“Futures bets” is a term that describes any wager placed on the outcome of a future sporting event or game. These odds are set well in the future by bookmakers, who update their odds throughout a season or tournament based on results and trends in the sport. Futures wagers are simple straight-up bets – like any exotic – and don’t use any kind of point spread or line, mostly because placing a futures bet means betting on a specific black and white outcome.
Most often, you’ll find futures bets at Web-based bookmakers based on who will win major championships and other tournament events in the world’s “big four” sports – soccer, basketball, baseball, and hockey. Futures bets are really popular during the NFL playoffs, the MLB World Series, and any English Premier League championship event. As exotic wagers, they’re especially popular among high-risk bettors and stat geeks.
But don’t get the idea that this type of wager is exclusively used during championship and tournament events – some books offer futures bets year-round, based on future head-to-head matchups, division and conference title games, and even “upside-down” futures based on which teams will NOT make it to the playoffs or tournament event.
These wagers are increasingly popular at online sportsbooks. Let’s take a closer look at an example and then look at other details of this exciting form of prop betting.
Example of a Futures Bet
Let’s start with an example of a basic futures wager – a bet that a particular MLB team will win the World Series in a particular year.
I just visited a sportsbook and got some current numbers for the “To Win the 2015 World Series” future bet. Here are some select numbers from that list:
• Boston Red Sox +50000
• Colorado Rockies +200000
• Houston Astros +1200
• Toronto Blue Jays +500
I researched these numbers in August, not long from the end of the regular season. We can look at how these teams are doing and see a pattern in terms of their odds to win the Series – for instance, the Colorado Rockies are 16 games back in their division and 18 games out of the Wild Card spot. With less than a third of the season remaining, the Rockies are on a four game losing streak, and their playoff chances are all but kaput. That’s why Vegas will offer you 200,000 to 1 odds against the Rockies winning it all this year.
On the other extreme are the two teams on our list most likely to make playoff noise – the Houston Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays. You can tell they’re likely candidates for October because Vegas is being really conservative with their odds.
The Astros are the surprise of this MLB season, an exciting (and young) club that made all the right trade moves and sit at the top of the AL West. Toronto is a perennial contender, and they also sit at the top of their division, the AL Central. Clearly, Vegas thinks the Blue Jays are a bigger threat than the Astros, though both are available with modest odds.
If you have confidence that the Astros can shock the baseball world and bring home rings against a less-than-stacked National League contender, you could win a 1,200 to 1 payout if Houston pulls it off. Back the Blue Jays, and you’ll win a payout of 500 to 1 if they bring rings back to Canada.
The name of the game with futures bets is making a small risk for a potentially huge reward. Truthfully, futures bets are exotic wagers, and like any exotic bet, they come with long odds. Still, let’s say you put $20 on the Blue Jays to win the Series – if they pull it off, the book owes you $10,000. If they don’t, you’re out the cost of a lunch date.
Basic Strategy for Betting on Futures
Bets like this are the bread and butter of the sportsbook industry, in large part because they look like such low-risk affairs. The fact that it’s really hard to predict a World Series winner in the middle of August is lost on most exotic wagering fans – all they see are big payouts. There’s nothing wrong with wagering on exotics, so long as you don’t break any of the cardinal rules of sports betting: don’t wager the rent money, don’t chase your losses, and quit if you find yourself getting agitated.
The most important strategic advice I can give anyone interested in futures bets is to research odds at other books you have access to before you place a futures bet. Consider the example from earlier – if you are willing to back the Houston Astros at +1200, wouldn’t you be happy to back them at +1500? Your payoff would be bigger at no additional charge. If you can find that line at a different book, you have no reason to stay loyal to the first line you found.
As far as research – the best exotic wagers bettors are long-time fans (and usually big-time number crunchers) who understand trends better than Joe Sportsbettor. There’s no way to fake that kind of fandom – either you understand the actual odds of Houston winning it all versus the odds offered by the book, or you don’t.
The idea, then, is to identify bets you are comfortable with making (based on their cost-vs.-payoff) and making sure to avoid the common pitfalls bettors face, discussed above.
Futures bets are becoming more popular at online sportsbooks. Even US-facing bookmakers are offering futures on everything from pro baseball to team video game and eSports competitions. Though there’s little strategy in making futures bets, they’re a lot of fun, and they’re potentially lucrative if you luck out. Now that futures wagering is becoming mainstream, expect to see more iterations of this fun exotic wager in the future.