Futures betting differs from traditional betting in that it often relates to the outcome of a season or a race that will not be settled the week the bet was placed. These bets typically involve league winners, championship game matchups, division or conference winners, MVP and award winners, stat category leaders and season win totals.
There are many positives to betting futures. The odds are typically much higher than there would be in a normal game because of the number of options and the length of time before the event is decided. A small bet with a large potential payoff can provide enjoyment throughout an entire season of action while also reducing the chances of wasteful “recreational” bets. A savvy futures bet can also provide the opportunity to hedge and lock in a profit once the season nears an end and it becomes clear that the future has a chance to hit.
There are also negatives associated with futures betting. It can create liquidity issues, as it ties up betting funds for a significant period of time. In addition, finding a winner a long way out is obviously far more difficult than it is on game day. And bookmakers maintain a significantly higher hold (ie profit) in most futures markets, particularly if there are more than two options. There are many reasons for this but at their core futures markets generate a higher hold because bookmakers inherit greater risk with them and accordingly price that into the market, making the vig tougher to identify in futures books.
More than parlay betting — the other option for those seeking a big win from a small outlay — futures betting provides significant opportunities for astute bettors. Sharp bettors are more than happy to pounce on a futures bet, particularly just as markets open.
Value can definitely present itself in all-encompassing markets like Super Bowl winner, Masters winner, NBA MVP or Heisman Trophy winner. The winner will nearly always be longer odds than it will on gameday, so measuring a futures price against a closing line is not a clean measure of value. The value comes in consistently picking high-value futures, thereby giving yourself the option to lock in a profit through hedging.
With that said, most sharp bettors look at lower-hold futures markets like over/under win totals, division winners and season head-to-head matchups. These options offer the best of both worlds — a lower bookmaker hold and the opportunity to find an edge. Season win totals, in particular, are highly popular with sharp bettors.
Line shopping is critical when betting futures as prices can vary significantly from book to book. Bookmakers are more willing to take a position on futures books because of the aforementioned increased hold percentage. It is also easier to find a stale number in futures books, as they usually don’t get the same level of attention as game markets.
One key note: In advance of marquee single-elimination events like the NFL playoffs or the NCAA Tournament, sharps typically shun futures betting in favor of what’s known as “the moneyline rollover approach.” That’s because the maths suggests bettors will get more value by betting the moneyline on their selection in the first game and then rolling that payout over to the moneyline on the next game than by taking the futures price. Repeating this process through the end of the tournament will achieve the same end as a futures bet, but usually with higher returns.
Generally speaking, though, futures betting presents opportunities to get an excellent price for those who have done the legwork and found an option they believe to be profitable.