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How to Bet on Basketball in Vegas

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If you want to gamble on sports in Las Vegas, and if basketball is the sport you love most, this is the post for you. It’s a complete guide to how to bet basketball in Vegas.

And here are some Las Vegas sports betting basics:

Some aspects of betting on basketball in Vegas are the same as betting on any other sport. You need to be familiar with some aspects of Las Vegas sportsbooks to place a bet on a basketball game.

  • The first thing to understand is that the bets that are available are posted on an “odds board.” It’s just a list of available bets along with any pertinent information for each wager. I’ll explain the specifics for what to look for in a basketball game later in this post.
  • The next thing to understand is that you’re going to deal with a person called a “ticket writer” to place your bets. That’s just the person working at the ticket window when you place your bets.
  • To make a bet, you give the ticket writer your information and the money you’re risking. You get a ticket in return, and if you win, you can cash it in. You get your wager back along with your winnings in exchange for your ticket. Don’t lose it.

The Best Ways to Bet Basketball in Las Vegas

Point Spread Bets in Basketball

The most basic way to bet on basketball in Vegas is to place a “straight bet.”

To place a straight bet on basketball, tell the ticket writer at the Vegas sports book the following:

  • The number for the team you want to bet. (It’s posted on the odds board.)
  • The point spread.
  • The size of your bet.

In most Vegas sportsbooks and on most basketball games, you must risk $110 to win $100, although that might vary based on the game and on the sportsbook.

If you bet on football already, you probably understand what a point spread is. It’s a means for the book to get close to a 50/50 probability of winning a bet.

In any basketball game, one team is usually favored over the other to win. The team that’s expected to win is called the “favorite,” and the team that’s expected to lose is called the “dog.”

The point spread is listed on the odds board next to the favorite as a negative number. For example, if a team is listed with a -3 next to its name, it’s a 3 point favorite.

For purposes of determining whether you won the bet, you subtract 3 points from the favorite’s score to see if they win “against the spread” or “against the point spread.”

Let’ say that team A is the favorite and scores 105 points. Team B is the dog and scores 92 points.

You bet on team A, and they were favored by 3 points. You subtract 3 from 105 and get 102. A score of 102 would still win against a score of 92, so you win the bet.

But let’s say that team B has scored 103 points instead of 92 points. Team A won the game, but your bet would be a losing bet after accounting for the point spread.

Here’s something to keep in mind about the point spread:

The book can (and does) change the point spread any time they want to. Once you put your money down and buy the ticket, you’ve bought the bet at the point spread that was in effect then. It doesn’t change for you, but you could place a new bet with the new spread. It would just be a bet in addition to your existing bet, and the winner for each of those bets would be determined separately.

The book can change the point spread based on multiple factors. They might have learned of a player’s injury. They might have too much action on one side of the game and hope to even it out. It doesn’t matter why, though—the spread listed on the ticket you bought is the spread that counts.

At most books in Vegas, you’re required to risk $110 to win $100. This reflects the ratio, not the actual amount, though. For example, you might bet $55 to win $50, or $22 to win $20.

That additional amount you’re risking is called the vig (or vigorish), and it’s the reason the book makes a profit.

Over/Under Bets in Basketball

The 2nd most common kind of basketball wager you can place in Vegas is the over/under bet. This bet is also common when betting on football. It’s a bet on whether the total score for the game will be over or under the predicted score from the book.

This bet is listed under the “total” section on the odds board. For example, you might have a game where 198.5 is listed as the total.

If you bet the over, you’d win if the total number of points scored in the game is 199 or more. You’d lose if the number of points scored in the game is 198 or fewer.

Not all over/under bets are against a number ending in .5, but it’s common, because it avoids a situation where multiple players get a “push” as a result.

Here’s an example of a push:

The total is listed at 198, and the total score for the game is 198. Anyone who bet over or under would her bet returned to her. This creates extra work for the book, so it’s easier for them to include the .5 in the total to prevent that.

As with point spread bets, you must risk $110 to win $100 at most Vegas books on a basketball bet.

Parlay Bets in Basketball

A parlay bet in basketball is the same as a parlay bet in any other sport—it’s a combination of between 2 and 10 bets, all of which must win for the parlay to pay off. The more bets you make in the parlay, the less likely you are to win—resulting in a higher potential payout.

Let’s say you bet on a 2-game parlay and the probability of winning each bet is 50%. The probability of winning both bet is 1 in 4, which means the odds of winning are 3 to 1.

Most Vegas sportsbooks are going to offer you a payout of 13 to 5 on that bet (or 2.6 to 1, if you prefer.)

So if you bet $50 on that wager 4 times, you’d have invested $200. On one of those bets, though, you’d win $180, so you’d have a net loss of $20 over 4 bets. That’s the same as losing $5 per bet, on average.

See where the book makes its money in this situation?

It’s all about statistical averages.

You can get a positive expectation, though, by finding point spreads that are off just enough to increase your probability of winning.

If you identify 2 games where your probability of winning is 55% instead, you’d have a probability of 30.25% of winning the parlay.

That’s 2.3 to 1 odds instead of 3 to 1 odds. With a 2.6 to 1 payout, you’d see a statistical profit.

Rinse and repeat, but good luck doing a better job of estimating the odds than the Vegas bookmakers.

Also, the bigger the parlay, the longer the odds of winning and the bigger the payout odds.

You’re not limited to parlays where you bet on winners against the spread. You can also bet on over/unders. And you can even combine over/under bets with point spread bets.

Basketball Teaser Bets

One popular way to make a basketball parlay bet is to place a “teaser” bet. When you place a teaser bet, you get to improve the point spread in your favor, but the book reduces your payout to compensate for this.

For example, if you want to bet on the dog, you’d get to add points. If you want to bet on the favorite, you’d get to subtract points.

Now you have a better probability of winning, but when you win, the amount you’ve won has been reduced.

For example:

In a 2-game parlay, you might add 5 points to the underdog in exchange for only getting a payout of 10 to 14 if you win.

If you bet $140 in that situation, you’d win $100.

The number of points you’re allowed to tease, and the effect that such a tease has on your payout, changes from one sportsbook to another in Las Vegas.

Some players use teasers to profit, though, so it can be an important part of your repertoire if you’re going to take your basketball betting to the next level.

Where Can You Bet on Basketball in Las Vegas?

Most of the major casinos in Las Vegas have sportsbooks that accept action on basketball games. Choosing an appropriate sportsbook depends on various factors, but one of the easiest is where the book is relative to your casino.

In other words, if you’re staying in a casino and don’t want to leave, just bet in the sportsbook there.

On the other hand, if you’re planning your Vegas trip, and you want to plan around which sportsbook you want to play in, here are some suggestions:

  • The Mirage Sportsbook is open every day from 8am to 11pm. They feature an 85’ state-of-the-art high definition projection TV screen. As with most upscale books in Vegas, these television screens are in 4K.
  • Lagasse’s Stadium at The Palazzo Las Vegas is one of the nicest sportsbooks in town, but it’s more than JUST a sportsbook. It’s Emeril Lagasse’s combination sportsbook, bar, and restaurant. They have over 100 televisions in the facility and excellent (albeit expensive) food.
  • The Westgate Sportsbook is the largest book in the city. The big draw here is the 4K video wall, which is 220 foot by 18 foot. It’s smoke-free, too, and they offer 5 different parlay cards along with “super” and “super-mega” teasers. The bar has plenty of drinks to choose from, too.
  • The Sportsbook at Caesars Palace also stakes a claim to “nicest sportsbook in Las Vegas.” They have a unique, custom-built, 143′ HD LED TV screen and state-of-the-art 4-Zone Directional Sound. This place is so ritzy that you should book reservations if you want to watch a basketball game on the main floor.

    Your other option is to watch one of the dozens of televisions located elsewhere in the book. They have plenty, including plasma TVs.

  • The Sportsbook at Bellagio stays busy, but there’s a reason for that—it’s nice. They feature 6 big-screen TV’s and 38 flat-screen monitors throughout the bar. They focus a lot on the racebook here, but it’s still worth trying to catch a basketball game here.

How to Win More of Your Basketball Bets

Okay, so now that I’ve established how easy it is to place a bet on a basketball game, how do you bet so that you win more often?

Here are some tips to help you win more of your basketball bets:

Pay Attention to a Basketball Team’s Schedule

You want to consider 2 things when thinking about their schedule:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Location

These are connected, too. If a team has been playing on the road a lot lately, they’re going to be more fatigued. And tired basketball teams score fewer points.

Of course, early in the season, it’s easy for a team to stay fresh and effective.

But later in the season, the effects of being on the road started to take their toll. Keep this in mind when evaluating point spreads.

Bet on Dogs That Are Playing at Home

Teams are more motivated to win when they’re in front of their loyal fans. And those fans are found at home games.

The trend is that teams cover the point spread when they’re at home. This holds true more often when they’re big underdogs (10 or more points).

Part of this also has to do with overconfidence on the part of the visiting favorite. After all, if they’re 10+ point favorites, how hard would they have to try, anyway.

Bet on Road Favorites If They Just Suffered a Big Loss

When a favorite team is on the road, sometimes they’ll suffer a big loss (15 points or more). The game after that, they play harder, and they usually beat the point spread. This makes them a good bet.

These last 2 tips, by the way, about the home underdogs and the road favorites after the big losses, are generalizations. These bets don’t ALWAYS provide value.

But they’re a good place to start when looking for a bet that you might win.

Bet With Your Head, Not Your Heart

For a lot of basketball bettors, this is the biggest impediment to placing winning bets. If you’re a fan of a team, it’s always going to be tempting to overestimate their probability of beating the spread.

It’s human nature to perceive data that correlates with what we want to be true, even when it isn’t true. It’s also human nature to think we’re immune to that tendency.

I have a strict policy of just never betting on the Dallas Mavericks. That way I never have to worry about making the mistake of betting on them just because they’re my home team favorite.

Have Realistic Expectations

The best sports bettors in the world only beat the spread 55% of the time or slightly more.

And that’s a long-term average. In the short run, you might do far better or worse than that because of sheer, dumb luck.

The oddsmakers at the books aren’t doing that for a living because they’re idiots. They know how to set a point spread so that you have a 50/50 probability of winning.

If the point spread is incorrect, it’s often because of how much money has been bet on one side or the other. It’s not because the handicappers at the book screwed up. The book is intentionally trying to get more action on the other side of the game.

Watch out for Strategies That Work Initially

It’s easy to come up with a strategy that seems to work well initially. This can change rapidly, though, and for multiple reasons.

For one thing, a system you come up with might not be a valid system for predicting winning bets, even if back-testing it leads you to think that it will work.

For another, a system that beats the lines will eventually come to the attention of the oddsmakers at the books. When it does, they’ll start factoring that into their calculations.

When You Do Find a System or Strategy That Seems to Be Working, Keep Quiet About It

You have nothing to gain by letting anyone know how well your strategy for picking winners works. You have a lot to lose, though.

Word travels fast, especially now that we have the internet, which is full of social media and message boards. Once the oddsmakers get wise to your system, they’ll start accounting for it, which will nullify your edge.

Pay as Little Vig as You Can

Most Vegas sportsbooks are consistent about their vig. You risk $110 to win $100.

But if you’re dealing with online sportsbooks, you might have to risk $120 to win $100.

And you might be able to find a book that only asks you to risk $105 to win $100.

Go with the lowest vig you can find. The higher the vig, the harder it is to make a profit.

Conclusion

Learning how to bet basketball in Vegas isn’t that hard. In fact, if you already bet on football, you already know the basics. The most common bets are over/under bets, point spread bets, and parlays.

One of the biggest tips I have for having more fun betting on basketball is to choose your venue carefully. I’ve included 5 great sportsbooks in Vegas to consider, although they’re not the only worthwhile places in Vegas.

But just by choosing a cool place to bet and watch the game, you’ll ensure you have more fun from your basketball betting activities.

Finally, don’t just settle for finding a cool place to hang out at and watch the games that you’ve bet on. Spend some time thinking about what you can do to increase your probability of winning.

Basketball betting is like any kind of gambling:

It’s more fun when you’re winning.

Author Details
Tim Johnson

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