What is Chalk in Sports Betting? – Chalk Gambling Term

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Who or What is Chalk in Sports Betting?

The term “chalk” is most commonly heard in sports around March Madness when millions of people are filling out brackets. A “chalk” bracket, would be one with few to no upsets and would have four one seeds in the Final Four, something that almost never happens.

Similarly in general sports betting, the term chalk refers to heavy favorites. While an underdog is never chalk, that doesn’t mean all favorites are chalk. When a team is favored by a very close amount and it wouldn’t really be a shock to see an upset, that is not chalk. 

I’ll have more examples on this shortly, but for now let’s take a look at the origin of the term.

Why is it Called “Chalk”?

“Chalk” comes from the days before tickers and screens when horsetracks wrote the odds for the races on chalkboards for people to see. As usual, the favorite horses got more action and so by the time the race went off their names would be covered in chalk dust because the bookmakers would have to update the odds so often. 

There’s also a school of thought that the bookmakers at sportsbooks only wrote the line for the favorite, so for example if the 49ers were playing the Saints it might just have “49ers -7” (seven point favorites) next to the favorite, and no number next to the name of the underdog Saints. That way, more chalk was used to write out the favorites, so taking the favorite is “chalk.”

Examples of Chalk:

Let’s take a look at some games from Week 17 of the 2021-22 NFL season.

PHI (-5.5) @ WAS: Probably too small of a line to be considered chalk. Road favorites are typically less chalky than home favorites.

Jax @ NE (-15.5): Definitely considered chalk. In addition to being a game where casual bettors would say “well yeah of course Jacksonville will get crushed” the Patriots are a popular team with a big fan base and a well-known brand that can make it even more of a chalk selection. The Patriots won big and covered, so the chalk bettors were successful.

NYG @ CHI (-6.5): This one is a little complicated because a home favorite by almost a touchdown is usually chalk, but when both teams are not in playoff contention that muddies the waters a little bit. 

ATL @ BUF (-14.5): Also definitely a chalk pick on the Bills. “Well of course the Bills will win by more than two touchdowns at home against the Falcons!” Turns out the books are pretty smart. Final score: Bills 29, Falcons 15.

TB (-14.5) @ NYJ: Tom Brady against the lowly Jets, who are a meme to many fans, meant that the Bucs were definitely the chalk pick even as a road favorite. Turns out, the Bucs barely escaped with a win and the Jets covered the spread the entire game.

HOU @ SF (-13): Another popular brand team as huge home favorites to a bad team meant that the 49ers were definitely a chalk pick, and the chalk bettors were paid off thanks to a 23-7 victory for San Francisco. 

ARI @ DAL (-6): Even though Arizona came into this game with a good record, the Cardinals had been slumping in the few weeks prior while the Cowboys were red hot. As a six point home favorite, America’s team was definitely the chalk play. Final score: Arizona 25, Dallas 22. 

Min @ GB (-12.5): With Aaron Rodgers and the Packers hosting a backup Vikings quarterback in a primetime matchup, Green Bay was definitely a chalk pick. This one paid off, as the Packers rolled 37-10.

So to recap: Of these games above, I saw six chalk bets. The Patriots, Niners, and Packers covered while the Bills, Bucs, and Cowboys did not. 

Instead of messing around with large point spreads, many casual bettors will make a chalk parlay, thinking “how can any of these favorites possibly lose the game outright?” If a bettor had parlayed those six teams, the Cowboys loss would have destroyed the “easy” winning ticket.

Even though I just laid out some examples from the NFL, whether a pick is chalk or not is fairly subjective. It’s a term used mostly by and about casual bettors who don’t do research or know the data and just choose the favorite.

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