One of the most popular forms of gambling is wagering on sports, which taps into the passion of sports fans. A bet placed on a race or a game allows fans to prove their knowledge of a sport or to show their loyalty to a particular team or competitor. In addition to promoting camaraderie among friends, sports betting can enliven otherwise boring or one-sided contests when handicapping systems offering odds and point spreads increase the bettors’ stake in the competition. Although legal sports betting is increasingly common, most of wagering on athletic competitions is illegal and is conducted through bookmakers, also known as bookies (operating as individuals or for crime organizations), and Internet gambling operations (which are legal in some countries).
Wagering on horse races is the most prevalent form of sports betting, but football matches—including soccer, rugby, and Australian rules football—also are the focus of considerable gambling. Other sports noted for heavy wagering are boxing, basketball, baseball, cricket, ice hockey, dog and camel racing, and jai alai.
Types of betting
The oldest form of betting is probably one in which gamblers bet winner take all on the outcome of a contest. Today one of the most common forms of sports gambling is odds betting, in which a casino or bookmaker evaluates the contestants in a competition and assesses the probability of victory: 2 to 1, 5 to 1, 1 to 4, and so forth. With a $1 wager on a 2-to-1 underdog, for example, a bettor stands to pocket $2 if the underdog wins. A winning bet on the favourite offers a lesser payoff—e.g., a five dollar bet on a 2-to-5 favourite yields a $2 payoff. Today odds betting is commonly used in boxing and baseball.
For most races (e.g., horses, dogs, camels) and some games (e.g., jai alai), a pari-mutuel wagering system is used. In this system, introduced in 1865 following the invention of the “totalizator” by Frenchman Pierre Oller, a calculating machine records the amount bet on each competitor prior to the start of the contest. In horse racing, for example, the “totalizator” calculates the odds, based on the proportion of the total bet on each horse, and determines what should be paid to those who picked the winner. The bookmaker or track owner takes his or her share by skimming off a percentage of the total amount bet.
Most football (soccer, gridiron football, rugby, etc.) matches, as well as basketball games, use a system known as a point spread. Bookmakers determine the number of points that will serve as a spread for a particular contest. A bet on the favoured team requires that the bettor yield (or give) the point spread. A bet on the underdog team grants the bettor the point spread. For example, an underdog team may be bet as +4, meaning it has four points added to its final score for purposes of determining the winning bettor. A −4 bet on a favoured team wins only if that team wins by over four …