How to Bet the Futures Market

Referring to a bet as a futures wager might be a bit confusing at first. After all, every bet is about the future, so it might not be clear why these are special. However, now that folks in Ontario are sports bettors or sports betting-eligible, it’s important to understand every common type of bet you’ll find at sportsbooks.

Since you’ll find futures at almost every sportsbook, this guide is required reading for all beginners to the world of wagering on sports. For that matter, it’s a nice primer for experienced bettors looking to refresh their memories or to branch out from their usual bets.

Futures also often have long odds and, as a result, huge potential payouts.

What is a futures bet?

A futures bet is typically a wager on something that takes a full season to resolve. Usually, futures tend to involve championships for teams or full-season awards for players. The other common futures option are tournaments where the winner has to maintain a lead or keep winning through several rounds of play.

How to bet on futures

Regardless of whether you are betting through a sportsbook app or in person, there is a ton of information in front of you. Even if you get to the right section, you still might not know what the futures listings are offering. Let’s take a look at a sample and talk about what it means:

Stanley Cup futures at DraftKings Sportsbook

Stanley Cup futures at DraftKings Sportsbook
From DraftKings Sportsbook

These are the NHL odds for each team to win the Stanley Cup. Of course, this screen capture is only a snapshot in time of the NHL futures bets offered by DraftKings. By the time you read this page, the odds will have changed — perhaps significantly. However, there are a few things that will always be true, and those are the elements we want to discuss.

A comprehensive selection of teams/players

The first thing to see is that each and every team in the league has an odds number next to it. Even teams with little to no chance of winning (which, unfortunately, includes the Ottawa Senators) are still available for a bet. This type of comprehensive listing is the norm for futures boards, so look for a long list of every team in the league or every player in the tournament if you’re having trouble determining if you’re looking at a futures wager.

However, don’t mistake the presence of long shots for those teams having a realistic chance of bringing home the title. If you’ve followed sports for a while, you know that only a few teams have an actual chance of becoming the champion each year.

Futures odds explained

You may not need the following refresher, but if you’re new to sports betting, you might still be uncomfortable with the three-digit numbers that appear in the listing. These numbers are usually called moneyline odds, but you may also refer to them as American odds.

The numbers are payout ratios. Whenever you bet, the sportsbook will use those odds to calculate your potential payout. So, as we describe the meaning behind them, bear in mind that they will automatically scale to your bet size. Here’s how they work:

  • Positive numbers indicate underdogs. The number is how much a winning $100 bet will pay. If you bet on a team at +300 and win, that pays $300 in profit for every $100 that you bet. Like other bets, you’ll also get your bet amount back.
  • Negative numbers indicate favourites. The amount indicates how much you must wager in order to win $100. A winning bet on a team at -300 means that you would need to bet $300 to receive $100 in profit.

If you would like to see the odds as fractions, you can convert American odds to the fractional format. Here’s what to do:

  • For positive numbers, divide the number by 100 and put the result over a 1. The +300 mentioned above would be 300/100, or a 3/1 (3 to 1) underdog.
  • For negative numbers, divide -100 by the number and convert the resulting decimal to a fraction. The -300 above would become -100/-300, or a 1/3 (1 to 3) favourite.

There’s never really a true favourite

If the negative numbers in that format throw you off, there’s some good news for sports betting futures. For the most part, it is rare to see any negative moneyline odds on futures boards. Especially early in the season, even the best team in the league is an underdog to win the championship.

The reason that all of the options, including the top teams, are underdogs is that there are so many variables at play. A futures bet is a wager that a certain team will win, but in a way, it’s also a bet that every other team will lose in the quest for the championship. Until later in the season, the combined probability that someone else will win overwhelms any chance that one particular team will prevail. Injuries, bad luck and the uncertainty of the future are too much to overcome (statistically) for even the most talented teams.

So, no matter how brilliant or dominant you might believe the Colorado Avalanche or Tampa Bay Lightning are set to be on the way to the Stanley Cup, they are still no more than 4.75 to 1 to take it home. In most leagues, but particularly the ones at the very top of each sport, there is too much talent to count out the other teams.

The truth about futures bets and fame

There are a few types of sports bets that might lead to a bit of fame. You might not have 15 minutes of it, but some news coverage is not out of the question. It is true that a successful futures bet, particularly on a dark horse team or player, might draw some media attention. However, hunting for fame by betting on sports is a terrible idea.

The odds are often against you, with potentially every single option in a futures listing being an underdog. However, the actual probability of a win is worse than that. All sportsbooks bake their profit into the bets they offer, and futures are no different. The payout that you’re getting is the actual true odds of victory minus the vig. For every 3 to 1 bet you make, you’ll get paid off less than one out of every four times you wager.

You also have to realize the fundamental nature of what makes something a news story. A spread bettor who wins $100 on a $110 bet interests no one but the bettor. Heck, even a $1,000 profit on $1,100 is probably not worth talking about outside one’s family and close circle of friends. Demonstrably unusual things are what get on television, and it’s far too expensive to try to buy your way into one of those slots.

More info: How the vig works

Futures betting strategies

There are things you can do to make futures betting a worthwhile tool in your sports betting arsenal.

Find value bets

If you do nothing else before you make a futures bet, you should look for high-value options in each listing. The key to identifying those options lies in the discrepancy between the published payout and your own perception of the true odds. Consider the following example:

PGA futures at FanDuel Sportsbook
From FanDuel Sportsbook

Here we see a listing for an upcoming PGA tournament. Golf’s distinct structure, by the way, creates a situation where futures bets are the most prevalent, over all of the other bets. This example has Norwegian golfer Viktor Hovland as the most likely to win, albeit as an 8 to 1 underdog.

However, let’s say, for instance, that our research indicates that Billy Horschel, at +2600, is on the verge of a breakout. Maybe we like the fact that he’s already won a tournament in 2021 and only missed the cut three times out of 20 appearances in the previous season. Maybe he’s a friend of a friend and you know that he switched clubs last week and is driving the ball farther and straighter. Whatever the case may be, let’s say that we view him as no worse than 10 to 1 to win the tournament.

If that’s the case, then we should make a bet. Even though we’ll lose 10 out of 11 times we bet, we’ll get paid as if we should win only once out of 27 times. In other words, those extra 16 times’ worth of pay that we stand to realize makes the one out of 11 worthwhile. You won’t win these bets very often, but if you’ve done your homework correctly, you’ll be compensated for your efforts in the long run.

Listen to the crowd, but keep perspective

No other type of gambling is as at the whim of outside forces as sports betting. Regardless of the reality of the upcoming game, the perception of other sports bettors, sports media, pundits, talk radio hosts and an entire industry of other people can move the odds dramatically on futures bets. Teams may receive too much hype, or they may not be receiving enough.

No matter what relevant information you hear, you should verify it before using it as a guide. Snippets of information are often lacking in context and nuance, and you need to see the whole picture before putting your money down. For instance, a star player’s injury might affect a team’s chances negatively. However, if the second-string player behind the star would normally be a starter elsewhere (and will now get a shot), then predictions of doom and gloom might be premature.

Don’t assume that the talking heads on television or radio have all the answers, either. For one thing, they may not be experts in prediction, even if they are experts on the sport in question. For another thing, they may have to state their guesses confidently, as if they are absolutes, when there is ample evidence that the outcome is not certain. With as much bluster and bravado as exists on the airwaves, you can never be sure how confident they really are.

Finally, be wary of any “sure things” when it comes to betting on futures. Sports are volatile and unpredictable. Even boring sports can have unexpected results. Even if you estimate that a losing team will continue losing or a winning team will continue winning, don’t proceed as if that will certainly happen and do no research beyond that fact.

Shop for better odds

Once you’ve made your decision, the last thing to do is check out all of the sportsbooks available to you — within reason, of course. Many sportsbooks have their own odds on a particular wager, and while the differences aren’t usually huge, you never know. An oddsmaker might have a wildly different take than others, and as long as you are confident in your own research, you might find some extra value without having to surrender any additional probability.

For instance, you might have decided that a team with odds of +2000 to win the title at your preferred sportsbook is a good bet. In your eyes, the team is no more than +1500, and likely has a better chance than that. DON’T. PLACE. THE. BET. YET. Go over to your second-favourite sportsbook and see what it is offering. Or even fight through a sportsbook you don’t really like. If maximizing your profit potential is your main sports betting priority, then the extra minute or two to look around could result in increased equity.

However, you might not want to use a different sportsbook. You may have a great loyalty program deal. It’s possible that you had a bad experience at some of the others. Heck, you might just like the navigation and display at your favourite sportsbook. You still shouldn’t place the bet right away. The other way to shop for better odds is to let some time pass.

Let’s stick with the example above for a moment. You decide that a particular team is probably at +1500 to win the championship. Unfortunately, your chosen sportsbook only has it at +1000. If you bet right now, you place yourself at an unacceptable disadvantage. So … assuming that you believe your analysis to be correct, you can simply wait and see what happens. Lines move all the time, and if the odds are, indeed, too short, you’ll see the book make adjustments to try to inspire more wagers.

Wrapping up

Futures are a different animal from other sports bets in the sense that there’s really never a true favourite. Even the teams or players most likely to win are unlikely to win against the chance that someone else will. No matter your choice, you’re going to win futures less often than you would a spread bet, moneyline or total, for example.

The value of futures is in the difference between the odds at the sportsbook and your perception of the true odds. Obviously, you will have to become adept at this kind of handicapping to find any kind of consistent success, and there will be a learning curve. However, with some diligence, there’s no reason that you cannot make futures bets a part of your overall strategy on the sportsbook app or at the sportsbook of your choice.