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How to make smart prop bets

SO, you want to learn how to make smart prop bets and beat your bookie? Before you can beat your bookie you need to understand how to price prop markets in order to determine if you have a +EV bet or not.

It’s also imperative to understand that most prop bets are a derivative. In sports betting a derivative refers to a betting market that’s value is derived from another market. For example, the first half betting lines in an NBA game are derived from the full game lines.

There’s a reason why bookmakers accept $10k+ wagers on NFL point spreads, but only $100-$500 on smaller derivatives — these smaller prop markets are beatable. Bookies spend little time setting the prices and the low betting limits keep the sharps away.

Handicapping prop markets

You can calculate whether any prop is +EV or not, but in this guide we’re going to analyze a single market.

We’re going to look at a common NFL prop — which team will score first.

I’m using this example because the prop is readily available at most betting shops and it’s simple to understand for new bettors.

This is a fictitious example and the data is simplified, but the math can be used to handicap this prop regardless of the odds.

Let’s take a look at the odds in the “which team will score first” market for an NFL game between the Jaguars and Titans.

Tom BradyBook #1: Jaguars –160 vs. Titans +130

Book #2: Jaguars –150 vs. Titans +120

Book #3: Jaguars –160 vs. Titans +130

Book #4: Jaguars –180 vs. Titans +150

Book #5: Jaguars –190 vs. Titans +160

First off, you have to understand how the prop “which team will score first” is derived. The prop is derived from the 1st half betting lines and in order to properly handicap this market we have to predict what the score will be after the 1H in this football game.

With that in mind – we now have to analyze the 1st half betting lines in the Jaguars vs. Titans match-up.

Book #1: Jaguars –6 (-110) vs. Titans +6 (-110) / Over 21 (-110) vs. Under 21 (-110)

Book #2: Jaguars –6 (-110) vs. Titans +6 (-110) / Over 21 (-110) vs. Under 21 (-110)

Book #3: Jaguars –6 (-110) vs. Titans +6 (-110) / Over 21 (-110) vs. Under 21 (-110)

Book #4: Jaguars –6 (-110) vs. Titans +6 (-110) / Over 21 (-110) vs. Under 21 (-110)

Book #5: Jaguars –6 (-110) vs. Titans +6 (-110) / Over 21 (-110) vs. Under 21 (-110)

The next step is to remove the vig (juice) from the betting line, which is very simple.

To remove the vig we have to determine the breakeven percentage (Price / (1 + Price)) first. In our case – 1.10 / (1 + 1.10) = 52.38%.

So, the breakeven percentage on the Jags –6 (-110) or Titans +6 (-110) is 52.38%. Adding these two together equals 104.76%.

Removing the vig at this point is simple — we take the breakeven percentage and divide by 104.76%. With that in mind — we take 52.38 / 104.76, which equals 50 or 50%. We now have the no vig line on the Jaguars and Titans to cover the 1H.

How do you know if you removed the vig correctly? The two new numbers should equal 100. In our example, 50 + 50 = 100, so we can be sure this is the no vig line. We can do the same calculations to determine the no vig line on the over/under is 21 points.

The next step is to calculate the 1st half score based on the numbers we have (Jaguars by 6 and 21 points).

You’ll come up with a predicted score of Jaguars 13.5 and Titans 7.5. We’re finally able to calculate the no vig line on the favorite (Jacksonville) scoring first by using the formula –100 * (Favorite Score / Underdog Score).

After calculating –100 * (13.5 / 7.5), we come up with –180. This means that the no vig line on the Jaguars scoring first is –180 and the no vig line on the Titans scoring first is +180. Now it’s time to compare the prices in the “which team will score first” market.

By looking above at the lines on which team will score first in the Jaguars vs. Titans we can quickly determine that Book #2 has the best odds on the Jags scoring first at –150 odds. Since the no vig line is –180, betting the Jags to score first at –150 is +EV.

The best line on the Titans scoring first is +150 and based on the no vig line of +180 we know this bet is –EV.

Prop betting tips and strategy

Here are some general tips to help you make smart prop bets.

First off, learn what props to avoid completely. For example, betting on the coin toss in the Super Bowl is –EV no matter how hard you try to identify an edge. When there is no edge you should avoid the market completely, as enough markets do present an edge.

Another problem with some prop bets is the market is open to interpretation, which leads to disputes between bettors and the sportsbook. Disputes are common with prop bets, so avoid prop bets that aren’t clearly described.

The best way to become a better props handicapper is to actually bet the markets. The more experience you have, the quicker you’ll be able to identify +EV proposition bets. With 1000s of props available daily — you need to be able to analyze the market quickly.

Most importantly — you have to shop around for the best line. With an NFL point spread you’ll find that most bookies have the same spread posted. However, prop markets move much slower and the prop odds between bookies can vary greatly.

Look back at the example above and you’ll notice that the odds on the Jaguars scoring first are between –150 and –190.

Betting the Jags to score first at –190 is a –EV bet, but if you shopped around you’d be able to get the Jags at –150, which is a +EV bet. By shopping for the best prop odds – you can turn a –EV bet into a +EV bet.