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  • Pick’em and free online betting sites test your sports knowledge without requiring you to put money on the line
  • There are a number of different formats for free-play sports betting
  • Free online betting sites that use real odds and mimic pay-to-play sportsbooks are a great place to practice sports betting skills and strategies

As with any new skill, it takes time to master the ins and outs of sports betting. And with real dollars on the line, it’s easy to get discouraged or flat-out financially ruined with a few wrong moves as you’re learning to bet.

But what if you could hone the skills you need to successfully bet on sports without needing to wager your hard-earned cash?

Enter free-play betting sites, which provide the same experience you’d have at an online sportsbook, but with virtual currency. Pick’em and free play are excellent ways to enjoy the lighthearted competition of fantasy sports while practicing handicapping skills and betting strategies you can later use to profit handsomely at an online sportsbook.

Why Bet on Sports with Fake Money?

Many people bet on sports to make money. After all, it can be an effective investment strategy for those with an exceptional ability to handicap their favorite sports or identify lines with excellent value.

But the popularity of March Madness brackets and fantasy sports suggests that many people simply want to compete with their friends or other fans across the web. Even now that online sports betting has largely been legalized in the United States, the majority of fans continue to make picks just for the fun of it.

Free online betting sites offer an excellent opportunity to experiment with various betting strategies before making your first real deposit.

Why not take advantage of this massive pool of “bettors” to see how your skills stack up? Free online betting sites increasingly resemble those accepting real cash wagers, offering aspiring bettors an excellent opportunity to get comfortable reading and understanding odds and experimenting with various betting strategies before making their first real deposit.

Comparing Free Online Betting Sites

There are a number of different competition formats to test your sports knowledge without laying down any dollars. Some look just like online sportsbooks, while others are more limited in scope.

Features of Free Online Betting Sites

Table: Free Play vs. Pick'Em vs. DFS

Choose a Free Play Book That Mirrors Paid Betting Sites

If your goal is to use free play or pick’em sites as a training ground for online sports betting, you’ll want to select a free-play site that is set up similarly to an actual online sportsbook. Here are a few things to consider when evaluating the options:

  • Does the site use real odds similar to those seen on actual betting sites?
  • Are you able to place multiple types of bets, such as moneyline, point spread, and totals (over/under)?
  • Is there an opportunity to parlay your picks for a bigger payout?
  • Does the site keep track of your record over time, allowing you to evaluate the progression of your betting strategy?

Some free-play sportsbooks will also host competitions that include a cash prize or other valuable incentive. Bookmark this page and check back periodically for new opportunities to compete.

What Is NFL Weekly Pick’Em?

NFL pick’em sites are the most popular form of free-play sportsbook. While the specifics differ slightly from site to site, the concept is generally the same: pick the winner of every NFL game happening that week.

Major media outlets such as Yahoo! and ESPN offer weekly pick’em competitions, and they can be a great option for those who want to keep things easy and simple.

That said, NFL pick’em sites are less helpful in learning the suite of skills bettors need to successfully grow their bankroll at an online sportsbook, because they don’t expose players to a wide range of betting types or allow them to practice skills such as parlaying or hedging.

Free Play vs. Daily Fantasy Sports

Daily fantasy sports have swept the nation in popularity, but they differ substantially from free play betting sites. Whereas daily fantasy rewards participants who can effectively handicap the abilities of individual players, free play and pick’em sites are generally focused on the results of entire teams or game outcomes.

Daily fantasy participants select players to construct a team of their own, whereas most bets placed at online sportsbooks require slightly different knowledge that rests on factors one needn’t consider in daily fantasy, like home team advantage, travel schedules, and weather.

As such, daily fantasy sports may not provide as helpful a training tool for aspiring sports bettors. In the end, the two are just a bit too different.

Top Free Betting Sites

Site/App Type
Yahoo! Pick’Em Pick’Em
ESPN Pick’Em Pick’Em
Cent Sports Free Play
Bookie Free Play
Betsim Free Play

Free Deposits at Online Sportsbooks

You’ve likely seen advertisements enticing you to take advantage of “free deposits” “free bets” or “free play” at full-service, pay-to-play sportsbooks. While these bonus offers do offer incredible value for those ready to bet on sports with actual money, it’s a bit misleading to call them completely “free.”

Terms and conditions always apply to promotional offers from online sportsbooks, and bettors need to carefully review them and shop around for the most valuable offers. Rollover, odds restrictions, and time restrictions all affect your ability to withdraw funds obtained through bonuses.

The important point is that sportsbooks don’t give away money: you need to put skin in the game to take advantage of their offers, but this isn’t the case at a free-play book or pick’em site.

Our comprehensive guide to understanding sports betting bonuses is a great resource to gain a basic understanding of how you can take advantage of these bonuses at pay-to-play sportsbooks.

Practice Makes Perfect

Free-play sites are the perfect place to hone your skills while learning to bet on sports, so make the most of it. Read up on the basics in our sports betting 101 series or get a feel for some of the more advanced tactics from our sports betting strategy series.