A Bettor’s Guide to Understanding the Juice

Not this juice. Although that does look pretty fantastic. (Well + Good)

Not this juice. Although that does look pretty fantastic. (Well + Good)

We’ve covered a lot about sports betting over the past few weeks. We’ve talked about how professional bettors place wagers on the NBA, and we’ve given you a few things to consider later in the year when the NFL season starts. We’ve even talked a little bit about the oddsmakers themselves, and what you can learn from them. Now, it’s time to talk about vigorish, more commonly known as the juice.

Even if you’re a novice sports bettor, then you’ve probably heard the word “juice” at some point before discovering this article. It’s a pretty common term, and it isn’t actually all that difficult to understand, but it is important to learn about if you want to make the most of your wagers and gain the largest profit that you can manage.

If you don’t know what the juice is when you are first going in, then you might not utilize your bankroll in the best fashion. If you intend to take advantage of our handicapping consulting services, then you will already know how much of your bankroll to put down on each bet. But if you have ever wondered a little bit about how we arrive at these numbers, then understanding the juice will help you to gain more insight into how handicapping works in terms of allocating one’s bankroll to make the appropriate wagers.

So What Is the Juice?

Closer, but this isn't quite it either. That would just be ridiculous. (Julie Teninbaum/Upstart)

Closer, but this isn’t quite it either. That would just be ridiculous. (Julie Teninbaum/Upstart)

First, think for a second about what sportsbooks are and how they tend to operate. The bookmakers have to make a profit, so they put their books together while creating spreads and money lines that will maximize their chances of pulling in cash from the bettors who place their wagers at that particular venue. They handicap the games while figuring out the actual odds each team has of winning, and then they set their numbers in such a fashion so as to ensure that relatively equal numbers of bettors will place their wagers on either side of the line.

The odds set by Vegas oddsmakers and other professionals will usually differ depending upon the type of wager being placed. If you intend to bet on a baseball game, then you will usually just see money lines. If you intend to bet on a basketball or football game, then you will find the emphasis placed on the point spread. As we have covered at least three times before in our beginner’s guides, the odds are set so that bettors will gain a bigger payout from betting on the underdogs than on favored teams. If you see odds listed as +110, then it means you will gain an additional $110 from betting $100 on the underdog. If you see odds listed as -110, it means that a bet of $110 on the favored team will get you an additional $100 back if they win.

Now, you will notice that there are often odds of -110 or so listed for both teams that are playing. You will usually notice numbers like this when you are betting on point spreads, or run lines if you are looking at odds for a baseball game. And this is where the sportsbook ensures that it will be making money, because bettors who wager their money on either team will be getting a smaller payout than what they are putting down.

If you still don’t understand why this means big profits for the sportsbooks, let us remind you that they have set their numbers so that the number of bettors who wager on each side will be close to equal. Now, to make it easier to understand how the juice works, let’s pretend that every single one of those bettors has put down exactly $110. The bettors who win will get their money back plus an extra $100, but the ones who lose will simply be out the $110 they put down. Of their winnings, all but $10 of this will be kept by the sportsbook. In other words, they have essentially made $10 for every bettor who lost their wager.

This is the juice. The extra money that the sportsbook charges for bets on favored teams. And while it usually seems like a small number, it tends to add up. And we’re just talking about instances where the odds are set at -110. These are subject to change, especially when you are betting money lines. In cases such as these, the sportsbook stands to make an even greater profit depending upon the outcome of the game. When they are smart, they will make sure that larger money lines still have enough juice to ensure that a win by the underdogs will not result in any losses on their part.

Of course, you might be thinking that wagers on the point spread are more common, so for the most part the sportsbook is still only making a few bucks per bettor. Think again. Even a few bucks can go a long way when the sportsbook in question is taking in a high number of bettors. And considering that the biggest books are generally run by Vegas casinos, the number is indeed pretty high. And some of those bettors are likely to be high rollers, meaning that they will put down way more than just $110 if they think they have a chance to walk away with a big win.

Consider how many people bet on big sporting events such as the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals, and you can start to see just how much sportsbooks have to gain from the juice, no matter how small the number is set. A lot of money moves through the books, and even if they collect less than 5% of it when calculating the amount of juice left over after they’ve paid all the winners’ payouts, the profits are humongous. You can’t avoid putting the juice down when betting on a favored team, so it is best for you to know how to place your wagers accordingly and avoid becoming just another percentage of the sportsbooks’ profit margins.

How Can You Use It?

You’ve probably heard before (and we’ve certainly mentioned it a few times) that you need to win more than half your bets to be profitable. This is intuitive, but the actual numbers you’ll see will range anywhere from a little over 52% to 55%. This is where it might get confusing to some people. After all, shouldn’t anything so small as 50.1% technically be considered profitable?

Maybe, if you’re always betting on the underdogs, but this probably isn’t the case. If you’re serious about handicapping, then you’re going to be varying your plays between underdogs and favored teams. And if you’re a chalk player, then you’re going to be facing the juice every time. Even those who try to middle their bets or try their hand at arbitrage betting are going to risk losing money on the juice if they don’t allocate their bankroll to each bet with a little bit of strategy. In short, it is pretty hard to profit without losing money on the juice at least about 40% of the time (and this is if you’re a particularly solid bettor).

So how do you achieve this? Well, believe it or not, we’ve actually covered it a little bit before when telling you how to pick the right sportsbook for you. We talked about looking at the odds set by the sportsbook to see whether or not they were relatively fair, and mentioned that you do not want to pick a sportsbook where the juice taken by the sportsbook for bets on favored teams seems unreasonably higher than the odds set for the underdogs.

We were talking about money lines in that particular instance, but naturally the spreads are what you want to focus on since they will often be around -110 for both teams. The juice won’t usually be affected by the spread either way, but what you primarily want to focus on is whether or not it seems likely that the favored team will be able to cover the spread that has been set.

Also consider run lines when betting on baseball games. You’ll find that the values are usually about the same, but there might be a game where one team is heavily favored to cover a spread of two or more runs. In these cases, the sportsbooks might want a little bit of extra juice. It is your decision whether or not you think it is worth paying this amount, or if it’s possible that the favored team might still not be able to close the gap on the spread and ensure that you get your money’s worth out of the deal.

Basically, there’s only so much you can do with the juice. The primary reason that you are going to want to understand it is because, aside from using it to assess the relative fairness of a particular sportsbook, it can be important in deciding whether or not it is worth betting on a favored team and risking the extra money that they require you to pay in order to place a bet that will win you a little less cash. When the juice seems just about astronomical, as is often the case with money lines in basketball games, then you almost certainly will not want to risk it. In fact, this is one of the primary reasons that those who bet money lines in basketball will only do so if they are betting on the underdog.

While this fact has been alluded to previously, it bears repeating that you should not always bet on underdogs just because there is less to lose and more to gain. Favored teams are often favored for a reason, and a lot goes into assessing each team’s stats and trying to figure out the odds that need to be placed in order to ensure the sportsbook receives the payload they’re after. If you bet on the same side of the lines every time, you likely will not achieve the win rate of roughly 52.38% that is required of a profitable bettor. You certainly will not reach a win rate that is anywhere above that.

Also keep in mind that if you are betting money lines, or placing wagers in other situations in which the juice is greater than -110, then you will need an even higher win rate to make a profit. For instance, if the average odds of your bets are placed at -130, you will need a win rate of somewhere over 56% in order to win. This may not sound like it is much higher than 52.38%, but in the world of sports betting it is a more significant difference than you think.

In other words, you are either going to want to bet on games where the juice is relatively low, or you are going to want to put everything you have into handicapping each game so that you can better your chances of winning by ensuring keen knowledge of the stats for each team. This is not a case where practice makes perfect, but it will certainly raise your chances to have pored over the stats before each wager you place.

If you aren’t sure just how important it is to have an in-depth knowledge of handicapping in order to beat the odds and avoid losing money on the juice, then you may want to try our free trial and see how much you can profit by following our predictions for just five days. If you do, you’ll see a little bit of what we are talking about in terms of not always betting on the favored teams, not always betting on the underdogs, and learning how to allocate your bankroll so you never risk losing to much money if the game’s outcome is not what you expect it to be.

The juice may not be the greatest factor in sports betting, but it can still be pretty important. If you really want to make the most of your wagers, you should get used to factoring it in when deciding how much of your bankroll to spend on favored bets. Otherwise, you might lose much more than you bargained for and risk your overall success as a bettor.