Put your money where your fandom is. We’ve got your beginner’s guide to sports betting.
There’s nothing like the energy of watching an important football game in a crowded living room or bustling sports bar—it’s almost as good as being there in person. But things get even more exciting when there’s cold, hard cash on the line. Here’s your guide to getting started with sports betting.
Wait, isn’t sports betting illegal?
Well, it used to be. But it isn’t now.
Way back in 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) into law. The legislation stopped state legislatures from regulating sports betting, effectively outlawing the practice in every state except a handful that managed to get grandfathered in: Delaware, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon.
New Jersey, which had hoped to get grandfathered in but didn’t pass legalislation before the PASPA deadline, eventually challenged the law’s constitutionality. The state fought through years of appeals until finally, in 2017, the case wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
State governments across the nation waited anxiously for the high court’s decision, since a ruling in New Jersey’s favor would immediately roll back any federal restrictions for everyone else, too. West Virginia took preemptive measures. Even though the PASPA was still in effect, the state Legislature passed a bill during its 2018 regular session to legalize sports betting. That way, if the Supreme Court handed down a favorable ruling, the state could hit the ground running.
Sure enough, in May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7–2 that the PASPA violated the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The West Virginia Lottery Commission quickly passed rules to regulate sports betting in the state. By Labor Day weekend 2018, Hollywood Casino & Inn at Charles Town Races became the first casino in the state to offer legal sports betting.
It was an immediate success: Hollywood took in $640,000 in bets during its first four days. About half went to player payouts.
As of this writing, West Virginia is one of only seven states where sports betting has been legalized.
What sports can I bet on?
Almost anything you can imagine. “The way the law is written in West Virginia, we’re allowed to take wagers on professional, collegiate, and Olympic sporting events, as well as e-sports,” says Erich Zimny, Hollywood Casino’s vice president of racing and sports operations.
Professional football is the most popular sport at Hollywood Casino, followed by basketball. “Especially the NCAA tournament,” Zimny says. You can also wager on other major sports like baseball and hockey. But plenty of bettors put their money on auto racing, boxing, golf, mixed martial arts, and soccer. Believe it or not, some even wager on cricket matches. “If you put it up, people will bet on it,” Zimny says. “Believe me.”
OK, got it. Let’s get down to business. How do I make a bet?
Slow down there! First, you have to decide which kind of bet you’re going to make. There are six basic types:
Straight bets – This is the simplest of them all. You bet on who’s going to win the game, or who’s going to “cover the spread.” Sportsbook operators look at an upcoming game and consider how each team is performing. They will come up with an expected margin of victory. “Let’s say it’s the Redskins playing the Rams. They expect the Rams to win by less than 10.5. You could bet on the Redskins and, if they lost the game by 10 points, you’d win the bet. Or if you bet the Rams to win by 11 points, you’d win the bet.”
Parlays – This is similar to a straight bet, but involves more than one team. For instance, you could make a parlay bet for the Golden State Warriors to beat the Trail Blazers and the Milwaukee Bucks to beat the Toronto Raptors. Your bet is only successful if both games turn out the way you predicted.
Match-ups – “In the context of golf, you’ll have Brooks Koepka versus Tiger Woods. You can side with one of those two golfers,” Zimny says. “Whoever finishes higher in the tournament is the winner of that match-up.” These bets are also common in other tournament-style competitions, like the FIFA World Cup, as well as horse racing and auto racing.
Futures – As you might guess, this is a bet on the future. Will the St. Louis Blues win the Stanley Cup? Will the Golden State Warriors win the NBA Championship? Will the Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl? “The odds are based on the expected chance of them winning,” Zimny says. A bet on the Golden State Warriors to win the championship wouldn’t be too lucrative, but a successful long-odds bet on the Browns could be a fortune-maker.
Props – This is an incredibly specific bet. Will Tiger Woods win a major? Will the first score of the Super Bowl be a field goal? Will Christian Yellich break Barry Bonds’ home run record?
In-play betting – This is a relatively new form of sports betting. Now, instead of having to place all your bets before the first pitch or coin flip, bettors can place wagers while the game is underway. Sophisticated algorithms automatically adjust each team’s odds and expected point spread, depending on how the game is going. Zimny uses Super Bowl LI as an example. “When the Falcons were winning 28 to 3, you probably could have got the Patriots at 15 to 1 to win the game.” Those odds got a lot shorter following the Patriots’ second-half rally.
Now that we’ve got all that sorted out, you’re ready to head to the sportsbook. Zimny says Hollywood Casino’s ticket writers are happy to help newbie bettors. “We’re pretty used to walking people through the process, and happy to do it.”
All right, this sounds fun. Where can I do it?
Currently, you can only place sports bets at Hollywood Casino & Inn at Charles Town Races and the Casino Club at The Greenbrier. Soon, though, you could be able to make wagers from the comfort of your couch.
In May, the state Lottery Commission announced it had finished testing a smartphone app that will give bettors access to Hollywood’s sportsbook from anywhere within West Virginia’s borders.
Yeah, that’s the catch—online betting will be limited to people within the state.
But for the full effect, nothing can replace the in-person experience. Hollywood moved out some of its slot machines and installed several 90-inch televisions and comfortable couches and chairs to create The Sportsbook, a 3,600-square-foot sports betting lounge. There’s a portable bar parked nearby, and additional bars and restaurants a short walk away. “You can kick back and watch the game you bet on, right there,” Zimny says. “It’s a cool environment. It’s a lot different than watching it from your couch at home.”