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Why Bet Basketball?

by Rob Gillespie

With the football season slowly winding down, many bettors seem to feel that the betting season is over as well. I personally feel, however, that basketball may be easier to bet on and that is what I want to talk about today.

First, lets look at what these two sports have in common. From the House’s point-of-view, football and basketball are the bread-and-butter sports. These two sports alone account for approximately two-thirds of the annual betting handle, with baseball, hockey, golf, boxing, NASCAR, etc. making up the other third. The two main reasons for this are great college programs and easy-to-understand lines.

Both football and basketball have college programs that provide almost all the players for the professional leagues, while college baseball and hockey programs only get some of the best amateur players. The college programs for football and basketball are highly competitive, widely televised, and popular for wagering (betting on college games accounts for roughly half of the total wagering on basketball and a little less than that for football). Having the best players and televised games allows us to watch future professional superstars develop. Players like Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning were outstanding college players before their success in the pros.

Other than having the best players, college football and college basketball are also popular in wagering terms for the same reasons the professional versions are popular—easy-to-understand lines. Football and basketball are both primarily bet using pointspreads and totals, with a built in vig of 10%—easy for bettors and easy for bookmakers. Baseball, hockey and other sports rely on moneylines, runlines, pucklines, etc. which confuse many bettors (especially novices) and this confusion reduces the total handle on these sports. The simple reason for this difference is that football and basketball have much higher scores than baseball, hockey or soccer.

Now, I want to talk a little more about the differences between the two sports and the advantages of betting basketball. First, lets talk about the lines themselves. In football, the likelihood of games being decided by three or seven points means these numbers (called key numbers) have to be treated specially by bookies, as moving on or off these spreads has increased risk for the House. However, there are no key numbers in basketball so hoops lines are easier for the house to manage (which is good because there are so many games) and as such they are easier for the bettors.

The sports themselves lead to some advantages for basketball. The shape of the ball is a simple difference. The odd shape of a football makes for some funny bounces and adds an element of luck to things like kickoffs and fumbles. It’s not very often that you see a basketball do something unexpected on its own accord. Weather can also have a big impact on football games, especially late in the season. No weather worries for hoops bettors. Team size is a factor. In football you have over 50 players on a pro team and as many as 100 on a college team. For either college or pro football, at least 30 players will see significant playing time in any one game. In basketball, only 7 of the 15 players will usually have an impact on the game. Fewer impact players to keep track of makes handicapping easier. Basketball referees are full-time employees while football refs only work weekends and usually work another job during the week. Scoring is also an advantage for basketball bettors. A typical NFL game has around eight scoring plays but a typical NBA game has around 100 so the impact of one turnover is far more dramatic in football than it is in basketball. Injuries are also far more common in football. How many times have you bet a team and watched a key player go down in the first quarter? It can sure be frustrating. In my humble opinion, all these factors make basketball easier to predict than football.

Football and basketball offer almost identical betting options, but basketball offers more opportunities and should be easier to handicap. There are games every day and experienced bettors don’t worry if they don’t get a play in every day. If you find handicapping basketball intimidating because of the large number of games, try following just a handful of teams. This should give you 10–15 games to look at a week and as you become more confident, you can grow from there. Expanding your gambling horizons from the gridiron to the hardwood will increase your opportunities to bump up your bankroll.

This story was first published in the Winter 2002-2003 issue of Gambling Times Magazine.

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