A wager on an event that won’t happen until the distant future is called a “future bet”. Which team will win the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, World Series, National Title etc, are great examples of this, while which team wins the division, who will win the Cy Young, and which NFL head coach will be fired next are other examples. In this article, I’ll cover some tips and strategies for betting futures using NFL for the examples.
Line Shopping is Critical in Sports Betting
The first thing you need to understand about future betting is that the odds vary greatly from site to site. To illustrate this, here is a snapshot of the odds from November 25, 2010 on three different teams winning the Super Bowl:
- Redskins: 100/1 at Sportsbook| 125/1 at Bovada | 350/1 at 5Dimes
- Packers: 7/1 at 5Dimes | 7/1 at Bovada | 10/1 at Sportsbook
- Bears: 20/1 at Sportsbook, 28/1 at 5Dimes | 30/1 at Bovada
Notice that to get the best odds on each of these teams, we’ll need to use three different sites. This isn’t a cherry picked example; this is a regular occurrence and the reason why it is important to line shop using multiple betting sites when betting futures.
Future Betting is a Recreational Bettors Market
Most future bets are made by sports fans interested in backing their favorite team or player over the course of the season. Professional players avoid this wagering option due to the massive juice built into lines. Now don’t confuse the motive here; many Bookmakers would love nothing more than to compete on futures. The challenge is that with 32 different options on which team will win the Super Bowl, it is near impossible for the bookmaker to balance action. Any Cinderella run by preseason underdogs is enough to give a bookmaker an ulcer, and one of these teams winning the championship is enough to put a major dent, if not wipe out, most of the season’s profits. While these runs are rare, and bookmakers do profit well on futures, they still need to protect themselves. Las Vegas bookmakers add 40-70% juice to their future markets to protect themselves.
While juice is still high at many betting sites, a handful of betting sites now operate on risky margins. This is a new concept, and only recently has the opportunity arrived that future betting actually can be +EV. The leading site by far for Super Bowl and other championship markets is 5Dimes.eu. 5Dimes operates with around half the margin of their closest competitors with a theoretical hold around 11%. Their closest competitors are www.Bovada.lv, with a 21% hold, and TheGreek.com, similar. A few other sites that don’t compete well as far as juice, but are great for line shopping futures is Intertops. A recent study on getting the best Super Bowl winner odds with limited line shopping showed the following combinations as the most profitable:
- One Site Only: 5Dimes alone gives bettors 74% chance of getting best future odds.
- Two Site Combo: 5Dimes + Sportsbook, 91% chance of finding best odds.
- Three Site Combo: 5Dimes + Sportsbook + Bovada, 93.7% chance.
Doing our own research using only Super Bowl future odds on November 25, 2010, we shopped all 31 teams who still have a chance at winning the Super Bowl at four sites: 5Dimes, Sportsbook, Bovada and TheGreek. We took the best odds on each team, put them into a spread sheet and did some calculations. How it turned out when using those four sites combined is that a sports bettor could bet every single team balanced properly and expect only 6.45% loss. This means that thanks to the Internet, when line shopping is used the odds in future betting are far better than ever before. Doing the math at Las Vegas Sportsbooks, I’d imagine the figure comes out between 30-45%, though that’s an educated guess.
To show an example of how to remove juice from a betting line, I’ll take a look at odds to win the NFC West at www.Bovada.lv. Their odds are a follows:
- Arizona Cardinals +800
- San Francisco 49ers +325
- Seattle Seahawks -110
- St.Louis Rams +300
The first step in calculating juice is to find out how often each team needs to win on average to break even at their current betting line. The math to calculate this is risk divided by return. To clarify, a $100 wager at +800 is $100 to win $800. The return is $900, as a winning bet returns back the $100 stake plus the $800 win for a $900 return. Therefore, to calculate the break even percentage on Cardinals +800, the math is 100/900=0.111 which is 11.1%. To avoid the math each time, Google search “Moneyline Converter” for a helpful tool.
Doing the math on each team, we end up with the following required break even percentages:
- Arizona Cardinals +800 = 11.1%
- San Francisco 49ers +325 = 23.5%
- Seattle Seahawks -110 = 52.4%
- St.Louis Rams +300 = 25%
Add these numbers together, and the total is 112%. Obviously, the true probabilities of each team winning cannot total more than 100%. The reason it does at the moment is because juice is still included in the betting lines. To remove the juice and get a no vig win probability, we divide each break even percentage by this 112% figure. The results are as follow.
- Arizona Cardinals 11.1%/112%=9.9%
- San Francisco 49ers 23.5%/112%=21.0%
- Seattle Seahawks 52.4%/112%=46.8%
- St.Louis Rams +300 = 25%/112%=22.3%
To double check that the juice is actually removed, we add these four figures together and now see the probabilities equal 100%. These new figures are called the no-vig win probabilities. If vig was equally distributed, these are each team’s true odds of winning the NFC West according to the betting market at www.Bovada.lv.
To change the percentages back into American odds format, again Google search “Moneyline Converter”, plug in the percentage and get:
- Arizona Cardinals +910
- San Francisco 49ers +376
- Seattle Seahawks +114
- St.Louis Rams +348
What we have here is each team’s no-vig moneyline. If the Bovada market was efficient, these moneylines represent each team’s fair price. If we find a line at any site which beats this price, we have a +EV bet.
Using No-Vig Probabilities to Find +EV Future Bets
Remember, the first step to removing juice is calculating the required break even percentages of each team. In our earlier example, the total of each team’s break even percentage was 112%. This figure is what Bookmakers refer to as the overround. The lower the overround the higher the chances a +EV bet exists. If the overround is less than 100%, not only does a +EV bet most certainly exist, an arbitrage opportunity also exists.
We should point out that when line shopping, the overround does not need to be under 100% for a bet to have value. 95% of the time the overrounds will be over 100%, yet through careful analysis it is still possible to find one of the betting options to be +EV perhaps 10-15% of the time. Let’s look at a current example actually available for betting at this moment.
I just went shopping at a dozen sites for odds to win the NFC west. After research, I found the best price on one of the teams on these three sets of betting lines.
- ARIZONA CARDINALS +1700
- SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS +225
- SEATTLE SEAHAWKS -175
- ST. LOUIS RAMS +360
- Arizona Cardinals +1200
- San Francisco 49ers +225
- Seattle Seahawks +120
- St Louis Rams +200
- Arizona Cardinals +805
- Seattle Seahawks -135
- Rams or 49ers +145
Covering all 4 options at the best line, I come up with:
- ARIZONA CARDINALS +1700 (Bookmaker)
- Seattle Seahawks +120 (Sportsbook)
- Rams or 49ers +145 (TheGreek.com)
Note: The betting option at TheGreek covers both teams. If either team wins the division, the bet is a win; otherwise, it is a loss. Considering that I’m not required to risk stake twice, this is a better option than betting the teams individually (trust me I did the math).
What’s amazing about this market, we’ll now see. Let’s go ahead and do the same math we did before, converting each team’s odds to break even percentages. Doing this I get:
- ARIZONA CARDINALS = 5.55%
- Seattle Seahawks = 45.45%
- Rams or 49ers = 40.82%
Add these together and the overround is 91.82%. Here we have an arbitrage opportunity. We can bet all three of these lines in such a way that no matter which team wins we have a profit. To figure out the math of how much to bet on each team, Google search for an “Arbitrage Calculator”.
Let’s start with the bet with the lowest paying odds. If Sportsbook allows us to bet $500 on Seahawks +120, we could match this with $448.98 on the Ram/49ers +145 at TheGreek, and $61.11 on Cardinals +1700 at Bookmaker. The total outlay is $1,010.09. No matter which team wins, the return is $1,100, meaning $89.91 profit (8.9011% ROI) guaranteed.
Once again, two points will clarify. First, this is a true, real life example; at the exact moment I am writing this article, all three of these bets are available. Second, an arb possibility does not need to exist to find a +EV bet. If you pull lines from several betting sites and properly cap the market, you can gauge a team’s true win probability. Next, convert these probabilities into moneylines and bet any option that exists which is better than the moneyline that you calculated using the cumulative market price.