CFL Gambling 101

CFL Gambling
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If you follow my CFL writing, you know I’m not afraid of suggesting as well as placing a gambling wager or two. Well, technically 439 wagers over the past three regular seasons.

Gambling lesson number one: you have to spend money to make money. The proof is in the pudding for me; I’ve hit at a 52% rate, profiting +12.35u based on my current unit (I’ll explain this later).

Some of the above paragraph may look like another language to you, which is okay. That’s why I’m writing this — when people ask me to explain what I’m talking about when I’m rambling off numbers in Nik’s Picks, I’m now directing them here.

Explaining Gambling Numbers and Odds

Online Betting

First off, I place my wagers online. I recommend Bodog for CFL gambling and overall experience, but Sports Interaction and Bet 365 tend to offer better lines. I shop around all three to ensure I’m making the most I can on any winning bet. That’s all I’ll say about the sites, you can message me if you want advice on which one(s) to use.

Oh, and shopping around is looking at all the sports gambling sites and seeing which site is offering the pick/line you want to bet. A gambling “line” is the odds of a bet offered by a site. Bookmakers set the odds of each line based on their computerized algorithms.

Easy peasy. Where things get complicated is actually reading the lines/odds. Below is an image of a typical gambling sheet. Don’t worry, I will go over what each number means.

XFL gambling lines

The above numbers are American odds. There are Decimal and Fractional odds too, but I tend to stick with the American odds when betting. To narrow my focus and keep this under thousands of words, I’m only explaining the American style odds here.

Minus is the Favourite, Plus is the Underdog

The minus (-) number is the “favourite.” This means the site believes the bet is more likely to win than it’s opposite. Since the Houston Roughnecks were listed at -550 to win the game outright, they were a large favourite and therefore more likely to win.Houston Roughnecks moneyline

Tip: The minus (-) number is the dollar amount you’d need to bet in order to win $100 (betting $550 on Houston to win would net you $100 on top of your refunded $550).

The lesson here is: Houston had a fairly good chance at winning. But you would have had to wager a good chunk of money to make any admirable profit, and there’s no worse feeling than doing so only for the team to get upset and lose your big sum of money.

The plus (+) number is the “underdog.” This means the site believes the bet is more likely to lose than it’s opposite. For example, since the Seattle Dragons were listed at +395 to win the game outright, they were a big underdog and therefore more likely to lose.Seattle Dragons moneyline.

Tip: The plus (+) number is the dollar amount you’d win if you bet $100 (betting $100 on Seattle to win would net you $395 on top of your refunded $100).

The lesson here is: Seattle didn’t have a good shot of winning, but if you saw something that made you feel like they could pull it off, a big payday would come your way. But the losses can pile up quickly in leagues where good teams take care of bad teams.

Spreads, Totals, and the Moneyline

You now know what the symbols mean and how the payout works, but understanding what the bets’ titles and actual numbers mean is just as important.

XFL line

This XFL line (it’s the only football season right now, CFL gambling lines are the same FYI) displays the three most common types of bets: spread, win (moneyline), and total.

The spread is an adjusted line to make betting on either team equal/harder. In the above example, betting Seattle +12.5 means the Dragons could lose by 12 or fewer points, or win outright, and you’d win your bet. If you took Houston -12.5, the Roughnecks would have to win by 13 or more to “cover” the point-spread. And as we discussed before, the -110 means you’d have to bet $110 to profit an additional $100 on a winning bet.

The total is the number of points between both teams. In this example, betting “O 46” means you’re wagering that both teams would have scored a combined 47 points or more (i.e. 24-23 means the game went over). Betting “U 46” means you’re wagering that both teams would have scored a combined 45 points or fewer (i.e. 24-21 went under).

There are some additional lessons here. Since the number doesn’t end in a .5 decimal, if the game were to have had exactly 46 points (i.e. 26-20), it would be ruled a “push,” meaning you’d get your wagered money back regardless of which total you took. Oh, and new gambling lesson: life is too short to bet the under. Just kidding. Well, kind of.

The moneyline is simple: it’s picking a team to win, straight up. The moneyline is perfect for games with evenly matched teams, or if you feel an upset brewing. Moneylines are also a good way to keep your bets less complicated, or celebrate with at the bar.


In the second paragraph, I said I’d later explain this sentence: “I’ve hit at a 52% rate, profiting +12.35u based on my current unit.” A unit (u) is the average amount someone wagers on their bets. One unit is supposed to represent 1% of the better’s bankroll. If you bet $100 a bet, a unit for you is $100. Then if you bet $200 for a bet, that’s two units.

I’ve doubled my unit each year of running Nik’s Picks, which is why tracking units won or lost paints a much clearer picture when evaluating gambling success or failure. For example, you can lose nine of your 10 one-unit bets, but if the single bet you hit is at +1000 or higher odds, you can actually profit with a 1-9 betting record.

Parlays, Teasers, Round Robins

Along with making single bets, sportsbooks allow the option to combine bets. A parlay is betting more than one game at a time but needing every bet to win. That means if you chose to parlay Seattle +12.5 and over 46 in the above line, both would need to win (i.e. a 28-24 Houston score would be a winner, a 20-17 or 40-10 Houston score a loser). And of course, the more bets your parlay together the bigger the potential winnings.

Teasers offer alternate parlayed lines at worse odds. This means that if you wanted to tease the Seattle +12.5 and over 46 parlay by six points, the new parlay (which is now called a teaser) would become Seattle +6.5 and over 40 (because you teased six points). Teasers are an effective way of parlaying games which may be a tad risky to hit outright.

Round robins are minimum three-game parlays that offer a payout if any two of three bets hit. This allows you to avoid needing your whole parlay to go undefeated, offering smaller payouts but requiring more money wagered. Round robins tend to become a little hard to follow, but can be a big money-maker if done properly.

CFL Gambling Example: Grey Cup Future

Well, this piece wouldn’t be on-topic if I didn’t include at least one CFL gambling example. As usual, in March sportsbooks only offer a CFL future line, specifically a Grey Cup future.

A future is betting on some type of individual or team award or accomplishment that won’t take place for a while (i.e. the Grey Cup winner). Futures offer massive payouts, but take a long time to have an outcome. Here are the current Grey Cup odds:

CFL Grey Cup future

Sports Interaction has the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as the CFL favourite in 2020. And remember, the +340 means if you bet $100 on the Ti-Cats, you win an extra $340. When betting futures, taking darkhorses tends to be a stronger strategy.

For example, sure Hamilton’s a loaded team, but the B.C. Lions at +650 is a nice price. Then there’s the Ottawa Redblacks who may have the best value for your buck at +1300.

I hope you learned at least one thing from this explainer. If you still have CFL gambling questions, hit me up on Twitter (@nik_kowalski) where I post all of my picks. If not, see you in June for another round of money-makin’ with Nik’s Picks.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images