What Is Futures Betting?

Iowa legalized sports betting in May 2019. Several online sportsbooks in Iowa offer a range of gambling opportunities and bet types.

Anybody who bets on sports regularly will tell you that the most common types of wagers are moneylines, point spreads and totals. However, some bettors enjoy betting on more than the individual games.

For those with a longer view of a sports season, futures betting can be a fun way to wager on sports.

What is futures betting?

Futures betting is the process of wagering on an event that will be settled in, well, the future. Rather than the wager being settled on the same or next day, a futures wager may not be determined until the end of the relevant sport’s season.

For bettors who are looking for a rooting interest over a longer period of time, futures wagers are a popular option. These bets can remain unsettled for days, weeks or even months.

Do you think you know who will win the Super Bowl before the regular season starts? Or the World Series on opening day? Did you know Tiger Woods would win the 2019 Masters before it began?

How do futures odds work?

Sportsbooks set futures lines well in advance of a particular season (or tournament) starting, allowing you to bets on a variety of sports. The most common examples of sports betting futures include:

  • League champions (World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, NBA Finals)
  • Conference champions (AFC/NFC, AL/NL, East/West)
  • Division winners (all major sports)
  • Individual tournaments (golf, tennis, soccer, etc.)

There are many other (and more complex) instances, but these are the most common ones and help tell the story of what futures betting is all about.

The teams expected to compete for a title will come with the shortest odds and lowest potential payouts. As you move down the odds board, teams who are long shots will have higher potential payouts since oddsmakers see their chances as being much more unlikely.

In many cases, sports betting futures lines remain available until a season begins and will adjust as the schedule progresses. Depending on the sport, you can still wager on futures odds during an ongoing season.

This can cause odds to shift because there is inevitably some variance between what oddsmakers expect from a team and what the reality ends up being. It’s important to note that for better or worse, those betting on futures are locked into the odds at the time they placed the wager.

How to place a futures bet in Iowa

Our example features NBA futures odds, but keep in mind that the process is the same for all team sports like betting on the MLB, NFL, NHL,  and NCAA football and basketball. Let’s check out the odds to win the NBA Championship just before the start of the season:

NBA futures odds

Say you’re interested in the preseason line for the Denver Nuggets, a team with +2,000 odds to win the NBA title. That means a $10 bet pays out $200, a $50 bet pays out $1,000 and a $100 wager pays out $2,000 if Denver wins it all.

This example shows how lucrative futures betting odds can be, even for teams listed close to the top of the board. Because making successful picks so far in advance is difficult to do, the payouts tend to be higher.

Odds can change over the course of a season and that can happen in two ways.

If the team struggles, sustains injuries or winds up not being the team that oddsmakers assumed it would be, those odds could skyrocket and the payout would be higher than originally set. And, if Denver winds up being a legitimate title contender as the season progresses, the odds could shrink closer to where the Lakers and Clippers are, making +2,000 a valuable ticket.

In either case, you are locked into the +2,000 odds from the time you place the wager. You would need to make a new wager to secure the odds at the current price.

Both sides of this coin represent the risk versus reward of futures betting. When there is nothing to go on except our prognostication, the chances for huge profits are there. But it’s also easy to get things wrong with a preseason wager.

This is one reason why a popular futures betting strategy is to forego preseason futures all together. Some gamblers wait until early in a season to get a feel for the quality of some teams before making wagers on a division winner, conference winner or champion.

Types of team futures bets

In addition to the conventional team futures markets listed above, there are some alternative options.

These may be less popular, but depending on the exact market and team selected, some can still pay out well while offering a better opportunity to win than some other season-long markets. And they also succeed in providing a rooting interest for the entire season, as many futures do.

Below are some of the options you will come across, specifically for the big four sports in North America, on top of the commonly wagered-on markets we already discussed:

  • Team winning percentage
  • Over/under total wins
  • To make the playoffs (yes/no)
  • One seed in the conference

Unlike traditional futures markets, some of these more specific markets tend to disappear once a season begins. They can reappear later on in the season, but some will only be available prior to the schedule commencing.

Types of player futures bets

While many futures bets depend on team accomplishments,  various player futures categories depend on individuals. For example, here are some alternative NBA futures betting markets involving players that you can wager on before the season begins:

NBA player prop futures

You can find these for every major sport. The names may vary from league to league, but many of the markets, especially the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards, are available in every major professional league. There are even collegiate preseason awards markets for football and basketball.

How do you bet on NFL futures?

Futures betting for football, both the NFL and NCAA, will mirror the way things work for the NBA. But to get a look at how lines can change over the course of a season, let’s use the futures odds on the Super Bowl 2021 as an example.

Super Bowl futures odds

Using a previous odds at DraftKings Sportsbook IA, the post-Week 16 lines said the Kansas City Chiefs (+180) were the favorite. But because Kansas City’s place on the odds board hasn’t changed, that doesn’t mean the odds are the same. Prior to the start of the season, the Chiefs were +600.

As we can see, values can change as the season progresses. For some of the other contenders, the odds have changed far more dramatically.

The Green Bay Packers began the season with pretty long odds at +3,100, but anyone holding that ticket would feel pretty good at this point. That’s because, with most of the season in the books, the Packers (+525) are a serious contender with the second-lowest odds of all teams.

Football is one of the many sports to have team futures odds (especially those for conference championships and the Super Bowl) available for the entire season, with sportsbooks modifying them each week. The same goes for college football and basketball.

How do you bet on golf futures?

Futures are largely associated with season-long team sports, but as mentioned above, there are individual sports that fall under the category.

Both tennis and golf are tournament-based sports with four major events scattered throughout the year and odds laid out similarly. The latter is a sport that is becoming more popular among the betting public, so let’s take a look at 2021 Masters odds from William Hill Sportsbook in Iowa:

Golf futures odds

A golf tournament lasts a few days as opposed to several months, but that doesn’t change the fact that wagering on the winner of a PGA Tour event still falls under the category of a futures bet.

As is the case with wagering on a team before the start of a season, selecting the golf tournament winner prior to its beginning often comes with long odds and the potential for large payouts.

Even those players with the best chance to win still offer the chance to multiply a bettor’s investment by a considerable amount and the odds only get more astronomical from there.

The difference between golf and other sports is that major American sports leagues have between 30 and 32 teams, and the Masters has up to 100 players. Some golf tournaments can have up to 156 players, making picking a winner more lucrative and more difficult.

Golf is also a sport that offers alternative futures categories before a tournament starts. Although selecting golfers to finish in the top five, 10, 20, 30 and 40 isn’t as profitable as picking the champion, there’s much more margin for error and it can be an easier wager to win.