A pick 'em game in sports betting happens when the bookmakers determine that the two teams facing each other are too evenly matched to be separated by a point spread, so there isn't one. This means you're betting on the moneyline for either team, which should be the same number, and that the implied probability of winning on both sides is right at 50%.
Basically, a pick 'em game is akin to betting on a coin flip. It's not a terribly common occurrence, and especially if you shop around all the major sportsbooks for the best odds, you can often find better value that a mere pick 'em on the team you want to bet on to win.
Sportsbooks will often offer -110 odds on a point spread, and since there isn't a spread at all for pick 'em games, those odds go into the moneyline. In most pick 'em listings, you'll get matching -110 odds for either team to win.
This takes out some of the guesswork involved in betting. The spread will often be replaced by a pick 'em-related placeholder, such as the letters "PK" or something to that effect.
Moneylines are often disparate enough to avoid pick 'em games and create at least a slight spread. If a game is really close during a live betting situation, it may turn into a pick 'em if only for a few fleeting minutes. Just don't hang yourself up too much waiting for that to happen. Plus, live bets can often yield better odds than you'd otherwise get before a game starts, so there's little point in biding your time for a pick 'em line.
You'll really never see pick 'em opportunities in baseball or hockey. Those spreads are firmly set at +/-1.5, and if two teams are really evenly matched, the slight favorite will have excellent odds on their spread, while the underdog will have extremely short odds to cover.
The sports with the most pick 'em chances are football and basketball, because their spreads have a much larger variance and range than the aforementioned two sports. But let's stick with the former, since the NFL is after all the most popular.
Say the Arizona Cardinals are hosting the Seattle Seahawks. As of now, they've started the year 2-0, and it's reasonable to assume that Seattle would be favored in any other year, yet with Arizona being at home, Seattle having to travel and the Cardinals flexing a new, electrifying combo in the passing game with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, this is a scenario where you could see a pick 'em.
A quick aside: it's rather surprising there weren't more of these upon the NBA's restart, considering the Orlando bubble is a neutral court. Home-field advantage is usually a big deal when it comes to these tightly contested affairs.
Other factors to weigh other than venue is how the teams are playing entering the game. Recent form can drive a pick 'em line, and also allow you as the bettor to gain insight into who might be worth wagering on.
To be honest, not really. Sportsbooks tend to profit off these no matter what, because action is relatively equal on both sides of such games.
With the odds at around -110 for either team, the bookmaker is already winning with what's referred to as "juice" or "vig" in sports betting terminology. That is, if it were a truly straight-up bet, the odds would be +100. That little extra allows the books to scrape a bit off the top, and virtually guarantees a pick 'em profit.
Since pick 'em games are few and far between, the odds of even finding one at any given sportsbook are slim. In the event you do encounter such a scenario, though, it behooves you to look around at other bookmakers to see if they're offering slightly better odds on the team you want to bet on.
This bears repeating from the introduction, if for no other reason than our cutting-edge odds comparison engine we have here at abe. By consulting our odds listings from all the major sportsbooks, you can avoid the pick 'em scenarios if you'd rather bet on a team to win at better odds and earn a higher payout. In other words, it's highly unlikely — nay impossible — that all the sportsbooks would list a game as a pick 'em.
One possible point of confusion may arise if you see a contest that revolves around the term "pick 'em." This isn't the same as the bets we've been describing throughout this entire article.
A season-long pick 'em contest is often reserved for football at both the NCAA and NFL levels. Here's a prime example of a DraftKings contest that was still available to enter as of this writing:
All you're doing here is betting which teams you want to win every week, without having to use the point spread. No matter how heavily favored a team is, this long-view contest is more about how many games you can predict correctly throughout a season. The best part about this one? It's a free entry with a $10,000 prize pool.
Most contests of this variety have low entry fees with the potential for a high payout down the road. Of course, it's hard to count on this bringing you a huge payday. You really have to know the sport well, be consistently correct in your betting, and with such a small or no entry cost, it can get lower on a bettor's priority list, which makes it easy to forget to pick every single week. Plus, one bad week of picks can upend your chances of finishing in the money.
Go ahead and try your hand at these contests once or twice a year if you like, if only just for the fun of it, particularly if it's free. They're among the most harmless, innocent fun you can have in sports betting, but don't let it get you confused with the type of pick 'em we've discussed for the majority of this tutorial.
If you're new to betting and want to learn more, or are a seasoned bettor and are interested in sharpening or enhancing your skills with more advanced strategies, visit abe's "How to Bet" hub for premium content for sports betting enthusiasts of all skills and experience levels.
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