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College Football Bowl Game Gambling: Cardinal Rules of Football Betting

The college football bowl season is a time for many fans to try their luck in Vegas, but before you throw your money away in Sin City be sure to follow these Cardinal Rules of football betting.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

All I Want for Christmas...

The holiday season is a time of anticipation, joy and optimism in the world, and that includes the world of sports betting. College and pro football and basketball are in full swing. People are enjoying their time off from work, flying all over to visit family, and to Las Vegas for wild New Year's Eve parties and hoopla.

The holiday season coincides with the football bowl season and is also probably the most profitable time of all for the sports books in the casinos.

The following tips and pointers will hopefully help you avoid hidden pitfalls and snares that end up boosting the casinos' bottom line, and depleting your own.

The Cardinal Rules of Football Betting

#1) Research. Research. There's always 2 sides. (At least !)
#2) Never ever bet more than you can afford to lose.
#3) Always shop for the best lines.
#4) Never bet with your heart (at the expense of reason).
#5) Research. Research. There's always 2 sides. (At least !)

#1 & #5 : Expanding on these concepts let's take a look at number 1, which you probably noted is identical to number 5. In fact, if study and research is not book-ending all of your betting efforts, you're going to be a guaranteed loser sooner or later (and beloved by the casino's billionaire owners).

And yet, i bet, most bets are made on the spur of the moment, with little forethought, and not much examination of all the multitude of angles involved in the game.

Thus, almost inevitably, you likely become just another of millions of homers, suckers and greenhorns who drop their wads for a worthless ticket at "the window" (ie the sportsbook counter where most bets are placed and cashed).

What are some of those "angles" ? They include, but are not limited to, home field advantage; weather; injuries; historical patterns; motivation level; coaching matchups and each team's tendencies and style of play vis-a-vis the particular style of play presented by the opponent.

My bias, generally speaking, is to favor a team (getting points or at least a pick) with a good to great defense, and an efficient, if not dominant run offense.

#2 : Money management is vitally important if you want to stay in the game for more than one bet. It is also particularly significant to realize that the casinos, and the sports books therein, are in the business of making millions, and typically they're quite good at it.

Never ever bet your rent or mortgage money, your food money or any other amount you've set aside for your essentials, no matter how convinced you are that so-and-so team will crush such-and-such team. There is absolutely no such thing as a "lock", or an "ironclad winner", i.e. the fantasies that many "touts" advertise to entice you to pay for their picks and advice.

Personally, i always set aside a sum of money and apportion it evenly for each week of the season. For instance, let's say i have $15,000 not needed for anything else. In betting lingo, that's called a "bankroll". Normally, i will never bet more than 10% of my "bankroll" in any given week. So if there are somewhere between 5-10 bets i've identified as potential winners, even if it turns out i'm horribly wrong, i still have at least 90% of my bankroll left for the following week's comeback effort.

The above concept is similar to the old stock market investing adage : diversify your portfolio, or the cliche "never put all your eggs in one basket". And indeed, Adam Smith and John Kenneth Galbraith both remarked how stock market investing is essentially the same as gambling.

I normally bet roughly the same amount on each bet and my goal is to win 60% (or more) of my bets, overall. Because the "betting lines" and odds are designed to level the playing field, it is unrealistic to expect to win more than 60-70% of your bets over a full season.

Note : If you are just betting "point-spread" bets (recommended) and the betting same amount on each game, you will need to win 52.4% of the time in order just to break even. 50/50 is a losing proposition because you have to bet $11 to win $10, $110 to win $100, and so on.. If you win you get the $11 or $110, etc. back. The extra 10% is called the vigorish, or "vig", or "juice", or "handle". The sportsbook's goal is to get equal amounts bet on both sides of the contest so that they are guaranteed a profit from the vigorish, regardless of who wins on the field.

The sportsbooks set and move "the lines" accordingly, based on how much money comes in on one side or the other. So, for example, in the case of the upcoming, initial bowl matchup between Arizona and New Mexico, the line opened Arizona -11, but since more money has come in on the NMx side, the line has moved down as far as -9 at some books, who're now trying to entice more money to the Wildcat side in order to balance the two sides out, thus ensuring a profit regardless of who wins the game itself.

#3 : It is vitally important to recognize that the so-called favorite in a game, like in the Arizona example above, does NOT mean that team is projected by Vegas handicappers to be the best team on the field. It does NOT even mean Las Vegas favors that team to win. The betting lines are based on what the sports book handicappers perceive to be the betting tendencies of the betting public, including homers, suckers, greenhorns and a select group of "sharps" whom they try to track.

It absolutely does not mean "Las Vegas" thinks Stanford or USC or Ohio St will win their respective bowl matchups. Again, it bears repeating that the bookies and handicappers are merely seeking the fulcrum wherein equal monies are bet on both sides, in order to ensure a profit from the "vig", regardless of who wins on the field.
So, keeping all of the above in mind, once you've decided who you think is most likely going to win, based on your exhaustive research, it's time to look around for the "best line".

If your research indicates New Mexico will win, or at least keep it relatively close, in the Gildan New Mexico bowl, you're looking to jump on the +11 line before it starts to drop. But even if you couldn't get to the window in time, take a look around at all of the 12 different books in Vegas, or, if you're in Reno, there are 5 different books independent of each other. All of them are listed on, although sometimes the lines are not up-to-the-moment accurate, since they can change momentarily if say, a $5K bet comes in on one side or the other, and there's usually a lag before the change is recorded on the VegasInsiders site.

But, obviously, a line move of one, 2, or more points can mean the difference in winning or losing your bet, so shopping for the best lines can be critical to success. I have not researched how often line movements make a critical difference, one way or the other, but my best guess is it's at least 5% of the time.

One more observation is appropriate for this particular rule #3. There are a normally a wide variety of different types of bets available on any one particular college or pro football matchup:

Point spread bets are available for the whole game AND on the half time score.

Money-line bets set the odds to win for each team "straight up", i.e. without a point spread.

Over/Under bets are on the total amount scored by both teams, including potential overtime periods.

There are also a dizzying array of Parlays, Teasers, and Futures.

In my opinion, the latter category (parlays, teasers, futures) are sucker bets featuring enticing point spread options and odds, but the problem is you must win at least 2 in a "parlay", and 3 or 4 in a "teaser" and while the odds may look favorable, they're not; and in future bets, like trying to determine who will win the National Championship before the season starts, the odds are always set in favor of the casino.

#4 : "Never bet with your heart", is probably the hardest rule of all sports betting rules to follow. Most of us are interested in sports because we have a favorite team and/or player(s), and betting against them is sacrilegious and bad juju. The casinos LOVE this very human trait. And it greases the wheels of any sports book operation.

The rule is extremely difficult to follow for even a cold-hearted, well-seasoned, and hardened, veteran sports bettor, like me. It tormented me with exquisite relish as i looked at the first game matchup between Stanford and Northwestern. The time zone issue was one problem in betting on Stanford, but even more so was the humidity, as i've personally experienced the debilitating effects of physical exertion in the thick, heavy air of the south, the east, and even the midwest in summertime. Furthermore, there was historic evidence that humidity was a significant if not deciding factor in the upset loss at Wake Forest, just a few years previously. Not to mention the fact that Pat Fitzgerald is an excellent defensive-minded coach, whose team was on the rebound from a couple down years after a divisive struggle over the player's union issue, and they were getting plenty of points in Vegas and Reno.

But rule #4 is never-the-less an essential rule if you want to win most of your bets on a consistent basis. The alternative is just don't bet on games where your favorite team is playing... but, i know... that's no fun, really, is it.

#5 : Repeat, retrace, reinforce, and enhance step #1.

Conclusion : Well, that just about wraps it up folks. Hopefully there's something in all of the above to help you achieve a very, very good and profitable holiday bowl season. And remember, in the long run, it's better to be good than lucky.

Go Cardinal, beat the Hawkeyes.