The Basics Of Betting On Sports Futures

By Ross Everett

Sports betting futures plays are often dismissed by more serious handicappers as poor values by definition. They're most frequently associated with rank amateurs looking for a big payoff with little risk. For example, a player might be entranced with a +10000 payoff should St. George, Utah be awarded the 2020 Summer Olympic games. While that would definitely be a nice payday, the problem is that the "true odds" of St. George, Utah hosting the Olympics is well in excess of a million to one. That means that even the huge 'plus number' offered represents an underlay situation and a poor wagering value.

Even for the more pragmatic bettor, the inherent problems with futures wagers are readily apparent. You have to tie up your wagering capital for a long time. More significantly, once your bet is down youre at the mercy of the countless interceding events that can influence the fortunes of a sports team. Its hard enough trying to weigh the significance of scheduling, injuries, personnel movement and so forth on a day to day basis. Controlling for all of these variables over an entire season is impossible.

So futures plays have no relevance to a serious approach to sports handicapping? Not necessarily. It's crucial to think of the sports betting discipline in terms of value. Used properly, futures wagers are frequently a good way of maximizing line value and finding overlay situations. Here are some ways in which future wagers can be successfully leveraged.

Futures can be a good way to leverage value on propositions where your knowledge is greater than the bookmaker's. For example, many sports books offer betting propositions on entertainment oriented events like the Academy Awards. A handicapper who pays close attention to the movie industry and Hollywood news can stay one step ahead of the linesmaker.

Some books even take bets on the major awards like 'Best Picture' and 'Best Director' before the nominations are actually announced. In this situation, a bettor who can read the 'buzz' on which films will be nominated can find substantially better values before the nominations are announced.

Making the Academy Awards an even better candidate for futures wagers is the nature of the film business itself. The release schedule for films is set well in advance, and after the year end cut off date no 'surprise' releases can sneak in to consideration. At this point, its relatively easy to narrow down the serious contenders and with some work to come up with a 'short list' of Oscar candidates.

It's also possible to leverage value in the 'stick and ball' sports with future wagers. There are obviously more variables in sports than in the entertainment industry and the top teams are never going to be found 'under the radar'. For example, you can already bet that the Patriots will win the 2010 Superbowl but you'll be hard pressed to find a value price on such a popular team with the general public.

The place to find value in this sort of proposition is to look at the less obvious teams. A few years ago an associate of mine took positions on several teams NHL that started slowly, including the Calgary Flames at 40/1. By the end of the regular season they were down to prices as low as 5/1 or 6/1.

This play didn't necessitate a crystal ball or a Canadien genie with a profound interest in hockey--instead, it was a simple matter of determining teams that offered true odds of championship success that were lower than the price offered in the future bet. At prices like 25/1 or 40/1 its possible to back several dark horse 'candidates' and if one or more enjoy postseason success it presents a number of opportunities to hedge and guarantee a profit.

Dont forget the field. Many bettors dismiss plays on the field in a futures wager out of hand, thinking that the wager represents all of the entrants not good enough to justify an individual price. If you pay attention, however, you can frequently use a field wager to your advantage. Shortly after Dale Earnhardts tragic death at the 2001 Daytona 500 I found a sportsbook that was offering a field wager on the NASCAR rookie of the year award at 15/1. Richard Childress Racing hadnt officially announced Harvick as the fulltime replacement for Earnhardt, but the word on the streets strongly suggested that would be the case. I knew that Harvick was a talented young driver (he was the 2000 Busch Series rookie of the year), but the unique situation with a rookie driving for one of the best financed and most experienced teams in the sport was too good to pass up. I made the bet on Harvick at just the right time, since after he was announced as the replacement for Earnhardt the line dropped to 5/1. After he won his first race (in his third race) the line dropped to 2/1 and by mid season the field was a -250 chalk.

Clearly the Harvick play was a 'best case scenario' but there are other instances where value can be had on 'the field'. While sportsbooks have learned a lot about NASCAR in recent years, up until a few years ago it was frequently possible to find a 'field' bet on road course races that included the 'specialists' that teams frequently hire for these events. In other words, it was possible to bet a group of road course 'ringers' such as Ron Fellows, Scott Pruett and Robbie Gordon with one wager. Again, you have to keep your eyes open and be ready to act quickly to take advantage of these rare opportunities.

Don't forget to shop around for the best wagering value. This is true with any sports bet, but particularly so with futures wagers as the prices you find will vary much more than a typical pointspread. A little bit of effort can easily reveal a more advantageous price, meaning greater line value. - 30230

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