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August 22, 2014

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Gambling 101: A beginner’s guide to sports betting

Key tips and strategies from sports book operators on how to place Super Bowl bets

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Christopher DeVargas

Jeffrey Aragon of Las Vegas searches among the 25 pages of proposition bets for Super Bowl XLVI on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012.

Super Bowl XLVI is upon us, and fans of football and gambling alike will be hitting the sportsbooks this weekend to try their luck on the Giants vs. Patriots match. Sports betting can be a fun way to enhance the experience of watching the big game, but for those of us who don’t know our betting odds from ends, trying to get in on the action can be intimidating.

Fear not, betting beginners: We talked to some of the best sports book operators in the business to get the lowdown on sports betting and some key tips and strategies to help you score big.

Come prepared

Don’t be overwhelmed by all those numbers on the betting board. Every sports book provides free betting sheets or booklets that explain the odds and numeric breakdowns, basic betting terms and strategies.

With all the mayhem of Super Bowl Sunday — some gamblers line up as early as 7:30 a.m. to place their bets — it's best for first-time bettors to grab a sheet from their casino of choice the day before to familiarize themselves.

MGM Resorts International Race and Sports Book Vice President Jay Rood reminds first-timers to call out their bets at the ticket window with the proper numbers and terminology assigned to their event of choice. That helps avoid any confusion or placing the wrong bet. Once the ticket comes out of the machine, be sure to verify that it’s exactly what you bet.

“Our operators are human, and sometimes there are miscommunications,” Rood says, adding that tickets can still be changed at the window, but you’re stuck with what you got once the game starts.

If you’re local, Wynn Director of Race and Sports Johnny Avello recommends making your bet in advance to avoid the mad rush and long lines on game day. “Don’t wait till game day. Also wait two or three hours after the game to cash in your ticket; that’s after everyone else goes. You can also mail your ticket in and have a check mailed back to you a week or two later.”

Bet in baby steps

When it comes to your first time, Avello stresses two rules above all else: Gamble only what you can afford to lose, and make sure that it stays recreational. If you lose on the first bet, he says, don’t double up on your second just to stay even -- staying consistent with the amount of money you put down is key. Jimmy Vaccaro, director of Sports Operations and Public Relations for Lucky’s Race and Sports Book, agrees:

“The worst thing that can happen for the first-time bettor isn’t to put down a lot of money and lose, but to put down a lot of money and win. Because then you think it’s easy and that it’ll happen every time. And that gets you into trouble,” he says.

For first-timers, Vaccaro recommends putting down no more than $100 total for the various bets you might play that day.

“You can do a lot with that without getting in over your head,” he says. “For $100, it’s a great night out.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

As Rood explains, “No matter what your question is, this won’t be the first and it won’t be the last time the clerks get asked it.”

While it’s good to come prepared, the staff at every booking table is there to be a resource for experts and novices alike. Rood, Vaccaro and Avello all recommend preparing your queries ahead of time on Super Bowl Sunday, as booking clerks will be busy handling out-the-door lines.

Vaccaro also says novice bettors shouldn’t be afraid to chat up the more experienced patrons at the table for tips and assistance.

“Sports betting is a very social activity, it’s like a big party,” he says. “People actually make new friends on Super Bowl Sunday because of it.”

Keep it simple

There’s no need to show off with complicated parlays and point spreads; all three bookies recommend letting your own interests and allegiances in the game guide your bets.

“Don’t get into anything where the wording is difficult to decipher,” Avello says.

For first-timers, Avello recommends betting on the winner of the game itself (the “money line”), on the point spread between the favored team and the underdog or simply on points earned by popular players.

Rood says placing a wager on the player to score the first touchdown is a great opportunity for novices, as it makes the game more exciting to watch. He also recommends betting on the final score of the team.

“If it lands right on the number, you win big,” he says. “It doesn’t take much money to get excited over a wager like that.”

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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