For many people around the world for the longest time, those sports-playing days were over once the cold weather settled in and the ice started to cover everything up. But sometime in the 1800s, some people decided to really buck the system and continue to play their sports, regardless of the weather. This is where we got ice hockey from. The game itself was a beautiful invention. Using skates, sticks, a puck and two nets, hockey is like the greatest game of keep-away ever conceived. For decades hockey was popular in places like Canada, Russia, and the American north, but it wasn't until 1917 when the National Hockey League (NHL) was formed that the sport really began to take off. Since then, hockey has always been considered one of America's big-four popular sports, alongside football, basketball and baseball. Seeing as there are dozens of other sports vying for that honor, that's a pretty big deal, even if hockey is number four. Though for many fans, hockey will always be number one. This is especially true for many who like to gamble on the sport.
Speaking of the gambling aspect, hockey probably translates better to a sportsbook and betting than any other sport. The reason is that many people believe hockey matches are easier to handicap than NFL games or NBA match-ups. Whether or not this is true will always be a matter of opinion, but those who bet on hockey are pretty sure that their systems and methods are more successful than those other sports. At USA Sportsbook Sites, we're not in the business of developing systems and guaranteeing wins. We're just here to help beginner gamblers figure out how to navigate the field and place their bets on hockey. So if you're new to the genre and want to know how to bet, we can assist here with this user's guide. To get started, let's touch a bit on the legality of the sport.
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Is Betting on NHL Hockey Games Legal in the USA?
When many people looking for legality information search around online, what they find are extremely long-winded, often confusing pages that don't really answer the question. USA Sportsbook Sites prides itself on being different, more direct and to the point. So to the question of whether it's legal to bet on hockey, the answer is yes. Yes, it is perfectly legal for you to join up with a sportsbook and to bet on a game like hockey. The reason is that the government does not attempt to hinder your ability to gamble, either on the state or federal level (outside of Washington State). The reason is that the government still wants you to buy lottery tickets in most instances, and the government cannot just physically stop you from traveling to Atlantic City, Vegas or Mississippi, if you wanted to gamble. So when the government goes after gambling as illegal, they go after the companies and sites that are offering the gambling, not the gamblers.
We hope that this clears matters up for you and lets you know that you can gamble. The only catch here, of course, is that you will have to find a sportsbook that accepts your action. If you live in Nevada, then you can probably find some Vegas-based, Nevada-licensed sportsbook to take your action. Outside of that state, your best bet is going to be an offshore site. An offshore sportsbook is simply a website that's located outside of America's jurisdiction. This means that no matter what sort of laws or regulations America decides to put in place, they won't have any affect at all on the offshore site. As long as the site allows you to gamble there, you're doing nothing illegal.
The illegality of sports betting is all about companies that are offering betting, accepting your wagers, and dealing with banking. Here are the big-three federal regulations that keep people from creating sportsbooks in the USA.
Federal Laws Surrounding Sports Betting In The US
Federal Wire Act
The first and oldest federal act is the Federal Wire Act. To really simplify this act for you, this is a law that keeps anyone in the USA from accepting monetary wagers for a bet via a "wired" communication. This was meant to mean the telephone, but it could also mean an old-school telegraph or even a new-school Internet transmission. As long as the wired communication is about accepting money for a gambling wager, it's against the law per the federal government, and no states are exempt from this. Falling under the broad and strict category of interstate laws, the government enforces the Federal Wire Act with a heavy hand and will immediately shut down any sort of business accepting wired transactions for the purposes of gambling.
Like the 1992 field goal missed by Buffalo in the Super Bowl, 2006's UIGEA was the act heard 'round the world. Although the online gambling industry continues to thrive today, it was really brought to its knees in 2006, at least in the United States. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was something that George Bush was all too happy to sign, since politicians were forever in a panic about banks and money somehow ending up in the hands of terrorists. Long story short, the UIGEA shut down online gambling in America completely, until 2011 when the DOJ ruled that states have a right to decide their own gambling fate – only not when it comes to sports betting (the double-think of government is astounding). So, as of early 2016, we have three states offering legalized online gambling in limited fashion: New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada. The UIGEA is still scaring states into backing off.
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, better known as PASPA, is one that's a bit more lenient than the Federal Wire Act, but not by much. This act was put together when a few politicians thought it was a good idea to protect the "integrity" of athletes. Notice that throughout history that the road to hell is always paved with those good intentions. For PASPA, four states who dealt with state-based sports lotteries were initially exempt from the law: Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Delaware. Since then, Nevada has also managed to wiggle out of the act's clutches. But other states are still beholden to PASPA and that's why you're very hard-pressed to find any live sportsbooks or even online sports betting sites licensed by states. Even after the 2011 DOJ ruling that said it was unlawful for the federal government to enforce the UIGEA on states (more below), the DOJ still upheld PASPA's dominance over states. So even though the federal government regulating gambling was something the DOJ found unconstitutional, even they made an exception for "sports" to protect athletes. Yeah, more of those good intentions!
A How-To Guide For Hockey Betting In America
If our legality section seemed a bit long-winded for your tastes, we apologize. It's just that it's very important that you understand the legal aspects of gambling before you try your hand at gambling. For instance, let's say you signed up with a sportsbook that was illegally licensed in the USA. Now, you wouldn't get in trouble for this, but when the site got shut down, you would lose every penny in your account and wouldn't even be warned about it. Therefore, it behooves you to do things properly the first time. Now that you know about the legal side of the sport, let's get into the betting side of things. In order to give you a true beginner's guide for hockey betting, we'll first need to cover the hockey betting lines that are most popular.
While there are quite a few hockey leagues throughout the world, not to mention collegiate hockey and other amateur hockey options on which you could technically bet, this article is going to stick with the National Hockey League (NHL) and only the pros. The reason is that there are just far more betting options with the pros, it's easier to understand, and the teams and players are a lot easier to research. Other hockey is niche hockey; the NHL is as mainstream as it gets.
The Popular Lines in Hockey
The moneyline, also called the straight bet, is always the easiest of the betting types to understand. Let's say that the Washington Capitals are playing the Chicago Blackhawks in a match in Chicago. You read a line that says Blackhawks -275, Capitals +200. If you've never seen this line before, it might be tough to figure out. The easiest way to get your head around this is to think in values of $100. If you wanted to win $100 on the Blackhawks, who are favored in this line, you would have to bet $275. If you wanted to win $100 on the Capitals, who are underdogs here, you would only need to bet $50 (betting $100 would win you $200). You can see how that works, how the +/- are different sides of the favorite-underdog dichotomy. The Blackhawks here are favored to win and are projected to win, which means betting on them pays out less. Don't allow the line itself to ever dictate your bet; always research and bet from an informed position. Just understand which lines are lucrative and which you should avoid. For instance, a line that's -350 just isn't going to pay you enough without having to risk a whole lot of money, whereas a line that's +350 is very lucrative and should warrant further research and considerations.
The Puck Line Point Spread
The point spread in hockey is often referred to as the puck line, as this line is a hybrid of a point spread and a moneyline, and it's primarily Canadian. However, you should be able to find the puck line on every reputable sportsbooks out there. To create the puck line, the point spread and moneyline are merged to create a line that reads something like Rangers -1.5 +180. Anyone who knows point spreads might be a bit confused about this. How can the team be a favorite in the spread but an underdog in the moneyline? This sort of bet, the puck line, is all about getting action on both sides of the bet. So if the team that's favored here ends up winning by 2 goals (which is typically the minimum), you get more than just 1:1 on your money; you're getting almost 2:1 on your money, as betting $100 will net you $180. As you can probably tell, the puck line is a very popular line on which to bet in hockey. Just remember that in most instances, unless the line is -.5, you're going to need your team to win by at least 2 goals before you win the bet. So this line may be profitable, but it's also harder to win. We'll give you some advice on handling the puck line in our tips section below.
The Over-Under (O/U) Totals
Hockey shares something in common with baseball, in that most scores are going to be low. You're going to find scores with a total of 4 or 5 are very popular, whereas it's also likely that the final total score ends up at only 2 or 3. Hockey has never really been high-scoring in any sense of the word, and so picking the over-under here can be a bit tricky. Let's say that the Ducks are playing the Jets and the O/U is 4. To put it simply, if you take the over, that means both teams must combine for 5 points or more, whereas taking the under leaves you needing 3 points or fewer. Never pay attention to the actual number given, as in expecting to hit it. Hitting the exact number would be a push. You either need to go over that number or end up under that number. We will offer you some betting advice in our tips section that should help you figure out when to take the over or under depending on what's happening out on the ice.
Although this is a type of bet that you want to be extremely cautious in making, it's actually the easiest line to understand by leaps and bounds. Let's say that the 2016/17 NHL season is only about two months away, and you find a line on a sportsbook that is allowing you to pick which team you think will win the Stanley Cup, which teams will get into the playoffs, which players will do the best, etc. These are called "futures," and they're all about predicting what will happen. The upside here is that futures pay very well. Even if a team like the Blackhawks are favored to win the Stanley Cup, it might still pay 12:1 or so for taking them, so putting $100 down on them would result in $1,200, a big payday. However, there are 29 other teams with which to contend, not to mention a whole season that could result in injuries, trades, a lockout, and other things that throw a wrench into your odds. So be very cautious about betting money on any sort of futures. Now, if you're just throwing $20 down on something that's 30:1, you have such an upside here that it might be worth risking twenty bucks. But don't take it too far beyond that. Few gamblers ever win futures; the site cleans up on these risky bets.
There are quite a few other betting lines on which to put your money, such as complex structures like parlays, whereby you roll over the winnings from one bet into another bet. Then you have things like live bets, where you can bet on the action in live-time and end up leveraging your bets. With a live bet, let's say you took the Islanders to beat the Canadians but Montreal ends up winning after two periods. In a live betting format, you can leverage this bet by taking Montreal for a few more bucks to still clear a profit over your initial Islanders bet, and should the Islanders come back and win you're still winning money, just not as much since you leveraged. Then you have something like prop bets, whereby you can bet with other members of the community on a wide variety of things; e.g. how many saves will a goalie have, how many points a star players scores, and even things like how many penalty minutes a player gets. We recommend you leave these lines alone until which point you get the hang of betting. Stop back by USA Sportsbook Sites and learn about some advanced betting techniques after you have the beginning stuff ironed out. We'll teach you about some leveraging tactics and how to use props and parlays to your full advantage. But start slowly and work your way up.
The Structure of the NHL
The NHL shares a whole lot in common with the NBA in terms of how the leagues are structured. In the National Hockey League, teams are broken down into two main conferences, the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference, and a total of 30 teams divided 15/15. Over the course of a season, the teams play 82 regular season games, with the top 8 finishers from each conference making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of course, with such a large schedule and so much action, this gives gamblers a lot of stuff on which to bet over the course of the NHL season. The more familiar you are with the NHL's structure, the more secure you will be in your betting. So in the event you haven't yet, take some time to familiarize yourself with team schedules, home and away games, point differentials in road trips vs. home stands, and other aspects of the season. The more you know about hockey in general, the easier it becomes to place winning bets.
Betting Tips to Implement for Hockey
After learning about the legality of sports betting, the lines offered for the NHL, and the structure of the league, all that's really left is to talk about betting. Here are a few betting tips that should help you get started out on the right foot. Remember that these tips are aimed at people who are just starting their foray into betting; in no way are these tips meant to be intermediate, and certainly not expert. If those are the sorts of tips you're after, please check out other material from our vast gambling network.
1: Avoid Anything too Forward-Thinking
Remember those futures we covered above in the lines? Yeah, it's those sorts of bets you want to avoid when just starting out. Not only futures, but anything that's too forward-thinking. For instance, if you read about a parlay and like the odds, you need to put this on the back-burner because it requires too much from your end. You need to win simultaneous bets over the course of multiple games, and that's just too much to ask from the start. Don't get your money tied up with anything that's betting on the outcome of a season or the outcome of multiple games. Keep your bets aimed at single games to start things out.
2: Streaks Matter a Lot in Hockey
As the Golden State Warriors are currently proving in the NBA, winning streaks are something to take seriously in all major sports. However, streaks typically matter in hockey betting a lot more than they do in other sports. Not only are hockey teams more historically likely to hold true to their season's trends, but streaks in hockey also affect the betting lines more so than other sports teams' trends affect their betting lines. For instance, the Calgary Flames on a big tear throughout the NHL is not only going to make them the favorites in many of their upcoming games, but it's also going to give much better lines for underdogs that may end up being incredibly lucrative for you to follow and bet on. Streaks in no way guarantee anything in hockey, or in any other sport, but they typically matter more in hockey, historically speaking, and you should pay attention to streaking teams more so than hit-or-miss teams.
3: Always Look at the IR and Total Rosters
Hockey packs in a lot of games every single week, with teams sometimes playing 3 or 4 nights a week in the rush of a regular season. A roster that was set on Monday may be different by the time Friday rolls around. Treat hockey a little like you do fantasy sports here. Check to see which players are on the Injured Reserve (IR) list, or the DL, or other inactive lists. See which players have injuries, which players are taking a rest, etc. After all, if you wanted to bet on the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin and Branden Holtby were sitting out, that wouldn't be a very smart bet. On the flip side of that, imagine that the Capitals were playing the Kings and the starting goalie for Los Angeles was injured. This wouldn't be a mathematical lock, but you sure do have a much better shot of winning by taking Washington here on a bet structure like the puck line.
4: Goalies are Key
As we mentioned above, hockey is perhaps the greatest game of keep-away ever conceived. The only thing that really comes close would be soccer, where you have a goalie guarding the net. But those net areas are huge! In the NHL, a goalie basically takes up the entire net with his body and his gear, so getting the puck past a goalie is a very difficult task. Getting the puck past an all-star goalie is something that's just rare in the NHL. You don't really want to hinge your betting on one single player, but there is no player that matters as much as a goalie on an NHL team. So as long as you're betting on a team who has a strong goalie, your odds are instantly improved. Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers, Jonathan Quick for the Kings, Carey Price for the Canadians, and other all-star, top-rated goalies. If ever you're thinking about taking the under on a game, it's almost a lock (at least colloquially speaking) when two top-rated goalies are on the ice at once. And if you want to bet a puck line, make sure the team you're taking has a top-rated goalie. Again, this isn't going to guarantee anything; but in terms of improving your odds, having the best goalie on the ice puts you in a great position to win.
5: Keep Your Bets Simplistic
When you're just starting out betting hockey, keep things as simple as you can until which point you start to learn more about the genre. As you're around sportsbooks more often, you're going to pick up the lingo, you're going to spot shifts in lines and how they're presented, and you're going to be able to adjust your bets for leverage with things like live betting and props. But all of this will come in time. To start, focus on bets like the moneyline and the O/U, with a puck line if you think you see some great odds. As the example above illustrates, take the under when you have two top-rated goalies facing off, and the reverse of that would be taking the over if the goalies are back-ups or just goalies who aren't doing very well. Keeping things simple gives you a much better shot at winning money as you're learning more about the genre in general.
No matter what sort of sport you like, USA Sportsbook Sites is working hard to create a betting guide for you. We hope that our hockey guide will help you understand the types of bets you can make, and we hope that we can help you win some money.