NFL football and betting go hand-in-hand: Despite the denials of NFL and especially NCAA officials, betting and football have been inextricably linked since the dawn of the big league in the Roaring 20s. And as football steadily gained in popularity until finally becoming the USA’s favorite televised sport, the influence of betting on the NFL has changed the very way we discuss and analyze all major sports – not to mention untold billions of dollars changing hands.
Three major developments led to the dominance of NFL betting lines over North American sport. Seminal to betting today are the “point spread” and “over/under” bets. The creation of standardized forms of these bets is credited to Charles K. McNeil, a small-time gambler who was quite deft with mathematics.
Whereas prior to McNeil’s innovations of the late 1930s, the would-be NFL bettor would propose a bet to a bookie, say a certain team wins by a certain number of points, and the bookie would offer odds. McNeil’s creation of pointspread – and later the over/under – represent an agglomeration of all odds on all reasonable possible wagers on a given game. But never mind the mathematics: The point (so to speak) here is that in NFL betting (and quite a few other sports), the most popular bets week to week all begin “I’ll take team X plus/minus the points…” and “I’ll take the over on…”
The second key event took place on the field: The 1968 NFL Championship Game (in which the Baltimore Colts entered as 3½-point favorites at the New York Giants). This game is still, even in our age given to rampant sports hyperbole, considered one of the greatest NFL games ever played. This game also helped show the American audience the appeal of the point spread in predicting games – though the college game had offered pointspread betting for decades, the ’58 game moved professional football up to the level of popularity enjoyed by college ball.
Finally came the Supreme Court decisions regarding the constitutionality of banning sports betting in early 2018; with these rulings allowing individual states and Native American nations to decriminalize and regulate online sports betting. Just as a handful of European nations simultaneously got to passing legalization laws in time for the 2010 World Cup, the states earliest to legalize sports betting (Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey and West Virginia) all did so by the 2018 NFL season’s opening game; the West Virginia state legislature managed to get the bill enacted into law just one week before that season’s first TNF game.
Why this stampede to decriminalize? Statistics have estimated that up to 80% of all betting in the U.S. is done on NFL and college football games. Estimates of non-regulated gambling alone in the U.S. were estimated at anywhere between $95 billion and $150 billion per year as of 2017. So, yeah.
NFL Betting Lines: The gold standard for sportsbook bets
This combination of streamlining football bets and marketability of football has resulted in the NFL betting lines we all take for granted today. As an example, here’s the full standard line from a recent infamous NFL game:
New England Patriots -2.5 -130 56.5
Los Angeles Rams +2.5 +120 56.5
The recent rise in the popularity of sports betting has evolved NFL betting lines in the public consciousness from incomprehensible cipher to a standard employed by virtually every other sport; even soccer with its low scores employs pointspread bets, very often set at +/-0.5 goals. When the standardization of NFL betting lines to present the popular wagers in the order of point spread, money line (i.e. the odds on a team to win a given game straight-up), over/under, but few deviations of this presentation may be found.
The only drawback to usage of what is now called the “American odds format” for the money line is its relative counterintuitive-ness and frequent lack of easy calculability. In the NFL betting lines shown above, the Patriots have a money line of -130, meaning that if one bets $130, the win is $100. So if I’m wagering $500, the return is…$384.61. Of course.
However, even this tiny bit of complexity is a recent innovation to NFL betting lines that has come with technology that allows transactions – and changes to the odds – in a fraction of a second, and thus more precision to these lines has resulted in the 21st century.
So check out the up-to-the-minute NFL betting lines available for this week’s games at any NFLbets-partnering sportsbook site today!