.4% winners.

If instead you bet at -107, your break even point is to pick 51.7% winners. For -105, it's down to needing only 51.2%. -102 brings it down to 50.5%. And of course, if you can bet it at even money, you need to pick just 50% winners. In other words, if you can flip a coin, you can break even at sports betting.

Every one of these levels of vig are available offshore, including betting with no vig at all. You just need to know where and when to bet. (It also helps if you bet online, since some of the low vig and no vig deals are limited to online wagering.) If you place a bet at -110 when you could have bet the identical thing at a different time or at a different sportsbook for less vig, you're basically throwing money away.

Similarly, all else being equal, you will be a much more successful sportsbettor if you shop lines. This means having accounts at multiple sportsbooks, and monitoring their numbers so that you can place your bet most advantageously.

In the old days, before information transmission became basically instantaneous, it was common to find large discrepancies between what different books were offering. But even now, when lines are far more likely to coalesce around a narrow consensus, you will still routinely get a half point or a point better, or a few cents better on a money line, on most of your wagers if you shop several books than if you place all your wagers at one sportsbook.

Some bettors don't bother with these small discrepancies unless they fall on a "key" number that is unusually likely to land, such as the '3' or '7' in football. But this is a mistake. Granted, getting -2.5 instead of settling for -3 is a much bigger deal than getting +16.5 instead of settling for +16, but the latter is still worth taking advantage of. (I'm assuming here that the vig is the same throughout.)

Let's stipulate that we're talking about such an obscure number that there is only a 1% chance the game in question will land exactly on that number. Let me ask you this: If you could wave a magic wand and turn 1% of the losing wagers you've had in life into pushes, and turn 1% of the pushes into wins, would you do it?

There are other factors you can use to reduce or eliminate the house edge, but the two you should add to your arsenal immediately if you haven't already are vig shopping and line shopping.

Patton:
Definitely line shopping is the way to go. It starts with selecting books that offer lines that can differ from those of the crowd. Many books use Don Best to follow changes at other books, and keep their numbers in line to avoid getting too much action at an "old" number when those changes occur. Obviously, if all your books are in this category you won't get good numbers.

Once you've selected a number of books, you then have to find the one with the best line. You can purchase the Don Best Premium feed for $500 a month for instant access to the lines at the major offshore books, but that is unrealistic for most gamblers, especially me. Don Best also has a free service, Island Express, with fewer books and a 15 minute delay. I also use another free line service, Tip-Ex. This service uses netbots to update its site continuously with the odds for many different sports. For example, for NFL there might be 25 books quoted there, including popular ones like Canbet, WSEX, Royal, and Pinnacle. These services are not perfect, but they work for me.

Buckeye:
This aspect of the process, that I call "betting," as opposed to "handicapping," is a very important one that many newbies and even veterans overlook. It sometimes surprises me that astute handicappers, in golf for instance, would say getting -125 isn't that much better than getting -135 is, that it is not worth shopping for. I try to point out that that is either $10 less risked, for a $100 bettor, or over $7 more won for the same risk amount. Give me that difference bet after bet and it piles up.

Along with using line services, like Don Best, it is also important that you have the ability to play where the numbers are most advantageous. By this I mean that you must have funds in your account where the best lines can be had at the time you need to make your bets. Properly allocating your bankroll so that the more useful outs (best vig and/or opinionated lines) have the bigger portion of it is very important to keep your flexibility. Having some cushion in a service such as Neteller can also precipitate this flexibility.

Transfer fees and bonus rules can sometimes get in the way, or cut into your "line shopping savings/profits" when balancing funds among multiple books. You must keep this factor in mind when deciding how many accounts to use and how heavily to fund them. There are times that the slight benefit you'd gain by getting the very best line is more than offset by the cost, and it is better to let it go.

I often talk about how "useful" an out is. What I mean is how often it will be the most advantageous place for me to make my plays each week. The more useful an out is, the higher a priority it is to keep my account there well funded.

One part of line shopping that I have become more tuned in to, particularly in some sports like golf and college basketball, is betting into early, opening, virgin, lines. In golf, for example, I end up making 90%+ of my wagers on Monday or early Tuesday. The reason is that I have become painfully aware that the lines move against my wagers the vast majority of the time (I'd guess well over 80% of the moves are against me), whether I'm betting underdogs or favorites. So waiting until Wednesday, the more traditional day for most golf bettors to play their match-ups, has usually cost me dearly.

I think the difference is magnified in minor sports, but some money lines move 20, 30, even 50 cents between when I play them and when others do on Wednesday. Some say they wait for weather or tee times, but I factor those into dailies, not 72 hole matches very much.

I know that "steam chasers" wait for moves in major sports to play, but I am a handicapper, so I'd rather go with my line/ratings right away than hold back and get "wise guy righted" numbers all of the time. Besides, I can often "scalp out" of a match-up later, if weather or tee times get me to change my opinion. I very rarely do this, but it happens every once in a while.

The same scenario can be applied to the NFL. Some handicappers, and pros, like to hit the opening numbers on Sunday. Some online bettors will take advantage of -102 vig deals on Tuesday. Some may play during "restricted hours" to get -105 or larger parlay payoffs. Others wait for late news on injuries, line movements/steam, or because they don't have their handicapping done until Sunday morning and don't worry much about juice or early moves. Different timing is appropriate for different handicapping styles.

I would think that handicappers who trust their lines/number would be more inclined to bet into early lines as they may be softer than lines that have been beat on all week. There is nothing "squarer" than to play a juiced up favorite on Sunday just before kickoff. I play the vast majority of my football plays before Saturday, but many advocate playing favorites and overs at the early lines and underdogs and unders late, as the general rule of thumb is that Joe Public plays favorites and overs the majority of the time, and through the week and weekend the lines move accordingly. I'd say this is correct, in general, but I am a mediocre to poor football handicapper so I concentrate on juice more. I have not seen my particular underdog or under plays predominantly get better as kickoff approaches, on those rare occasions I watch line movement on the weekend, so I don't sweat it for the NFL. I think the better handicapper you are, the more those things make sense.

This brings up a related topic, taking leads or anticipating line moves. Middlers and scalpers, as well as sophisticated pro handicappers, seem to be very good at this skill. This is one area that I haven't looked at much, as I spend time line shopping when I am ready to bet, not a lot of time screen or line watching all week or day. I know that they move against my golf and college hoops plays the majority of the time, so I'd rather play those early. I do have some feel for which games might move in those sports, but I don't try to "time" moves much, mostly because I am a recreational player and can't watch the screen and make plays all day, due to my job. So overnights in college basketball, and early lines in other sports, are my preference. But I have no idea how to determine how baseball lines will move, or which NFL lines will go up or down. I am so bad at handicapping those sports, I'd likely guess wrong anyway.

But I'd say that whenever you decide is most advantageous to play--early, late, Friday, or whenever--then you should line and vig shop at that time. It may be worth looking at your plays to see if they consistently move for or against you during the day or the week. It might show you some betting angles that help your results, but the time investment is a consideration. Favorites and overs early may work for many, but if that doesn't match your handicapping skills, or your picks, then you may actually cost yourself in money and time.

The Philosopher:
Just to follow up on some of the points that have been made about line shopping, notice that to do it right requires having many sportsbook accounts, which in turn requires a much more substantial capital investment than you might expect.

Let's say that you intend to bet $50-$100 per game, and that you're confident you'll never have more than ten bets active simultaneously, and in fact probably rarely more than four or five. As a beginner, you might think you need only send $500-$1,000 to your favorite sportsbook to be able to do this, or maybe $1,200 or so if you want to be absolutely sure, and to be able to ride out at least a small losing streak without having to go to the hassle of sending more money.

But to shop lines, you need multiple accounts. And obviously you can't simply divide the same amount of money by the number of accounts you intend to fund. (If you have five accounts, and intend to make five bets, it's extraordinarily unlikely that you'll find the best betting opportunity for precisely one bet at each sportsbook.)

Ideally, you'd want to send enough to each sportsbook to cover you in the event that one of them turns out to have the best line and vig for every one of your bets. That can be unnecessarily extreme however. A better idea might be to send $750-$1,000 each to the two you suspect you'll have reason to use the most often, $500-$750 each to the two you think you'll use a fair amount, and $250-$500 to the one you think you'll only occasionally find the best number at.

In any case, you'll be investing a lot more money than you may have originally envisioned.

Turkoman1963:
It is imperative that you have at least five accounts if you want to truly increase your chances of being a profitable handicapper. Why take Miami at -9 when you can get them at elsewhere at -8? The odds of the line falling on 8 or 9 is minimal, I grant you, but when it does occur, I'm sure you would prefer the lower number.

A personal example: I loved the Toronto Raptors at home after a long road trip against a very tired Charlotte team that was playing its last road game of a grueling five games in seven day trip. Toronto was -7.5. I was going to shop around later that day and find -7, but I was going out for the day and, what the heck, they were going to blow them out, right? Well, I found out later from a couple of friends that a few books had the game at -6.5 an hour before tip off.

When the Raptors couldn't hit their free throws and Charlotte began draining three's, suddenly an 18 point cushion hovered around 9 with a few seconds to go. Still no worries, though, right? Toronto players were laughing it up, celebrating another victory as everyone just stood around when, all of a sudden, Baron Davis steals the ball. Why guard him, Raptors players must have thought, there's only a tick or two left? Davis heads for the basket but, sensing the clock, launches a 30 footer that...hits nothing but net. Toronto 110 Charlotte 103. I lose and my friends who found that book at -6.5 won. A valuable lesson.

The Philosopher:
One more quick point on betting strategies, since we've alluded to it in passing once or twice already. Many serious bettors swear by the method of "betting steam." What this means is that they do not necessarily do any handicapping, but instead concentrate on timing their plays so as to piggyback onto the handicapping of others.

When a major betting syndicate puts in a big bet, it will typically move the lines, sometimes substantially. So the strategy of the steam chaser is to ascertain which way the pros are betting by monitoring line movements, and then to jump on that same side as quickly as possible, preferably at a book where the line hasn't moved much yet.

And really how close you get to that pre-move number is crucial to this strategy. What I've gathered from reading the Major Wager forums and listening to people who've been in the business and such is that the pros that bet the line at the "original" number win more than they lose, the chasers who bet the line fairly close to where it started are probably break even or a little better, and the chasers who are slow and bet only after the line has moved more significantly probably are net losers in the long run, due to the infrequent occasions when the game lands right in that narrow area the line moved through before they caught it

One indication that betting the moves might be a successful strategy is precisely the fact that many books openly resent such players and take counter-measures against them. If steam chasers generally lost in the long run, you wouldn't expect the vitriol that books rain down upon them. You typically don't try to drive away your meal tickets.

How are odds expressed at a sportsbook?

The Philosopher:
Most sportsbooks that cater to an American clientele will use a system of "-" for favorites and "+" for underdogs. (International oriented sportsbooks will often give you the option of getting the odds in this format if you prefer.)

Specifically, if you see "-130" as the odds on the team you are interested in, this tells you that you must risk $130 dollars for every $100 you stand to win. (Or risk $1.30 to win $1.00, risk $65 to win $50, etc.) If you see "+180," this means that for every $100 you risk, you stand to win $180.

When you see people refer to something like a "20 cent line," they mean the differential between the favorite and the underdog. So if the favorite is listed as "-140" and the underdog is listed as "+120," then this is a 20 cent line due to the fact that favorite bettors are risking that 20 more than underdog bettors stand to get back.

If the favorite is "-120" and the underdog is even money (which I've seen expressed as "-100" or "+100"-it's the same thing), then that too is a 20 cent line. It's also a 20 cent line if, say, both teams are listed at "-110" and there is no underdog.

So if the favorite is "-170" and the underdog is "+140," this is a 30 cent line. If the favorite is "-115" and the underdog is "+105," this is a 10 cent line, or a "dime line." Etc.

You will also see odds expressed in the form "x to y," e.g., "7 to 1," "50 to 1," "5 to 2," "1 to 3," and so on (or "7-1," "50-1," "5-2," "1-3," and so on). In this case, you are risking the amount on the right to win the amount on the left. So, "7 to 1" means if you risk $1,000 and your team prevails, you'll win $7,000. "1 to 3" means you would have to risk $30 to win just $10.

One deceptive thing to be wary of, though I've rarely seen this offshore, is if you come across something like "6 for 1." When it says "for" rather than "to" it means they are counting your original stake as part of the winnings, and so is worse for the bettor.

For example, if I bet $100 at "6 to 1," I will either lose $100 or win $600. If I bet $100 at "6 for 1" I will either lose $100 or get back $600-my original $100 stake plus a profit of only $500.

There are other forms of odds that are commonly used in other countries, or that are conventional for certain sports or types of wagers. I will leave it to my colleagues to address some of these.

Buckeye:
This is one area where I think the "old school" way of expressing money lines as +120, -140 is more confusing to newbies and bettors from other parts of the globe, than a lot of other aspects of the betting process.

Most newbies to betting quickly understand spread betting and that the player must bet 11 to win 10, the difference being the book's profit. But the minute they see those money lines their eyes glass over. Those books that use decimal multipliers to express the odds make the most sense to me. 1.909, instead of -110, makes sense in that it is what you can multiply your stake by (like 110) to get your return (110 * 1.909 = 210). This also makes parlay calculations self-explanatory. Parlaying two games of -110 lines becomes a simple multiplication exercise when decimals are used (1.909 * 1.909 = 3.644) which makes your return 3.644 times your stake. That seems easier to understand than 13-5, which returns 18 for every 5 bet.

Patton:
I am relatively new to the sportsbetting scene, although I have bet the ponies for years. In horse racing, odds are expressed in terms of the amount to be returned for a winning wager (including the amount bet) to the amount bet. Thus, odds for a horse will be expressed "3-1," meaning a winning bet will return $3 profit for every $1 bet (or a total of $4 returned for a winning wager), or "5-2," meaning a return of $5 for every $2 bet (for a total of $7). So, it took me some time to get up to speed on even "old style" betting notations of -110 and the like.

The use of decimal pricing would probably simplify things for me, but many books I use do not support it (or at least I don't think they do), whereas everyone supports the old style.

Turkoman1963:
The key is that at most sportsbooks, you can request the format you feel most comfortable in: I prefer -120 to the more stately 1.80, but to each his own. You just have to make sure you know specifically what odds you are receiving.

Buckeye:
Some international books, which I call non-Vegas style, express odds as decimals, as I mentioned before. The confusing part of this is when line shopping on futures you may mistake them for the "to" price instead of the "for" price that Philo was warning about. Vegas-style outs will list the "to" figure, so be careful when comparing to these outs. Newbies to European or UK books will sometimes get fooled by this format.

Another popular way to express odds is with fractions, with the win amount first. So a -110 line would be listed as 10/11 instead. Many of the sites that use this format, also use a 9/10 (i.e., -111) as the default odds instead of 10/11. So as a bettor, you are getting slightly less favorable odds here than at a conventional book.

On a side note, I have read some posts speculating that the American method of expressing odds (e.g., -140/+120) is a subtle attempt to "trick" bettors into betting more on favorites (risk 140 to win 100) than underdogs (risk 100 to win 120). There is a rule of thumb that says betting favorites is inherently worse and harder to win with. So by "suggesting" that you stake more on favorites than underdogs, they say it increases the books' profits.

It is an interesting speculation, but I think bookies have traditionally not wanted to have to use calculators or deal in cents, etc. so they encourage round numbers be bet and returned to keep it easier. Even with online betting where that is of little concern anymore, old habits die slowly.

What is "vig"?

Buckeye:
Vig, which is short for vigorish, is a term used to describe the book's theoretical edge, or commission, on each bet. It is also sometimes referred to as the book's hold, particularly when looking at futures markets. For spread betting, balanced action would result in 11 dollars bet on each side (as an example) for a total of 22. As long as there isn't a push, the winner would be paid 21 and the book would keep 1. This 1/22 that is the book's commission is called the vig.

Most express it as a percentage. In this case, for spread betting, it is 4.545%. To compare to some popular casino games, the vig in craps is approx. 1/72 (1.389%) and in roulette it is 2/38 (5.26%) on a double zero wheel. It is a representation of the house's long term edge over time based on the mathematics of the game. Each and every bet has this "vig" inherent in it, barring a push.

In order for a bettor to win, he must win an adjusted percentage high enough to overcome or counteract this vig. For spread betting, at typical "lay prices" of -110 each way, that magic number is 52.38%. This break even percentage is what you need to surpass long term to win.

One interesting side note is that the farther away from even a money line goes, if the differential is held constant, the less vig is inherent. That is, the sportsbook is skimming a higher percentage of the players' money (assuming balanced action) on lines of -110/-110 than -130/+110, -160/+140, etc. This is why books have "break points" along the way where the differential is increased. So it might be a 20 cent differential up to -149/+129, then a 30 cent differential up to -199/+169, then 40 cents, etc.

A place like Canbet is a little unusual in that it keeps the vig percentage constant, so the differential expands gradually, making all the odds along the way identically favorable (except for slight rounding) to the -110/-110 starting point (-107/-107 for some sports). I can see the fairness in this, but obviously a bettor would prefer keeping the differential constant, as something like -200/+180 odds carries with it very little vig.

Patton:
This is a great description of vigorish. I like to think of the book as a middleman like a stockbroker, putting together people who want to be on opposite sides of a transaction. Instead of buying and selling shares of stock, the players are buying and selling sports teams. The vig is the commission the book earns for bringing the two parties together, just as a stockbroker earns a commission for bringing the buyer and seller of a stock together.

Buckeye:
Some may well disagree with my ideas about this subject, but I always think of vig like it is used in casino contexts. I have heard some say that the vig is dependent on your actual winning percentage, and is only paid by the winner. I disagree with this interpretation. In roulette, for example, the vig can be seen in payoff odds that are based on 36 numbers when there are actually 38 numbers on the wheel. Each bet has this 5.26% vig inherent in it. It matters not whether you win or lose; the vig is constant and a reflection of the theoretical edge.

If everyone at the table bets "10" and "10" hits and everyone leaves, the house's profit on that spin isn't 5.26%, obviously. Nor if the same situation happens and the spin is instead "0" and everyone loses is the house's profit 5.26%. But the vig is the expected long term mathematical edge, assuming balanced action, not the actual profit of one particular spin. It is based on the fact that if you played all 38 numbers every spin, you would lose 2/38 of everything bet.

Think about it as if you bet both sides of the same game, at the same spread line. You'd be sacrificing 1/22 and giving the book the vig. Some do this when they make a mistake and accidentally bet the wrong side, or if they change their mind before kickoff and want to get out of the bet. This is called "juicing out" of the bet. You sacrifice the juice, that is, pay the vig.

Vig determines the book's theoretical edge, rather than actual one, because a book's actual profits are affected by unbalanced action, money bet on both sides of line moves (by scalpers or middlers possibly), etc. It depends on the actual skill and policies of the book's linesmakers and managers.

I did read in one Vegas report that Vegas's take on football is closer to 5%, partly based on teasers and parlays and possibly the many square tourists that bet there, while their take on basketball is closer to 2.5%, and on baseball their take is smaller still.

What are some of the different bet types?

Patton:
Side: A wager on one or the other of the two teams (or "sides") in a particular game or contest, with a point spread.

Example: Lions -7 or Bears +7. One may either bet on the favorite Lions to win by more than 7 points, or one may bet on the underdog Bears to win, tie, or lose by fewer than 7 points. In effect, you just add 7 points to the Bears' score at the end of the game and see if that's enough for it to surpass the Lions' score.

Total: A wager on whether the total number of points scored by both teams is over or under a particular number.

Example: Lions-Bears Over 44.5 or Under 44.5. If the combined points the two teams score is 45 points or more, the Over bettors win. If the combined points the two teams score is 44 points or less, the Under bettors win.

Money line: A wager on the "straight up" winner of the game, with no point spread. Instead of giving up or getting points, as with a spread, you are risking more or less money. A winning bet on the favorite will return an amount less than even money, while a winning bet on the underdog will return more than even money.

Example: Lions -200 or Bears +160. If you risk $200 on the favorite Lions and they win, you win $100. If you risk $100 on the underdog Bears and they win, you win $160.

Parlay: A bet where you string together two or more wagers. You win if and only if all of the individual wagers that make up the parlay win. The payout takes into account the number of components in the parlay, and the odds for each, so that generally the more components, the higher the payout.

Example: Golden State -7, Portland +1.5, Washington-Philadelphia Under 190. This is a three team parlay, which typically will pay 6-1. You win the parlay if and only if you win all three of these components individually. You lose the parlay if you lose any of the components. (If you win some and tie some, you win a lesser amount.)

Teaser: A bet where you string together two or more side and/or total wagers, like a parlay, with the difference being that the line is adjusted a certain number of points on each one in your favor. In football you can generally move the line 6, 6.5, or 7 points in your favor, while in basketball you can generally move the line 4, 4.5, or 5 points. More unconventional numbers of points are available at some books.

Example: Consider the same point spreads as in the parlay example, only this time, the bettor is playing a three team four point teaser. He would have Golden State -3, Portland +5.5, and Washington-Philadelphia Under 194. (Note that each line is four points better than what the player received above.) Because the lines have been adjusted in the player's favor, the payoff is considerably less than for a parlay. It would be less than 2-1 at most books, as opposed to the 6-1 for the parlay.

Turkoman1963:
If-bet: A set of two wagers, where the second is conditional on the outcome of the first. In one version, the second bet is activated if and only if the first bet is won. In another version, the second bet is activated if and only if the first bet either wins or ties.

Example: If UCLA +14 risk $33 to win $30, then BYU +2 risk $22 to win $20. If UCLA wins, then you win $30 there, plus the second bet now counts, so you lose $22 or win $20 on BYU, putting you up either $8 or $50 overall. If UCLA loses, then you lose $33 there, and the second bet never happens.

Reverse or Action reverse: Like an if-bet, only operating in both directions. In addition to "if A then B," you are also placing a bet of "if B then A."

Example: If UCLA +14 risk $33 to win $30, then BYU +2 risk $22 to win $20; and if BYU +2 risk $22 to win $20, then UCLA +14 risk $33 to win $30. Determine the payoffs the same as with the if-bet above, just remember to calculate both if-bets that make up this reverse. In this instance, it works out that if both the UCLA and BYU bets win, you win $100. If the UCLA bet wins and the BYU bet loses, you lose $14. If the UCLA bets loses and the BYU bet wins, you lose $46. If both bets lose, you lose $55.

Interactive or Betting-in-progress: Bets placed after the event has already started, on a line that is continually adjusted as the event progresses.

Example: Early in a Bears-Eagles game with the scored tied 0-0, you may bet $55 to win $45 on the Bears, or $50 to win $50 on the Eagles. Later in the first half with the Bears now up 21-0, you may bet $90 to win $10 on the Bears, or $15 to win $85 on the Eagles.

The Philosopher:
Halves, quarters, or periods: Sides or totals wagers placed on just one part of a game (first or second half; first, second, third, or fourth quarter; first, second, or third period).

Example: Rams are favored by 15 over the Falcons, with a total of 49.5. But for the first half only, the spread might be Rams -8, with a total of 25. Only the points scored in the first half of the game determine the outcome of wagers placed on those lines.

Action points: Wagers where the amount won or lost varies depending on the margin by which the side or total beats the spread or loses to the spread. You wager a certain amount per point, with a cap of a certain number of points.

Example: Baltimore is favored over Cincinnati by 7. You bet Baltimore -7, $11 to win $10 per point, cap of twenty points maximum. If Baltimore wins 27-19, you win $10 (because they beat the spread by 1 point). If Baltimore wins 37-10, you win $200 (because they beat the spread by 20 points or more). If Baltimore wins 16-10, you lose $11 (because they lost to the spread by 1 point). If Baltimore wins 21-20, you lose $66 (because they lost to the spread by 6 points). If Baltimore loses 43-0, you lose $220 (because they lost to the spread by 20 or more points).

Pleaser, or Reverse teaser: A bet where you string together two or more side and/or total wagers, like a parlay, with the difference being that the line is adjusted a certain number of points on each one in your favor.

Example: Consider the same point spreads as in the parlay example earlier, only this time, the bettor is playing a three team four point pleaser. Golden State -11, Portland -2.5, Washington-Philadelphia Under 186. (Note that each line is four points worse than what the player received in the parlay example.) Because the lines have been adjusted against the player, the payoff is considerably greater than for a parlay. It would pay perhaps 18-1, as opposed to the 6-1 for the parlay.

Buckeye:
Futures: Bets made on future events, often outcomes of an entire season.

Example: Who will win the Super Bowl? Which horse will win the Kentucky Derby? Who will win the Masters? Who will win the World Series? New York Knicks total victories for the season, over or under 45.

The Philosopher:
Round robin: Combination of parlay wagers, where you are betting all possible parlays for a certain number of teams. Just as an action reverse is simply two if-bets (and thus if your sportsbook doesn't offer action reverses, you can always create them yourself out of if-bets anyway), a round robin is simply multiple parlays.

Example: Round robin of two team parlays with Golden State -7, Portland +1.5, Washington-Philadelphia Under 190. This round robin would yield a total of three such two team parlays, namely 1) Golden State -7, and Portland +1.5. 2) Golden State -7, and Washington-Philadelphia Under 190. 3) Portland +1.5, and Washington-Philadelphia Under 190. The wager is graded exactly the same as if you had bet each of these three parlays individually.

Buying points: This is not a type of wager in itself, but is a way to modify a wager. The player pays less favorable odds in exchange for moving the spread in his favor. (Much more rarely offered is selling points, which would mean that the player gets more favorable odds in exchange for moving the line against him.)

Example: The line is Chargers +7 for the conventional odds of -110. The player buys a half point. So his wager becomes instead Chargers +7.5 at odds of -120.

Props: The miscellaneous, or "none of the above" wagers.

Example: Pretty much anything we haven't already discussed. Holt over or under 5.5 receptions in the Super Bowl. Woods or Azinger to finish ahead of the other in the British Open. At least one team will or will not score three consecutive times in the Packers-Steelers Monday Night Football game. Rams points scored in the Super Bowl versus Bryant points plus rebounds in his basketball game the same day.

Now that we have defined them, what more can we say about these bet types and their pros and cons?

Patton:
Betting on sides has been a staple of gambling from the beginning, and is probably the most popular wager in terms of number of wagers and amounts wagered. Like poker, the basics of which are fairly easily learned but take a lifetime to master, defeating the spread is a task that, over the long haul, eludes the overwhelming majority of gamblers.

Totals are probably the second most popular form of wager, and also a fairly simple concept to grasp.

Once one moves beyond straightforward sides and totals wagering the complexity increases geometrically, at least in my view, making such wagers beyond the ability of the neophyte player. Sure, if you want to have some fun, or experiment, I don't mean to say they're off limits. But if you're serious about making some money it seems to me you should first understand these types of bets fully, and attaining such an understanding does not usually come quickly or easily. And that doesn't mean merely understanding the rules for each type of wager, but the mathematical intricacies of each, which has a direct bearing on your ability to turn a profit.

I do have a comment on futures wagers specifically. I cannot see the advantage of such bets given that one's money is tied up for a long period of time, up to six months or more. Capital is the gambler's stock in trade. And a profit is made in most businesses by constantly turning over stock as quickly as possible on a profitable basis as often as possible. You don't want to just let your money sit idle somewhere for months.

Turkoman1963:
The if-bet and the reverse are excellent choices for money management. They're ideal for when you have two games you want to bet that are starting too close together for the first to be settled before the second starts, and you don't have enough available in your account to bet on both of them.

In our example of betting UCLA and BYU in an if-bet, you only have to have $33 in your account. Instead of having to pass on the second game entirely, at least with the if-bet you have a conditional bet on it depending on what happens with your UCLA bet first.

Granted, you also could get action down on both teams by parlaying them. But I like the if-bet option, because if you go 1-1 on a parlay, you lose everything. If you go 1-1 on our if-bet example by winning your UCLA bet and losing your BYU bet, you're up $8.

With the interactive, or in-progress, wagers, I like the way you can cash out early to preserve a win, or lock in a small loss before it gets worse.

In our Bears-Eagles example, where Chicago has taken an early 21-0 lead, if you started off by betting on the Bears when they were risk $55 to win $45, you can now play the other side and in effect sell out of this position for a tidy profit. That way if the Eagles do unexpectedly come back and win, you've already got your money.

Or if you, unfortunately, bet the Eagles initially, and they're now down 21-0, that sounds awful, right? But is it? If Philadelphia is going to be blown out anyway, you can still play the other side and sell out of your position for something. You come out behind, but at least you've mitigated your losses.

The other reason people play interactives is that they're fun. A July Montreal-Houston baseball game can be fun if you are wagering throughout the game on the contest.

Buckeye:
Some futures are offered up to a year, or more, ahead of the planned event. Other futures, like non-major golf tourney futures or NASCAR race futures, may be much shorter term as they are often posted only a few days before the event starts.

Almost all sports offered have some kind of future bet now available. For example, in golf you can not only find futures for each PGA tour tourney, and major futures months in advance, you can find futures markets on who will win the PGA tour money title or lead the European Order of Merit and even markets on Buy.com events. LPGA and Senior tour futures have also started popping up and other tours events are regularly offered by "Euro"-based shops.

Another type of future is the season win totals for football or other sports. In these "future/prop hybrids", your money is still tied up for weeks, or months, until a conclusion. The difference is that instead of 20 or 150 possible "winners" you are only betting on a single team's total result.

There are infinite possibilities with futures and props. The more offered by an out, the more likely some will be soft and a knowledgeable handicapper can beat them. Statistician and "numbers" handicappers like prop bets because they have more opportunity for softness by nature. They feel the linesmakers are spread too thin trying to accurately gauge action and accuracy with these lines. An example of this is that one gambling website proprietor was banging NBA props at an out with such regularity, and success, that they ended up hiring him to be their linesmaker for those bets the next season.

The Philosopher:
Parlays I want to leave to Buckeye because he's our resident parlay nut. But I'll make a few comments on some of these other bet types.

I think a lot of bettors automatically bet with the pointspread without really thinking about money line wagers, but you don't want to overlook any of your options.

To know whether it's better to bet the spread or the money line requires researching and crunching numbers to see how often teams win straight up when they are favored by a certain number of points or are underdogs by a certain number of points. I've looked into that for the NFL, and my tentative conclusion is that favorites are overrated on the money line. Actually conventional wisdom has it that favorites are overrated on the pointspread, which I tend to agree is, to a small degree, true. But I think the difference is even a little more pronounced on the money line.

So I find that money line underdogs are quite often more appealing than betting them with the points at -110. Pretty often they are roughly equivalent, in my estimation, to betting with no juice. On the other hand, it's quite rare that I prefer to bet a favorite on the money line rather than giving up the points at -110.

There are two main things I look at when considering a teaser wager. First, you want to examine what range of numbers you are encompassing with your additional teaser points. In football, moving the line enough to get on the right side of a '3' is a very big deal. Crossing a '7' or a '10' is fairly valuable. Crossing the '0' is, due to the existence of overtime, basically of no value whatsoever. All the other numbers fall somewhere between these extremes, with '4,' '6,' and a few others having considerable value. So using a teaser to move the line seven points from, say, +1 to +8 is worth much more than moving the line from, say, -18 to -11. There are a lot more plausible numbers in the former case where the game could land.

Second, you want to look at the projected total for the game. All else being equal, a low scoring game stands a slightly better chance of landing close to the spread (and thus within the teaser points) than does a high scoring game.

On the in-progress betting, I would agree with Turk that it can be psychologically appealing to sell out of a position in order to lock in modest profits or in order to mitigate potential losses, but my opinion is you should try not to approach it that way. You should treat each potential wager as new and unrelated to what came before. You want to bet it if you think it has value, and pass otherwise. You don't want to bet it based on how it fits psychologically with what you already have on the game. You should pretend you don't even know what you previously bet on the game. They are independent wagers.

As far as wagering on halves and quarters and such, some experienced gamblers find second half betting in particular to be appealing. Often, the bookmakers seem to follow a fairly mechanical system for setting the second half line. Especially when there are numerous games going at the same time, it's difficult to assess each one individually, so they'll fall back on fairly simplistic rules, such as if the home team was favored by 7 for the game as a whole, and the score is tied at half time, then the second half line should favor the home team by such-and-such number of points.

Now a savvy gambler knows that not all half time ties are the same, so if he has been watching the game closely, he'll use his knowledge of which team has been dominating so far, which team has suffered key injuries, or what the particular flow of the game has been like, in order to handicap the second half and take advantage of any weakness in the line.

Action points come in handy when you think your team could win big, but is also at risk to lose close. So if you like the favorite at -3.5, and in fact think their winning by a blowout is very realistic, and you further believe that if they do fail to cover, the most likely way will be their winning by 3, an action points wager could be called for. You get the upside of that blowout win, but you lose virtually nothing if they fail to cover by that half point.

Two things to keep in mind about action points: One, they tie up a lot of capital. You have to commit the full amount of your maximum possible loss. If you bet, say, $11 to win $10 and take 40 action points, you have to set aside the entire $440 maximum potential loss, even though in the long run you'll typically win or lose about $100 on the wager.

Two, the action points wager type is so uncommon that the phone clerks typically have no clue about it. At the few places I have played it, I've typically ended up having to explain the wager to the clerks, and they often screw it up anyway. Make sure you understand this bet type well if you're going to use it, because it's unlikely you'll get much help from the book.

On futures, I agree with Patton that you need to take into account the fact that you are tying up your money for an extended period of time. This is money you could be turning over multiple times in day-to-day gambling on the games themselves, or just earning interest on for several months. That doesn't make them a bad bet necessarily, but it is one factor to keep in mind when assessing their value.

You should also be aware that futures that are not two-sided (yes or no, over or under, etc.) tend to have much higher juice. If you calculate the percentage of the money wagered that the book is holding for its World Series futures, Super Bowl futures, etc., you'll typically find that it is much worse for the player than is the case for conventional straight bets.

But I think this factor is overrated by some, because it is also true that futures odds tend to vary significantly more from book to book than do most other odds. So if you shop Super Bowl lines at, say, a dozen books, and you imagine a hypothetical book that has whatever the best odds are at any of those books for each team, that hypothetical book will typically be holding little or nothing. Often it would even be paying out more than it takes in. So line shopping can be even more important with futures than with straight bets.

Buying points is usually a bad idea, in my opinion. I'll speak to football, since that's primarily what I bet. Again, like with teasers, you want to focus on the "key numbers" that land the most often.

Points commonly cost an extra ten cents per half point, meaning the standard odds of -110 get bumped up to -120 if you move the line a half point in your favor, -130 for a full point, etc. The only number that it is clearly beneficial to buy on and off for that price is the '3,' however, not coincidentally, this is the one number books will charge you extra for (and indeed, some books won't let you buy on and off at all, for any price). The '7' and the '10' seem to be valued about right at ten cents, and I think moving on or off any other number is unwise.

So buying on and off the '3' for an inflated price, or the '7' or '10' for the regular price, probably won't help or hurt you much in the long run. They're pretty much a wash. Buying points anywhere else is just throwing money away.

I don't have much experience with props myself, but they definitely have the reputation of being beatable, as Buckeye says. There are serious gamblers who make a very nice profit shopping for props and punishing soft lines, to the point that some books resent them, on the grounds that they offer props as a loss leader and a courtesy to their "regular" players. They don't appreciate pros coming in and playing exclusively props.

I'll also note in closing that a few of the bet types we've defined are quite rare and you won't find many books that offer them. For instance, whereas halves are quite common now, quarters and hockey periods and such are not. Some of the bet types you'll only infrequently find include in-progress wagering, action points, and pleasers or reverse teasers. Almost every book has futures and props, but the quantity offered varies drastically.

Buckeye:
Parlays are one of the most misunderstood, misused, and unfairly bashed bets available, in my opinion. Many people, who I affectionately refer to as "flat bet bigots," will scold, condemn, and vilify any reference to parlays by anyone in the forums. While I agree, in principle, that most bettors should stay completely away from parlays, it is the reasons most often given that send me on a rant. Most of them are fallacious, ignorant, or mathematically unsound. Let's take a look at some of the most common criticisms of parlay betting:

1. The vig is worse when you combine bets into parlays than if you simply bet them individually.

Spread parlays are those that involve a combination of all -110 lined spread bets. They are most often seen in football and basketball, since those sports are "spread based." One of the fairest knocks against parlays is that most outs round off the odds in a way that increases the juice compared to if they calculated the odds out exactly. This is true for two, four, five team and higher parlays, but the difference for some parlays is very small, especially on two teamers, and three team parlays actually have less juice because of the rounding.

Think of it this way: The break even point for straight bets at -110 is 52.38%. For a two team parlay at +260 it is 52.7%. For a three team parlay at +600 it is 52.27%. This is hardly a dramatic difference in favor of straight betting.

Furthermore, one "trick of the trade" used by parlay players to eliminate the rounding is to include at least one money line bet in the parlay. When you do that, the straight bets are treated like -110 money line bets, and the odds for the parlay are calculated out exactly rather than being set at the conventional round numbers.

2. Parlay bets are sucker bets because you just end up losing your money a lot faster than if you separated them all into straight bets.

An important aspect of parlays is precisely their compounding nature. Losing bettors who bet parlays will find that they compound losses very rapidly, and that losing streaks can kill a parlay bettor's bankroll alarmingly quickly.

So for losers, the criticism is true! But so are all bets for losers! If you can't win greater than 52.38% (weight adjusted) of your games, then you're not going to come out ahead by sticking to straight bets either.

But don't forget that the compounding works on the positive side as well. Just as cold streaks are even worse for the parlay better than the straight bettor, hot streaks are that much better.

Consider the following chart. This is a comparative chart of the average net results of different betting strategies when laying $110 per bet projected hypothetically over 100 games. The first column is your winning percentage. The second column shows the results from straight bets. The others columns show the results for combining these same exact plays into two, three, and four team parlays respectively instead, using the most common odds of +260, +600, and +1000. An important thing to keep in mind is this compares the same dollar amount risked on the same games. This can be thought of as a round robin example, to keep the number of bets equal.

Win%.....Straight......2-team.......3-team.......4-team
50%......-$500..........-$1,100......-$1,375.....-$3,437
51%......-$290..........-$700.........-$786..…..-$2,814
52%.…...-$80...........-$292.........-$176...….-$2,153
53%......+$130.........+$124........+$464........-$1,453
54%......+$340.........+$547........+$1,124.....-$711
55%......+$550.........+$979........+$1,811.....+$72
56%......+$760.........+$1,418.....+$2,521.....+$899
57%......+$970.........+$1,866.....+$3,260.....+$1,773
58%…..+$1,180......+$2,321.....+$4,023.....+$2,693

Below the break even point, clearly the parlays are worse than the straight bets. But the farther you get above the break even point, the more the parlays outperform the straight bets. Even the lowly four teamers, with their unfavorable odds, surpass straight bets in profitability for handicappers who can pick 56% or greater winners.

This is why I advocate only the most experienced, and proven handicappers consider parlays. I also advocate a separate bankroll for parlays, or at least a modification to one's money management to account for the much more volatile nature of parlays.

I also don't even consider four-team or greater parlays at outs that offer them at the conventional odds. Winning that many legs is difficult for even the best handicappers and most experienced parlay bettors.

3. Bookies love parlays, so they must be disadvantageous to the player.

Bookies do indeed love them because most players are losers, and, as noted above, losing players lose more and lose faster on parlays than on straight bets.

But for winners, again as noted above, the opposite is true: they win faster and win more by betting parlays due to the same "compounding effect". Knowledgeable bookies certainly should not "love" it when their winning players bet parlays. I have read about books banning pros from betting parlays, or cutting their maximums.

4. You can win 50% of your games and never win a parlay.

I agree 100% with this statement. But it doesn't make parlays bad bets.

A person who wins 53% of his individual plays should hit about 28% of his two team parlays. He could hit less than that 28%, all the way down to a mathematically possible 0%, but he could just as easily win more than 28%, sometimes much more.

If you want to talk about flukes, it's also mathematically possible for a player who hits less than 30% of his picks to actually come out slightly ahead by combining them into two team parlays. So what?

What matters is the long term expectation at different win rates, which is revealed in the chart above, not bizarre runs of going 1-1 on every parlay, or going 2-0 or 0-2 on every parlay. My opinion is that such lucky and unlucky streaks will even out over time, as the law of averages kicks in.

I don't advocate parlays for most players, but that doesn't mean they are universally bad bets for every player.

On a side note, I think the relevance and occurrences of so-called "correlated parlays" are overrated, and that bookies are too afraid of them. ("Correlated parlays" are parlays where the outcome of one of the component bets affects the outcome of one or more others. For instance, to parlay Vikings -2 with Vikings -130 on the money line in the same game would truly be a correlated parlay, in that if you win one of those two components (the -2 spread bet) you must win the other. The components are not independent of each other. Books do not allow correlated parlays, for obvious reasons.) Some things may seem correlated, but correlation and causation are very different, and many assumed correlations may very well not hold up under statistical analysis.

One of my pet peeves is the "lack of huevos" by many outs in that they limit parlays to very few types of bets and restrict them greatly. I don't mind them protecting against true correlations, but many take this to the ultimate paranoid level and restrict against bets that can't possibly have any correlation at all. They blame it on their software, typically, but it is often the result of not having much confidence in their lines.

Patton:
I am not a big parlay player. I tend to be a weasel and bet parlays only where I believe the two bets are correlated, or have something to do with each other. A good example is parlaying the underdog and the under in the same game. The thinking goes that a lower scoring match favors the underdog, because with fewer points scored the underdog will be able to stay closer to the favorite and thus better be able to cover and perhaps even win. Similarly, you can view a parlay of the favorite and the over as correlated as well. Players have been debating whether these correlations actually exist in a rather heated fashion for some time now. Fact is, some books will now not allow you to parlay the side with the total in the same game, as they believe the theory has at least some logic to it.

In any event, as Buckeye's discussion shows, there is a great deal to understand about them, and the player who wishes to partake of parlays needs to understand them reasonably well in order to derive more than entertainment value from them. Vig charges vary enormously from book to book, and other rules, such as whether pushes are considered ties (causing the parlay to be downgraded from, say, a four teamer to a three teamer) or a loss (meaning you tie, you lose the whole parlay) vary as well. Newbies should refrain from parlays until they have a good understanding of how they work, and a strategy for how parlays can enhance their particular handicapping style.

A possible exception could be where you feel you have a number of good picks, but betting on them all will require a large portion of your bankroll. In that case, a player could combine the plays into parlays, much like Turkoman was describing for if-bets.

What is "middling"? What is "scalping"? Are they different? Are they good betting strategies?

Turkoman1963:
First of all, I don't have the bankroll to do either, so I'm least qualified to answer this question.

That said, I will state, that, to me, middling is betting both ends of a game, whereas scalping is finding a way to get prices for a game that guarantees a profit.

For an example of middling, say the New York Giants are favored by 3 over Dallas this Sunday. A lot of players will find books with low vig or free vig and buy half a point on both sides. They'll bet NYG -2.5 and Dallas +3.5 at different books for increased vig.

In this example, they lose if the game does not land on 3 (win one bet, but lose the other bet plus vig). If it does land on 3, they win both bets. In this scenario, the middler needs the Giants to win by exactly 3.

A scalper works with money lines. I associate scalpers more with baseball, because the standard dime line in baseball makes scalps more frequent than in most other sports. For instance, Arizona might open up -105 versus San Francisco, and a scalper might take Arizona, hoping that the line goes up. If the line does go up to, say, -130, he can then take San Francisco at +120 on the other end and lock in a profit.

The bets might look like this:

$210 on Arizona at -105 to win $200.

$190 on San Francisco +120 to win $228.

The scalper has wagered $400 and is guaranteed a profit of $10 if Arizona wins and $18 if San Francisco wins.

Now that doesn't sound like a lot, but if you multiply the stakes by ten and multiply that by ten games, you can eek out a living as a scalper. The key is the big bankroll and the hours poring over the odds trying to see lines that move.

The Philosopher:
Let's clarify that you don't need to buy the half points for it to be a middle. In fact, I would think it's rare for a middler to buy points in both directions. Typically, for both middles and scalps, you're line shopping and then betting the game at two different sportsbooks that have a discrepancy between their lines.

For a middle, you're aiming at one number or a small range of numbers. If it hits, you win both your bets, or win one and push one. If it doesn't (and it usually won't), you lose vig on one bet. So you're risking a tiny amount to win a lot.

By the way, if you win one bet and push one, that's called a "side" rather than a middle. For example, if you bet -5 at one sportsbook, and +6.5 at another, and the favorite wins by exactly 5, you got a side.

Is middling profitable? It can be. It basically boils down to doing the research to know the approximate likelihood of a game falling on each number. Then you play for a middle only when you have a positive expectation.

Scalping is not limited to baseball, but is applicable to any sport with money lines. Although Turk's example is of a case where you place one half of the scalp first and then hope the other materializes later, scalping isn't limited to such cases. That's an instance of hoping for a scalp, or trying to get a scalp, but the scalp itself is simply the combination of bets on both teams that ensures a profit.

A scalp is, by definition, profitable. If it's a scalp, then you have to realize a profit whichever team wins.

Expect wild swings in your bank roll if you try for middles. You can go a long, long time piling up small losses in between those big wins. With scalping, on the other hand, you're grinding out guaranteed small win after guaranteed small win.

If you intend to come upon a profitable middle opportunity or a scalp opportunity more than very rarely, you'll need to have sizable balances at many, many sportsbooks simultaneously, so be prepared to invest a large bank roll. Further, be prepared to sit and monitor lines for hours on end so that you can pounce when those rare anomalies pop up temporarily where there is enough discrepancy between the lines for the middle or scalp.

Even that likely won't be enough to realize much of a profit. To make serious money, you'll probably find you have to take the risk of betting one side now, because your research and experience tells you the other side will probably be available later. (If instead you wait for the second side to materialize before betting either, the first side will likely be long gone.) Key word there is "probably."

There are people who make a comfortable living middling and/or scalping. But the fast track to easy money it ain't.

Buckeye:
In the grand scheme of things, I don't really consider pure middling or scalping as "gambling". The European bettors even call it arbitraging instead, which is apt, in my opinion. It is a form of taking advantage of a softness or weakness in the market (in this case odds and lines market) to turn a profit off of it. There is risk involved, like getting stiffed or making a mistake, but it isn't the same type of risk one associates with gambling off of handicapped games.

Most think of pure scalping or middling as making simultaneous bets at different outs under the conditions Philo and Turk described (where a guaranteed positive money line margin exists, or a big enough spread that a positive expected value is present). The middler has risk in that the bet is a positive expected value overall, but each individual middle attempt is highly likely to result in a vig loss. If the odds are -110 for each side of the middle, you only have to hit 1/21 of them to break even. So 5% middle hits is a profitable expected value, but that means 19 out of 20 tries you lose money (-4.545%) to get the one that hits (+90.91%).

The key is to identify which middle opportunities have greater than 5% expectation, the higher the better obviously, and should result in a positive expected value over time. Then bang the best expected value plays with as much as your bankroll can stand, given some money management considerations. Your actual win percentage will be low--as I said even 5% is profitable--so it is a bit like a parlay bettor who has much longer losing streaks and must reconcile himself to the long term. Going 0-fer several weeks or months, depending on how many plays one makes, may not be that unusual. Pros find many middles to play, so they don't go long periods of time, just long streaks of no hits.

Middling is a very different animal than betting on handicapped games. It is a different mindset. If you were to handicap for middles, you'd actually be looking for games whose lines are accurate. Conventional handicappers look for games that appear off--they look for soft lines that have value on one of the sides. Middlers want the pointspread number to be accurate, as it means a better chance that the number will hit and they will win both of their bets.

So instead of spending their time handicapping, middlers spend their time on the "betting" aspect of the equation. Line shopping and screen watching are their life. They also must know the math as to what to bet on each side and what percentage each opportunity has.

To be more than very modestly successful, a middler or scalper must "take leads," which is what Philo was describing in betting a side now with the expectation that the line will be moving against it and the other side will become profitable by creating the middle or scalp. Doing this, taking leads, is where a true "gambling" element comes in for middlers and scalpers after all. So they take these educated and calculated gambles to increase their profits.

Some have speculated that the time and skill it takes to learn how to take leads could be better spent handicapping, but I don't necessarily agree. It is a different animal, as I said, but profitable for those who care to spend the time to acquire and hone the skills needed, and don't mind staring at a computer screen all day and night. Learning how a line is likely to move, by anticipating the public's reaction and which lines are off of the public's likely perception to start, is a different skill than figuring out which lines are soft for a side. Lead takers are more akin to the linesmakers themselves, as they try to figure out which lines will move and which way instead of which team will win and by how much.

Steam helps create scalp and middle opportunities. Detecting it and taking timely advantage of it are two reasons scalpers and middlers must be glued to the screen.

I agree with Turk's point that bankroll size is a limiting factor for a middler/scalper. The number of books you use, and post-up money at each, is also a very key element for a middler/scalper. For most of us smaller players, putting a regular size bet on both sides may not produce enough profit to even pay the transfer costs of "rebalancing" the two outs. This is an often overlooked aspect. If transfer fees are present, then making $20 on a scalp may net you zero if you then pay $20 to transfer the unbalanced account where the bet won to somewhere else. So scalping and middling are more relevant for players with big bankrolls and less inclination to handicap to make their money.

Being an "action" golf bettor, I run across juicy scalps quite often while line shopping, some that would make even pros giddy. The problem is that golf bets have low limits and you must have lots of outs to spot these opportunities. I will partake, even if I like one side of the match-up. I call this a "partial scalp" in that I sometimes leave an extra bet on it but have greatly improved the money line odds I effectively get.

For example, I might bet $100 on one golfer at +130, and $220 on his opponent, whom I prefer, at -110. I will lose $90 if the first golfer wins, and win $100 if the second does. In effect, I am getting underdog odds (risking $90 to win $100) on the favorite. It's not a conventional scalp where I'm guaranteeing myself a profit, but it is a sort of quasi-scalp.

Some of the biggest scalps I have heard of were on the Oscars or boxing. My biggest personally was a golf prop that was -120 on one side and +375 on the other.

What is "hedging"? Is it a good betting strategy?

Patton:
People pay insurance premiums in case their house burns down, or if they die young with a family, so why not do something similar with your wagers? That's the fundamental idea behind hedging. You have placed a bet, and stand to make a tidy profit if it hits. Perhaps 5 legs of a 6-team parlay have come in, or at the start of the season, you took a flier on a certain team to win the World Series. Now, the last game of the parlay is about to start, or your team just won the American League Championship Series, and you are on the verge of cashing a big ticket--if your team can win one (or four) more.

The dilemma with hedging is that, while it offers insurance of a sort, it costs you potential return. Sure, with regular insurance you pay a premium, but it is fairly small in relation to the risk covered. It might cost $400 to insure a $200,000 house, or a middle-aged man's life, for a year. Over the years, the costs mount up, but are still small in comparison with losing your home, or a source of income.

With wagering, on the other hand, you are paying a very high "premium" relative to the risk. Let's say you bet $75 to win $4,500 that a particular team would win the Super Bowl. They make it to the Super Bowl, but they are big underdogs--not only are they expected to lose, but lose by a large margin. So you might decide to hedge your bet, laying a bet on the favorite on the money line. The bigger an underdog your team is, the more you will have to bet to hedge the other bet. If the other team is a -600 money line favorite, you will have to lay $450, or 10% of your potential winnings, just to get your initial $75 bet back.

I think ultimately the answer to whether hedging is right for you depends on your tolerance for risk. If your tolerance is low, hedging might be for you. Otherwise, you might not want to do it. My personal feeling is that each bet should be considered on its own merits. If you are not fully confident with a bet, don't make it in the first place. In the hypothetical case posed above, you have a 60-1 bet ($75 to win $4500). On game day, someone betting the money line on the same team might be happy to get 4-1. So you already have odds that just about anyone else would envy. Spending extra money to "insure" that bet is a lot like spending insurance money in blackjack--sometimes it pays off, but in the long run it's a sucker play, given the cost of the insurance.

Turkoman1963:
I agree with Patton. Don't make the wager unless you are confident in its outcome. Then again, let's say you have played a $30 six team parlay that pays $1,200 and you hit the first five games and are alive to the sixth--for argument's sake, let's say it's Oakland -2 v. Minnesota--and on the day of the game, Rich Gannon has food poisoning. Well, then I would hedge with either Minnesota +2 or Minnesota on the money line. I'd maybe play $300 to win $360 on Minnesota on the money line, and just pray Oakland doesn't win by 1. I'd have a $900 profit if Oakland wins, and a $330 profit if Minnesota wins.

This would be a sound hedge for me if I thought Oakland was still more likely to beat Minnesota. But let's say the Rich Gannon drama unfolded and he was projectile vomiting on the sideline and the Oakland second stringer, also a rookie, sees Gannon and he begins vomiting and then you see Ty Detmer start warming up, well, then you might want to increase your Minnesota hedge so that you are guaranteeing an equal payout.

I guess I've shown you how and why I hedge: when I've got a large parlay cooking. Otherwise, I'll hold on to it because it's the large parlays that hit that keep you in the game when you go through a losing streak, but that's a different topic altogether.

The Philosopher:
Hedging is unwise.

Typically what you are doing with a hedge is replacing a possible but not definite big win with a guaranteed smaller win. Well, everyone likes a sure thing, but that doesn't mean that in the long run, you are better off taking it.

Let's look at an example of a classic hedge: Before the season, you bet $100 on Cincinnati to win the Super Bowl at 10-1. Now they are facing Detroit in the Super Bowl and are a narrow favorite. You can get Detroit at +120 on the money line, so the hedge would be to bet, say, $500 to win $600 on Detroit. If Cincinnati wins, you win $1,000 and lose $500, for a profit of $500. If Detroit wins, you lose $100 and win $600, for a profit of $500. So you win either way.

Is this a good hedge bet? I think you have to look at them as independent wagers and not be suckered into grabbing the free $500. If Cincinnati is more likely to win than the +120 price you're getting on Detroit would indicate, then your $100 to win $1,000 wager on Cincinnati is worth more than $500. Don't, in effect, let the book buy it back from you for $500 if it's worth more.

If Detroit +120 is a good bet, go for it. But what you happen to already have riding on the game is irrelevant. Judge this new bet on its own merits.

Probably the most common time people hedge is when they are close to hitting a big parlay. They've hit, say, their first five games in a six game parlay, like Turk describes, and they realize that if they just bet the other side in the sixth game, they are a guaranteed winner, albeit for a lesser amount than the payoff for a successful six team parlay.

In the long run, it's just a dumb strategy. All you're doing is losing your nerve and paying some vig in exchange for being allowed to back out of your six team parlay and change it to a five teamer. It feels good at the time, because you get your guaranteed win, but you're throwing away your chance at a bigger win. If you'd rather not take that particular risk for that particular reward, then the time to decide that was before you ever placed the bet. You should have just bet a five teamer to begin with if you didn't want all of it to roll over to the sixth game.

But again, the bets should be judged on their individual merits. Turk describes an extreme case where your sixth team suddenly looks like a very weak play. But really that is not even about hedging, per se. In his scenario, Minnesota is an appealing bet regardless of what pre-existing wagers you have on the game. If the bet happens to be a hedge, then that is just a coincidence; it isn't what makes it the correct play.

Buckeye:
I agree with most of what has been said here. Hedging, or "laying off," a bet is typically unwise because you pay more juice on the second bet. Why pay a penalty, in juice, to buy out of a game unless something has changed (winning other games--the front ends of the parlay--shouldn't change anything)? If the conditions have changed, say the betting angle you used to pick the game has disappeared, or a significant injury has happened, or even you find a fault in your original handicapping, it may be justified to hedge. (I have seen people refer to this as "juicing out of a bet.")

You can think of the "halftime middles" that bettors often go for as a form of hedging. That is, if you are ahead on your game bet at the end of the first half, you can make a second half bet on the other side, insuring that you'll win at least one, and possibly both.

The admitted mistake, or fallacy, that I personally make is that I do tend to scrutinize plays, and look for halftime middles, more when the game involves back end parlay bets compared to the frequency I do those things for straight bets. It shouldn't matter, but having the same "late" game on the back end of multiple live parlays does tempt one to lock in some "insurance," though it costs you over time. It is hard to resist at times.

I've often told about my first "missed hedge." On one of my first trips to Vegas, over 15 years ago, I played my first parlay of over 3 games ever. It was a college basketball 10 teamer for 600-1 at the Imperial Palace. I had tucked the ticket in my wallet and forgotten about it. At dinner, I pulled out my tickets to check my results and noticed that I had won the first nine games and had been watching the tenth before going to dinner. I had DePaul +1 and they were up by 6 with under a minute to go when we left for the restaurant. Of course, when I checked after eating they had lost by 2 in OT! My friends mentioned it to one of the cabbies we had and he told me I should have layed it off. I was so green I had to ask him what he meant. He described hedging and that in my case it would have been prudent. At the time I had to agree, as that was a lot of money for me back then and there had been an hour gap between the ninth win and the tenth game start! (I did get a 25-1 consolation prize for getting nine out of ten, at least.)

The Philosopher:
It's no mystery why the guy was driving a cab. Hedging is for squares. If a player wants to get paid for winning nine games without having to worry about the outcome of a tenth game, he shouldn't be betting ten game parlays (as the wiser Buckeye now realizes).

Turkoman1963:
Then I should apply for my hack's license, because, under your narrow definition, Philosopher, I'm Mr. Square. Of course, you ignore the one key point in sports gambling: having a bankroll. You have to win in order to be able to wager. There is absolutely nothing wrong with hedging on a ten team parlay that pays 600-1 and, to suggest otherwise is ludicrous!

The bottom line is getting paid, and you don't get diddly when that tenth team doesn't cover. In the above example, let's say he had $100 on that wager. That's $60,000 in his pocket if DePaul covers. But he can put $30,000 on DePaul to lose (if he can rustle up the cash from friend and foe alike) and guarantee himself a $29,000 payday.

I have argued with others about this, but your "it's strictly an independent wager" doesn't wash on the final game of a large parlay because the simple fact is that it's very difficult to hit a large parlay, and by hedging on the last game, you are taking your profits, your reward for being right on all the previous games. Forget for a moment the financial incentive in doing so, for there is also a psychological payoff as well. Collecting a large sum for a small wager not only gives you confidence, but it provides you with the knowledge that you can beat the game, on occasion, with prudent, wise handicapping and financial management, and it is that wisdom that is priceless for a sportsbettor.

Is betting on sports with offshore sportsbooks even legal?

The Philosopher:
This is a very complex matter that we can only scratch the surface of here. I think the answer is closer to "yes" than "no," but there are a lot of complications. First off, it differs from country to country, and to a lesser extent from state to state in the United States.

Then there's the question of what the laws say, versus how the government chooses to interpret them, versus how or even if they are enforced. A pro-gambling advocate might provide a very plausible interpretation of the law that shows that the kind of gambling you are engaged in is 100% legal, and he may even be "correct" in some sense, but if the government deems otherwise, guess who wins?

Anyway, speaking of the United States now, it is generally illegal to book bets. But for you to place a bet, and specifically for you to place a bet with an offshore sportsbook, is very likely legal, and in any case, as far as I know, the government has shown zero inclination to claim otherwise and to come after an individual player for such wagering. To me as a player, it's a non-issue.

On the other hand, you do want to consider the tax implications. In some countries, your gambling winnings are not taxable, but in the United States, it's income just like any other. If you don't report it, you're violating the law, just as much as if you failed to report any other income.

How you feel about cheating on your taxes is up to you, and clearly a lot more people don't get audited than do, so you probably wouldn't get caught anyway, but it is a significant risk. You're playing Russian roulette.

So I'd say the chances of law enforcement knocking on your door because you're gambling offshore are basically nil. The chances of the IRS knocking on your door because you didn't bother to explain those thousands of dollars in overseas checks you deposited in your bank is still small, but significant.

Turkoman1963:
The IRS won't knock on your door; they'll send you a very nice letter! And suddenly you will owe thousands. How will this occur? If you are the type who likes bank checks over $10,000 and routinely are taking those foreign checks to your bank every couple of weeks, all from the same country, then you may indeed find yourself with some explaining to do! As of yet, I have not heard of anyone facing tax problems on money collected via Neteller or Paypal, and before the events September 11, Western Union did not really leave much of a paper trail, but I'm not so sure now. In the end, I keep accurate records and report my winnings, but if you decide not to, perhaps a lighter paper trail (or none) would be the order of the day.

Patton:
Apparently, in much of the world the legality of gambling is not an issue. Betting is part of the culture, an accepted activity. For the U.S., and perhaps a few other jurisdictions, it is an issue, and I suppose this response is aimed only at those places.

The question of legality is twofold. First, and not discussed so far, is the book legal where it operates? Normally you would think that legality is not an issue for the offshore industry, because the books are located on some Caribbean island or somewhere else beyond U.S. borders. It surprised me to learn from hanging out at Major Wager how relevant this question really is. Apparently there have been book operators who have some facets of the business offshore, but perform some in the U.S. itself. So those books are arguably not legal. You should be certain the books you use operate entirely in countries where the business is legal, though of course, the U.S. asserts that even books outside the U.S. are still breaking U.S. law by soliciting and taking wagers from persons in the U.S.

Next is the question of whether it is legal for a U.S. person himself to place bets on the Internet or by phone from the U.S. to a place where a book operates legally. I have not done much research on this matter, but it appears to be a very gray area. As a practical matter, I do not think the government is interested in busting people simply for placing Internet wagers, nor is tracking them down feasible. The government's sole concern in this area would be collection of taxes on any winnings, as U.S. persons are taxable on their worldwide income.

Again, the IRS usually has better things to do than chase you down for failure to report a net $1,000 win for the year. If you become successful, however, you will need to report the income or face possible tax evasion/fraud charges. Like murder, there is no statute of limitations for tax fraud. Exactly where this line is, I cannot say for certain. But if you are consistently winning, then you need to think long and hard about reporting the winnings. However, reporting gambling winnings should not lead to any trouble for placing possibly illegal wagers, as I would think the IRS again would rather spend its resources catching bigger lawbreakers like drug dealers.

The Philosopher:
Just a few concluding remarks from me, partly reiterating or re-emphasizing what's already been said.

We're serious about the tax issue. People do get in trouble for not reporting their income, including their gambling income. The number of people who get caught is only a small fraction of the number of people who cheat, but it is still a sizable enough number that you shouldn't disregard it. (I would also be wary of thinking some methods of collecting your money protect you from the attention of the IRS. Certainly there are some things-the size of the money transfer being the most obvious-that are more likely than others to set off warning bells in the wrong places, but unless you're doing some convoluted thing with secret Swiss bank accounts or something, you are at at least some risk of getting in trouble for not reporting your gambling income.)

Now, as a beginner, you may think this doesn't concern you since you're unlikely to win substantially right off the bat, and you may be right. But one thing you need to keep in mind even if you don't end up ahead for the year is the point Turk made about record keeping.

Let's say over the course of the year you make 25 deposits to sportsbooks totaling $15,000, and you make 5 withdrawals totaling $5,000. So you lost $10,000.

Now you and I know that you really lost, but the IRS doesn't. If they for some reason happen to audit you and discover you received $5,000 in unreported income, the burden is going to be on you to prove that that's not a net profit of $5,000. So you might want to get into the habit now of keeping all the paperwork when you send money to a sportsbook, keeping a detailed daily log of all gambling wins and losses and expenses, etc.

Also, especially if you are going to be playing for medium stakes or above, it's not a bad idea to consult a qualified accountant or tax attorney about all these matters.

Turkoman1963:
I would still say that the paper trail is what could cost you in terms of collecting winnings. I think Paypal and Neteller are less detectable than Western Union and bank checks, but I have no hard evidence to back up that claim. It's just a gut feeling.

I also want to reiterate that I'm not advocating not paying your taxes. You win $50,000 net, you should pay taxes (and give out lessons!), but like in the example The Philosopher mentioned above, sometimes it can look like you're ahead when you're really not. The problem, of course, also mentioned above, is that the IRS does not know that you were down unless you keep accurate records.

The same kind of thing can happen at the race track. You are down $15,000 for the year, then you hit a $10,000 winner one weekend. The track then deducts taxes from your winnings before paying you. In the end, since you actually lost $5,000 when you consider the $15,000 you were in the red, you don't owe a cent in taxes and are entitled to get back all that was withheld at the track from you, if you can prove you're down overall, that is.

Patton:
Since we do not have a separate question on taxation, I will address it further here in our discussion of legality. First, while reducing the paper trail as Turkoman advocates can make it more difficult for the IRS to pick up on gambling income, ultimately the money has to come to rest in a bank account. Of course, if it's a U.S. bank account, the IRS can find out about it if the bank lets them know, which could happen if the bank feels there is "suspicious" activity surrounding the account. This reporting is supposed to occur in order to combat laundering of drug trafficking and other proceeds from criminal activity (which could involve illegal gambling, I suppose). But it could happen regardless of the source of your deposits.

Alternatively, you could set up an account outside the U.S.. You could then take a vacation outside the U.S. every year, collect some cash, and have some tax-free fun. There are even accounts that come with debit cards that you could conceivably use within the U.S.. The IRS could still find out about such accounts. First, legally you are supposed to tell them. Also, however, many countries agree to share tax information with the IRS. In certain circumstances, if the IRS requests it, the tax authority of the country in which you have your account will get records concerning the account from the bank. While many countries do not have such agreements, the number that do not is constantly dropping as the world comes to a consensus against money laundering. So, it is getting increasingly hard to hide.

So, if you have some net winnings to report, how do you do it? You have to include all the gross winnings on the "other income" line of your return. So, if you place a $20 bet and receive back $35, you would include the $15 in winnings (and not the $20 wagered) within "other income." All losses are deducted on line 27 of your Schedule A, but may not exceed your winnings. So, in order to claim gambling losses, you have to file a regular Form 1040, and itemize deductions, not a Form 1040-A or -EZ.

The problem with these requirements is twofold. First, you have to file the "long form," which itself generally isn't a big deal, although some people are intimidated by it. But you lose the ability to use the standard deduction, which can be significant if you don't have big itemized deductions like mortgage interest and state income taxes. Second, and more importantly, this method increases your "adjusted gross income," providing you with certain tax disadvantages, since the losses are not deducted until page two of your return.

Let me illustrate. Let's say you are single, make $90,000 a year, and make five $55 bets a day. Let's also say you win 50% of those bets, and they are all -110. You are making a total of 1,825 bets a year, but losing the vig, or about $4,560. However, when you make out your return you are supposed to first increase your gross income by the gross amount of winnings. Here, that would be 912 x 50 = $45,600. Your adjusted gross income (AGI) would then be $135,600 (assuming no other adjustments, but the real point is, your AGI has just increased by $45,600). Miscellaneous itemized deductions can only be taken to the extent they exceed 2% of AGI, so you've just wiped out over $900 of those deductions, if you have them. Also, medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed 7.5% of AGI, so you've wiped out $3,420 of those, too. There are further reductions to itemized expenses as well (although gambling losses cannot be reduced this way). Bottom line is, it's not good for the taxpayer.

Of course, these limits will only affect a few people, but if you are really good at gambling, they will eventually hurt you.

The Philosopher:
I would only add that if your gambling winnings are substantial, you also have the option of reporting your occupation as being that of a "professional gambler," in which case your winnings would not come under "other income" and you would not follow exactly the procedure Patton outlines above. There are pros and cons to doing this.

In any case, again, if and when you reach the point that these become issues, you're best off consulting a competent professional whose job it is to make sure these things are done correctly.

Patton:
Actually, Philosopher, one needn't have any particular level of income from gambling in order to claim status as a "professional gambler" for tax purposes. In fact, Robert Groetzinger, the taxpayer whose Supreme Court case established that gambling can constitute a trade or business for tax purposes, actually suffered a net loss of $2,032 wagered at various dog tracks in 1978. This is what the decision itself says about his activities:

There is no dispute as to the facts. The critical ones are stipulated. See App. 9. Respondent Robert P. Groetzinger had worked for 20 years in sales and market research for an Illinois manufacturer when his position was terminated in February 1978. During the remainder of that year, respondent busied himself with pari-mutuel wagering, primarily on greyhound races. He gambled at tracks in Florida and Colorado. He went to the track 6 days a week for 48 weeks in 1978. He spent a substantial amount of time studying racing forms, programs, and other materials. He devoted from 60 to 80 hours each week to these gambling-related endeavors. He never placed bets on behalf of any other person, or sold tips, or collected commissions for placing bets, or functioned as a bookmaker. He gambled solely for his own account. He had no other profession or type of employment.

Respondent kept a detailed accounting of his wagers and every day noted his winnings and losses in a record book. In 1978, he had gross winnings of $70,000, but he bet $72,032; he thus realized a net gambling loss for the year of $2,032.

Respondent received $6,498 in income from other sources in 1978. This came from interest, dividends, capital gains, and salary earned before his job was terminated.

On the federal income tax return he filed for the calendar year 1978 respondent report as income only the $6,498 realized from nongambling sources. He did not report any gambling winnings or deduct any gambling losses. He did not itemize deductions. Instead, he computed his tax liability from the tax tables. Commissioner v. Groetzinger, 480 U.S. 484-85 (1987) (footnotes omitted).

Claiming "professional gambler status" (that is, you are engaged in the trade or business of gambling) avoids some of the tax drawbacks that recreational gamblers face, but such a position comes with its own costs. Professional gamblers avoid the drawback of over-inflating gross income with gross winnings since wins and losses are netted out on Schedule C before being added to income. Another benefit is that you can deduct "ordinary and necessary" expenses of engaging in your gambling trade or business, such as the cost of the Don Best feed and the Daily Racing Form.

However, you then become liable for another cost--the self-employment tax of 15.3% on your net winnings up to $80,400 (in 2001; $84,900 in 2002) and 2.9% on all amounts above that. This extra tax, which is meant to replace the Social Security and Medicare taxes wage earners and their employers pay, probably erases most of the benefit of claiming that you are engaged in a gambling trade or business.

Claiming such status makes sense primarily if you have a net loss for the year. As I mentioned above, ordinary gamblers cannot deduct losses to the extent they exceed wins. However, as a result of Groetzinger, professional gamblers (persons engaged in gambling as a trade or business) are entitled to deduct losses in excess of wins. To claim that you are engaged in the trade or business of gambling requires you meet a high standard. You have to act in a business-like manner: keep excellent records, demonstrate you spent a significant amount of time in conducting your trade, and that you fully intended (and tried) to make a profit.

If you think you'd like to claim trade or business status for your gambling activities, consult the Supreme Court case Groetzinger v. Commissioner, 480 U.S. 23 (1987) and a good tax professional. The IRS tries to maximize revenue, and will cast a jaundiced eye upon any attempt to deduct losses in excess of winnings, regardless of how strong your case might be.

Are there any advantages to betting by phone over online, or vice versa?

Buckeye:
Phone betting offers more flexibility, obviously, in that you can bet anytime and from almost anywhere via your cell phone or any phone. The other main advantage to phone betting is larger limits at most outs, which can be important to large bettors or scalpers/middlers. A more subtle advantage is getting to know your book's people. Phone bettors tend to talk to the "man," or book manager, more and have a more personal relationship with the out and the clerks and personnel running it. This can come in handy if a discrepancy arises.

Among the many disadvantages to phone betting are that you can be overheard by your wife or in-laws or, God forbid, your boss, which isn't often a good thing considering the stigma still associated with betting.

It also tends to take much longer to wager, for rundowns, readbacks, PIN confirmation, and balance checks. Along with getting put on hold and transferred, the most frustrating part of phone wagering for me has always been the thick island accents and the lack of communication skills of many of the clerks offshore. I very rarely phone in bets anymore, and that is part of the reason. Having to repeat myself 5 times, or ask them to repeat themselves, gets old.

While many outs record bets, for both parties' safety, there is still more room for discrepancies when voices are involved rather than numbers typed in and confirmed on a screen.

And not all books record the phone bets, at least not reliably. I got screwed by a repeated bad readback and no tape once.

Phone wagering has been nothing but trouble for me.

I prefer to bet online. It is much, much faster. Some phone shops limit their hours and send clerks home after the last game goes off, whereas almost all outs let you bet online 24 hours a day, and leave lines up overnight for that purpose. Your betting history is easier to capture and save. It is mostly "point and click" and you're done. Parlay and teaser bettors also don't have to have a clerk read out all those teams--just click down or across the page.

Line shopping is also dramatically easier online, as you can simultaneously have multiple lines displayed at once, or use the various line services like Don Best and Tip-Ex.

Deposits and withdrawals are easier and faster online, particularly using e-commerce methods like Securebuxx, Neteller and Paypal. Sites like Major Wager and many other handi-capable (or is that handicapping-enabling) sites are very valuable handicapping tools nowadays.

One of my favorite advantages is that some outs give online bettors perks that phone bettors don't get, like reduced juice. The reduced cost of online betting, compared to phones, for the book allows them more leeway as it saves them overhead money. Thus they can allow low stakes bets, some as low as $1 or 25 cents, and give specials on odds and juice to pass along the savings, so to speak.

One major disadvantage to online betting is the need to be at a computer, and connected to the internet via some ISP, to make a wager. This disadvantage may become less of an issue as handheld and portable devices become more widespread and usable. Another disadvantage is being more susceptible to outages. Sites are hit by viruses, bandwidth problems, Internet problems, etc. more often than phone lines are, in general.

Turkoman1963:
Excellent points, Buckeye, and thus, I have only a few to add.

Phone betting can be a hassle due to busy lines minutes before a game. Nothing is more frustrating than calling Ecuador to get down on a 49ers-Packers game and have the connection go dead or be busy, until a clerk, whose previous job was milking cows, answers, and says in some dialect that remotely resembles English, "You want to bet on American football?"

The only books I would consider calling instead of placing my bets online would be Australian and English-based books that employ very courteous English-speaking clerks who are on the ball.

I also, out of necessity, am stuck phoning in bets if a book has downloadable wagering software that I can't access when I'm on a computer that has a firewall set up. In those instances, when I have had to place phone wagers, it is a tiring process.

The key is to be as friendly and courteous as possible so that you will be treated the same. The clerks who work most of the phone banks are tired, underpaid and couldn't care less about you or whether the 49ers cover, so think about that the next time they mispronounce Grambling when you need to get down on that key Division II match-up.

The Philosopher:
I wanted to make several points about the pros and cons of phone versus online wagering, but it looks like all or most of them have already been covered, and covered clearly and succinctly enough that I don't feel a need to reiterate or summarize them.

So I'll just mention one other point instead. For beginners, I would think one point of consideration would be which method is more intimidating to someone who doesn't fully know what he or she is doing yet.

On that score, I actually think phone wagering is more intimidating. If you're betting online, you can take your time, and learn at your own pace. You can make the same dumb mistake five times, and you don't have to feel self-conscious, because nobody except you will ever even know it. If you lose your place looking at your notes about what you intend to bet, you can pause a few seconds to find what you're looking for and to make sure you don't make a mistake, and meanwhile you don't have a person on the other end of the line trying to rush you so he can do his job and process as many calls as quickly as possible. There's zero pressure.

On the other hand, at times it's nice to be able to talk to a human being when you're confused about something. The problem is, there's a pretty good chance you won't be pleased with what happens when, as a newcomer, you seek help for your wagering questions via the phone. Granted, a decent amount of the time, you'll get a friendly, helpful person who'll walk you through the wagering process and answer all your questions, but at least as often, you'll get either A) a minimally trained local who can barely speak English and either knows even less about these matters than you do or can't communicate the answers to you if he does know, or B) a gruff American who knows all this stuff like the back of his hand and has zero patience for any idiot who isn't similarly knowledgeable.

Now, it's different if you have a more generalized computer-phobia. Many older people especially have no interest at all in learning to do something online if there's any other possible way they can do it. If you're like that, then wagering online would be even more intimidating than wagering by phone.

Patton:
I greatly prefer placing wagers by internet rather than phone, so I rarely place phone wagers. The few times I have placed phone wagers, I have had mixed experiences. At some places the clerks had a very poor knowledge of the different teams in the various sports, making the calls last much longer than I thought they should have, while in others the clerks were at least friendly and competent, but still I thought things could have been less time-consuming.

For a long time I had an off-track betting telephone wagering account for the ponies. These were strictly U.S. operations, with U.S. clerks for whom English was a first language. Yet except for the language issue, I still had to deal with all the problems outlined above--busy signals, communications problems, clerks' attitudes, and so on. Clearly the problems transcend geography.

The few bets I have phoned in to offshore books have not been overly negative experiences, but have not convinced me that phone wagering is superior to online wagering. Suffice it to say that, even with the problems with Internet traffic, software and the like, I prefer Internet wagering.

The Philosopher:
I won't say I disagree with anything that's been said here, but I think the general picture being painted concerning phone wagering is a little too negative. If you are a newcomer to offshore wagering who would prefer to bet by phone rather than online, don't be scared off by what we have said. I mostly bet online, but I have had to wager by phone with quite a few sportsbooks in the last year in the course of researching the sportsbook reviews that I write. And the majority of the time, the wagering clerk has been polite, friendly, fairly efficient, and has spoken reasonably understandable English.

What are the pros and cons of the various methods of depositing money to and withdrawing money from a sportsbook?

Buckeye:
In many respects, deposits and withdrawals have been one of the worst aspects of the sports betting experience, for me. That is why methods like Neteller, Paypal, and Securebuxx have been such a boon to the industry.

These methods require a few days to set up and get established, but after that initial "pain" they work wonderfully compared to traditional methods, in my opinion. The transfer time between your Internet account and your book account can be anywhere from immediate to a few hours, usually. Transfers from your checking account to the Net account can be considerably longer, but still usually are cleared in a few days.

Fees for these methods can also be far less than for other methods. I have found that the flexibility these electronic transfer methods provide have made having sufficient funds at many books more viable.

Many books prefer bank wire transfers, and may even boost bonuses to encourage this method of deposit. I have limited experience, having only done this once, but it wasn't that smooth sailing for me. The bank's fee was almost twice what they quoted me by phone. Though the book reimbursed this, I still didn't care for my bank's confusion. I had to deal with a newbie teller who had never done a domestic wire, let alone an international one. It took her forever, and I had little confidence that it was valid. I then had to fax a receipt to the book. Not my cup of tea.

Western Union is another option many book's prefer. The "errand running" it requires has never been convenient for me though. Waiting in line to get cash at the bank, taking it to the drug store, waiting in another line to have Gomer who normally develops film process it, enduring a delay to have it scrutinized because it is going to some island few have heard of, and then calling the book and playing phone tag to get it credited is not the most enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Credit cards used to be convenient, particularly when you needed to deposit money fast to make an immediate bet, but they are less viable these days as banks cut down on exposure to scammers challenging gambling charge debt. I also never cared for the chargeback system they force on you; it always seemed to take weeks for me to get credit when the charge was made instantaneously, which I still don't understand! Some of it is obviously dependent on your credit card company, but most such companies are now balking at anything gambling related. Western Union using credit cards is still possible, but the fees are outrageous and some books only cover part of the excessive cost.

Some players seem to get a kick out of waiting for the Fed Ex guy to deliver a check. But for me, it then requires that I make a trip to the bank to deposit. I am getting spoiled by electronic banking. There is also the possibility that the Fed Ex will get inspected by customs or that the check will bounce. Waiting weeks for a check, sometimes never getting it (from books that went under) is another uneasy experience.

I have had more than my fair share of problems with snail mail payouts, and they have soured me enough that I rarely use this method any more. Due to the much longer "grace period" one must allow for offshore mail to arrive, there is always a bigger risk that you are being slow or no paid when they send via regular mail. Almost every slow or no pay experience I've had involved the book foisting snail mail payouts on me. So I am not a fan of this method, overall.

E-commerce means of transfers are the way to go, in my opinion, and the more options a book offers in this area, the better!

Patton:
My primary experience with funding and de-funding accounts has been with Neteller and Paypal. Many banks now will not allow credit card transfers to sportsbooks, as unsuccessful gamblers have then sued to be relieved of the (gambling) debt. Many books would tack on a fee of 3% or so for the convenience anyway, making it a potentially expensive means of funding an account. Withdrawals have to be sent as a credit to the card first (in the amount of the original transfer), making this an even more inconvenient means of moving funds.

Neteller and Paypal have been generally positive experiences for me. You can direct debit from your checking account free of charge, and most books will pay for the incoming transfer. Many will also allow a free monthly or weekly Neteller or Paypal withdrawal. These services can tend to take some time to credit you with money debited from your checking account (to take advantage of the float), so you have to stay on top of them and call to complain if they drag their feet. And it does take some time (up to a week) to establish a full account. But I feel it is worth it.

I should mention that you can also link your credit card with a Paypal or Neteller account in the same manner as you can a checking account. Frankly, I have not availed myself of this option, as it smacks of gambling with borrowed money, but it can allow you to use your credit card to post up in an indirect fashion, while direct use of a credit card is becoming much more difficult as banks and the clearinghouses (VISA and MasterCard) crack down on such transactions.

Western Union and bank wires are quick but usually have the highest fees. A bank check can be useful at times, but can take a long time for the check to clear, as it comes from another country.

Turkoman1963:
The best method for me was always Paypal, which deducts straight from a bank account. But I would have to add a caveat to that now.

There are times when Paypal will eliminate the direct access function (Step 1: Sign up with Paypal; Step 2: Register your bank account; Step 3: You can now send Paypal funds directly from your bank account through direct access) on certain transactions. This is a very unpleasant experience, because the next alternative with Paypal is an E-check, which takes three days to send and clear and thus, if you want to get a bet down later that day, forget it. Paypal has E-mailed me that they do this on only "certain vendors" and it is "for my protection," but it still is quite frustrating and recently led me to Firepay, which has the same first three steps outlined above, and so far has been very fast. But not nearly as many books take Firepay.

My best advice is to sign up with at least three services such as these, Neteller, Securebuxx, etc., so you are never left high and dry as I have been with Paypal.

I also find Western Union to be quite useful, although the fees associated with a withdrawal are not appetizing.

Another option is a bank check, but the problem with this is that it leaves a paper trail, and some people are uncomfortable with that, given the current political climate of clamping down on gambling and moving money to and from offshore.

The Philosopher:
Some of the ways you can get money to and from sportsbooks include e-transfers (Neteller, Paypal, Securebuxx, etc.), Western Union wires, bank wires, Fed Ex or other such courier companies, transfers to and from other sportsbooks, using your credit card directly, and regular mail. It really varies from book to book which of these are available and what fees they charge, if any, so as we mentioned in response to an earlier question, clearly this is the kind of information you want to know before you ever sign up with a book.

I agree with the others that the E-transfers seem to involve the least headaches and inconvenience. My experience happens to mostly have been with Neteller thus far, but I have also joined Paypal and Securebuxx. There have been occasional hitches, but mostly I've found it to be extremely easy to get money to and from my sportsbook accounts this way. You can either link your credit card or your bank account to your E-transfer account to fund it. I use my bank account. It usually takes several days to transfer money between my bank and my E-transfer account, but it's close to instantaneous to transfer money between my sportsbook accounts and my E-transfer account. And I love the fact that I can do it all from my computer.

One potential downside is now you're having to trust the middleman company with your money as well. Unlike an established company like Western Union, these E-transfer companies are new and relatively untested. You may want to consider that in deciding whether to leave extra in your E-transfer account in order to be able to make spontaneous future sportsbook deposits, or to always bring your balance back down to zero as quickly as possible. Some people have also suggested taking the money out of your bank itself as soon as it arrives and keeping your bank balance that is linked to your E-transfer account close to zero as well, on the grounds that they could fraudulently make withdrawals from your bank that you have not authorized. This is just to be as safe as possible.

I also have plenty of experience with Western Union, bank wires, and Fed Ex. They all worked OK, but bank wires were probably the most awkward. There are just too many parties involved. You're giving the money to the person at your bank branch, who sends it usually to the central office of your bank, who sends it to usually a middleman bank, and then to the book's bank, and then the book gets it from there. If anybody screws something up or fills out a form wrong in that chain, then the whole thing gets delayed.

For withdrawals, though, I suppose bank wires are the easiest of these three methods. The money goes straight into my account, so I don't have to go to a Western Union outlet to pick up my money or take a check to my bank to deposit.

One thing to keep in mind about being paid by check via courier-and I didn't know this until quite recently-even if the check is a cashier's check, the issuing party can stop payment on it just like a personal check. Overseas checks can take up to several weeks to clear, so if your sportsbook wants to pull a fast one, they have ample opportunity to do so. Therefore, if the reason you are pulling your money out is because you have concern about the book's financial status or honesty, you may want to insist on a different withdrawal method.

I've never used credit cards to fund my sportsbook accounts. It's typically the most expensive method for both the player and the sportsbook, and books have been burned so often by credit card fraud that I'd feel somewhat self-conscious even using my credit card with a book, like I'd have to assure them I'm not a crook. Depositing with a credit card also usually locks you into withdrawing the same way, whether you'd prefer another method or not.

For all concerned, it's probably better if you're going to use a credit card at all to use it with Neteller or Securebuxx or one of the other e-transfer methods.

Direct book-to-book transfers can really be the easiest transaction method of all. The policies can vary a great deal from place to place however, and you'll need to find out what they are at your books. Some books encourage such transfers because it is the cheapest and easiest method for them as well. Others seem to think they're doing you a big favor if they do a book-to-book transfer, and will penalize you by, say, not offering you a bonus on incoming money even if they would have bonused the identical money coming in by any other method.

Most books either won't do transactions by standard mail at all, or will discourage this method. Remember, many of these books are in Third World countries with questionable mail service. About the only time I could ever see using standard mail is if you are a very small player and your book charges fees for all the other methods. For instance, if you are withdrawing $100, and your book charges $30 for everything except standard mail, you might want to just get it standard mail and wait the extra week, two weeks, or three weeks or more.

Let's assume the best: You get good enough at sports betting to win consistently. Are you now going to be unwelcome at sportsbooks? Are you going to be stuck in the kind of cat and mouse game that goes on between casinos and blackjack card counters?

Patton:
This has never been a problem for me, as my bets are currently small and my success to date limited.

However, the Major Wager forums are full of stories from people who assert they have had their limits reduced or been booted outright from books because they have been successful. Since there is no regulation of the industry in this regard, the books are entirely within their rights to do this.

Supposedly the big books are not concerned with whether you're winning or losing, but I am still in the process of getting to the point where I can find out!

Turkoman1963:
Obviously, this would be a nice problem to have. One of the reasons to have many outs is this very issue: in case you are booted because you are winning too much, you can simply play at another sportsbook. The Internet is full of sportsbooks--there are dozens recommended by Major Wager alone--so the fact that one sportsbook reduces your limits or asks you to leave is not exactly the same hardship as your local bookie telling you to get lost.

It's all about bargaining position. If you only have one sportsbook that you play with and you win and they ask you to leave, well, then you are in a pickle. But if you have five sportsbooks you play with--and you should, if only for the fact that you can shop lines that way--then this shouldn't be an issue. Just be happy that you've won.

Buckeye:
In general, I don't think most outs will kick you out just for winning. Some players have reported this, but how are we to know they didn't break the book's rules in some way (like bearding) or try to cheat them (emptying their account on an obvious bad line) or pull some scam. Many posts that start out as some player "playing innocent" about being stiffed or booted, turn out to be the player trying to pull a scam. Most outs just want fair play; they know that over 90% of players lose and that "11 is greater than 10" will get most in the end--literally. They feel that you may be lucky now, but it will turn and we will get it all back and more.

But that's not to deny that there are some books that lower limits for winners to ridiculous levels and a few that just plain boot them.

The Philosopher:
On the whole, I think the risk of becoming unwelcome at a sportsbook because you are winning is generally low. Reading the forums at places like Major Wager might well lead you to believe it is more common than it really is. What you have to remember is that, as Buckeye pointed out, most of the people complaining about being booted are betting in a way that very few other players, especially newbies, ever would. They want it to sound like "Hey, if this happened to me, it could happen to any of you!" but usually that's disingenuous.

Lesser countermeasures, such as reducing the player's limits, cutting the player off from certain sports or certain wager types, or issuing the player a warning are more common, but most players will never face even these countermeasures.

Here are a few things that can make you unwelcome at a book:

1. Out-and-out fraud: If you do something like deposit by credit card, lose, and then dispute the charges with your credit card company and get them cancelled, then obviously you are not going to be welcome to play at that book any longer. In fact, to some extent, such information is shared among books, so you'll probably have the door slammed in your face at some other books as well.

2. Taking unfair advantage of sportsbook errors: There seems to exist a sort of unwritten "code" of behavior that prohibits players from exploiting certain sportsbook vulnerabilities. The clearest example of this would be the so-called "bad line" cases. If a sportsbook hangs a line that any reasonable person could see is just a typo or something unintentional (such as listing Duke as an 18 point underdog instead of an 18 point favorite), and you bet it, you will likely be regarded by the book as only one step removed from the credit card fraud type of thief. Most books, in fact, will cancel the bet. But whether they cancel it or pay it, they will certainly make a note of what you did, and too many such transgressions will get you shown the door.

Unfortunately, the exact line of what will be considered shrewd wagering and what will be considered dishonest exploitation of the book is not always clear. What if, for instance, you find out about an important injury minutes before your book does and you make a bet based on your information? Apparently at least some people in the industry consider this too to be a violation of the "code," so here also your book might be giving you demerits even as it pays off your bet.

Some books seemingly take it to the extreme that pretty much any form of wagering where the player finds an edge is to be regarded as unethical. If you bet only an obscure sport like NASCAR, or only bet unusual props that you've researched in greater depth than the linesmakers, you might well come under suspicion. (The "justification" being that these things are offered as a courtesy to players, and it's understood that you will only dabble in them occasionally while giving the book plenty of action on the mainstream offerings.) Similarly, if you bet only on reduced vig days, or bet only parlays or teasers at shops that offer excellent deals on those types of bets, this could be frowned on.

This is getting disturbingly close to declaring g that a player winning is in and of itself objectionable. I suppose the distinction would be that even this sort of book wouldn't care that some of their customers win by pure luck (as lottery winners do); they just don't want anyone playing with a positive mathematical expectation.

Thankfully, from what I gather, this attitude is not the norm. Certainly there are books that will kick you out for betting intelligently like this, or at least warn you, but there are far more that will not.

3. Placing bets for an organized, professional betting syndicate: Sportsbooks have limits on what an individual can bet. But what's to stop someone who wants to bet $50,000 at a book with a limit of $1,000 from simply arranging for 49 other people (the "movers" or "beards") to bet $1,000 each for him?

This kind of syndicate betting is explicitly prohibited at some books, and frowned on at most others. Often an understanding is reached where such bettors will be allowed to play, but will forego bonuses and other perks that might be available to regular customers. Obviously the book wants customers, but these syndicates typically need the book more than the book needs them, and the bargaining proceeds accordingly.

4. Betting "steam": First, a quick explanation of what "steam" is, as I understand it.

The betting lines move when books get significantly more action on one side than the other. The most common times this happens is precisely when one or more of the aforementioned betting syndicates are slapping down big bets simultaneously in octopus-like fashion.

There are many players, not formally a part of the syndicates, who sit and watch the lines at numerous books all day, and when they see the line changing in the same direction at several of them, they frantically call the others and try to get down on the same side before they move the line, or at least while they've only moved it as little as possible so far.

These bettors are the so-called "followers," and they are betting "steam." Their strategy, as I understand it, is twofold. First, they assume that whoever bet enough to move the line is likely to really know something and to win more often than chance, and they want to get on the same side if possible. Second, if the original syndicate wagers and the wagers of the followers are big enough, the line will move sufficiently that later you can bet the other side for a middle or a scalp opportunity (see earlier definitions). In that case, you're quite indifferent as to whether the original bettor can handicap his way out of a paper bag or not. You just are taking advantage of the line move and playing both sides; you don't care whether the steam side wins.

Now let's look at steam from the book's perspective. You not only have the $1,000 from the original bettor (who does this for a living and who you have to think might have a better than chance likelihood of being right), and the $49,000 from his employees and associates, but also now countless thousands more from the innumerable lemmings sitting at their computers all day watching for just this kind of move, and all on the same side.

One of two things can happen, both bad. If you move your line too little or too slowly, you are going to have wildly unbalanced action. You'll be gambling instead of booking. If you move your line too much, there will be such a gap that people will ultimately jump on the other side and then you risk the nightmare scenario of being middled and paying off all of them.

Now some books have sufficient cash reserves and sufficient confidence in their linesmakers that they can handle this. They'll take the extra action in the belief that the vig is enough to keep them with a positive expectation over the long run. (Just like at Caesar's Palace, if several high rollers choose to bet "red" at the same time at the roulette table, and numerous other superstitious bettors immediately copy them and pile on the same side, Caesar's isn't going to panic just because it might lose big on this one upcoming spin.)

Be aware, though, that many books do not want this kind of action at all. They try to get rid of the steam chasers almost as diligently as they try to get rid of the syndicates themselves. If you're going to try to make your living by watching your computer screen and timing your bets just as you see the lines changing like this, you'll want to do some research about each book individually to get a feel for their attitude toward steam bettors, and play at the places that actually want your action.

5. Scalpers and middlers: In effect, a skilled scalper or middler is making the books collectively pay him vig. He's betting only in cases where the combination of lines available to him means the vig has been reversed and he's collecting a fee from the books for letting them take his bets. One day his profit will come from the first book and the next day from the other, but in the long run, he's skimming from all of them collectively.

Many books don't have a problem with this, and some do. Again, if you plan to use this betting strategy, it's a matter of researching the different books to get a sense of who wants your action and who does not.

Rightly or wrongly, in the case of books who discourage such action, scalpers often seem to be resented more than middlers. Scalpers guarantee themselves a small profit with each transaction, while middlers go through many small losses and a few large wins to realize a similar long term positive result. Some books seem to regard the former as more offensive, for whatever reason.

6. Betting your own picks and winning consistently simply because you're a good handicapper: Frankly, I think this is the one where you have the least to worry about. I'm not saying it's impossible that you'll get into trouble for this, but for the most part, this is not the kind of player that books take countermeasures against.

Again, think about it from the book's perspective. They just want to get roughly balanced action; they don't care if you happen to be on the right side of that balance 55% of the time, or 60% of the time, or 99% of the time. They're just keeping the vig and letting you players win and lose against each other.

What they don't like is the artificially unbalanced situations where everybody is copying everybody else, and so everybody wants on the same side at the same time. That's not going to happen if everyone is doing their own handicapping and making their own decisions.

So if you just happen to make good picks and do well, I think the majority of sportsbooks will pay you with a smile and thank you for your business.

In summary, (and this is only my opinion, as someone who is not an "insider" in the industry), #1 and the unambiguous cases of #2 are unwelcome behavior pretty much everywhere. The rest of #2, #3, #4, and #5 will be unwelcome at some books, tolerated grudgingly at some, and little or no problem at some. #6 will only be a problem at the chintziest books.

If winning in the style of #6 is your goal, as it is mine, then I don't think you have to worry about running out of quality places to play. #2-#5 can be a bit dicier, but even though there will be more places that frown on these styles than on #6, there should still be plenty of books available to you.

So if you're wondering "Are the books going to let me continue to play any more if I win?" the complex answer starts with "It depends what you're doing that's enabling you to win…," and the simple answer is "Probably yes."

Buckeye:
If a book actually boots players for winning, then that isn't playing fair, in my opinion. You are OK as long as they are beating you, but if your handicapping skills get sharp, or the cold player you piggyback gets hot, or whatever it takes that reverses your course at the book, then they don't give you a shot at winning any back.

Some say it shouldn't matter, because you can always play elsewhere. I agree, in general, but some books are more useful than others. They may have better odds, unique props, better lines, etc. Say I get hammered betting totals on Norwegian fishing for two years at the only book that offers it. Then I stop betting overs on perch and start betting unders on bass and I get on a roll. If they boot me then, it's not even offered elsewhere, so they have frozen me out of the market. I am sure many say that is their right, but I want to know up front that I won't be allowed to win there, otherwise why should I be willing to risk losing to them in the first place?

It seems unfair to me to get booted when I didn't cheat, break rules, etc.; I just started winning. Many say, "They can kick out anyone they want for any reason." True, but it's still wrong for the same reasons that in many countries businesses can't discriminate (by race, religion, etc.) when it comes to whom they will or won't take on as customers without risking lawsuits. Is it fair to be taken on by a book, follow the rules and not pull anything crooked, only to get booted just because you stopped losing money to them? I say no way!

I have never been booted, and hope I never am. I am still a major square, admittedly, but I will say I rarely make what I call "plain vanilla" bets. Meaning I rarely bet something that is generally available at most outs for that exact price and line. So most of the bets I make, and outs I use, are valuable in helping my bottom line over time. This is part of the reason bonuses aren't that big a deal to me, and vig and opinionated lines are a very big deal. So losing a useful out would likely mean I'd be taking worse lines or paying more vig for bets in the future, win or lose (which would suck).

I agree that books have the right to lower players' limits based on their tolerance to risk, etc. and that they have the right to kick out beards trying to circumvent those limits. On the other hand, the rules some books have against "wise guys" and "steam" players are a mystery to me. How can they differentiate between a player who develops skill both at handicapping and at betting strategies to get the best numbers, versus those who fall under these derogatory labels? Requiring customers to follow the rules and to not be jerks is one thing, but when they make the rules so nebulous that they can be used to kick out anyone they want, it is once again unfair, in my opinion.

Let's assume the worst: Your sportsbook stiffs you. What can you do?

Patton:
I had just gone through a near-miss with DirecBet, but new partners in the venture have fortunately put up enough capital so that this situation was resolved for me and many others, so this is not an issue any longer. And then the Aces Gold debacle struck, and a huge number of customers were burned.

First off, since by definition you're dealing with an offshore book, legal action is usually out of the question. Australia has very strong government regulation where complaints can be made and are investigated, but in other countries, you would have to go to court. Usually that is not worth the time and effort, assuming you could get a fair hearing in some third world country in the first place. And in case you didn't know, no U.S. court will enforce what is in their eyes an illegal contract.

What else can you do? It depends on why you're being stiffed. If your book simply has no money, you can bitch about it in the forums, but you shouldn't get your hopes up.

Sometimes the problem is the book feels you are really betting for someone else, or they change odds or cancel a bet. In that case, you could ask the Major or the Devil for help. But the books are not bound to listen to them. So, complaining to the forums is about your only recourse if that fails.

This issue is one reason why consideration of a book's financial stability is so important.

Turkoman1963:
Couldn't agree more with that last sentence, but I'd like to add a few things.

First of all, Patton is right about Australian books being regulated and providing you some avenue for possible relief. There is also an organization in the U.K., called the Independent Betting Arbitration Service (IBAS), which will arbitrate a dispute for you, so it helps if a book has the IBAS symbol on their site (as Bet365 and William Hill do).

If the book has agreed to Major Wager mediation, then that is a definite course for you to take. Finally, you can take your grievance to the forums of Major Wager and other watchdog sites, but that is really the last step in a very frustrating process to get your money back.

Since there is no guaranteed way to settle a dispute, I would opt for a strategy or prevention. Never keep all your money locked up in any one book. Spread it out over five or ten (which of course you should be doing for line shopping purposes anyway). When your accounts are flush due to success, request frequent withdrawals.

Amazingly, many people keep huge amounts in a book and then when the book goes under, they cry about it. Why not take some of that money out? You don't wager all of it every day, do you? Keep your balance relatively light and when a book starts to crumble, you will not be hurt that badly.

The Philosopher:
First of all, don't panic. Many situations that look truly dire at some point end up working out to where you don't get stiffed. Take a deep breath, plan your moves carefully, and be very cautious about doing anything that's irreversible.

As you certainly should be aware by now, this is an area where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Rather than learning all the methods of dealing with a slow pay or no pay situation, you'd be far better off making wise decisions about where to post up in the first place.

But, let's assume that, unfortunately, you're past that point and are nervously wondering if you'll ever see your money again.

I'll be honest and tell you that if we're talking about a situation where the sportsbook you were playing into has gone out of business (you call and the phone lines have been disconnected and such), I really don't know of much of anything you can do, as we have discovered anew, sadly, in the Aces Gold case. I mean, macho people in the forums will talk about how they're going to go down to whatever country the book was doing business in, and seek them out with a gun or a baseball bat, but good luck.

Most of what I say is intended instead to apply to situations where the book is still in business, but they are stalling about sending you a payout you've requested, or they have made some ruling against you where you feel they are refusing you something to which you are entitled.

Here are several things you might be able to do (and remember, some of these foreclose others, so be careful what order you try them in):

1. Contact the book again and try to work it out without any third parties. Often a book will reverse itself if you talk to them about a matter a second, third, or fourth time, especially if you have thus far been dealing with clerks or someone on a fairly low level. Work your way up the chain of command as far as you can. Make sure you're dealing with someone who has the authority to make the decision you're looking for.

2. As far as legal or regulatory pressure, that's going to be largely a function of what country the book is located in. Some jurisdictions, such as Australia, seem to have pretty much regulatory oversight, some have basically none, and many are somewhere in between. You might want to at least look into this.

When I was enduring a multi-month slow pay several years ago, I contacted the government of the Caribbean nation where they were located, was directed to some senator's office, and ultimately wrote a letter to him about the situation. I never received a response, but I was paid almost immediately. And when I talked to the book, I was able to infer from what they told me that they knew of my letter. Since I hadn't told them about it, clearly there had been some communication between the government and the book, and I don't think it's purely coincidental that that's when I was paid.

If you're thinking in terms of the American government, remember that they regard this whole activity as in a legal gray area at best. If you tell them, "Hey, I'm an American citizen and I'm being robbed!" don't expect them to help you.

One final point to keep in mind here. In the underworld, you don't involve law enforcement no matter what. If you're robbed, the one option you do not have is to call 911. Well, many participants in the offshore bookmaking world basically see that as an extension of the underworld and the "law of the streets."

So quite aside from the fact that it wouldn't work anyway, if you seek justice from American law enforcement when you're being ripped off by a bookie, don't expect to ever be welcome in these forums or any place like them. I'm not sure exactly where seeking help from the government where the book legally operates fits into the "code," but I suspect that some purists would look askance at that as well. I'm not saying that that has to be the determining factor in what you do, but be aware how certain actions of yours could be perceived.

3. You can also contact the watchdog sites in private and see what they can do or suggest. When I was being slow paid by the Dunes over a year ago, I alerted the principals of Major Wager, The Prescription, and Bettorsworld about the situation. I didn't ask them to intervene, but The Shrink from The Prescription took it upon himself to do so, and I had my money almost immediately. So I know from personal experience that these guys can and do get results.

Similarly, on this site, The Major especially has spent a lot of time and effort working behind the scenes on behalf of customers who have contacted him about problems they're having with a book. You don't hear a lot about it, because the books are more apt to cooperate precisely because the matter is being kept out of the forums, but many, many people have been paid because The Major (or The Shrink, or Jeff from Bettorsworld, or others in the industry) chose to get involved and to negotiate for the customer.

4. Also "behind the scenes," you can seek help from other "insiders." As a result of my involvement with Major Wager, I've made contact with a handful of people who are past or present sportsbook managers or who know a lot about the business and may have some contacts in the industry. If I was having a problem, I think I'd pick up the phone and call them, just to ask if they knew anything about this book, if their making a phone call on my behalf could be helpful, if they have any advice for how I should deal with this situation, etc.

One of the advantages of hanging out at a place like Major Wager and becoming known is that you can make some contacts like that, and maybe become at least a peripheral part of a network that can tip you off to certain things, or give you some advice or assistance if you have an issue with a sportsbook.

5. Major Wager has a formal, confidential mediation process for disputes between books and players. (This is separate from the informal intervention that The Major and The Devil themselves have often done.) On the site, you will find a list of books that accept Major Wager mediation. If the book you are having a problem with is on this list, you can have your dispute mediated. These books have obligated themselves to accept the result of the mediation.

6. What perhaps should be the last resort, though many people seem to treat it as the first resort, is to bring your dispute to the forums, to publicly call out the book and demand justice, or at least to warn other people away.

I suspect this works less often than several of the things I've listed above, but I'm sure there are times it gets results. Threatening to do it might be even more effective than actually doing it. If a book knows that you know about these forums and are willing and able to damage their reputation, they may well be a little more cooperative with you.

7. I think it can be good also to keep in touch with other customers who are in the same boat. If, for example, a slow pay situation has been publicized in the forums and several people have revealed that they are among those waiting on payments, you might want to make contact with them, and form a sort of virtual support group. That way you can keep up with who is being paid and how much, what tactics seem to be working, who's heard some new rumors, etc., plus there's just the emotional benefit of knowing you're not alone, and of having somebody to bitch to about the injustice of it all.

In summary, be patient. Don't panic. Use the methods that burn bridges last if at all.

If everything fails, you may simply have to accept that your money is gone. It doesn't happen nearly as often as you'd think in such a wildly unregulated industry with many unethical common practices, and it definitely happens only very infrequently to those who do their homework and play only at solid books, but it's not impossible. If it happens to you, all you can do is absorb it and move on.

I look at it this way: If I add up all the bonuses, all the money I've saved on reduced vig, all the little contests and perks of various kinds, in short all the advantages of playing offshore that are not available to those who play, say, in Las Vegas or with street bookies, I'm up somewhere in the five figures I'm sure. I'd have to have quite a few of my books go under and abscond with my money to ever undo how much better off I am from playing offshore.

So I think of the very small risk of being stiffed as being a sort of fee for playing offshore, a fee that is offset many, many times over by the advantages.


Choosing a Sportsbook

What are the most important things to consider in choosing a sportsbook? Let's take several key factors one at a time:

Financial stability:

Patton:
I believe this is the number one consideration in selecting a book. Practically speaking, financial stability means will you get your money back (assuming you haven't lost it all) when you ask for it, or will you have to wait days, weeks, months, or even years to get only a portion or perhaps nothing at all? True, things like juice and lines are important, too, but the possibility of having to wring your own money out of a book, and sweating it out until you do, outweighs the other considerations.

Dealing with a book with financial problems runs through several phases. The first is the slow pay. There are excuses--some lame and some true--such as banking errors, clerical errors, staff out, etc. So, being a trusting soul, you might take the excuses at face value and wait up to several weeks. Then another excuse is chosen from the list, and you wait some more. You might even get into the "check is in the mail" phase, which is self-explanatory, and can evolve into the stopped check and bounced check permutations. In the meantime, the book has a portion (perhaps substantial, perhaps not) of your bankroll, hindering your ability to re-deploy the cash and use it elsewhere.

The next phase involves the news, sometimes from the book but more often from the forums, that the book is in trouble, and is either not paying anyone, or only making partial payments. Books are not up front about their financial problems in the first place, because they are playing a game of their own. They are depending on new players to come along and deposit their money and quickly lose it so they can pay the other players, like you, who are withdrawing. But they can't get new players into the book if the word is out that they're having financial difficulties.

So then begins the third phase, where the book looks for a new source of capital. They might be trying to entice new partners to stump up some cash, or trying to merge with a stronger book. Either way, rumors fly on the forums as to the progress of these developments, with people "in a position to know, but restrained from providing details" both assuring things are progressing smoothly and warning that things are on the verge of falling apart (depending on the source).

If you are lucky, the book finds a solution, and eventually you get paid. However, in the case of a takeover, you could still be out of luck. The book that "takes over" merely buys certain of the assets (principally a customer list) and undertakes to pay those customers it chooses. Certain players, particularly the successful ones, can be given the short end of the stick. This has allegedly happened in recent cases reported on the Major Wager forums. The legality of these types of actions is wide open, particularly since most books are located in third world jurisdictions where the laws are not well-developed. The cost of prosecuting a suit to get relief will naturally be high and the likelihood of success extremely murky (probably quite poor). Add on top of this the sheer difficulty of maintaining a suit from several thousands of miles away, and it is no wonder that these issues have never been litigated.

The point of limning out the above soap opera is not for its own sake, but to point up the importance of selectivity in the first place. Needless to say, the emotional toll of dealing with a failed or failing book is a cost over and above the direct financial cost. Having been through it myself (without losing a penny, thank goodness), I would strongly encourage everyone to consider financial strength first.

Of course, that is much easier said than done. There are several indirect pieces of evidence you can look at in determining whether a book is likely to be financially solid and dependable. One is to stick to the books recommended here on Major Wager. Another is to inquire in the forums to see if anyone has had any experiences with the book that might indicate financial shakiness. A third is to consider how long the book has been operating successfully. Although the offshore sports book industry is only six or so years old, certain books have been in business almost from the start of the industry, or have otherwise produced a proven, positive track record.

Another piece of evidence you can look at is the place where the book is located. We mentioned this in connection with legality, because placing a bet at a book that is not located where its business is lawful is not a wise thing to do. You are sending a good deal of money to a bunch of people you will probably never meet, so there's a good deal of trust involved. Face it, it's easy to find a country in which a bookmaking business is legal. If those people choose to set up where bookmaking is illegal, what makes you think they will return your funds when you ask?

But the location goes farther than that. The degree to which the government supervises and regulates books also can be important. In the first place, if a jurisdiction has strict requirements for persons opening sportsbooks (including background checks) and high license fees, the books getting licenses there are likely to be staffed by persons of good character who are interested in protecting their business franchise by dealing fairly with their customers. The less reputable sorts will likely look elsewhere for a home.

Moreover, if something goes wrong--a bet isn't honored, say, or payment is slow--and the book won't make good, the watchdog sites can't help, then "Who ya gonna call?" The government where the book is located is a logical choice. But if the home country of your book is a lax regulator, then you are not likely to get much help from the government, either.

For instance, it seems today that many offshore books are located in Costa Rica. The government has made it fairly simple for sportsbooks to establish operations there--the joke is that the business license for sportsbooks is the same as that for hot dog vendors. This is hardly conducive to weeding out the fly-by-night operators.

However, I understand that books located in the U.K. and Australia are subject to more meaningful government oversight, and a disgruntled bettor has at least a chance of gaining a fair hearing in case of a dispute. The Australian book Canbet, in particular, makes this point on its website.

Certain Caribbean nations, such as Antigua and the Netherlands Antilles, have high license fees for sportsbooks looking to set up shop, and supposedly provide a degree of oversight to books operating there. Unfortunately we're finding out lately that the countries like these with only lesser levels of oversight are barely any more protective of bettors' interests than countries with little or no regulation at all.

The Philosopher:
This is obviously the single most important factor in choosing a sportsbook. Remember, this industry differs from most in that-assuming you're a post-up player, which most of us are-they're holding our cash while we are their customers. A sportsbook is like a bank; it is a place you are trusting with your money.

As important as this factor is, it is also one of the least transparent. You can generally find out before you join a sportsbook how much vig they charge for various bets, whether their lines often differ from the consensus, what type of sign-up bonus they are offering, etc. But unfortunately, sportsbooks don't open their financial books to us, so we're left in the position of having to take educated guesses who is financially solid and reliable and who is not.

All you can really do is go with the limited evidence available. One important source of such evidence is precisely a site such as this one. Check to see if the book you are considering is endorsed by Major Wager. Check the "Feedback" section of my sportsbook reviews or use the "search" function in the forums to see what the posters around here have had to say about the book.

You're still taking a risk if this is as far as you go. Every watchdog site, including this one, has backed at least one sportsbook in its history that it later wishes it hadn't. So you'll want to research a little farther if possible.

How long has this book been in operation? All else being equal, you'd obviously prefer a book that's been up and running successfully for seven years rather than seven months.

Does it have the general appearance of a very small outfit that's operating on a shoestring budget? If the wagering software is cheesy and frequently malfunctioning, and the same guy answers the phone every time you call to make a wager, you're not exactly dealing with a major operation here.

Are they offering something too good to be true? Sign-up bonuses well in excess of the industry norm can be an indication that the book is desperate to raise some short term capital because it is in a weak condition overall. Don't let greed overcome your good sense.

In whatever dealings you've had with them so far, has there been anything deceptive or unscrupulous about them? Sometimes it's just a matter of "feel," but if you're uncomfortable with a book's general approach to you as a customer, maybe you shouldn't be trusting them to hold your money.

Is it operating in a country (Australia reportedly being the prime example) that actually has meaningful sportsbook regulation?

Does the book hold player account money in a form of escrow, or does it just treat it as part of its assets? The bulk of books allegedly fall into the latter, dangerous and unethical, category. But alas, unless the book is in a regulated jurisdiction like, again, Australia, you really won't know what they do with your money while they are holding it. You can trust what they say if you wish, but bear in mind that some have been caught lying about this.

Just remember as we talk about the various other important factors in choosing a book, they all mean little without this one. It doesn't matter how advantageous it is to play at a given book if they're unable or unwilling to pay you when you win.

Turkoman1963:
The horror stories around the net of players depositing their hard earned cash, playing for a long (or short) time with a book, winning and then being given the runaround when requesting a withdrawal are too numerous to list. Be careful. Be smart. Choose a book that others recommend, but even then send only $500 or less at first, see how they do and request a withdrawal rather soon. Is it handled quickly? Are they courteous about it or is it like trying to get a loan from a bank?

This is the most important decision you will make. How solid is the book? If you are not absolutely sure it is rock solid, if you hear, "Do you want fries with that?" in the background as you call in a play, you probably should not send them your money.

Buckeye:
I echo the consensus that this one factor is of overriding importance when considering a new out. I have succumbed to the allure of generous odds offered by a few outs and been burned because of it. Being recommended by Major Wager helps, as do recommendations by Philo and other regular posters who know what they are talking about. It is still a bit of a crap shoot though. Along with everything said here, I make sure to keep my balances at a reasonable level and not too high at many outs.

Many outs have great track records and respect, but few are monitored by anything approaching a meaningful regulatory body. As has become ever more apparent recently, you can never fully eliminate the risk factor when playing offshore.

Vig:

Buckeye:
One of the reason's I rail on about vig is that you can bring down your break even point of 52.38% by finding outs with less vig. Some places even have no vig betting on limited offerings or at restricted times. The break even point is therefore 50% and even a "coin flip" handicapper should reach that over time.

Those sports that have 30 cent lines require 53.49% to break even and have 6.522% vig. Obviously, the less the vig percentage is, the better it is for the player and the more likely you are to win, all other things being equal.

Patton:
Buckeye, your description of the break even percentage's relationship with the vig is something everyone should focus on. The lower the vig, the lower the break even point. Thus, in shopping for a book the vigorish charge is one of the primary considerations. The change in break even from 52.38% for -110 vig to 50% for zero vig might not seem like a lot at first thought. But compounded over many bets it is an incredible amount of money.

For example, if I had a bankroll of $1,100, I'd use an $11 unit. If I made five $11 bets a day, betting $55 a day for a month, the total risked would be $1650. Assuming I hit 50% of my bets I would have broken even with no vig, but lost $75, or nearly seven units, with the standard -110 vig. It is hard to get zero vig bets, but clearly players must reduce the vig load as much as possible.

In selecting a book, therefore, determining its vig charges for the bets you are likely to make there is an important factor. It's like choosing a stock broker. You could go with Merrill Lynch, and pay a high commission. This might be necessary if Merrill is the only broker that makes a market in particular stocks you like to trade, or offers a service that is important to you (like research). But if you don't need the extra service, and another broker makes a market in the stock you want to trade in, then the commission amount is a very important consideration.

Likewise, when comparing sportsbooks, the amount of vig charged should be taken into account, since it's really money out of your pocket in order to take your bet. If all the books being considered have the same bets, then the cost of making those bets in the form of the vig charge becomes a very important consideration.

The Philosopher:
When choosing a sportsbook, I really think that this factor is more important than the sign-up bonus. The sign-up bonus is a one time deal; reduced vig is like continuously getting little bonuses throughout your entire career with the book.

The "standard" vig for your typical straight bet is -110. (For baseball sides, you're only paying half that much vig.) There are quite a few offshore books where you can instead pay only -107 or -105 all the time, and also several where on certain days of the week or with certain restrictions you pay -105, -102 or even -100 (i.e., no vig at all). Note that the majority of such reduced vig opportunities are for online wagering only.

Another special to be aware of-not literally a matter of vig, but related-is that several books allow you to get an extra half point on certain of your straight bets. None of these deals, as far as I know, are completely unrestricted, but they are still quite valuable. Typically, they are only available certain days of the week, or you have to bet a certain minimum number of games, or they do not apply to moving the line around the key '3' or '7' in football.

Be sure if you are going to be betting baseball that the book you are considering does indeed have the standard dime line. Several books have recently bumped the vig up to a 20 cent line.

Also, it's worth checking the rules and the lines before you join a book to see what kind of vig they charge on non-straight bets. Look at their money lines, props, individual match-ups in golf and NASCAR, or really anything you might bet in the future, and see if they're using a 20 cent line, 30 cent line, or what, and how it compares to other books.

In addition, parlay and teaser odds can differ quite a bit from place to place.

These are all crucial things you need to look at in determining how advantageous it would be for you to sign up with a given book.

Turkoman1963:
I have very little to add that has not already been mentioned. The key is to be able to find the best price for a given wager. Some places allow you to play "true" parlays, where the vig is only the same as if you multiplied out the component straight bets, and others stick to the standard +260 for two team parlays, +600 for three team parlays, +1000 for four, +2000 for five, etc. which are mostly worse than the true odds. Why would you play a two team parlay that pays only +260 when you can get true parlay odds at some sportsbooks? Yet many people don't realize that you can increase your payoffs by simply doing some research and finding the best parlay (and teaser) odds available. It's a must if you want to be a profitable handicapper.

Buckeye:
Vig shopping is often downplayed compared to line shopping, but vig should always be considered when choosing a sportsbook. I have always been a juice reduce (lower vig) junkie. I picked sportsbooks mainly by vig, since I had no context for which to know what else to look for. For years, I had no idea what half a point was worth, even approximately, so instead of worrying about line shopping I concentrated on vig shopping and having low vig outs rather than worrying about opinionated lines. It was easier to find outs that always offered lower vig, even if by way of parlay odds, than to have many outs and check each one before each bet. Free line services, and e-transfers, like Neteller, Paypal, and Securebuxx have made line shopping easier and more viable now.

Even now that I have a clue about what a half point is worth in the NFL, it still typically is better to take the lower vig lines, even when you don't get the best number. If the half is worth 3 cents, but you are getting -102 instead of -110, it is like selling the half point for 8 cents when it is worth only 3. This is subtle, but every little edge counts over time, in my opinion. Many discount the effect of vig, thinking sweating cents here and there is futile and unimportant, but I have found it to be the difference between a winning season and a losing season more than once.

As with the other aspects of choosing a book, you must still always keep the financial stability of the out in mind. So no matter how juicy their vig deal sounds, if they haven't demonstrated the ability to survive and flourish with the deal, the risks may offset any benefits from it. The Aces Gold debacle must be kept in mind. While I think their betting may have been the bigger cause of their problems than their generous vig deals, it still should be kept in mind by everyone from now on.

The Philosopher:
For parlays and teasers, just like for any other kind of bet, you just want to find the books with the lowest vig. For parlays, I wouldn't get too caught up in whether the odds are "true" odds (i.e., calculated so as to keep the house edge the same as if you made the straight bets separately, instead of being rounded off). As Buckeye pointed out in his earlier discussion of parlays, the conventional +600 odds for three team parlays are actually marginally better for the player than the "true" odds would be (at least at a shop that charges -110 as its standard vig).

Granted, "true" odds are better for the player than the conventional Vegas odds for other parlays, barely, but you can do better. For instance, for a 2-team parlay, the conventional odds are +260, whereas the "true" odds are about +264. But why are you bothering with either? If you're a parlay player, you should be playing where you can get +274 (which are the "true" odds for -107 vig shops), +280, or even +290. (And actually, some places have reduced juice specials for parlays at certain times of the week where the vig is literally zero, so you'd be getting +300.)

Similarly, if you're a teaser player, find the shops with the lowest vig. Right now, about the lowest I know of for football are even money for 2-team 6 point teasers, and -110 for 2-team 7 point teasers.

Bonuses:

Turkoman1963:
A bonus is a marketing effort made by a sportsbook to lure you into signing up with them. It can range from 10% to 20% to 30% or more. (When you get offered higher than 30%, you need to be, in most cases, suspicious that the sportsbook in question is healthy enough to offer such a lucrative enticement.)

It works this way: Say you want to deposit $300 into Sportsbook XYZ because they are advertising a 20% sign-up bonus. You would receive $360 into your account ($300 + 20% which is $60).

Buckeye:
One thing to keep in mind about bonuses, some have accused books on shaky financial ground of offering much higher bonus percentages in an attempt to infuse capital into the book. They have speculated that a particularly juicy bonus offer may be a sign of trouble. I share this trepidation, so I look very skeptically on books that seem to be offering too much. Many are just short term attempts to build customer base, and the fears and accusations are unfounded. But I'd rather be safe than sorry when sending money offshore, and my goal is to find outs that are useful to me over time. I prefer they be where my money is safe, not just where I'll be able to satisfy a thirst for free money.

The Philosopher:
There are several types of bonuses that offshore sportsbooks offer. At some places, you won't get them unless you ask for them, so it's worth being aware of them and inquiring about them when you post up or when you later reload your account.

The most common bonus is the sign-up bonus for your initial deposit. This is generally a percentage of your deposit amount, though occasionally it'll be a flat amount, such as $50 for any deposit of $250 or more. A few places do not offer such bonuses at all, though often these are the places with lower vig or some other advantage that is equally or more valuable than a sign-up bonus.

10% is probably the most common sign-up bonus, though some are only 5%, and some are higher than 10%. Once you get up to 20%, 25%, and 30%, this is kind of a gray area in the perception of many experienced players. If it's a smaller or little known book, people will see these bonus amounts as excessive, and a sign that the book is in some trouble and is desperate to raise some short term liquidity in however risky a fashion, whereas in the case of a very solid shop with a good reputation, then people will be a little wary, but think that these amounts are probably OK. Once you get above 30% (unless we're talking about very small amounts, like a temporary 100% bonus up to $100), that's even more clearly a danger sign.

So in an obvious sense, you want to say the higher the bonus, the better for the player, but at the same time, you want to be careful about an amount that's "too good to be true."

You also should be familiar with the concept of a "free play" or "match play." A few books offer their bonuses in this form. It basically means you get to wager with the money, but not keep it.

So for instance, if you post up with $1,000 to most books that offer a 10% bonus, they'll put $1,100 in your account instead. If you happen to make a $100 bet (say for even money, to keep it simple), then if you win, you'll have $1,200 in your account, and if you lose, you'll be back to $1,000.

But if it's the free play form of bonus, then instead of $100 cash added to your account, you get a free $100 bet. If you win it, you get $100 and now have $1,100 in your account. If you lose it, it was free so you still have the full $1,000 in your account that you started with.

For even money bets, a free play bonus is worth half of face value. So a 20% free play bonus is equal in value to a 10% normal cash bonus.

Interestingly enough, the longer the odds against you, the closer the free play bonus approaches the full value of a cash bonus. For instance, if you are playing a 20 to 1 underdog, your 20% free play bonus is worth virtually the same as a 20% cash bonus. (For this reason, many books that offer free play bonuses specify that they can only be used for standard straight bets of even money or -110. But if there is no such restriction, you should play a several team parlay or something with long odds as your free bet. In the long run, you're better off.)

Many players regard the free play form of bonus to be inherently deceptive and tend to wonder what else such a book will mislead its customers about.

Sign-up bonuses generally come with certain minimum play requirements. Obviously a book doesn't want you to send $1,000, and then withdraw $1,100 the next day without having made a bet. The most common requirement is that the player "roll over" the deposit a certain number of times (often two, three or five times), meaning, for instance, in the case of a $1,000 deposit at a book with 10% bonus and a three time rollover requirement, that the player wager a total of $3,000 (or $3,300 depending on whether they count the bonus itself). Some books also require that the money be left in your account a certain minimum amount of time, commonly thirty days.

The exact interpretation of these bonus rules will vary from book to book. For example, many places will allow you to pull some of your money out early without relinquishing your bonus, as long as you leave some in your account that you then continue to wager with until you've met the minimum play requirements. A small number of places won't let you withdraw before meeting the requirements even if you relinquish the bonus. So be sure to find out all these details if there's any chance at all you'll want to get at some of your money early.

Another form of bonus is the reload bonus. This is for your subsequent deposits. The reload bonus tends to be the same size or smaller than the sign-up bonus. Not quite as many books offer reload bonuses as sign-up bonuses, but it is still fairly common. Reload bonuses even more often than sign-up bonuses can be discretionary on the part of the book, where they will offer it to some customers and not others, based on factors of their choosing (one of the most common of which is simply whether the customer bothers to ask for one, so be sure to do so).

Usually a reload bonus is not available if you've withdrawn money from the book. The reason for this is obvious; a book does not want you continuously pulling money out and re-depositing it and getting bonus after bonus on that same money. I have noticed, though, that a fair number of books will give you the reload bonus if enough time has passed since your last withdrawal. For instance, if I pull all my money out of my books when the football season ends, and then don't reactivate the accounts with new deposits until several months later when the next football season starts, probably about half of my books will treat this as new money and give me a bonus on it.

A less common form of bonus is to give money back on the bettor's net losses. This is generally a once a month, once every six months, or once a year rebate. If you think about it, this functions very much like a reload bonus, with the difference being that you get it after you lose regardless of whether you also replenish your account with fresh money. Typically if a book offers reload bonuses, they will not also offer rebates on losses, and vice versa.

Still another bonus available at a lot of books is the referral bonus. This means that when someone you referred to the book opens an account and deposits funds, you get a bonus. Often it is a percentage of the deposit, and sometimes it is a set dollar amount.

There are other more complex or uncommon forms of bonuses that a few places offer, but these are the main ones. Certainly you'll want to take bonuses into account when choosing a sportsbook.

Patton:
As far as bonuses are concerned, my first thought is that newbies (and the rest of us for that matter) should consider other things first. More particularly I think the strength of a book comes first, the quality of the lines come second, and the vigorish charges third. Bonuses are fourth.

Don't get me wrong. Used properly, bonuses expand your bankroll, giving you the opportunity to bet more. But that is not much of an advantage if you can't get your money back from the book because it's failed. And the advantages of a bonus are quickly eroded if the book you choose has lines that are worse than the competition or has high vigorish charges. Thus, bonuses can be used as a tie-breaker in choosing among books that have already met your other criteria. You could also decide a higher bonus at one book will offset some other slightly less favorable factor. On one occasion I joined a book that had somewhat higher vigorish charges, and used the hefty bonus I received to increase the size of my bet to overcome the charge.

In assessing the value of a bonus, there are a number of factors to consider - it is not as simple as comparing the percentage of your deposit that you'll have added to your account. I think Philosopher has done a great job of describing some of the complexities that surround bonuses. I would simply add to that discussion the caution that the bonus shopper has to consider the rules, which are often quite complex, with great care. Certainly ask a lot of questions and understand everything completely before you send your money. At the very least, you will have the opportunity to assess the book's customer service team and its responsiveness. If you find you're getting a runaround or conflicting answers concerning the bonus, perhaps that book should be avoided despite an otherwise juicy bonus.

Turkoman1963:
One of my pet peeves in the industry right now: the blight on customers who prefer to have a bonus when signing up or when reloading with a sportsbook. If Macy's sends me a 20 percent off coupon to shop at their store Friday-Sunday, do I throw it into the garbage and say, "Heck, no. I don't want to deprive Macy's of their God-given right to make profits. I'll pay full retail for the products I buy!"

But when a sportsbook sends you an E-mail inviting you to take part in a 20% bonus when signing up and you accept their offer, somehow, in the industry at least, you are considered a "bonus whore."

Well, as they say, I may be a whore at night but every morning I wake up a virgin. That is the way I look at it. It's a competitive marketplace. Lots of books vying for your dollar. Many offer bonuses. Some do not. The ones who do not certainly have a right not to offer them. But they won't get my business.

Handicapping is tough. More often than not, you lose more than you win. Sign-up bonuses help decrease the odds against you. When in Vegas, a book will treat me to a nice meal if I play with them during the afternoon. Do I refuse it? Not a chance. Bonuses are here to stay and they are important enough to disqualify a book who doesn't offer one.

That said, they are not the be all and end all. All the other factors we are discussing here also enter into what book you choose. But by and large I hardly ever sign up with a book without some kind of bonus. It's a reality of the business and it would behoove the sportsbook owners to stop stigmatizing their customers for taking them up on that reality.

Buckeye:
Unlike some books and players, I don't think bonuses will be the end of the industry. Giving modest bonuses to attract new customer's, or re-entice inactive customers to post back up can make a lot of sense.

The odds are highly against us bettors, so a few comps (in the form of bonuses) are fine by me, and likely to be offset by the book's profits off of the players, over and over. I look at bonuses as very similar to a short term reduced juice deal. In general, a player who picks winners at a chance level can play juice free for one rollover each 5% of bonus.

So, for instance, a 10% cash bonus on a $1,000 deposit is the equivalent of betting your first $2,000 worth of wagers juice free.

That's a good deal for the player. Come and play juice free, for a test drive, and see if you like us. They are willing to use the bonus as a small "loss leader" to get you as a new customer or reclaim you if you've gone elsewhere. No problem, it can work fairly for both parties!

But there is a small sector of "non players" out there whose sole intent for signing up is to abuse the bonuses and profit off the bonus itself (not wagering). They trade referral bonuses amongst themselves, sometimes even in violation of the book's rules. They call the book and try to talk their way into a higher bonus than they are entitled to. They look for books offering even more than 5% per rollover and exploit these offers. They have zero intention of trying out the book as an introduction to becoming a player; they just want to try to skim some free money off of them with no risk.

These are what books call "bonus whores." The vast majority of people who take bonuses do not do so under these false pretenses. But those that have done this, and continue to do so, push books to tighten their rules and enforce minimum time limitations, etc. on everyone to try to keep the sleazy sector at bay.

Non-Consensus Lines:

Patton:
After financial stability and ahead of vigorish, I think this a prime factor for consideration for any bettor when choosing a sportsbook.

First, let's explain what we mean here. We're not talking about consensus picks among handicappers or anything like that. What we are talking about is whether a particular book's lines differ from those of its peers. For example, in a particular match-up, the favorite might be laying 6 points (-6) at most books. But several books might have the favorite laying only 5.5 points, or laying 6.5 points. The "consensus" line would be what most of the books have; in this example, the favorite laying 6 points. The other books would have "non-consensus" lines, or lines that are different from the majority of other books.

The importance of getting a better number cannot be overstated. The stories of bettors losing by a mere half point (the "hook") are legion. The ability to get an extra half point, and sometimes more, makes the consideration of a book's lines imperative. Yet it can be difficult to find such a book. Based on my limited experience, the number of "consensus" books today is quite high, since this is an age of widespread use of the Don Best feed, where every line move is almost instantly, indeed slavishly, followed. Smaller books are afraid of having "different" numbers than their competitors, as otherwise they will get one-sided action, resulting in their, too, becoming gamblers. These factors explain why it is hard to find a book that consistently offers non-consensus lines.

Of course, whether a book's lines are "good" for you depends, among other things, on the sport and your betting style. The sport matters because some books will be consensus books in some sports, and offer non-consensus lines in others. Your betting style matters since whether you like favorites or underdogs dictates whether one book's non-consensus lines look good to you. If a book consistently deals a better line on underdogs, it follows that its line for favorites will correspondingly be less attractive. Thus, if you are a fairly consistent underdog bettor, you will want to find a book that typically gives an extra half point or point to the underdog.

To re-visit the example from above, you have three choices. The consensus line has the favorite laying 6 points. If you like the favorite, you need a non-consensus line where the favorite is laying only 5.5 points or less. If you like the underdog, you need a non-consensus line where the favorite lays 6.5 points or more. In neither case are the books that have the game at '6' of any use to you. The more frequently a book has non-consensus lines that accommodate your betting preferences, the more valuable it is.

Since you have a limited bankroll, finding books with non-consensus lines is important. You can only place a bet at a book where you have funds deposited. Moving money around is expensive, and usually takes time. If you have your money in a book at which you rarely bet because the lines are usually beat by someone else, that's money you can't use if an opportunity arises in another book. You need to spread your cash around at books where you're likely to bet it, which are those with good, non-consensus lines.

Buckeye:
While I slightly disagree with Patton on the ranking of where opinionated, or non-consensus, lines falls (I personally feel that reduced vig is typically slightly more advantageous as it affects all lines at the out, not just a few that are opinionated), I agree completely that this consideration ranks extremely high when judging the value of a sportsbook.

Finding out which books offer opinions isn't easy. Don Best's free Island Express, and Tip-Ex have made finding them a little easier. I am not much of a "screen watcher," but even casual perusal often shows which outs consistently are at one extreme or the other in what I call the "line spectrum" from lowest to highest. It is extremely rare to see the exact same line (even disregarding juice) on the same game across the board. So these line services have helped, but for those hundreds of other outs not on a service, it is difficult to identify which ones may be opinionated on some sports or bet types.

I must admit that some of the most lauded and respected books I find practically worthless for most line shopping. They always are smack dab in the middle of the "line spectrum" and have as much or more juice than their competition. So I tend to think those that laud them have few outs and don't understand what they are costing themselves in juice and mediocre lines.

The frequency with which you find the best line at a particular out is a primary factor in how much action you'll likely be giving them, and therefore how much of your bankroll to keep there. The allure of posting up with an out for the occasional appealing line must be balanced by the overhead of tracking so many outs with their rules variations, transfer costs and the time and effort each one takes to monitor.

Many believe that a downside of non-consensus lines is that too much opinion is a sign that the book is "gambling" instead of bookmaking, or worse yet that they are inviting more bets by their opinion because they are in financial trouble and trying to get lucky and bail themselves out.

This is a valid concern, and a tough question to answer. The offshore industry has some unscrupulous types that have done this, so when is a non-consensus line a responsible use of opinion by the linesmaker-or an adjustment to attempt to balance unusual one-sided action-and thus nothing to worry about, and when is it a bad sign? This is where longevity, reputation and their history of opinionating their lines is so important. If you see a book that formerly dealt almost all consensus lines now suddenly taking huge positions, this may be a warning sign, so be cautious and don't skip doing the homework on the out.

The Philosopher:
This is a very important factor in choosing a sportsbook. Most of the points I was going to make have been ably covered already by my colleagues, so I'll just mention a couple more things.

First, you need to be careful about jumping to conclusions about a book's lines based on what you see on one of the line services like Don Best Island Express, because some books, out of laziness or technical problems, are chronically bad at keeping those lines accurate and updated. There are several sportsbooks that I initially thought frequently had appealingly non-consensus lines, but further investigation revealed that what I was seeing on the Don Best Island Express screen were their lines from several hours, or in some cases days, earlier. So if there's a sportsbook you're considering because of their lines, be sure to double check several instances of their non-consensus lines at their website to make sure they are what you think they are.

Second, be aware that it is not uncommon for sportsbooks to profile their players and adjust the lines accordingly. This occurs most often with books that routinely have the favorite bettors disadvantaged by a half point to a point (and the underdog bettors consequently advantaged by the same half point to a point). If you bet all or mostly favorites, they'll keep you on those lines, but if you display a propensity to bet underdogs instead (which, of course, is the side you want to be on when the favorite is inflated like that), then they will switch you to a different set of lines, which usually is simply the consensus lines you could get almost anywhere.

I have had this happen to me, even after only a very small number of bets. So sometimes these non-consensus lines are truly "look but don't touch."

Buckeye:
I post a lot of questions in the Major Wager forums, and others, asking for other posters' input on which of their outs show opinion. Some will share some, but mostly we are on our own. It is time consuming enough to line shop at the outs you already have, when they aren't on any "screen", but to go to outs you don't use, sign on, find their lines, etc. and try to track them over time is a rather daunting task for recreational bettors. It is my hope that others will be more willing to share this information at some point in time. I feel this is what sites like Major Wager are made for.

Customer service:

The Philosopher:
There are a number of things that make the difference between good customer service and poor customer service. I'll mention several.

You want people who are easily accessible by E-mail, phone, live chat, or whatever is your preference. Long delays on hold, unanswered E-mails, etc. are definite negatives.

English fluency is obviously huge. I don't want to have to explain some complex question or problem to someone when we can barely communicate with each other on the simplest matters.

Ideally, I'd like the clerks who deal directly with the customers to be sharp, on the ball people who are knowledgeable about sports betting in general and their own company's policies in particular, and who have been granted the authority to make decisions and give answers. Almost as good is if the initial person doesn't fully fit this description, but quickly and readily passes you on to someone who does. Quite a bit below that is when the largely clueless underling insists on acting as middleman, paraphrasing and routinely butchering your question to someone else, and then relaying their answer to you. Worse still are the clerks who just guess when they don't know.

There's also the simple question of attitude. I'd rather deal with nice people than surly, unfriendly, suspicious people.

The problem is, it's not always easy to get a feel for how good the customer service is at a book until you're actually a customer there. But you can get at least some evidence ahead of time. If you E-mail them some questions and they never respond, or you ask them the same question by phone on two different occasions and get conflicting answers, or you get a creepy feeling that they're not being honest with you when you call them, don't expect it to suddenly get better after you join. Most places are showing their best face to prospective customers. Customer service is a lot more likely to drop off than to improve once you've posted up and they're holding the money.

Buckeye:
My biggest pet peeve with customer service is calling in for some help and being transferred multiple times and having to start over with each new person to try to get some help. It is obvious they don't want to be bothered. The good books train their clerks to know answers or quickly get to the person that does.

Turkoman1963:
The problem is, of course, that the only time to really be able to tell whether a book has good customer service is when you have a problem with the book. Most of the time, I only call a book when I'm depositing or withdrawing, as I do everything online. But when I do have the occasional problem over a discrepancy in a line, etc., it would be nice if they treated me as if I wasn't trying to steal them blind.

I have two simple requests when it comes to customer service:

1) Is a manager available at some point during the day to discuss my grievance or is he/she conveniently always in a meeting? I really only want to list my grievance once, so it would be wonderful if I could actually speak to a supervisor/manager who is a decision maker, instead of telling my dispute to a clerk who is saying "Si" in one breath while flipping through the want ad section of the Belize Times.

2) When I take the time to call a book and report a bad line for them or to suggest an improvement in how they operate some function of their business, don't treat me like an insurance salesman soliciting for business. Instead, thank me for my help and be courteous.

A good relationship with a book works both ways. Yes, we want fast payouts and bettable lines and low vig and all the rest, but in return it doesn't hurt to be cooperative, kind and courteous with them as well, or to call up and help them with a glaring problem they might have (such as a bad line or some contradictory information in their help section).

Buckeye:
I tend to place a lot of my wagers at night, sometimes very late. I have been frustrated by how many times I will notice a bad line and try to inform the out, only to have them not answer the phone and not have their online interactive help staffed. It would seem to make sense that if you are hanging lines to be bet twenty-four hours a day (which I appreciate) that someone would be there to contact. Here I am trying to save them from getting hit on bad lines, and they aren't even able to staff enough to take the call. I end up E-mailing sometimes, and the game could be off by the time they read it.

Some books will even give you a few extra dollars in your account by way of apology for their error if they mis-grade your bet. One I'd like to commend on this score is Intertops. Though they get bashed a lot, sometimes for valid reasons, they have given me such a "correction bonus" when they have erred and later adjusted my account.

Another example of a good customer service gesture is that some books will give you a small bonus (or at least be courteous enough to thank you) if you point out to them that they have inadvertently posted an erroneous line. Little tokens like that are a real nice touch in the customer service area.

Limits:

The Philosopher:
It's pretty straightforward what you need to look for as far as limits when considering signing up with a book. They either do or they don't take the size wagers you are interested in making. And I'm talking here both of minimums and maximums. There are at least as many beginners who need to know "Can I bet $5?" as need to know "Can I bet $1,000?"

You should be aware that minimums tend to be lower online, and maximums tend to be higher by phone, though neither of these rules is an absolute. Also, many books do not even specify their limits on their website, and even those that do will typically take larger bets at their discretion, so to know for sure how little and how much you can bet at a book, you'll often have to call them and ask.

Also be aware that maximums can vary at different times. The same book might take a maximum of $500 on an event before game day, and then a maximum of $1,000 or $2,000 on game day itself.

Another thing to consider if it's maximums you're concerned with is whether the maximum is for each increment you wager, or for the cumulative total. For example, say the maximum on the NHL is $1,000. At some books, this means you can bet $1,000 on a game, then turn around and bet another $1,000 on the same game, then another $1,000, etc. They don't really care how much you bet, as long as each increment is at or below their maximum. This gives them a chance to adjust the line between bets if they choose to. But at many other books, once you bet that first $1,000, that's it: you're at the limit and can't bet it again.

These are all things you can inquire about before signing up with a sportsbook.

Buckeye:
When choosing a sportsbook, it is important to note which books have limits within your "comfort zone" of bet size. You may also want to consider if the high end limits leave enough room for the occasional big play above your normal range, or for graduating to a higher betting plateau in the future.

Many books have higher limits for more popular bets. The more action they get on a bet type, the more likely they are to balance and the easier it is for them to stay profitable. So NFL sides may be two, three, or even five times as high in limits as a NASCAR match-up, for instance. Phone limits are typically higher than online, as the book is able to control bets by phone easier than transactions over the Internet that may hit rapid fire.

Another often overlooked factor is that many books will let you bet "over limit" plays if you call in and ask for them. You may want to find out how easy and receptive they are to this practice, if too low limits are the only thing preventing you from posting up with that out.

Many wise guys and large bettors condemn books for small limits, but as long as they are up front about their aversion to risk, then it is their business what range of bets they will take.

Patton:
Some books will lower a particular player's limits if he is too successful, or if he bets according to some certain betting styles (such as steam chasing). Sometimes this will occur in a particular sport or bet type, or be a general limitation. If you plan on being successful or betting the moves when lines change, it is important to read the forums to determine which books will reduce limits on a player like you, particularly those that seem to do so at the drop of a hat.

Turkoman1963:
Some bettors get quite upset when their limits are reduced due to their winning too much. I find it OK for a book to reduce your limits if you are successful, as long as they pay you in full and explain why they are lowering your limits.

I often read about players who try to find ways to bet more than the limit accepted by a book (through often devious paths), but most books will accept a larger wager than stated if you call them and speak to a supervisor and make the request. Otherwise, just bet at more than one sportsbook and you should be fine.

Quality of website:

The Philosopher:
If you're going to be doing a good portion of your betting online, you really want to be sure you're comfortable with the wagering software.

Among the things to consider is how often the site is down or excruciatingly slow when you try to access it. (You might want to try this five minutes before kickoff on an NFL Sunday.)

Also, are all the sports and bet types you are interested in available online? Some sportsbooks offer only the basics online and expect you to call for the less conventional bet types or less popular sports.

You should practice maneuvering around the site. Some sites are so inefficiently put together that you have to cycle through three or four or five screens to do what you could do on one screen at another.

A lot of it is just a matter of taste. Are you OK with the graphics, the order of games, the way the odds are displayed, the way your pending bets are displayed, etc.? (With most sportsbooks, you can try all this out with a "guest" account before you send them any money.)

Remember that if the sportsbook uses downloadable wagering software, you probably are out of luck if you are on a Mac or use Web-TV.

Buckeye:
In addition to limiting Mac and Web-TV users, software that requires a download client on your PC (to interface with their software) poses other restrictions or limitations. Specifically, it means you are now limited to wagering using the computer(s) onto which you have downloaded the software.

Besides my own home computer, I have wagered with computers at public libraries, Internet cafes, Internet kiosks, friends' homes, relatives' homes and other places. This is less of an issue for me now since I have a laptop that I can take along with me to these places, but in general, needing a downloaded client for access is a big negative, in my opinion.

Speed and ease-of-use are important for online sports betting. The more intuitive and user-friendly the site's layout is, the better chance they have at retaining bettors. There are still a lot of bettors out there used to betting by phone with local bookies. So making the site as easy for them as possible makes sense. Getting to the meat in as few "clicks" as possible, and requiring little typing, are important aspects to the betting experience for newbies.

Some of the best sports gaming software seems to have been developed for the book itself. The mass marketed generic wagering software that most "mom and pop" books use is the worst, in my opinion.

I'd also suggest that books need to speed up, streamline, and simplify the online sign-up process. They lose customers when someone is forced to become a member to even look at the site, and becoming a member turns out to be an unnecessarily complicated or confusing process. They also lose business when they make it hard to process an initial deposit online.

Patton:
Speed, convenience, and reliability appear to be the common denominators here, and are the factors I look for. One thing relating to speed and convenience I could add has to do with the manner in which wagers are entered. While some places allow you to enter either a risk amount or a win amount, some allow entry of a win amount only.

For example, say you want to wager on a team that's a -125 favorite. Lots of people are only concerned with betting 125 to win 100 here, so if the site asks you to put in a win amount only, you just enter 100. However, I only bet a fixed amount per game (which I strongly recommend to newbies). So if my unit is $50, I have to figure out what the win amount is (it's $40 here) and enter that figure to get the right risk amount. Same for a -110 bet, although I have finally remembered that that's $45.45 when risking $50.

Although some people can do the math in their heads, I much prefer the ability to input either a risk amount or a win amount regardless of the bet type, and it would be nice if more sites offered that feature.

Some sites such as WSEX have a pull-down menu which simplifies things for everyone, but that takes away the ability to bet different amounts--you can only bet the pre-determined amounts on the menu.

Turkoman1963:
A clean web site is preferable to one where you are hitting links all the time trying to find out what your pending wagers are or what the line is for a soccer match. In fact, I find that the better the software, the more I will wager at a particular site, even if other sportsbooks offer slightly better odds. But overall, it's only a small factor for me; I don't let the quality of a website influence me much. I won't get involved with downloadable software, however.

The Philosopher:
I would simply reiterate that a lot of this is a matter of individual taste. There are sportsbook websites that I find very clumsy, and I don't know that I could even justify disliking them. I just have difficulty finding what I'm looking for, or I often click the wrong button or just get confused. Someone else might find the same website to be a breeze to use.

If you're going to be betting primarily online, invest the time to play around with the site as a guest before deciding whether to sign up. Make sure you find it intuitive to use, or at least can get it to be so with a little practice.

Quality of phone wagering:

The Philosopher:
I look for English fluency, courtesy, and efficiency. I don't bet much by phone any more, but when I do, I have the impression that the norm is significantly higher in these areas (especially English fluency) than it was several years ago in the offshore industry. Perhaps that's just my imagination.

A problem here, though, is that it's awfully hard to research this factor when considering a book. You can test out the wagering software with a guest account, but there's typically no analogous type of guest account that will enable you to practice placing phone bets with them.

Buckeye:
I know that many veterans of phone wagering, who started out and continue to use local bookies, stress that clerks should know the business better, particularly the lingo. So that would be a factor that they would look for in choosing a sportsbook.

But that factor doesn't mean as much to me as it does them. As long as the clerks can communicate effectively in English, most things can be talked out pretty easily. I am not that cognizant of all the lingo myself, so I don't expect them to be.

Turkoman1963:
I look for a book with no toll-free numbers, who employ non-English speaking clerks who are working their last day due to some American incursion in their country that wiped out their family. Then, and only then, do I place my call to inquire about why my balance reads $1.32 when it should read $1.34.

Well, OK, maybe not. But I think Philosopher and Buckeye have said what little needs to be said here.

Transaction policies:

The Philosopher:
There are a lot of ways to get money to and from a sportsbook, and a lot of ways that sportsbook policies differ in this area.

So obviously one thing you need to find out is whether you can transfer money to and from them by the method you prefer. I'm kind of spoiled now; I do the bulk of my transactions from my computer with Neteller. But there are still some sportsbooks that don't take Neteller (or Paypal, Securebuxx, or similar services). All I can say is, they better have a lot else going for them for me to join up with them.

The overwhelming majority of sportsbooks will pay your transactions costs on deposits, except for very small size deposits. Even some of those that do not will offer a slightly bigger bonus, or otherwise make up for it.

It's less automatic for withdrawals to be free. The norm seems to be to offer free withdrawals that are limited by method and/or limited by time period. For instance, a typical policy might be to offer a maximum of one free withdrawal per week, and specify that it cannot be by Western Union, as this is the most expensive method. But you'll also find places that offer no free withdrawals, and others that offer unlimited free withdrawals within reason.

But be sure to find all this out in advance. Don't be like the people who get blindsided when they achieve some success at a sportsbook, happily withdraw their $2,000, and then are stunned and angered to get only $1,920 because the sportsbook has a 4% Neteller fee that they don't tell you about unless you ask.

Another thing worth finding out is whether your method of deposit limits your method of withdrawal. It is common, for example, for sportsbooks to require that when you deposit by credit card, any subsequent withdrawals must first be charge backs to your credit card to equal out that amount before you may use any other withdrawal method. It is less common, but you still see it a fair amount, for Neteller or other methods to have similar restrictions, where the amount you deposit by that method sets either a minimum, a maximum, or both to how much you may withdraw by that same method.

Also, not all books allow you access to your money seven days a week. Many permit withdrawals only four or five days a week. Some--thankfully extremely few--only permit withdrawals one day a week.

Buckeye:
I'd agree that a key here is finding out up front what the policies and fees are. Many of us have had the unpleasant surprise of excessive fees that we didn't expect. This is now one of the key questions I use when evaluating a new book.

One of the things that irks me about books is when they are inconsistent. Changing fee schedules and policies, usually for the worse from a player's standpoint, falls under this category. At least if you know all of their policies and restrictions up front, you won't be surprised except when they change them on you midstream.

This question overlaps with our earlier discussion of customer service, as how a book handles payouts and deposits is a big part of customer service, in my opinion. The faster, easier and less expensive they make it to transfer money to and from them, the better I feel toward their customer service. These transactions are the most likely interfaces we have with their customer service, particularly for online bettors like myself.

Turkoman1963:
I look for a book that offers the transaction methods that I prefer, and that doesn't hit me with excessive fees, but the speed of the withdrawals is also an important factor for me. This is something you can't have direct experience of when you're just scouting out a book, so you'd have to go by what their customers say. But certainly it's something I look at in determining how well a book treats its customers. Why does it take a book five minutes to process my deposits, but a week to get me my withdrawal? A great book will take the same amount of time and that is a book I want to be playing with.

Patton:
I agree with Philosopher; if a book doesn't offer Neteller or Paypal, I am likely to look elsewhere. Fortunately, the vast majority of books I would consider have either or both of these payment options anyway. Also, if a book won't offer at least one free Neteller or Paypal withdrawal a month, I will keep looking. To pay a lot for money transfers on top of vig (and losses!) is just too much to bear.

The most important thing is to be certain of the fees and policies before you act.

Range of sports and bet types:

Buckeye:
One of the most impressive things about online gambling is the variety and number of sports and bet types available. Having had most of my sportsbetting experiences be limited to Las Vegas sportsbooks before betting offshore, I was amazed when I saw what was available.

It continues to grow, as sites from other countries proliferate and established bookmakers from England, Australia, etc. go online. The competition dictates that new entries become creative with what they offer. Some are specializing in one sport (e.g., Yahoops for basketball), others are experimenting more with non-standard sportsbetting formats (e.g., pari-mutuel betting at PariAction). Even those that offer standard sports now supplement them with more and more proposition bets and non-standard bet types to boost business.

So don't worry about being limited offshore. Whether you're interested in betting the "Big 4" American sports or soccer, cricket, and rugby and such, and whether you're interested in just the basic sides and totals or some of the more exotic bet types we talked about earlier, there will be a book, and probably several, with what you are looking for. It's just a matter of shopping around.

Patton:
My first reaction is to answer as follows: I'm mainly a straight wager player on the big sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey), so range of sports and bet types in a book isn't too important to me. Most books give you sides and totals on these sports, so this isn't much of an issue.

But as I get more experienced, and get further into the Major Wager forums, I find there are other betting universes out there. People are betting on NASCAR, soccer, WNBA, and cricket. There are futures bets on these sports, as well as on oddball events like the Oscars, and people are posting valuable insights I can use to make a few dollars, as these types of bets are less understood by the public. There are also proposition bets that many people can have a take on, and can be advantageous. Also, I recently closed my telephone OTB horse wagering accounts, as I can do much of my limited horse betting online as well.

If I want to take advantage of these opportunities, my sportsbook had better offer them. Of course, if you only want to bet on stuff you come up with yourself, then by all means stick to just what you know and don't worry about branching into other sports or types of bets. But if you are into unusual sports and/or types of bets, obviously a book that doesn't offer them is of little use to you. And as was pointed out in the handicapping section, it is the more obscure opportunities that can present the opportunity for better profits.

I think in summary, the answer for the newbie is that the range of sports and bet types won't be a terribly big issue, but as one grows in sophistication one might discover a desire to branch out. Even a diehard football fan will want to bet on the more esoteric propositions come Monday Night or Super Bowl Sunday. So, having a book that allows such bets can be valuable, if it meets the other, more important criteria concerning financial stability, vigorish charges, and lines. It's sort of like choosing a new television set--do you want to pay extra for one with all the bells and whistles? You can still watch the shows, but things like Picture-in-Picture and a sleep timer are valuable to some people, but not to others.

The Philosopher:
When you're choosing a sportsbook, don't just assume that every book has pretty much the same sports and the same bet types. For a variety of reasons, they don't.

Chances are, there are certain sports you intend to bet, and certain types of bets you intend to make, when you decide to sign up with a sportsbook. Make sure the book you are considering has what you're looking for.

All else being equal, err on the side of books that have more than you want rather than books that have less. You may have zero interest in betting tennis right now, or you may not even know what a "pleaser" is, but you never know if some time later in your sportsbetting career you might want to bet a lot of tennis or pleasers. You might as well choose books that have even more options than are currently of interest to you.

On the other hand, don't forget that this is only one of many factors we're discussing here, and it should not automatically outweigh the others. If a book has only some of the options you want, but it happens to be very appealing in those limited areas, go ahead and sign up. You can always make those other bets elsewhere, since you can and should have more than one account anyway.

You'll want to look not only at what sports are offered, but also at how extensively they are offered. For example, some sportsbooks double as fairly complete race books, some offer pretty many tracks pretty regularly, some offer only a very small number of tracks, some just take action on the occasional major event (Triple Crown races and Breeders Cup, say), and some offer no racing at all.

Similarly, many American-oriented books offer no soccer at all, or only offer what they consider, again, the "major events" in the sport, whereas at many more internationally-oriented sportsbooks, you can bet on the obscurest soccer leagues from all over the world.

One thing to keep in mind is that you can easily be misled if you just go by what you are told in the introductory section of a sportsbook website. In researching websites, I have found that it is quite common for the sports the book lists to not match what you actually find available when you join up. The website says "Here at Sportsbook X, you can wager on all your favorite sports, including football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, auto racing, soccer and more!" and then you sign up and go to make your tennis wager and discover that you cannot. Turns out the book only takes action on Wimbledon, or only on a few major tournaments if the customer calls specifically to request it, or has never offered tennis but put that on the list simply because it might offer it some time in the future. Or, worst of all but not at all uncommon, they copied and pasted a lot of their introductory material from other sportsbook websites and didn't even proofread it in detail to make sure it matched their offerings.

So you'll want to dig deeper before you sign up. On their website, go past their introductory description into the actual wagering software (which you can do at most places with a guest account) and click on "tennis" or "NASCAR" or whatever you are interested in, and see for yourself just how much they are offering on that particular day. And/or give them a call and ask them for more detail on how much soccer or whatever other sports they offer.

Similar considerations apply to bet types. Almost all places nowadays offer money lines and first and second half wagering, for instance, but a few don't. And of those that do, there is considerable variance in how much they offer. If you like to bet halves, you'll want to know if the book you're considering offers it on all games in many sports, or only "major" games, or only NFL, etc. If you're interested in props, there's a big difference between books like All World, Carib, and Olympic, who offer a huge number of props in many different sports, and a book that offers only a handful of generic props on Monday Night Football and the NFL playoffs.

There are some bet types that are sufficiently uncommon that a book can gain a competitive edge by being one of the few books (or in some cases literally the only book) to offer them. Only a handful of books offer action points, and even those usually put significant restrictions on this bet type. Very few books offer anything even vaguely like WSEX's version of in-progress betting. A few books have experimented with a form of first half wagering on baseball where you are betting on the score after the first few innings. A few books let you bet on quarters as well as halves in football and basketball, or individual periods in hockey. Bet365 has a unique way of letting you buy and sell points to build your own pseudo-teasers. If any of these is something you feel gives you an edge, then the one or few books that offer it could well deserve a spot in your line-up.

But again, don't jump to conclusions about what bet types they offer from just a quick perusal of their website. Dig around in the actual wagering section of the site, or call and ask them about these matters in detail.

Turkoman1963:
Offering unique and attractive bet types is a real plus for a sportsbook. The way you can buy and sell points at Bet365 is a prime example of how a different and interesting kind of wager can draw me in and result in my giving that book more of my action than I otherwise would.

If you're not familiar with their "build your own" teaser/parlay options, it works like this:

Say the three NFL games you are interested in have the following lines:

New York Giants -5 vs. Dallas
St. Louis -7 vs. San Francisco
New Orleans -2.5 vs. Atlanta

At most books, you can bet them straight, buy points on them individually, bet them collectively in a parlay, bet them collectively in a teaser getting the same set number of additional points on each line, etc. But at Bet365, you can also buy or sell different numbers of points on each and still bet all three in one bet. For instance, you could parlay Dallas +10 (buying 5 points), San Francisco +7.5 (buying a half point), and Atlanta -2.5 (selling 5 points), with the payoff being calculated from how many teams you have and how many points you're buying and selling.

Bet365's allowing you to mix and match lines like that is an excellent example of how a book can separate itself from its competitors through innovative bet offerings. Being able to bet something unique like this is a factor I will value over even lower vig at times.

Other factors:

Patton:
While the factors listed above are far and away the most important considerations in choosing a book, there are a few other things I at least consider when selecting books. One is intangibles.

Some books just give you a better "feel" than others. One factor in this is whether a book is willing to participate in the forums. When someone is willing to come in here publicly and answer questions and deal with problems, that tells me he is committed to his business and his customers, and makes me feel better about playing there.

There are other books, including some that I like a lot, that rarely if ever participate in the forums. But I like them in spite of their lack of participation, not because of it. We have very little sense of what the people there are like.

I think by hanging out in the forums you can get a feel for how a book deals with its customers on a day-to-day basis. Some books just seem to generate complaints, while others garner a lot of praise. I suppose that, at the end of the day, you would just like to have a warm feeling for a book, given that so much of the communication is done over the phone and computer with virtually no face-to-face contact.

The Philosopher:
I agree that a book's participation in the forums is a small factor I consider when assessing them. Unfortunately, it's largely a negative factor. Most books won't participate, and those that do nearly always do a terrible job. (I'm just talking about how they turn me off; others might think they're great and might be won over by them.)

These sites are an advertising venue for them, and they mostly don't have the foggiest idea how to deal with two-way communication rather than just one-way selling. So they engage in transparent and insulting to the intelligence public relations rhetoric, lie, spin, turn belligerent at the drop of a hat, and fall back on exaggerated indignation and whining if anyone criticizes or questions them. And then they stalk off, with a few concluding remarks about how the way they've been treated confirms the conventional wisdom that it's disadvantageous for books to post on these forums.

So in principle, yes, a book's participation in the forums could help them considerably in my eyes. In practice, though, this virtually never happens.

I also give a book points if it has looked beyond its own self-interest to take steps that are good for sportsbook customers or the industry as a whole. For example, all else being equal, I'm a little more likely to play at Pinnacle than at another book due to their having offered a promotion for a time where they let customers who had been robbed by other sportsbooks play with them vig free to make up their loss.

More recently, I bumped up Olympic a small amount due to their giving Camelot customers back some of the money that was stolen from them when that book went down.

You do want to look closely at any "bailout" of a failing sportsbook, though. Sometimes the deal has so many strings that lower its value that they're really not offering the stiffed customer any compensation after all, and the connection with the earlier theft is a purely rhetorical one used for marketing purposes. If a book says to me, "I'll give you the money that other book stole from you, as long as you do x, y, and z," and x, y, and z are stringent enough that they aren't, in fact, giving me anything, then this kind of offer does not raise my estimation of them in the slightest.


An Introduction to Major Wager

Finally, let's talk about Major Wager itself. What can we tell a newcomer to the site about what is available here? Let's discuss some of the different sections of this website:

The Forums:

The Forums are a set of posting boards covering different areas of sports and wagering where the public is welcome to start and respond to message threads.

Buckeye:
The Forums are the hottest spot at Major Wager. Whether you are a newbie to sports gambling, or a seasoned wise guy, there is something to be gained from reading and trading barbs in the various forums. The most popular is easily the Mess Hall.

From a newbie question on what an if-bet is, to an advanced discussion of how wide a middle opportunity needs to be in order to be profitable in the NBA, you'll see a little of everything and interact with all types of people in the forums. For information and opinion exchange on a specific sport, there are individual forums for football, basketball, soccer, and more. Many very good handicappers share picks and methodologies in those forums.

Other forums cover the stock market, sportsbook promotions, and even non-gambling topics (the Canteen).

The forums are a fraternity of sorts with all types of characters, motives, and gossip on the sportsbook scene flying to and fro. Friendships are born, enemies made, but for the most part they provide a common ground for sharing knowledge and ideas about sports gaming.

One important feature on Major Wager, and most watchdog sites, is the Search function. I highly recommend using it liberally. Whether to see if someone else has already asked your question, or to see what others have previously posted about a book, or to just figure out what the history is that makes a couple posters antagonistic or particularly chummy.

Questions, comments, book inquiries, whines, rants, etc. are all staples of the various forums. Many of us started out by just reading and "lurking" in the forums. But there is no reason to hold back, just try to be cordial and respectful of others. There is already enough hostility to go around.

The Philosopher:
The "main" forum at Major Wager is the Mess Hall. This is where people share the pros and cons about various sportsbooks, and talk about the latest news and gossip about the offshore world. This is the forum that gets by far the most traffic.

The Canteen is supposed to be a kind of miscellaneous forum to discuss things other than sports and gambling. Unfortunately, a lot of people insist on putting their non-sports posts in the Mess Hall instead, because they know they will get a much bigger audience there than they would in the Canteen.

I say "unfortunately" because I don't care for a high percentage of the non-sports threads. A great deal of it is ignorant, mean-spirited, and abusive, like I've stumbled into some sort of frat bar where a mob of drunken hooligans is making sure to shout down and intimidate anybody who expresses anything that's inconsistent with their vision of red-blooded Americanism. I have no use for it, and if it has to be anywhere, I'd rather it be relegated to the Canteen. But what are you going to do?

There are also a number of forums devoted to individual sports. Here people share picks (for free) and information relevant to handicapping.

At any given time, there are also numerous free contests running at Major Wager, each of which has its own forum. I had never tried any of these until I entered several football ones this most recent season. They're fun and you might just win a little something (or a lot of something-the prizes can sometimes be in the thousands of dollars).

In general, the beauty of the forums is that readers from all over the world can share news and information with each other in a way that's almost entirely uncensored.

I think at times people still rely too heavily on The Major and The Devil and blame them for everything they see as the site's inadequacies.

But Major Wager isn't them; Major Wager is us. People complain about how Major Wager doesn't expose enough about this thing out of fear of their advertisers, or won't tell the truth about that thing, or is trying to keep the lid on this other thing, but the complainer is free to talk about those things himself as much as he wants. (Mostly anyway. There have been some out of character posts by the site owners in the recent past that I find chilling to the expression of anything critical of sportsbooks, but hopefully that is an aberration.) We're so used to sitting on our ass and just being on the receiving end of the media that we don't know how to cope with something like this where we are the media.

This isn't like writing a letter to the editor, where there's a tiny chance it'll get approved by the right person and get printed in the 1% of the newspaper devoted to such things. The forums are like an entire newspaper that consists exclusively of a letters to the editor section, and your contribution goes in automatically, without anyone's approval. If you want to see more of this or that, then get out your keyboard and produce it.

Patton:
The forums are definitely at the core of the Major Wager experience. Having forums devoted to different topics makes it easy to find the information you want (but you can still ask if you can't find what you're looking for).

It's true that there are a number of non-gambling posts in the Mess Hall (I really like the military theme of the site, by the way!), but I find that I can largely avoid them if I choose. Similarly, there are people who are engaged in flame wars on various topics and I tend to avoid those, regardless of where they appear, too. Newbies will quickly discover which posters/topics they really aren't interested in, and avoid them.

I think the mention of the contest forums was a great point. In addition to the chance of winning some scratch, a player can also pick up some great information. For example, I was in the NBA "Weakest Link" contest, in which participants had to pick the winner (regardless of spread) in up to five NBA games each day. At the end of each week, the four people with the lowest totals are declared the weakest links and cut from the contest, while everyone else moves on to the next week with a clean slate.

Besides providing contestants with a chance to win a $1,000 account at the sponsoring book, the contest demonstrates a certain thesis of Grandfather, the contest moderator. He keeps saying that, in the NBA, the winner of the game will also cover the spread 80% of the time or so. Grandfather periodically publishes the seasonal stats to demonstrate this. Now, some people ask "that's great, but how do I pick the straight up winner in the first place?" Well, just look at the contest standings! Check the picks of the contest leaders and use those! I haven't spent any time assessing how much you could win (or lose) by using Grandfather's approach, but perhaps someone will do that.

Also, the Basketball and Hockey forums have "play of the day" threads where posters can mention their favorite plays for the upcoming day. Self-appointed moderators keep track of the picks. Many times the posters will give an explanation for their picks, imparting important handicapping wisdom.

Turkoman1963:
I've noted that Major Wager goes through periods where certain people get bashed beyond recognition. This happens to newbies who might not ask the "right" question, players who feel very strongly about a game and exaggerate how much of a "lock" it is, and the person with the generally annoying personality who is just going to get on everyone's nerves. I'll concern myself with the first two.

Major Wager can be a tough forum at times and for newbies the best advice I have is to announce your presence in a genial way, tell everyone what you think of Major Wager and then state an opinion. More often than not, you will be greeted warmly as we are all looking for even more opinions.

Speaking of which, if you happen to post a pick and present it as a very strong one, do not be dissuaded by those players who agree with your pick and then turn around and attack you if it loses. Those players are just angry at themselves. This is not an exact science we are all attempting. It's gambling. Handicapping a sport or horses is tough and everyone has an opinion. Some are more ardent than others but just feel free to put your two cents in without fear of recrimination. After all, if we all could predict every outcome, we wouldn't be typing right now. We'd be on a beach somewhere surrounded by pleasures and hangers-on.

Buckeye:
The forums can be great for information exchange, though I do get a little tired of wading through posts like "check your E-mail" or completely off topic posts in the Mess Hall. Particularly the personal beefs, site wars, and even the religious garbage that is sometimes espoused.

I would say that the forums on other sites that I've seen go downhill over time are those that let too much "chatting" take over, or allow religious and political views to take over. That stuff should really stay in the Canteen, in my opinion. Some topics are best not debated in a gambling forum. It just leads to some of the feuds I've seen. I respect dissenting opinions, and those who don't agree with my square opinions. As long as they don't get abusive or personal, I enjoy heated and intelligent debate; it is the best way to learn and expand. I just try to disagree without being disagreeable.

The Philosopher:
A lot of good stuff. A lot of garbage. And I agree with Buckeye that if the Major Wager forums ever self-destruct, it'll be because of the non-sports stuff. I have no doubt that many people who would be good, solid posters have left or never bothered to get started posting because of the sometimes moronic, mud-slinging nature of the forums.

But then, precisely the posts that repulse me will appeal to many readers. There's a little something for everyone in the forums, I guess.

Patton:
Major Wager has taken the position that generally it will not interfere with or censor what people post on the forum. Only a few people have been banned outright. It took this position in direct opposition to the policies of other online gambling forums where censorship and banning of posters is an almost everyday experience. It appears to me that this has resulted in the most robust, vibrant forums in the gambling industry. The price for this has been the problems noted above.

It is true that the "garbage," as Philosopher so aptly calls it, endangers the future of the entire site. Just as the courts have to perform a delicate balancing act between what speech is allowed and what may be censored, so Major Wager must tread a fine line in determining what can be safely discarded, while avoiding damage to the site. So far, I think the site's management has done a superb job in this regard, and I can only hope it continues.

The Major's List:

The Major's List is the subset of offshore sportsbooks recommended by Major Wager that are currently advertising on the site. These books are listed at the top of most pages of the site, as well as appearing in various banners and advertisements.

Turkoman1963:
The one thing that especially made this definitely a go-to feature of Major Wager was that any book you signed up with from the list, you could register your account for free with Major Wager and have it insured for up to $500. Until the Aces Gold collapse, we really didn't know if they could or would cover all of those secured accounts, but now we know the answer is yes. In fact, they paid out far more than they had any obligation to. The Aces Gold situation was still a disaster for many Major Wager members, but at least those who had secured their accounts had the blow softened somewhat.

Now, though, because they had to pay out so much money, and because so much of it was fraudulent, the security provisions of the Major's List are being suspended. Here's hoping the security can be re-instituted in some form in the future with tighter controls, since this provides a very real incentive to make sure that any book you sign up with is on the Major's List. No one else offers anything comparable to this insurance and it is valuable to have.

There are other quality books out there that are not on the Major's List and you should consider them too, but the security feature is a nice added bonus to have.

The Philosopher:
Some take a cynical view of the Major's List and say that these are simply the books that paid for advertising. They would say that Major Wager wants to promote these books and steer you to them because these are the ones that are giving them money, and that other than that, they're no better or worse than numerous non-advertising books.

At the opposite extreme is the gullible view that by their mere presence on the list, these are the best books out there. According to this perception, The Major and The Devil have researched them fully and have determined that these are the elite books, therefore you can confidently post up with any of these books, but be wary of any that are not on this list.

The truth lies somewhere in between. Major Wager has taken its chances with many small books, new books, and books that have come under criticism in these and other forums. Major's List books have slow paid on more than one occasion, Aces Gold and then Camelot went under completely and took a lot of people's money with them, and with the industry in the state it's in now, there will certainly be more close calls, and maybe more book failures.. It would be foolish, in my opinion, to choose a book based on nothing except the fact that it was listed at the top of the page as a Major's List book.

I will say, though, that it's simply false when critics say that anybody who wants to pay the advertising dollars can get on the Major's List. There are many books that have tried to get on the list and been turned down--NASA and its various affiliated books being the most obvious example.

But a key factor here is precisely the insurance provision. As long as Major Wager has to cover up to $500 of the losses for anyone who signs up with an advertising book through this site, they have a big incentive to be careful not to let a book in that is going to stiff you. They're the only site that put its money where its mouth is like that. I agree 100% with Turk that they went above and beyond the call of duty in paying off dubious Aces Gold insurance claims, and that I'd like to see a workable form of the insurance back in place as soon as possible. Which do you prefer a watchdog site's incentive to be: 1) The happier we make the advertisers, the more money we make; or 2) It'll cost us a fortune if we let anybody advertise here who ends up stiffing our readers?

So I don't think the Major's List is infallible, and I don't think it's of no relevance. Consider it along with all the other important factors in deciding what book to post up with. And give it more weight with the security provisions than without.

The Roll Call:

The Roll Call, or Recommended Books, are the offshore sportsbooks that Major Wager believes to be solid.

The Philosopher:
In some respects, the Roll Call is even more important to consult than the Major's List.

The Roll Call is the list of books that The Major and The Devil are confident are financially solid, fair sportsbooks, where your money is safe and you won't get screwed. That's the main thing you should want to know about a sportsbook, not whether in addition to that they are paying for advertising on the site.

Now, having said that, there are still at least some differences between Roll Call books and the Major's List subset of such books that go beyond the irrelevant matter of advertising dollars. The main difference has always been the insurance. For Major's List books, your account was insured by Major Wager for up to $500, which was not true of Roll Call books in general. With that program suspended for the time being, however, there are only more minor differences remaining.

Major's List books are required to be on the list of books that accept Major Wager formal mediation; it's optional for Roll Call books. Major's List books can be assumed to have at least some relationship with The Major and/or The Devil, which can certainly come in handy if you have a problem with one; Roll Call books, on the other hand, can be books that have a solid reputation, but that The Major and The Devil have little or no contact or influence with.

Still, whereas there are books I'd have no hesitation signing up with even though they are not on the Major's List, I'd be a lot more concerned about a book that wasn't on the Roll Call. In fact, I probably would not sign up with any such book. More likely, I would contact The Major and see if their exclusion was an oversight, or if there was some problem with them.

The Stockade:

The Stockade is the list of offshore sportsbooks Major Wager recommends its readers stay away from.

Patton:
The Stockade is sort of a Superfund site list of books that have stiffed players. Some books have been asked to rectify problems, and are only provisional members, while others have engaged in repeated and significant abuses (or outright fraud), earning themselves a permanent berth in this Hall of Shame. Avoid the books in the Stockade like the plague.

Turkoman1963:
Each watchdog site has a stockade or "dungeon" where the books who have stiffed players are listed. Every novice owes it to himself to check out this list and avoid these books.

But these aren't the only bad books. If you are unsure about a book's vitality, simply enter a forum such as Major Wager's Mess Hall and ask, "Opinions please on Shanghai Sportsbook and Chinese Take Out." You will receive replies very quickly and you can make an informed decision on whether that book is right for you.

The Philosopher:
It's a no-brainer that you don't sign up with any book in the Stockade.

But frankly, I rarely if ever consult it, because I rule out any book that's not good enough to be on the Roll Call, regardless of whether they happen to have done anything bad enough to catch the attention of Major Wager and end up in the stockade.

There are hundreds of obscure books about which too little is known for them to be places you should be sending your money. Only a tiny percentage of these books are in the Stockade.

So, sure, check out the Stockade if you wish, but don't think that you're home free just because your book isn't in there.

The Sportsbook Reviews:

The Sportsbook Reviews are The Philosopher's detailed write-ups from a customer's perspective of various sportsbooks he has played into.

Turkoman1963:
This is a great feature because it allows the user to gain some insight into what it is like to be a customer at a particular sportsbook. Other sites review sportsbooks, but they do so in the generic way of saying, "Look at all the goodies this book offers. Click this link to sign up." Whereas, the Sportsbook Reviews at Major Wager are a place a beginner can go to see if the reviewed sportsbook sounds like the type of place he/she would feel comfortable in.

The one caveat is that once the reviews are several months or more old, you never know how similar the book is now to what it was when it was reviewed. Even a few months is an eternity in the sportsbook world.

Patton:
Simply the best reviews in the industry. Philosopher, you have done an outstanding job in evaluating the reviewed books on a large number of criteria. It is the place to start when you are shopping for a new book.

The reviews are useful for just about any player since their broad coverage insures that the items that matter most to you will be covered.

Buckeye:
When deciding about posting up with a new book, I have two must do steps. The first is to use the Search function of Major Wager to peruse comments about the book. The second is to look at Philo's reviews to see if they are included. These are both thorough and extensive and the Summary has many of the things I look for. It saves me a trip to the site. His inclusion of "related threads" is also an ingenious touch, in my opinion. Let's see what the man himself says…

The Philosopher:
I'm proud of the reviews, though there are certainly things that are imperfect about them. I've only completed an average of about two a month, so there are still pretty few posted. If you want to research a book, it's more likely that it hasn't been reviewed yet than that it has.

Furthermore, a review gradually becomes less valuable as time passes. I do make updates periodically when I learn of changes at the book, and that definitely helps, but the way things change in this industry, it's unavoidable that the reviews will be at least somewhat stale after they've been up for awhile. Consider the information to be probably accurate in most areas, but not guaranteed by a long shot. For any point that's particularly important to you, make sure you confirm it with the book itself rather than relying exclusively on what's said in the reviews.

That being said, I feel that on the whole the reviews I write for Major Wager are better than anything else of its kind that you'll find on any other site. Period.

I want to especially urge newcomers and everyone to make use of the Feedback section of the reviews. This is a list of all the Mess Hall threads that have said much of anything of substance about the book under review. I provide links to each thread itself, as well as a quick summary of what is discussed there.

The Search function in the forums is really very primitive. If you're looking up information about a book using that, when the book has already been reviewed, you're really torturing yourself for nothing. Use my Feedback section instead. I've already done most of the work for you. (So I guess in that sense I disagree slightly with Buckeye. I'd say check to see if the book has been reviewed first, and only bother with the forum Search function if it has not.)

Turkoman1963:
This is all about gaining information. Philosopher is right. A book that was reviewed in February is a review that is not worth that much in December unless the book has stayed exactly the same. Often, policies and personnel change and, like at Major Wager and their preferred list, often a book will fall out of favor from February to December. That said, the reviews, if current, are outstanding and definitely worth your time. I'd just make sure that everything the reviewer discovered in his time at the book is still valid when you want to sign up. Which is another excellent piece of advice: make sure you call a book before signing up with them to verify that everything you believe the book is going to be offering you is, in fact, valid.

Patton:
Certainly, some sort of update mechanism would be quite helpful to the reviews. I don't think all books would automatically experience wide swings in quality in the space of a year (while it is certainly very possible), but changes occur.

People have differing views on a book, so it is good that the reviews include a section of links to forum threads about the reviewed book. Other things that perhaps could be valuable to include with the reviews would be responses from Major Wager management and/or responses from the book itself.

The Mediations:

The Mediations Board is a three member panel that issues rulings on confidential disputes between a player and a sportsbook. Books on the Mediated List have committed to accept such rulings as binding. Written rulings and the reasoning for them are posted publicly at Major Wager, but the parties are not identified.

The Philosopher:
This is something offered by Major Wager that newcomers and everyone should be aware of.

It is a requirement for books on the Major's List, and an option for other books, to be on the list of Mediated Books. Once you are on the list of Mediated Books, you are obligated to take a dispute to binding mediation if one of your customers requests it.

The mediations are still somewhat of a work in progress. A lot of it we're having to make up as we go along. But as I write this we are taking a big step in its development. We have recently issued the ruling and decision for the first formal mediation case.

The three person Mediations Board consists of myself, Scott K, and a rotating third member. For this first case, the guest Board member was Reality.

I really don't think enough people are even aware of this option or think to make use of it when they find themselves in a dispute with a sportsbook. I get sick of listening to all the whining in the Forums about how unaccountable the books are, how they hold all the cards, how they can arbitrarily cancel bets and do as they please because they're holding the money, etc., when not one of those complainers has brought one of their disputes to the Major Wager Mediation Board.

Maybe if your sportsbook loses the mediation, they'll just thumb their nose at us and refuse to abide by the ruling, but you won't know that until you try. And they'll pay a heavy price in bad public relations if they do pull something like that.

Be sure to go to this section of the website to read the details and restrictions (though also be aware that these are very much in flux as the mediations finally take shape).

Turkoman1963:
This would definitely be an option for me if a book were on the Major Wager Mediation list, for it is a way for the book to win, too. They don't have their dirty laundry aired in a public forum. Instead, they quietly settle the dispute with an unbiased third party. More people should think about this option before going to the forums which, while exerting pressure on a book, are no guarantee that you will be successful in retrieving your money.

Buckeye:
This is a unique and very positive attribute of Major Wager. I typically try many times, on my own, to settle disputes with books. On one occasion, I felt I was getting nowhere so I contacted Major Wager to tell them I may have a mediation case with Sportsbook X and the details. In my case, as with many others, they helped resolve it before it got any further (as I was 100% right and the book was confused). But if it had continued I would have had the ability to ask for mediation.

Though I wouldn't have taken it "public" in the forums first, I do think Major Wager should lighten their stance on this as stating the truth of matters in the forum shouldn't disqualify you from asking for mediation. This is an important limitation to this feature that everyone should know about; I only remembered reading it when someone else posted a reminder.

Philo and the rest of the board did a great job, in my opinion, with the first such mediation decision. There were several gray areas involved and the panel did an excellent job viewing it from both sides and coming up with a fair decision (for the player in that case). The book got some constructive criticism and "rules tightening" advice out of the case, and it exposed how a poorly trained and understood phone ticket writer can mess up the betting system. I am very confident that the panel would rule fairly, if I ever needed to take a dispute to that level.

Patton:
With only one decision under its belt, the Mediation Panel remains, to an extent, an unknown quantity. To be sure, it is a unique feature of the site, and I think some good precedents were set with the first decision that provide optimism for its future. The decision with reasoning was made public at the site, with identifying details for the book and player omitted. Thus, everyone was able to examine the panel's reasoning and decide whether the result was fair and logical, and most people felt the decision was correct. The decision also stands as a precedent that can be used in future cases to insure consistent results. However, with such a short history, future panels will need to continue to work hard to maintain the perception of fairness and reliability.

The Mediations are an extra reason for people to make Major Wager their primary Internet sports wagering destination. I strongly believe in taking complaints through the "chain of command" from book management to the operators of watchdog sites. In the past, before the advent of the Mediations Board, if one failed to get satisfaction in that manner, the only other recourse was public outcry. Since such a tactic is not likely to cause a book to change its position, it helps to have this new option of taking it to the formal Mediations Board to see if they can "right the wrong" where all else has failed.

The Daily Briefing:

The Daily Briefing, or In the News, consists of sportsbetting-related articles written by Major Wager, submitted by freelance writers, or compiled from other sources on the Internet. Also note that some writers-currently J and The Philosopher-have had their articles moved to their own individual sections of the site.

Patton:
The Daily Briefing is the place to get the latest news from the gambling world.

Gambling stories usually get reported where there is local interest, and rarely achieve national circulation. Even gambling-related developments with national import, such as the recent proposed legislation to ban internet gambling (the Goodlatte bill), don't get a lot of play in the national media.

But the Daily Briefing culls these items from a large number of news sources and presents them in a single place for everyone to read. In addition to news, there are also articles of commentary on the industry. Saves a lot of time in keeping up with developments in the gambling world.

The Philosopher:
I don't have much to add here. The Daily Briefing is a miscellany of articles and essays by members of the Major Wager family, freelancers, etc. about sports and gambling. You'll definitely find some good reads there.

Turkoman1963:
The one gospel is that, like the film business, no one really knows anything. We are all just making guesstimates. Consider what the Daily Briefing has to offer along with all your other sources of information, but don't treat the articles as infallible.

For that matter, don't treat what we say in this piece as the be all and end all. Major Wager is a great site to gain information but, in the end, you still have to consider multiple sources of information in order to make responsible decisions.

Other sections:

Buckeye:
I admit to spending 95%+ of my Major Wager time in the forums, but there are a number of other sections to the site that should be explored. Many visit the chat section to get a more intimate conversation going with fellow handicappers, rather than trading posts in a forum. The Free Plays and Live Lines sections provide links to other handicapping sites and to books' odds and lines rundowns without having to sign in to the book.

The casino section provides mini-reviews and links to books with casinos that Major Wager backs. There is also a section which documents some articles related to Jay Cohen and his legal battles in the U.S.

Two of my favorites are the Offshore Rules and Devil's Definition sections. The rules are a compilation of generic rules most offshore books adhere to. If you have a dispute with a book, you can compare their rules to the industry "standard" to get an idea if they are out of whack. The definitions section is a must for newbies as it helps them wade through the vernacular and slang that pervades Major Wager, the books themselves, and the offshore gaming industry. While a little light on detail, it has most of the basic terms bettors need to know.

Turkoman1963:
I prefer to spend most of my time in the forums at Major Wager, but occasionally I'll spend time in the chat room.

The Philosopher:
A lot of the other sections on Major Wager are a sort of grave yard of potential. They have some value, but they tend to be truncated versions of what they could be. Major Wager has a habit of throwing itself into a lot of different worthwhile projects at once, knowing that some will develop into an important and popular part of the site, while others will soon be relegated to the back burner indefinitely.

"Live Lines" has lines from a handful of sportsbooks, but this is actually a minimalist version of "Major Odds," which once upon a time was intended to rival Don Best. The ambitious Major Odds never came to fruition, or at least hasn't yet, despite reportedly soaking up a considerable amount of effort and money.

"Casinos" as I write this lists only two entries. Potentially it could be an extensive list of solid online casinos corresponding to the "Roll Call" for sportsbooks, or even a set of reviews like the "Sportsbook Reviews," but for now it appears to be a mostly dead section.

Scott Kaminsky did a fine job with "Offshore Rules" compiling some of the most commonly used sportsbook rules, but don't be misled into thinking this is binding on the books. I believe there may have been talk early on of making a generic set of rules like this mandatory for any book admitted onto the Major's List, but I don't think that ever happened. So for now this section functions as a way for a newcomer to get a general idea of what the typical sportsbook rules are, but really you'd be better served checking the rules where you already have an account or are considering signing up, as those are the ones under which you will actually be playing.

The "Black List" is a section you will not have access to, as this is for the books themselves to exchange information and warn each other about customers who have defrauded them and the like. Reportedly, this was largely a dead section with almost no entries until fairly recently, when several books added the names of "unsavory players" they had recently encountered to the data base.

For that matter, "The Mediations" (discussed separately above) was all potential until very recently. Perhaps it will get more action now that we have rendered a decision in our first case, but for most of its existence this has been a dead section.

So, if you're exploring Major Wager and you happen to come across an area where your first reaction is, "Hmm, doesn't seem to be much going on here," you aren't necessarily missing something. It may well be a section that hasn't really gotten off the ground yet.

But then in addition to these "never have really lived up to their potential" sections of the site, there are other sections that we did not discuss separately above that are quite popular. For instance, I'm told that, to my surprise, one of the highest traffic areas of the site is the Free Picks section. In the present site configuration it is even one of the areas highlighted on the home page, since evidently it's something a lot of visitors are interested in.

We also now have a plethora of ways to communicate with each other aside from posting in the forums. There's the chat room, which has already been mentioned. There are also private messaging and instant messaging (two different things).

And there's still more on Major Wager that we haven't even talked about. In fact-and maybe this is a good thought to leave you with as we close out this piece-there's really no reason whatsoever for anyone to have a life outside of Major Wager any more.