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Betting Juice

NFL Betting: The Juice

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper,

Call it juice. Call it a “vig”--short for vigorish. It’s what keeps the sportsbooks alive. Well, players making bad bets plays a role too. But juice is a sort of a built-in commission that the bookie receives for you having the privilege to bet on NFL games. It’s what keeps the gambling world going around.

There are built-in house advantages in all forms of gambling. If you hit a number in roulette, you get a 35-1 return on your bet even though there are 38 slots on the wheel. In poker, the house takes a rake--a pre-determined amount off the top of every pot you play. Go hit a two-number play on Keno (16-1 odds) and see how much you get paid--it’s certainly not $16.

So in NFL betting, the same rule applies. When you place a bet, you are not only trying to beat the spread, but you also need to contend with the juice. In some bets, the juice is spelled out, but the formula is hidden in the case of most NFL bets. When making a straight bet, the customary juice is -110. In other words, you must bet $110 for every $100 you stand to win when making straight bets.

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Say for example you make ten $110 straight bets on NFL games and you win five of them. Not bad--you’re even, right? Well, you might have a .500 betting record on those bets, but you’re not even. You made $1100 worth of bets. Your 5 winners only returned $1050, leaving you $50 in the hole. As you see, breaking even doesn’t cut it.

With the point-spread, NFL bets are basically heads-or-tails wagers. The spread is supposed to even out everything. Theoretically, you have a 50% chance of winning your wagers. Where the “house” profits is by setting up a system where hitting 50% of binary wagers results in you being a loser. Over the long haul, if the public wins 50% of these bets where you’re 50-50 to win, the house still wins because of the almighty juice.

And that’s just straight bets! Once you start delving into the more exotic NFL wagers, the house assumes an even steeper edge. We might be blinded by big payouts on bets like parlays, but we wouldn’t be so enthusiastic if we know the gap between our potential winnings and the true odds of winning that wager.

An astute NFL bettor is very cognizant of the house edge. Already facing the proposition of having to do better than 50% against the spread, why go ahead and hand over even more of an edge to the house by playing parlays and other exotic bets? Bucking the odds is hard enough. But a smart player can grind hard and maybe beat the spread more often than not. That’s hard enough. To buck even greater odds with parlays and big teasers really puts the player behind the 8-ball.

There are different ways to compute the odds. There are some parlays, like a 3-teamer, where a case can be made that the juice is even less than on a straight bet. But on most parlays, prop bets, teasers, and so on, the juice is indeed very steep--one of many reasons why seasoned bettors stick to straight bets. And some books feature -105 bets, which leaves the house with a very minimal edge. To venture outside of that format means you are willingly allowing the house to have a bigger edge on you--not a sound gambling plan.

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