Contrasting American and European Basketball Betting

Basketball is one of the leading lights in the sporting firmament of the US, but casts a slightly dimmer glow over Europe. For those into sports betting, there are a few major differences, as we explain below.

National Variations

There can be some differences with how the nations of Europe and North America play basketball. France, for example, has a professional and very physical approach to the sport. There’s a fast rate of play which means physical fitness is absolutely critical, and, from a betting perspective, this might affect late game betting or make in-game betting and hedging more fruitful.

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Parlay Betting

For a long time parlay betting was the only legal way to make sports bets in the USA and Canada. For those on the other side of the pond, parlay betting is essentially the same as an accumulator or multiple bet, requiring multiple contingencies to come off for a bet to be considered green.

The enormous potential payoff is a huge bonus for players. However, the downside is dramatic: if a single part of the bet fails, it’s red and the player loses out. In Europe, by contrast, basketball bettors can make straightforward single bets (the result of a single game, for example) and it’s a straight win/loss proposition without needing to get five other results right to make any profit.

Things are starting to loosen up in the US and Canada’s also taking legislative steps to throw this archaic law in the dustbin of history, but a major pro of basketball betting in a European sportsbook is that you can just make a single sports bet.

Major versus Minor Sport

It’s undoubtedly the case that basketball, through the NBA, is one of the top flight sports in the USA and Canada. But in Europe, basketball (in common with many major league sports across the Atlantic) is very much a minority sport. This lower level of public interest and general expertise has pros and cons for both continents, in terms of betting.

The difficulty of getting into the NBA itself quickly (which requires four guys to get injured) coupled with a more competitive game in Europe does mean that more Americans are playing in Europe and raising the overall standard, although the NBA remains the premier league of basketball.

Football (soccer) is the undisputed king of sport in Europe, and this means games in the upper echelons of the UK, Spain, Italy, or Germany can have literally hundreds of markets for a single match. There are dozens of markets for basketball games, but this is still a fraction of those available for soccer. As well as obvious winner markets, there are handicap betting possibilities, points tallies for teams and individuals, and so on. But the flipside is that the lesser interest and expertise means mispricing markets is more likely than with basketball in the US, where far more people are interested in basketball. This means great value can sometimes be found.

The reverse is true of the US. Markets galore mean that you can bet more precisely on niche outcomes, but the higher level of expertise makes it far less likely you’ll find amazing odds due to an error on behalf of a bookmaker.

How the Odds Work

Perhaps unexpectedly, one of the biggest Atlantic divides in basketball is how the odds actually function. This can be very disconcerting if you’re used to one way or the other (or, indeed, the third).

Traditionally the UK and other European countries have expressed odds in the format of 4/1 (so a £10 stake would earn you your stake back, plus £40 of profit). More recently this has increasingly been written as 5 (1 representing the stake and every unit over that being profit, so odds of 1.05 means your stake plus 5%). Why the shift from an easy to understand and long term system to one that, while not complicated, is quite different?

This is largely down to the rise of betting exchanges. Unlikely regular sportsbooks and bookies, these allow players to directly bet against (lay) every specific outcome, and the decimal odds make things easier for betting against short odds outcomes. The popularity of said exchanges means that many online betting sites in Europe now offer a choice between fraction and decimal odds.

In the US, however, moneyline odds are popular. With these, short odds are indicated with a minus sign followed by the stake needed to win $100. Long odds are shown by a plus sign followed by the winning you will make for a $100 stake. None of these systems are especially complex but they can be a bit of a surprise if jumping from a US sportsbook to a UK bookie.

There’s a lot of overlap, naturally, between betting on basketball in the US and Europe, but keep in mind the distinctions too, from the mechanics of betting to how the leagues vary.


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Created in August 2016, Three Point Shot talks about basketball around the world.

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