Colorado just became the 18th state to legalize sports betting since May of 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to repeal a 26-year old federal ban on the industry everywhere but Nevada.
But even as sportsbooks – both of the brick and mortar and online / mobile variety – are thriving in far-flung locales like New Jersey, West Virginia, and Indiana, there’s simply no place like Sin City for sports betting enthusiasts. The bookmakers here in Las Vegas have been in business for 80 years and counting, and that experience makes them the best in the nation at what they do.
Between the big corporate casino-owned sportsbook operators like MGM Resorts and Stations, foreign bookmakers like William Hill, and independent bet shops such as the Westgate Superbook, the South Point, and the Wynn – Las Vegas is the sports betting capital of the world.
For that reason, bettors from all over American and abroad routinely touch down in this town to get their action down on the season’s biggest games.
Unfortunately, the average Sin City sportsbook is a highly insular community, one where regulars rule the roost and rookies can often find themselves feeling out of place. Between the complex betting boards that boil several sports and dozens of games down to a few numbers and letters, the ritualized system used to actually place a bet at the window, and those aforementioned regulars acting like they run the joint – when visiting Las Vegas, sportsbooks as a betting beginner can be disorienting to say the least.
To help you navigate the maze and bet like an experienced local, the following guide presents six things to remember before placing your first wagers with a Las Vegas sportsbook.
1 – Reading is Fundamental When It Comes to Scanning the Bet Board Correctly
First things first… unless you know how to accurately read the brightly lit board overhead that displays lines and betting odds, you’ll be in a world of hurt.
Modern sportsbooks display the day’s full schedule of games and wagers using a specially designed board that looms prominently above or near the betting windows. These betting boards need to display a ton of information – teams, bet types, and odds – in a relatively condensed space, so sportsbooks rely on a code of sorts to consolidate all of that data.
As you can see, the multicolored collection of numbers, words, and symbols combines to create a confusing array of data that bettors must interpret on the fly.
Fortunately, the coding system isn’t all that complicated once you get the hang of things.
The first thing to look for is the team or side you want to bet on. This might be an NFL or NBA team, a pro boxer or MMA fighter, or even one half of a binary prop bet like “Will the Patriots finish 16-0?” Every sport and wager group has been divided into its own section, so you’ll want to scan the board until you find what you’re looking for.
From there, you’ll want to look to the left of your team or side to find the three- or four-digit number that corresponds with your preferred wager. As an example of how this works, check out the faux betting board shown below:
NFL Betting Example
To save space, sportsbook betting boards don’t label each individual column, so you’ll be left to figure out what these numbers actually mean.
In the case of our example betting board, we’ll start with the first two entries on the list. The Dallas Cowboys (coded as 101) are playing the New York Giants (102), and because the ‘Boys are a better team, they’re favored by six points (-6). That’s the point spread, so if you bet on Dallas and the spread, you’ll get close to even money odds on a wager that the Cowboys will win by at least 7 points or more. And obviously, if you back the Giants in this spot as 6-point underdogs, you’ll win your wager so long as the Giants don’t lose by 7 or more points (any 6-point differential results in a push for either side).
OK, but what about that -200 attached to the Dallas side? Well, that’s the currently moneyline price, which simply refers to a straight bet that doesn’t involve the point spread. Dallas could win by 1 or by 100, but as long as they wind up on top, you’ll win the bet.
The exact number you see reflects your moneyline odds or the payout odds you’ll receive on a winner. In this case, a -200 moneyline means you’ll need to bet $200 to win $100 in profit. Of course, you can bet any amount you like in Las Vegas, so the moneyline number is just a conversion rate of sorts. If you bet $50 in this scenario, -200 odds would produce a $25 payout, and so on.
If you’re a Giants backer, however, the moneyline of (+225) means you’ll get more than $1 back for every $1 you bet ($100 wager results in a $225 profit here).
Finally, that seemingly out of place 41 on the betting board refers to the game’s Over / Under total. In this case, you can bet that the final score will combine to equal 40 and Under, or 42 and Over, to take part in total betting. Many experienced bettors prefer to bet on totals rather than teams because the process removes much of the human element involved in injuries, coaching decisions, and officiating errors.
2 – Learning to Speak the Lingo Streamlines the Process When You’re Ready to Bet
Now that you know how to read the betting board, you’ll head to the betting window to place your wagers.
It’s always best to have cash at the ready (casino chips won’t work at the sportsbook), along with a mental note on the exact plays you’d like to make. All too often, inexperienced bettors wait in line and reach the window, only to fumble with their wallet or look back at the betting board to figure things out. This causes unnecessary delays for everybody else waiting to get their action down, and when a big game is about to start, you definitely don’t want to be the jabroni jamming dozens of fellow bettors up.
As for the actual process of placing a bet, you’ll typically be greeted by a smiling but gruff ticket writer who is trying to process as many wagers as they can in short order. A little chit chat is fine, but don’t dilly dally at this stage – just be ready to tell them your price point and preferred side.
Always remember to use the numbered code when relaying your bet. Sportsbook ticket writers rely on the codes to avoid any confusion between similarly named teams. If you say “I want the Jets and the points,” they can easily mistake that for the New Jersey Nets of the NBA – and vice-versa. By using a code – “Give me $100 on 101 moneyline please” – you’ll be speaking the sportsbook’s language.
For any bet, you’ll want to have three key items of information in mind – the wager amount, the numbered code, and the bet type (moneyline or point spread).
If you’re interested in linking several single bets together in a potentially lucrative parlay bet, be sure to let the ticket writer know that in advance (“I’d like a three-team parlay, all point spreads, on 101, 109, and 123 please.”)
3 – Verifying Your Ticket’s Accuracy Every Time is an Essential Safeguard
As you might imagine, the frenzied crowds and complex coding system that defines a major Las Vegas sportsbook can lead even seasoned ticket writers to make mistakes.
These employees are highly trained and have plenty of experience, for the most part anyhow, but errors can and will occur. And when they do, the onus is always on the player to point out any mistakes in a timely fashion.
If you see that the writer has you down for a point spread bet when you wanted the moneyline, the wrong team as your wager, or any other mistakes, your job is to politely inform them right then and there.
They’ll quickly take the ticket back and void it out, then print you out a new one that correctly matches your instructions.
For the most part, sportsbook managers are happy to void and replace an erroneous ticket within a few minutes of the bet being placed. So if you get to the nearby sports bar and find an error, just hustle back and let them know (a small tip to garner sympathy here doesn’t hurt either).
But if you wait any longer than that, then try to come back and change your bet, almost every sportsbook in town will likely refuse and consider your current ticket to be action. In other words, if that’s the bet you’ve had in hand for all this time, it’s simply too late to change it now.
4 – Sticking Around to Sweat the Action on the Big Screen Is Standard
A major part of the Las Vegas sportsbook experience involves parking yourself in a comfortable chair or booth and watching the game unfold firsthand.
Modern sportsbooks are designed to offer comfort and convenience, with plush seats and charging stations to keep your devices juiced up. Cocktail waitresses will roam the floor offering free drinks, and you can even place food orders to grab a bite while you sweat your bet.
If you’re a diehard fan, feel free to don your favorite team’s jersey and gear too. Sportsbooks are a motley scene on big game days, especially on weekends during football season, so expect to see plenty of folks sporting opposing jerseys amongst the crowd.
It’s all in good fun, so you can cheer for your side when they score, yell at the refs when they blow a call, and maybe even heckle other fans who are on the other side. Of course, you’ll never know how much money a stranger stands to win or lose though, so don’t go too far with your ribbing when the pivotal endgame plays arrive.
5 – Sitting Down in a Reserved Area Can Cause Headaches, So Stay Alert
Every so often, you’ll spot a prime piece of sportsbook real estate that seemingly offers empty seats and a great view.
But before you hightail it over there and take a seat, be sure to look for any “Reserved” or “VIP” signage signifying that this table is already taken. Las Vegas sportsbook operators tend to treat their high-rolling regulars like royalty, so reserved seating and roped off VIP areas are par for the course when it comes to perks.
And trust me, there’s nothing worse than getting all settled in to sweat your big bet, only to have a rough and tumble regular roust you from the area.
6 – Having Fun Should Always Be the Name of the Game
As entertaining and exciting as the Las Vegas sportsbook scene can be, you’ll definitely see some lowlights after the final buzzer sounds.
Players who just lost a bundle are often beside themselves, bemoaning their bad luck and berating the players who failed on the big stage. Throw in a steady stream of complimentary cocktails – coupled with a high testosterone zone where hundreds of sports fans are huddled together in close quarters – and the atmosphere can turn from fun to frightening in the blink of an eye.
You can’t do anything about how other people react to losses, and you shouldn’t bother trying. But you can definitely control your own emotions after watching a bet go down in flames. Only wager money you can afford to lose, and never become so attached to the result that the wrong score sends you into a tailspin.
Instead, just sit back and have a blast betting on sports in Las Vegas – win or lose.
On a Sunday afternoon, with a dozen different NFL games beaming down from on high, there’s no place quite like a Las Vegas sportsbook. The atmosphere is simply electric, and when your wagers are hitting, the feeling can be close to euphoric. But you can’t enjoy everything these world class bet shops have to offer until you know the lay of the land, so I hope this list of tips helps you acclimate easily during your maiden voyage to the sportsbook arena.