What is the Hook in Sports Betting?

by Big Al Staff

What is the hook in sports betting?

Over the years, the sports betting industry has developed into a league of its own.  It now generates billions in revenue every single year, and stretches further than just sports, as you can even make prop bets on who will be elected President of the United States, and so forth.  But the true essence remains in leagues like the NBA, NFL, MLB, and the NHL.  Collectively, the four major sports in the United States sell hundreds of millions of tickets annually to their games, and even more follow along at home, via the internet, television or radio.  It’s true that a majority of sports fans are not gamblers.  But many are, and they dedicate a large portion of their time to predicting a sporting event's outcome.  This group of betting sports fans is also rapidly growing, as gambling -- now legal -- becomes more accepted in society.

One thing that newcomers to the gambling world might find is that sports bettors have their own lingo, as certain sports betting terms and abbreviations are used to refer to various actions, situations, or statistics.  Some of the more familiar terms include ‘laying the points,’ ‘key numbers,’ ‘vigorish,’ and ‘longshot’ -- all sorts of terms that are part of the average bettor’s glossary.  The more of these terms you become familiar with, the easier your betting process will be, and the faster you can act upon new information.

In this betting guide, we'll dive into the term 'hook,' a term often used in such phrases as: ‘won by a hook,’ ‘favored by 3 and a hook,’ and 'buy the hook.'  By these examples, you can probably figure out that ‘hook’ refers to a half-point on a point spread.  In this article, we'll show you the exact details on how to handle half-points in point spreads.

Introduction to point spread betting

First, we have to make clear how the point spread bet correctly works.  It's a construction which relates to a competition between two teams in a sporting event with incremental scoring.  Unlike a moneyline wager, which is only concerned with which team actually wins the game, straight-up, a point-spread (or run-line, goal-line, or puck-line) wager is only concerned with the margin of victory.  As with a moneyline wager, there's a favored team and an underdog.  But with a point spread wager, a game’s final score is just the starting point.  To determine a point spread bet’s winner, you have to add (or subtract) the point spread to the final score.  That might not be easy, at first, to grasp, so allow us to illustrate with an example.  Say, the betting line for an NBA game is:

  • ​Milwaukee Bucks -5
  • Chicago Bulls +5

In this example, you have the Milwaukee Bucks competing against the Chicago Bulls.  Of course, both teams will strive to win the game.  But regardless of which team wins, we’ll need to apply the betting line after the game goes final.  The Bucks are a 5-point favorite, while the Bulls are a 5-point underdog.  The Bucks will cover the spread only if they manage to win the game by more than 5 points.  On the other hand, the Bulls need to either win straight-up, or lose by four points or less, to cover the spread.  If MIlwaukee would win by exactly five points, then the point spread bet would result in a tie, and all monies would be refunded to the bettors.  Now, in the example above, the point spread is a whole number.  However, in many cases, a game’s point spread ends in a half-point.  That's where betting the hook comes into play.  Your betting line could look like this:

  • New Jersey Nets -2.5
  • Memphis Grizzlies +2.5

The existence of the half-point in this example removes the bet's potential to result in a tie.  When a point spread ties, the bet pushes, and all bettors receive a refund.  Bookmakers -- if their action is balanced on a particular game -- would actually be hurt by a push, as they would not be able to earn their vigorish (or profit).

Difference between point spreads with or without a hook

So, point spreads with hooks are a way to ensure the bet doesn't result in a push, which may be in a bookmaker’s interest.  But, from a bettor’s standpoint, there are betting strategies -- especially in football, due to key numbers -- that come into play when a game is situated on a half-point.  Let’s explain.  Say, the Minnesota Vikings are playing the Denver Broncos, and the Vikings are favored by 9.5 points, across the board, at every sportsbook.  You really love the Broncos as a big underdog, but are faced with a choice.  Do you bet on the Broncos now, at +9.5 points?  Or do you wait?  The smart answer to this question relates to the betting odds.  Most sportsbooks, as you know, have standard -110 odds in football (though some, like BetAnySports have reduced juice at -105 odds).  So, at -110 odds, if you lose your bet, you lose 10% more than if you would win your bet.  Therefore, the best strategy is to wait to see if you can get +10 points, with the idea that, should the line drop to +9, you would immediately bet on the Broncos at +9.  Some may ask the question, ‘why not just take the +9.5 points?’  The reason is that you are helped more by gaining a half-point, and avoiding a loss, should Denver lose by exactly 10 points, than by losing a half-point, and missing out on a win, should Denver lose by exactly nine points.  Now, why is avoiding a loss more valuable to the bettor than missing out on a win?  It’s because of the -110 odds.  That is, losing is 10% worse to a bettor than winning is good.  Please note that if the point spread is on a whole number (at every sportsbook, across the board) rather than a half-point number, then the smart decision (assuming you couldn’t divine which way the market was going to move) would be to immediately place your bet at that whole number.  And that’s because, due to the -110 odds, you would lose more if you lost a half-point than you would gain by getting an extra half-point.

Should Sports Bettors buy the hook?

Many gamblers are fans of the strategy of buying half-points.  Typically, sportsbooks will charge an extra 10 cents of juice for the privilege (though the juice will be more expensive in football if you are buying on or off the number 3).  Generally speaking, buying half-points is a strategy we do not endorse.  Instead, it’s a much better strategy to have accounts at, say, three to five sportsbooks to shop for the best numbers.  In any event, let’s illustrate a real-world result of ‘buying the hook.’  Let’s take an NFL example and look at the January 12, 2020 playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks.  At BetOnline Sportsbook, the line on the game was Green Bay -4.5 points.  Now, let’s say you wanted to wager on Seattle.  You could take the Seahawks +4.5 points at -110 odds.  Or, you could buy a half-point, and get the Seahawks at +5, at -120 odds.  In this game, the Packers won by exactly five points, 28-23.  So, bettors who bought the half-point, and took the Seahawks at +5 were able to push, and avoid a loss.  But, was that the best move, based on the historical data?  Since 1980, there were 333 games with a line of -4.5 points.  The underdog covered 167, and failed to cover 166.  If you bet on every underdog at +4.5, you would be down 15.6 net games, after the juice.  However, if you bought a half-point on each of those 333 games, your record would instead be 167-158-8.  Yes, you avoided losses on eight of the 166 games.  Unfortunately, because you laid -120 odds rather than -110 odds on the remaining 158 losses, your net loss worsened to minus 22.6 net games.

As you can see in this example, buying the hook is a poor decision in the long run.  However, in reality, nobody would be betting every single 4.5-point underdog.  It’s possible that, given a bettor’s particular circumstances, buying a half-point makes sense (perhaps, for example, as part of a hedging strategy).  But, in general, stay away from buying the hook.

The importance of a good sportsbook

​Since we covered spread betting, you know how important finding the right betting lines are.  Often, winning or losing comes down to a half-point.  And, if you can get an extra half-point on your bets, then you will increase your win percentage by roughly 2%.  That’s why having multiple sportsbooks is critical for sports gamblers.  But just as important is the decision at which sportsbooks to open accounts.  You can’t be too casual when making sports wagers; you always need to follow the market, and shop for the best numbers.  The biggest mistake that rookie bettors make is that they only bet with one sportsbook, and are held hostage to that sportsbook’s numbers.  We'll show you a little more on the topic of how sportsbooks operate, and give you some additional information to make a smart decision when choosing your sportsbooks.

Why do most bettors lose?

Sportsbooks make more money each year than the movie and music industry combined!  The overwhelming majority of sports bettors lose against the bookmakers.  Why is that?  In most cases, bookmakers win against sports bettors for two reasons.  First and foremost, bookmakers have access to a lot of data, and are able to set good odds.  With an 11-to-10 advantage, the bookmakers’ edge is difficult to overcome.  And second, most bettors make really poor decisions that exacerbate the built-in disadvantage they already have.  For example, bettors will frequently bet on parlays that have a much-worse ROI than straight bets.  Or they’ll buy the hook on a football game, and lay -120 odds rather than -110 odds.  But the single-most foolish decision which gamblers make is that they don’t have accounts at multiple sportsbooks.

Pick your sportsbook wisely

We can't stress enough how important it is to play with the right sportsbooks.  With hundreds of online betting sites, it's easy to settle for the first bookie you come across when surfing around the internet, but it's not the best idea.  You now know how important it is to shop for the best betting lines.  But it’s not just enough to open up three to five accounts.  You also have to choose the right three to five sportsbooks!  Let’s explain.  First, even though most sportsbooks offer standard -110 odds for football and basketball games, some -- like our #1-rated sportsbook, BetAnySports -- offer reduced juice at -105 odds.  If you bet on sports, and you bet just a nickel a game, the average bettor will save over $4,000 in juice over just one NFL season by laying -105 rather than -110.  And we’re not even talking about how much you would save on NBA, NCAA Basketball or NCAA Football bets.  That’s why BetAnySports is a “must-join” sportsbook for any bettor.  Now, that’s one factor in choosing the best sportsbooks.  But another critical factor is that the sportsbook have unique lines.  That is, does the sportsbook publish its own numbers, or does it merely copy the numbers of other major sportsbooks?  If you have an account at, say, BookMaker, it won’t do you any good if your other sportsbooks just copy BookMaker’s numbers because, in that instance, when you shop for numbers, you’ll find all your numbers are the same!  So, you need sportsbooks that have unique lines.  And most of the sportsbooks that rank among our Top 10 do have unique lines, including BetAnySports (#1), BetNow (#2), Bovada (#3), BetOnline (#4), BookMaker (#5) and BetUS (#10).

Of course, there are also other factors at play when you choose a sportsbook.  Perhaps you want to wager $50,000 on an NFL side?  If that’s the case, then you would join BookMaker, as it has the largest betting limits.  Or, maybe you want free money?  If so, then you would want to join BetNow, because it has the biggest sign-up bonus.  Or maybe you like to play parlays?  If so, then you would join BetAnySports for its industry-leading parlay and teaser odds.  We’ve researched all the leading sportsbooks, so be sure to read all of our reviews to determine which books are best for you.

The sports betting industry is certainly a lot of fun, and can also be vastly rewarding.  We're here to educate you on every aspect of the sports betting realm to ensure you make the right decisions.  We can't guarantee any profits, of course, but we will put you in the best position to win.  Along the way, we will provide you all the information, tips, and strategies you need to bring you the requisite confidence and knowledge to place a winning bet.  Enjoy the ride, and we'll see you around!

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