Every game of chance offers the house a certain inherent statistical advantage but none works off so small a profit margin–theoretically between one and four percent–as sports betting. With so little room for error, sportsbooks have come to rely on a combination of accurate pointspreads and an understanding of how and when to move lines as their primary defense against players. Another significant tool at the bookmakers’ disposal is sports betting limits.
Generally, there are three factors that sportsbooks consider when establishing sports betting limits, the historical accuracy of the lines, their profit trends, and their customer mix. For those reasons, while sports betting limits may vary greatly from one wagering outlet to another, nearly all bet takers establish limits for their biggest and best sport and work their way down from there. For almost any sportsbook dealing with a clientele that is primarily American, the NFL rules supreme.
But what should a sportsbook’s NFL limits be? As a general rule, if a book is unable to lose “comfortably” five times its stated limit, then that sports betting limit is too high. For example, if a sportsbook or Internet betting site has a limit of $10,000 and, as invariably happens from time to time, takes a limit hit on a single side in a single game five times before moving the pointspread on that game, then that sportsbook or site should be able to survive a $50,000 loss without half the staff being fired. If a sportsbook can’t sustain such a hit, its sports betting limit is too high.
Sportsbooks and sites establish their sports betting limits based on their play. There’s no reason for a wagering outlet to have a $10,000 limit if its top wagers consistently fall in the range of $500 to $1,000. In that scenario, the only time a sports betting site will see a $10,000 wager is when it doesn’t need it, when there’s something wrong with the game and the player has some informational edge over the bookmaker.
It’s worth remembering that sports betting limits are in place as a defense against professional players. Sportsbooks in Nevada and other resort locations often allow their frequent casino customers to wager amounts that are larger than the house’s stated limits. What’s more, there also are a handful of transcendent sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, that benefit an entire property and may have no limit at all.
If a book starts with a $10,000 limit on NFL sides, then a $1,000 limit on NFL totals would be in line. After all, totals are esoteric wagers and limit bets on them almost always come from professional gamblers. By keeping total wagers comparatively low, sportsbooks and Internet sites can maintain leverage and manipulate play to their best advantage.
Once having established side and total limits in the NFL, sportsbooks can assign numbers to other sports. A sportsbook or site manager who accepts a $10,000 wager on the NFL should feel comfortable with half that amount, or $5,000, on college football. A sportsbook that takes a 10 dime side bet on the NFL might accept a wager of $3,000 on both Major League Baseball and the NBA. Total limits of $500 for baseball would be appropriate. A total limit of $300 on the NBA–where sophisticated gamblers have proven particularly adept–would be in line with a $3,000 side limit. College basketball, which has become more profitable for bet takers than the NBA version of the hardwood game, has edged closer, if not drawn even, with professional hoop limits. Where once a sportsbook that took a $3,000 pop on the NBA might only go as high as $1,000 on college basketball, the limits now have achieved equality at many outlets.
Given our example of $10,000 for an NFL ceiling, betting limits on the NHL might fit comfortably into the $2,000 range with total limits of about $300. Betting limits on hockey need not be very high because casual players rarely wager that heavily on the sport.
A major boxing attraction, especially one where the line has been solidified and it appears that substantial two-way action will result, can be booked to NFL limits. On the other hand, events such as arena football and games of the Canadian Football League, sports where oddsmakers and sportsbooks may not have as much information as they would prefer and where there is not much interest from the general public, are booked to much lower limits. Perhaps $1,000 is the right number on those sports.
Players may not always like it but setting reasonable sports betting limits is an important function of the successful bookmaker. For while the dreams of gamblers may be limitless, the money a bookmaker is willing to lose isn’t.