What are Proposition Bets?

Since sports betting began spreading across North America a few years ago, the activity has undergone a radical change in character. Although spreads, moneylines and the over/under remain the best-known types of wagers, more proposition bets are taking place than any other type of sports bet.

As shocking as that statement might seem, it is accurate because one particular type of proposition bet has become the dominant form of sports betting, particularly with the advent of online sportsbooks. In fact, most of the proposition wagers that occur today would have been impossible 20 years ago due to the technology of the time. However, we live in a new world, where prop bets rule and Canadians can make sports bets.

Let’s discuss what these wagers are, how they work and why they’ve become so prevalent. Here are all the details about proposition bets.

What is a proposition bet?

Proposition bets, which are interchangeably called proposition wagers, prop bets, propositions, or simply “props,” are bets on individual elements of a game rather than the overall outcome of that game. Although it’s possible that the outcome of a prop bet might be a predictor or clue about the way the game will conclude, there is no direct correlation to it. While that’s the technical definition, you can also think of prop bets as wagers that do not fit into one of the other betting categories.

Prop bets are, in fact, the kind of bet you’ve probably made with your friends at some point. Any friendly wager or side bet is a prop. If you really got down to it, you could call dares, from single dares to the sinister triple dog dares, prop bets. It’s also likely that you’re dealing with a proposition if you’re betting on whether the answer to a question is yes or no.

The different types of prop bets

With that said, you’re not going to find a sportsbook taking action on whether you can beat a racehorse in a footrace or whether a man with vertigo will bungee jump. Instead, the prop bets that you’ll find on sportsbooks tend to fall into one of three broad categories.

Achievement of milestones

Every sport has statistics of some kind. After all, we want simple measures to gauge athletic performance, and a quick look at the numbers can tell a big part of the story. Because statistics are going to accrue in a game, sportsbooks will simply ask questions about whether certain players or teams are going to achieve certain statistical milestones by the end of a period of play. As mentioned above, most of these questions will have a simple yes/no response, but since it’s sports betting, our responses are our bets.

Examples of this kind of prop bet include the following:

  • Will a player with two goals complete a hat trick?
  • Does the player with 10 points at the half end with 20 or more?
  • Will any golfer shoot a bogey-free round?
  • Can a player continue his hitting streak?
  • Will a quarterback throw for more than one touchdown?

Obviously, the possibilities for this kind of bet are nearly endless. In fact, some sportsbooks will even let you propose your own wagers if you don’t see the one you want. Usually, you just have to tweet the bet proposal to a sportsbook’s official account and make sure to give it a few hours of lead time.

Recurring and unique events

The second common type of prop bet that you’ll see will involve the occurrence or recurrence of certain events during the course of a game. In many sports, there are some events that occur during every single game. Some of them, such as the scoring of points or goals, happen repeatedly. Others, like the coin flip at the beginning of football games or the jump ball in a basketball game, happen only once. Because these events are fairly predictable, they offer numerous options for prop bets.

Here are some props that fit into this category:

  • Bet on the coin toss being heads or tails
  • Will the player call heads or tails during the flip?
  • Will the player choose to receive the ball or defer to the second half?
  • Which team will score the first basket?
  • Which team will score the first 3-pointer?
  • Will a certain player score a goal during the game?

You get the idea. One significant aspect of this type of prop bet is the fact that there’s often little to no preparation you can perform for these questions. Just because the coin landed on tails last time does not mean that it will this time. Prop bets in this category are often just guesses.

However, if you are burned out on studying the minutiae of upcoming games, then a bet on something impossible to know might be just the ticket. Failing that, if you have some extra money lying around and don’t want to put in any work, you could do worse than one of these options.

Timeframe statistics

The third type of prop bet that you’ll usually find asks questions about a player or team’s performance within a certain period of play. Instead of a proposition about a particular player’s overall game performance, you might find questions about the number of points that player will score in the third quarter. There might also be bets about which team will “win” (i.e., have the lead) at the end of a period, quarter or half of play.

At the end of the day, these bets are a measure of immediate and/or short-term performance. Certain players are sometimes known as streaky athletes, where their level of competence seems to come and go at a whim. Whether the statistics bear out these impressions is a discussion for another time, but oddsmakers will often key on a player if he or she seems to have the “hot hand.”

These types of prop bets are the smallest portion of proposition wagering before the game starts, but they quickly become the biggest of deals after play begins. In fact, they are part of the most significant development in sports betting in the past few years.

In-game prop betting guide

The development we’re referring to is live betting. Live betting, or in game betting, is the practice of placing wagers after the game is already in progress. On spec, there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about this revelation. However, technology has made it possible for live betting to change the way that we think about sports betting itself.

Sports betting used to happen only before the game began. Handicappers, sports bettors and casual fans would place a few wagers on the spread, the moneyline or the total. They might place a few props or futures bets here and there, too. Then, the game would start, and it would be time to wait.

Nowadays, the opening moment of the game is the opening of an entire universe of wagering. Sportsbook apps are now able to drill down to the smallest of events during a game and offer betting options for them. Forget wagers about what the next quarter will bring. You can now bet on the outcome of the very next play. Obviously, after that play ends, a new one will be available, and a new bet will follow with it.

Because of this capability, it is now possible to see more than 100 potential bets over the course of a single game. You can use the options not only to augment the bets that you got right but also to hedge against the bets you missed. Needless to say, the most common type of live bet involves the timeframe statistics we mentioned above. However, live bets may also ask questions about milestones or other events as they pop up during the game.

Live betting also presents a fourth type of proposition wager, but it’s a rather sneaky one. As the game begins, you may notice that the pregame bets, like the moneyline, spread or total, continue to be available. However, don’t be deceived — these are not the same wagers as before. In fact, the sportsbook uses the results of each play to hone its estimates dynamically. So, the edges that you might have discovered through your research largely dry up as the oddsmakers adjust to the events of the game.

Live betting is fast-paced and exciting. It can also be both a blessing and a curse. You can certainly use it to increase your results. Take care with your money management, though, as it is easy to get caught up and not realize how much money you have on the line at one time.

Prop bet odds explained

While it is true that many prop bets have only two outcomes (yes or no), the probability of each outcome is rarely equal. Sportsbooks handle this problem by adopting the odds and payout ratios common to moneylines. Here’s a quick refresher on how those work:

  • The negative number is the more likely outcome. The number is the amount you must risk in order to win $100 on a successful bet. So, for instance, a bet at odds of -110 means that you would have to risk $110 to win $100. The listing is a ratio, though, so you can bet whatever amount you want, and the payout will scale appropriately.
  • A positive number is the underdog choice. Here the number represents the payout for a successful $100 bet. A bet at +110, for example, means that you’ll receive $110 in profit on a winning $100 bet.

It is possible to find prop bets with more than two outcomes. In those cases, you’ll have a series of options for betting. If you’re not comfortable with this odds format (which is also called American odds), it’s not hard to convert to the more familiar fractional odds. Here’s what to do:

  • For negative numbers, divide -100 by the three-digit number (including the minus sign) and reduce to the lowest fraction. So, for instance, a bet at -300 is equal to a 1/3 fractional wager, or a 3 to 1 favourite.
  • For positive numbers, divide the number by 100 and reduce to the lowest fraction. A bet at +300, for example, is a 3/1 fractional bet, or a 3 to 1 underdog.

Reasons to bet on props

Prop bets may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they are a standard and valid form of sports bet. If you haven’t tried them before, here are a few reasons why you might think about giving them a shot.

1. Fun and exciting

The first reason to bet on propositions is that they are fun. Like we mentioned, these are the bets that you make with your friends, your work colleagues or the guy at the bar. Even though most sportsbook props aren’t going to be quite as zany as a handshake bet between buddies, they are still much more colourful than the other types of wagers. It can also be exciting and a thrill to place a prop bet before the game, and then sweat it with other people. You might even get the entire room yelling for you when, say, someone hits a routine fly ball to centre field.

2. Safety valve

We talked about how live betting can act as a hedge against your bets going awry, but pregame prop bets can do the same thing. If you make any wagers before the game begins and have second thoughts, you might be able to find a prop bet option that counts almost entirely on your first bet’s failure. If you structure your bet properly, you might be able to limit your exposure or make it so that the worst you’ll do is break even.

3. Enhancement of existing wagers

Prop bets can also help to supplement and complement the value of your existing wagers. Live betting is the most obvious place to make this happen, but you can also look for pregame prop bets that would likely be true if your primary bets prove correct. So, for instance, a spread bet on an overwhelming favourite and a bet that the team’s best player will score a high number of times makes sense.

Reasons to not bet on props

Of course, there are downsides to all things, and prop bets are no exceptions. Here are some of the reasons that you might avoid prop betting.

1. Risky

First of all, prop betting is riskier than many other types of sports bets precisely because it’s so weird. Most bets deal with how an event will happen in a game, but there’s no denying that it will happen at some point. Prop bets aren’t even sure if the event will take place, and you’re betting that it will (or won’t). You also don’t have the luxury of preparing and studying for many prop bets the same way that you do for pregame wagers like point spreads.

2. Time-sensitive

Most sports bets are not rushed. You often have a week or more to consider them and watch how the odds change. In fact, watching the differences between the opening lines on moneylines and spreads and where they are later in the week is a primary strategy for sports betting success. However, many prop bets do not offer that same kind of luxury. Obviously, live bets are the worst offenders, since they appear and disappear in a matter of minutes. So, if you’re used to taking your time, prop betting might not be your thing. If you struggle with impulsivity, you may also find props to be of particular difficulty.

3. Double loss possibility

Prop bettors also run the risk of zigging when they should have zagged if they’re using prop bets in concert with their other bets. Just as a prop bet can augment your existing position, you can also increase your losses if the game turns out differently than you expected. Losing one wager is bad enough. Losing two — particularly if they are decently correlated — is worse.

Prop betting strategies and tips

As imperfect and random as props can be, there are still ways that you can make good bets with them. At the very least, you can cut down on your risk of ruin if you adopt a few tips. Please note that the advice below does not address any individual or particular props. They are simply recommendations for how best to proceed with prop betting.

  • Keep it fun: If you’re planning on becoming a “serious” proposition bettor, you’re doing it wrong. These bets are too oddball to become a major portion of your sports betting life, particularly if sports betting is more than just a hobby for you. Make sure that you’re sticking with the more traditional forms of wagering as your primary way of placing a sports bet. Above all, do not commit a meaningful portion of your betting money to prop betting. They are simply too fickle to be worth very much.
  • Though it’s hard, study: Prop bets are a conundrum in the landscape of sports betting because they involve so much uncertainty. In many cases, you’re attempting to predict the future. Since sports are inherently unpredictable, discerning the way things will be is always going to be a challenge. However, you should do what you can to reduce the uncertainty as much as possible. If your efforts only result in a clearer picture 20% of the time, that’s a measurable return on the investment of your effort. Don’t simply throw up your hands about figuring anything out on prop betting.
  • Live bet with extreme caution: Few wagers have the potential to empty your pockets faster than live betting. You need to proceed quite carefully if you decide to give it a shot. For one thing, you can easily get wrapped up in a no-win situation where you’re chasing loss after loss. For another, the speed at which live bets appear and disappear is such that you might make ill-informed decisions just to avoid missing out. Don’t do that. Watch your bankroll.

Wrapping up

In summary, there is nothing wrong with prop betting every now and then, with betting on Super Bowl props proving particularly popular. The novelty alone can make these bets worth a few bucks. However, you are unlikely to find any full-time prop bettors at sportsbooks. Sports betting in Ontario is usually one of the more clinical and scientific gambling endeavours, but propositions have a way of setting that idea on its head. If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of betting on something ancillary to the game, that’s OK. However, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about rooting for a coin to land on heads or for the coach to be soaked with green, not orange, Gatorade.