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Futures Betting in Sports

Future betting is a great way to add a financial interest to rooting for your favorite team during the season. If you’re not familiar with this type of wager, in sports betting, futures are available on the outcome of major events such as the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, NBA Championship etc., as well as season win totals, MVP, rookie of the year and a plethora of other props.

To define it more accurately, any wagering opportunity where the outcome will not be decided for a considerable length of time falls into the futures category, and any bets made on such is considered a future bet.

In this article, we’re going to cover some basic strategy, which is a bit “simple math” intensive. If math makes you tired, you can skip (or skim) section 2 and section 3. This entire article has value, but again too much math might take the fun out of this, and future betting is fun. If you do skip these sections, know now 5dimes.com is one of the best sites for future betting, and we list others at the end of this article.

Section #1 – The Importance of Line Shopping

To show real life examples of why shopping for the best price is important, it’s currently the Saturday before week 9 of the 2010/11 NFL season. Yesterday, after hearing news Randy Moss was headed to the Titans, I went shopping for a futures bet on Titans winning the Super Bowl. The odds I found were Bookmaker +1600, Sportsbook.com +1600, TheGreek +1615, Bodog +1800, IASbet +2000, 5dimes +2200. I obviously made the bet at 5Dimes over the other sites.

Rewind back to the conclusion of week 6. Once this week finished, I went searching for odds on the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. The odds were Bookmaker +1100, Bodog +900, 5Dimes +1000 and Sportsbook.com +1500. These are neither fictitious nor cherry picked examples. The betting odds vary site to site, and if you don’t shop, you’ll often be costing yourself large return potential.

To illustrate again the importance of line shopping, here is a snap shot from November 6, 2010 at 9:15 AM (Eastern Time Zone) on the odds of winning the AFC South at four different gambling sites.

As you can see, the odds vary greatly from site to site. If you’re going to bet the Jags or Titans, you can get the best odds at either Sportsbook.com or BetUs.com. If you’re betting the Texans, bookmaker.com gives you the best odds, and Bodog has by far the best price on the Colts winning the division.

Section #2 – Understanding Juice in Future Betting

When betting straight up the vig (juice) is transparent and easy to understand. For example, on a betting line of Jets -4 (-110) / Lions +4 (-110), you can bet either side at -110 pricing. This means you’ll need to risk $1.1 for each dollar you want to win. Considering this is a 50/50 proposition, if there were no juice $1.10 would pay $1.10. Due to juice, the payout is shorted $0.10 half the time; so on the average, that’s $0.05 per $1.10 bet. The house edge is ($0.05/$1.1 = 0.0455) 4.55%.

Calculating the juice on future betting is a much more difficult process. Take football betting pre or mid season where all 32 teams are still in the race. Here, you’ll have 32 different moneylines listed. All you’re seeing is a price for each bet, but there is no indication of how much juice is charged.

Note: Using a 32 team future market as an example of calculating juice would make this article too math intensive and confusing. To keep things simple, I’ll revert back to the earlier example of the NFL’s 2010 AFC South Division Race, but understand that the same concepts covered can be used for Super Bowl or any other sports betting futures.

So let’s look at how to calculate juice using Bodog’s AFC South odds, which are as follows.

  • Houston Texans +450
  • Indianapolis Colts -140
  • Jacksonville Jaguars +3500
  • Tennessee Titans +180

To calculate the juice, our first step is to convert the American odds moneylines into break even percentages. The math for this is risk/return=break even percentage. For example a $100 bet on the Texans returns $550 (the $100 stake + $450 win). The math is 100/550= 0.18181818 which converted to a percentage is 18.18%. This number is how often the Texans must win for the bet to break even. If you feel they have better than a 18.18% chance, you would bet them; if you feel they have less chance, you wouldn’t.

Applying the same math we showed for the Texans to all four options, the break even percentage becomes:

  • Houston Texans +450 = 18.18%
  • Indianapolis Colts -140 = 58.33%
  • Jacksonville Jaguars +3500 = 2.78%
  • Tennessee Titans +180 = 35.71%

If you total these all together the break even percentages = 115.00%. While it’s not important to this conversation, that 115% figure is what bookmakers refer to as an overround. The formula to calculate their house advantage is 1-(1/overound), in this case 1-(1/1.15). A quick note: 1.15 we plugged in for overround is the decimal version of 115%. Getting back to the math 1-(1/1.15) = 0.1304 which as a percent is 13.04%. Bookmakers refer to this percentage as their theoretical hold; we as gamblers call it the house advantage.

To give Bodog a little credit, their house edge here is actually less than the competition. I’ll save listing out the work, but having done the same math at other sites offering an AFC South futures market, their theoretical holds ranged from 17.32% to 18.82%.

Getting back to the importance of line shopping:

Now that we understand the juice, let me put the importance of line shopping into perspective. If we run the math using the best price at each site:

  • Jags +4000 | 100 /4100= 2.439%
  • Colts -140 | 140 /240 = 58.333%
  • Titans +200 | 100 /300 = 33.333%
  • Texas +560 | 100 /660 = 15.152%

Break even probabilities now total just 109.257%. We plug this back into the equation we gave earlier for calculating edge, and in this case see that when using multiple sites the juice is cut to 8.473%. That’s quite a bit less juice than if we made all our future bets at the same site.

Section #3 – Finding Future Bets with Positive Expectation

Due to the large amount of juice charged, many betting professionals don’t bother with future betting. This is not because +EV bets don’t exist, but the time it takes to find them, lower limits, and long delay before each future bet is settled makes it not worth their time when compared to the many +EV opportunities they find daily as a professional. If you’re a recreational player aspiring to be a sharp, while the +EV opportunities are a bit rare and it will take time to find them, future betting still might be one of your better angles to profit. Any market that professionals don’t bother with is most certainly worth taking a deeper look at.

To show one method to go about finding +EV bets, a good idea might be to compare the no-vig prices at several betting sites. To explain what we’re talking about, let’s go back to where we left off with Bodog’s AFC South odds.

Remember we calculated the break even percentages as follows:

  • Houston Texans +450 = 18.18%
  • Indianapolis Colts -140 = 58.33%
  • Jacksonville Jaguars +3500 = 2.78%
  • Tennessee Titans +180 = 35.71%

The total of all break even percentages was 115%. To take the juice out of these, we simply divide each break even percentage by the total of all percentages (115%). Here is the math.

  • Houston Texans 18.18% /115%=15.81%
  • Indianapolis Colts 58.33% /115%=50.72%
  • Jacksonville Jaguars 2.78% /115%=2.42%
  • Tennessee Titans 35.71% /115%=31.05%

If you add these all together, the probabilities are 100%. The juice has been removed, and we now have what’s called the no-vig probabilities. If the odds maker at Bodog distributed the juice evenly, these percentages represent his calculated opinion of each team’s chances at winning the AFC South.

To put the no-vig probabilities back into a format that we’re used to viewing, we can create a no-vig moneyline. The formula for converting this is different depending on whether the money line will be positive or negative. If the percentage used is higher than 50%, it will be a negative moneyline; if not, it will be a positive one.

Here are the formulas, where P is the no-vig probability as a decimal (example: 53.2% = 0.532):

Negative moneyline formual is: -100*P / (1 – P)

Example on Colts:

-100*.5072 / (1-.5072) which simplifies to -50.72/.4928 which equals a Colts moneyline of -102.9.

Positive moneyline formula is: (100 – 100P) / P

Example on Titans:

100-(100*.3105) / .3105 which simplifies to 68.95/.3105 which equals a Titans moneyline of +222.1.

After doing this math on all four, we get a no-vig moneyline on Odds to win AFC South according to Bodog at:

  • Houston Texans +532.5
  • Indianapolis Colts -102.9
  • Jacksonville Jaguars +4032.2
  • Tennessee Titans +222.1

If there are enough sites offering the same future betting market, which is the case with who will win the Super Bowl, you could do the same math to create no-vig moneylines at each site. As a next step, put each of the no-vig moneylines into a spread sheet, compare, take averages and only bet on ones that beat the no-vig average. This method would have you making +EV bets a large majority of the time, and with proper bankroll management and bet sizing, you’re likely to profit over the long haul.

For tips on taking this to the next level, we suggest reading the book Sharp Sports Betting by Stanford Wong. If you apply the same concept he covers for regular season win totals to handicap the remainder of the season in advance, you’d have an additional edge in determining whether or not these are +EV bets.

Future Bets are Fun

What we covered here was a small insight into future betting strategy. If you’re simply a fan looking to back your favorite team, we suggest that all you really need to do for work is shop 4 or more sites. The site with the best future odds most often is 5Dimes.com. If you’re a one sportsbook type of guy (or gal), use them for futures.

To really get the best odds, in addition to 5Dimes we suggest shopping your future bets at Bodog, Sportsbook.com and Bookmaker. The more sites you shop the better; these four sites just happen to be the ones where I often find the best price.

No matter which team you choose to back on your next future bet, we wish you the best of luck.