Prop Betting Explained

Updated on February 8, 2020

In most mainstream betting circles, wagers such as point spreads, moneylines, and totals capture the overwhelming majority of the attention. However, there are plenty of other ways to get in the game.

Prop Betting is one of those ways. In a nutshell, these are side wagers you can make on something that may or may not happen in the confines of a sporting contest. You’ll find props available for team-based situations, as well as ones that revolve around individual player performance.

For sportsbooks, prop bets are a great way to increase user engagement. For sports bettors, they can make contests all the more interesting, and potentially even more profitable.

We’re going to walk through everything you need to know right here while going through a number of examples. Let’s get started by taking a more detailed look at what they are.

What are Prop Bets?

Prop bets are additional wagering opportunities that are available for each game on the docket. At most sportsbooks, they can be found in the betting lobby by clicking on a link titled something along the lines of ‘more wagers’ which appears in the game listing.

They’re essentially side wagers for things that could happen during the course of a game. Offerings will vary based on sport, but let’s look at a few possibilities for the major team-based pro sports.

  • NFL: First Player to Score a TD
  • NBA: Total Points Scored in 1st Quarter
  • NHL: Highest Scoring Period
  • MLB: Total Runs Scored in 1st Inning

You’ll find prop bets that are related to team performance, as well as wagering opportunities that are tied to individual player output. Those that fall in the latter category have become a popular entry point for those who are transitioning over from fantasy sports to sports betting

Prop bets are incredibly popular for major events such as the Super Bowl, but you’ll be able to find them all year long in your sports of choice. They help to expand the betting menu significantly and open up different possibilities for bettors.

Prop Bet Odds

The format for prop bet odds will differ based on the opportunity that’s listed. There will be some that resemble the odds format you’ll find in game lines, and others that look more like the outright odds in futures markets.

Let’s take a look at an example of each. For starters, here’s a player prop from an upcoming NBA game on the potential points scored for Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans.

  • Over 20.5 points -108
  • Under 20.5 points -114

As you can see, the odds for the two choices are similar to what you might find in an Over/Under wager on the total points scored for the game. Next, let’s stick with the same game in which the Pelicans are facing the Milwaukee Bucks. Here are the odds on who will score the first basket in the contest.

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo +370
  • Zion Williamson +480
  • Khris Middleton +600
  • Brandon Ingram +650
  • Eric Bledsoe +900

And so on for all of the players expected to play in the game. For prop bets with only two choices, odds listings are similar to what you’ll find in game lines. When there are a number of choices to consider, then the odds are listed like a futures market, such as the winner of the upcoming NBA Finals.

Examples of Prop Bets

You’ll find plenty of different choices for prop bets at major sportsbooks. As always, offerings will vary by operator. You could find an awesome selection for all sports at one book, but another operator may be a little skimpy in some spots.

Let’s walk through some additional examples. This time, let’s switch gears over to the NHL. The Colorado Avalanche will be at the Buffalo Sabres for an upcoming game. Here are the odds for the first goal scorer in the contest.

  • Jake Eichel +600
  • Nathan MacKinnon +750
  • Mikko Rantanen +900
  • Sam Reinhart +1000

You’ll find odds listed for all players scheduled to compete, as well as for a ‘no goals’ selection. Sticking with the same game, here are the odds for total goals scored by the home team.

  • Sabres 2 or Less -120
  • Sabres 3 or 4 +145
  • Sabres 5 or More +550

Last but not least, here are the odds for an individual player prop in the same contest. This one revolves around the total points that Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche will score in the game.

  • Over 1.5 Points +136
  • Under 1.5 Points -182

In short, you’ll find numerous prop betting opportunities available for all of the major sports. There will be team-based and single player props, as well as ones that revolve around just parts of the game, such as the first goal scorer or total number of goals scored in a period.

Prop Bet Odds and Line Movement

When it comes to game lines, it’s pretty simple to track the odds from open until game time. After you see the opening lines, you can keep your eyes out for changes based on things such as market reaction or news that breaks after the odds were unveiled.

In addition, many major operators will remain in range of each other on lines and odds. Those who don’t will stick out like a sore thumb, and line shoppers will typically pounce quickly and generally bring them back in line with the overall market before too long.

For prop bets, this information isn’t quite as easy to track. There’s no centralized location for prop betting odds, and you’ll generally have to click through on each individual game to explore opportunities.

Additionally, offerings will vary by sportsbook. The major prop bets types will be found everywhere, but some operators will have exclusive offerings and/or go the extra mile with offerings that aren’t found everywhere.

All that said, you can still use your general sports betting sense while examining different prop betting opportunities.

For example, you may have a great read on the individual performance of certain players, as well as the matchup they are facing for the game at hand. This can make for a great spot for individual prop bets related to that player.

On the team-based side, you may know that certain teams start off quick and close slow, or vice versa. That’s valuable intel to consider when you are examining opportunities for things such as halves and totals.

How to Handicap Prop Bets

Just like the odds will vary based on the prop bet at hand, so too will the handicapping approach for team-based and individual parlay wagers.

On the team side, you can generally stick to the same types of principles you use when handicapping games themselves. You’ll be looking for things like matchup advantages and recent play, for example.

When it comes to the individual player props, it’s pretty similar to projecting the fantasy performance for individual players in the game. Those who have favorable matchups could outperform expectations and averages, while those with less favorable circumstances could have a challenging game.

In both cases, the odds will be your opening guideline. Props with shorter odds have more likelihood of occurring, so sportsbooks will be willing to pay out a fair price and that’s it. However, that doesn’t mean you should shy away from opportunities with higher odds and less of a probability of happening.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Many props revolve around situations that can be tough to predict, such as the first basket in an NBA game or the first goal in an NHL contest.

For those who feel they are solid when it comes to forecasting things such as this, that can open the doors to serious returns, i.e. a lot of bang for the buck. However, that doesn’t mean you should break the bank chasing longshot opportunities.

Instead, approach prop betting with a specific budget in mind, just as you should with single-game wagers. You can take your budget and allocate it out based on confidence level, such as:

  • 80-90% of your prop betting budget on those you feel most confident about.
  • 10-20% on speculative or longshot opportunities.

While prop betting can certainly open the door to additional profit opportunities, it’s important to remain just as disciplined as you are when it comes to single-game wagers. It can be really easy to fall down the rabbit hole, so choose your spots wisely and stick to a plan.

Essential Questions to Ask About Prop Betting

Diving in and throwing money at any prop wager that tickles your fancy is a recipe for disaster. Sure, you may get lucky and have a good night or two by doing it this way, but it’s just not a viable long-term strategy.

When considering prop betting, it can be helpful to think about it in the same fashion as you would approach a monster slate of games.

For example, an average Saturday in the heart of College Football season can include 40+ games. There aren’t that many folks out there who have time to tackle every game on the slate, and probably even fewer who place wagers on every single game on the docket.

Instead, the majority of handicappers will focus on the games that they find most appealing. They won’t necessarily bet on all of them, but this will be the list of contests they’re focusing on to mine for opportunities.

The same approach can be used for prop betting. Let’s consider one of the biggest prop betting days of the year as an example.

For the Super Bowl, sportsbooks go all out on the prop front. It’s not uncommon to see 300+ different opportunities available in some spots.

Naturally, few will have the time – or the bankroll available – to bet on each and every one of these opportunities. Rather than doing that, the best course of action is to go through the list and find those that jump out to you as good opportunities.

While going through the list, you can narrow down the field substantially just by asking yourself a couple of simple questions.

  • Which of these prop opportunities can I reasonably expect to predict with some semblance of accuracy?
  • Are there any longshot opportunities that look like they could be worth exploring further?

After going through the full list and using those questions as a guide, you should be able to get down to a much more manageable group of choices to consider. If you still feel like the list is too big, go through the process again and narrow it down even further.

In a perfect world, you’ll wind up with a manageable list that you feel comfortable with, and you will then go on to place wagers on the ones you feel best about.

You can use this exact same process when it comes time for prop betting on a daily sport such as NBA, NHL, or MLB. Your time may be more limited here, but you can narrow down the choices before you even begin. Ask yourself the following:

  • Which type of prop bets am I strongest at handicapping?
  • What props do I feel the most comfortable making at least an educated guess on?

If you answer those two questions right away, you’ll know which types of props you want to zero in on each night. From there, it’s just a matter of choosing the most appealing options.

The Bottom Line on Prop Betting

Prop bets are basically side bets that open up additional wagering opportunities for games or contests. In a nutshell, the bets revolve around something that may or may not happen during the game.

There are prop bets which are team-based which revolve around instances such as first-half scoring or total margin of victory. There are also props which are based on individual player performance, such as a total number of points scored or yards gained.

How to handicap for prop bets will depend on whether they are team or individual bets. On the team side, normal handicapping rules will suffice. For individual player performances, it can help to approach them in the same fashion as you would for projecting fantasy output.

You’ll typically find a wealth of prop betting opportunities available for each game on the docket. As always, it’s important to be selective with how you’re allocating your hard-earned dollars. In short, be selective with prop bets and only wager on those you feel most comfortable with.

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