If you are an experienced gambler, you are probably familiar with the vig. Though you hate it, you accept it because it’s a necessary evil. It's sort of like how football players need to wear cleats. It's technically giving them an edge, but without them, it wouldn't be as competitive. Without this pay-to-play tax on our wagers, the sports gambling ecosystem would be thrown out of whack. If you are new to sports betting you might be wondering why you constantly hear that word “vig” being thrown around so often. You might also notice that it's rare to see odds attached to betting lines at an even +100, and typically see some variation of -110, -120, or -125. There is a reason why every wager you place isn't a 1:1 payout and it all comes down to money.
What Is The Vig?
Vig is short for the word “vigorish.” Traditionally, it refers to the interest charged from borrowing a loan. In sports betting, it’s what the bookie charges to book your action. The vig can also be known as "the juice," "the cut," or "the take." In poker, it's referred to as the “rake” and this quote from Rounders sums it up the best. The reason why casinos and bookies charge this tax boils down to money. They impose this to guarantee a profit regardless of the outcome.
The Vig In The Spread
Raptors -5 (-110)
Knicks +5 (-110)
The book is basically tacking on 10% to both teams. For example, if you bet $100 on the Raptors to lay 5, you would only receive $190.91 if you won, not $200. Regardless if you win or lose, they make money.
The Vig And The Moneyline
The vig is not as apparent when looking at the moneyline because it's “baked” into the numbers. Using the two teams above, let's look at the moneyline with vig:
At first glance you might be pretty happy to receive +125 for the Knicks. However, the line is probably closer to +135 and the bookies vig is cutting the payout slightly. Same goes for the -215 on the Raptors. That line might be closer to -200 but you are required to lay $215 to win $100 rather than to $200.
How The Vig Is Determined
There are a couple of misconceptions that the public has about the lines bookies put out. The first being that the books only profit when a wager is a loss, but that's simply not true. The second being that the spread is indicative of who is more likely to win the match. When lines are first put out to the public, the optimal line is created to attract money to both sides. Just because a line is set at -3, doesn’t mean the book thinks one team is going to win by 3 points. They just try to set a line to entice the same amount of action on both sides. Let’s use the NFL for example:
Chiefs -6 (-120)
49ers +6 (-125)
If this was the opening line and 90% of money came in on the Kansas City Chiefs, you would see a dramatic shift in the line and odds.
Chiefs -9 (-125)
49ers +9 (-105)
The book will adjust the spread hoping that more people would jump on the 49ers so that there is an equal amount of bets on both sides. They don't care if you win your wager, they just want to assure a profit.
When you hear people saying “the books lost a lot of money last night,” they are probably referring to a huge upset. Although the sportsbooks are collecting a portion on each bet, they still have to pay out the winning side. If everyone jumped on an underdog at +600 and still kept betting that side regardless of line movement, this would cause the books to have to payout a large amount of winnings. Trust me, they will be okay.
What Can I Do About It?
In a perfect world, it would be nice to be able to get even money on our spread bets, but that's just not possible. Like it or not, this fee is what allows us to have the opportunity to place wagers in the first place. Without having a vig, there would be no incentive to book our action. The public does have an option to reduce the vig though. This is done by shopping around for different lines. There are hundreds of other books that would love to take your bets, and each one may offer different odds. Because most profit in sports betting is earned by a slight edge, choosing the lowest vig is a great way to increase long-term profit.
If you are tired of seeing your winnings being drained by the blood-sucking vig, you might want to take advantage of promos bookies offer like odds boosts. Check out our other guides for betting advice and strategies to help you beat the bookies.