If you are new to sports betting or have never taken the time to learn about the many different ways to bet on sports, it can be a bit overwhelming to understand exactly what everything means. There are a lot of numbers and terms to learn about before you even really know what you are betting on. My goal is to break everything down and make it as easy as possible to understand.
I realize that this is still a lot of information to process, but stick with me and use this article as a reference whenever you have a question about the basic forms of wagering on sports. Each heading represents a type of bet and the explanation that follows should give you an idea of exactly what that type of bet is, and how to bet on it.
Point Spreads (Sides or Straight Bets)
By far the most popular type of bet to make is against the point spread. Odds makers (bookies/online sportsbooks) set a number to try to balance out two teams that are unbalanced. For every point spread bet there is a favorite and and underdog. Favorites are always represented by negative (minus) numbers, while underdogs will be accompanied by positive (plus) numbers.
Let’s look at an example for a little more clarity:
New York Jets +7
New England Patriots -7
In this case the Patriots are favored by 7 points (-7). This means that if you want to wager on the Patriots, for that wager to win, they need to win the game by more than 7 points (if they win by exactly 7, that’s called a push, or no-action, which means you just get your money back, like the wager never happened). On the flip side, if you bet the Jets at +7, for it to be a winning wager, the Jets have to either win the game outright, or lose the game by less than 7 points.
Before we move on, we need to talk about one of the most basic concepts of betting, which is also a concept that I constantly get questions on. I’m talking about are the odds, also known as “juice”, “vig” or simply the house edge.
The reason this gets confusing is that books typically do not explain what is going on, they just list the odds and you are expected to know what to do. In our example above, I simply showed the point spread, but that is never the case at sportsbooks. The actual lines you will see will look something like this:
New York Jets +7 -110
New England Patriots -7 -110
I’ve used -110 in the example because that is the most common number you are going to see, but it can be anything. The important part is simply understanding what that -110 means. These odds represent the house edge and are based on percentages. Simply put, -110 means you have to pay an additional 10% to wager on that team. For example, to win $100 on the Jets +7, you would need your risk amount to be $110. Odds of -115 means you must risk 15% more than you want to win, or $115 for every $100 wagered. For -105, you would need to wager $105 to win $100. Are you starting to catch my drift?
Some books will give you a worst spread, but at reduced odds, like New England -8 +110. This means the payout on your wager is 10% more than the amount you risk. So, for every $100 wagered, you would win $110.
The money line completely removes the point spread from the equation and forces you to simply pick the winner of the game. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast! Remember that pesky house edge we talked about? Those odds are the backbone of money line betting! The edge is adjusted based on the point spread to help the books mitigate their risk. Let’s just look at an example to make things easier:
Boston Celtics +185
Los Angeles Lakers -225
The underdog here (Boston) is listed at +185, meaning for every $100 wagered, you’ll win $185. I should also mention that I am only using $100 as an example, the odds stay the same for whatever amount you wager (e.g. a $15 bet would pay $27.75, or $15 x 1.85). The Lakers are a pretty big favorite here at -225, which means they are likely to win the game, but you must take a pretty big risk in wagering on it. For every $100 you want to win, you’d need to risk $225 (for your reference, to win $15, you’d need to wager $33.75 or $15 x 2.25).
For more information I put together a money lines explained article covering the details.
Totals are the second-most popular bet at sportsbooks. They are also one of the easiest wager types to understand. The oddsmaker sets a number for what they think the total points in the game will be. You simply pick whether you think the actual number of total points scored (both teams combined) will be more or less than the number the oddsmaker set. Again, the house edge applies. I won’t use it in this example, but be aware that it will be included in any over/under wagers you make. Here’s our example:
Alabama vs. Notre Dame O/U 42
In the example above, the total is set for 42 points. If you think these teams will combine to score more than 42 points, you would wager on the Over, if you think they’ll combine to score less than 42, you would of course bet on the Under. Got it? Good!
With parlays, you bundle your bets together in order to get an increased payout. The problem is that if one bet loses, the entire parlay loses. The lure of the big payout makes parlays extremely popular, but keep in mind that your risk increase exponentially with every team you add to the parlay. Here’s a look at typical parlay payouts based on the number of teams selected in your parlay. (Parlays can be any combination of the wager types above, I’m only using terms like “2 Teams” in the table for simplicity.)
# of Teams
*$10 Wager Payout
Teasers are very similar to parlays in that you bundle your wagers together. The difference is that you get extra points to play with (which comes at a cost, of course). The payouts and number of points you get on your teasers is going to be based on where you are placing your bets, as well as what sport you are betting. Popular teasers in football are 6, 7 and 10 points, while basketball typically features 5, 5.5 and 6 point teaser options.
When I talk about “getting extra points”, what exactly do I mean? First, keep in mind that teaser require at least two teams (10 point football teasers require three). Now let’s look at two hypothetical teams you are considering betting, then see what they would look like inside of a teaser:
New England Patriots -7 and San Francisco 49ers +3
Let’s say you like these two teams and decide to put them into a two team 6-point teaser. You want the advantage in both situations, so you would tease New England down to -1 and the 49ers up to +9. As with parlays, both games must win in order for your teaser to be a winning wager.
The payouts are going to vary place to place, but a typical 6-point two team teaser pays out at even money, or +100, meaning you win whatever you wager (bet $100 to win $100). The more points in the teaser, the more you are going to have to pay, for example, a two team 7-point teaser has odds of -120 in football (bet $120 to win $100 and both games must win).
You can probably see why teasers are growing so much in popularity. It feels like you are getting great odds on teams you were going to bet anyway! Just keep in mind that sportsbooks aren’t giving you extra points out of the goodness of their hearts! There are great situations to bet teasers, but books wouldn’t make them available if they didn’t make money on them!
On popular games many online books will make proposition (prop) bets available. Props are typically betting an individual player’s performance. For example, you could bet on LeBron James scoring over or under 32 points against the Lakers. These bets can really be anything the oddsmakers can think up. You may have heard about betting on heads or tails for the coin flip in the Super Bowl. That would also be an example of a prop bet. Props are mostly out there for fun and they typically have low maximum bets and a 30% implied house edge (-130).
Future wagers are used to bet on a team (or teams) that you think will win a championship, conference, or division. For example, at the beginning of the season, say you could bet the San Francisco 49ers to win the Super Bowl at 10/1 odds. The 10/1 means you get paid 10 times your wager (e.g. A $100 bet would pay out $1,000). These types of wagers can be fun, but they hit at such a low rate that I would rarely recommend them. There are just too many things that can happen throughout the course of a season. There are injuries, trades, coaching changes and other unpredictable factors to worry about.
Season Win Totals
Season win totals are technically futures bets, but they operate a little bit differently. The book sets a number of wins for each team and your wager is one whether that team will have more or less wins that the book puts out. For example, let’s say the Patriots’ win total for the year was set at 10.5 games. If you think they will win 11 games or more, you would bet the over on their season win total, if you think they’ll win 10 or less games, the under would be where you would put your money. In almost every season there are soft lines for win totals, but keep in mind that you still have to worry about unpredictable factors and that your money is tied up in these wagers until practically the end of the season.
Halftimes & Quarters
Many books offer spreads and totals for each half or quarter of a game. These wagers are set up exactly the same as “Point Spreads”, they are just for a smaller section of the game as opposed to the entire contest.
How to Bet:
- Guide to Betting on Sports
- Best Sports Handicappers
- Sports Betting: Why Your “Gut” is Probably Wrong
- Standard Deviations of ATS Margins by Totals
- Standard Deviations of Over/Under Margins by Total
- ATS Margin Standard Deviations by Point Spread
- Understanding Parlays
- Hedging Parlays
- Home Field Advantage
- Key Numbers
- Sports Handicapping
- Sports Betting Myths
- Sports Betting Money Management