How to Play Proposition Bets
by David A. Lane - 09/20/2007
Most sports bettors are used to the typical offerings from sports books; you can bet on a side via the point spread or money line or you can bet whether the combined total from both teams will go over or under a set number.
And proposition bets are not just limited to sports. Most bookies list odds on events such as politics, TV/film, entertainment and business. Keep in mind the fact that prop bets, also known as exotics, were first introduced by books to help create public interest in what was an often boring Super Bowl game. Now most books offer hundreds of proposition bets on the Super Bowl and most books have a team that is responsible for putting together a full menu of props for each day of the sports betting year.
Betting sides and totals on major sports like football, baseball, hockey, and basketball are the most popular wagers for most bettors across the country. In a normal bet, the team wagered on must win the game or event either outright or by covering the posted point spread. Combination wagers such as the parlay and the teaser are accepted as well as straight up bets. Proposition bets offer odds on certain factors associated with a game.
In football an example of a prop would be whether a particular quarterback may possibly throw for over or under 250 yards and odds would be offered for each side. Common baseball props include whether either team will score in the first inning or which team will score first. For NHL betting a possible prop could be whether a certain player might score a hat trick (at very alluring odds, no doubt) and in basketball a possible prop could be whether one player will surpass a certain number of rebounds, points scored, blocks and assists in one game.
Back in the day, proposition bets weren't offered as frequently and one had to search for books that offered them, thus the name exotics. Since they began as a sort of 'gimmick' to draw more interest in Super Bowl wagering and to make things more fun for the bettor, not all sports books had the same wagers available and many didn't offer any props at all. As the books caught on to the popularity of props, not only in football but in other sports such as golf, tennis, boxing, and auto racing, the books have made proposition bets much more available to their customers. You can now even bet on who will become the next President or how many times Britney Spears will go to rehab in a calendar year.
Essentially, there are three main ways to bet props: Betting to win by picking the winning prop out of a group of competitors; betting head-to-head, which pits one participant of an event against another within the event; and finally a straight prop wager.
In most non-team sports, futures props are set by oddsmakers before an event and are adjusted many times before it begins. Let's say we are talking about an event like the Daytona 500. The top drivers will be posted and assigned a value that will be paid out if that driver wins. Some drivers won't be listed and these are pooled into a 'field bet'. If any of these remaining cars win, the field bettor cashes in. Although this is the bookie's way of making things even for those not taking the most popular drivers, the field bet usually only pays equal to what the favorite in the race does. This protects the book from taking a big hit in case a major upset occurs yet allows the bettor many options to win at one price.
Books have been setting point spreads and totals for years. This is what they know. However, since books now offer sometimes hundreds of props each day on their wagering menu, professional bettors have more time to break down a prop than the bookie has to set the lines. This is why most books offer a 30-cent line on most straight prop bets. Standard NFL lines are 20-cent lines, which means that, in most cases, you must bet $110 to win $100 (-110). For most props you are working with a 30-cent line, which means one option may be set at -120 while the other would be set at -110. This ensures a higher commission (vigorish) for the bookies and makes it harder for the astute bettor to make a profit over the long run.
What is also unique about props is that not only sporting events are involved. Politics, entertainment, business, and film/TV props are prominently featured on sites such as the Bodog and BetOnline, just to name a few. Out of the three, Bodog has the biggest selection of prop bets.
Though prop bets are usually tilted heavily towards the bookie's favor since they have to set lines on events they might not be 100 percent comfortable with, they do have a time and place. By offering them, the book has given the player yet more options with which to find a good value to place his or her hard earned money down.