The sports betting industry has increased in national popularity since the Supreme Court overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018 and opened the door for individual states to legalize sports betting.
Currently, there are 21 states (plus Washington D.C.) with legal and operational sports betting.
If you're a first-time bettor, the whole sports betting world can be an intimidating place, with a separate language, culture and customs. Don't worry, we're here to help.
In this introduction to sports betting, we'll help you familiarize yourself with key terms and bet types, explain how oddsmakers set lines and teach you the steps to properly make a sports bet.
Table of Contents
- Learn The Language Of Sports Betting
- Sportsbooks, Oddsmakers And Setting The Line
- What is a Power Rating and How to Create Power Ratings
- Favorites, Underdogs and the Point Spread
- What You Should Know About Moneyline Bets
- Point Totals For Games, 1st Half, 2nd Half, Teams, And The Over/Under
- The House Takes Vig, Vigorish Or Juice On Every Bet
- What Betting Advice You Should Take And Avoid
- How to Place a Bet at a Sportsbook or Online
Learn the language of sports betting
Whether placing bets on the Super Bowl, March Madness or an MLB game, bettors need to know some fundamentals about how sports wagering works, along with which options are available. This means learning the basics and understanding some of the language and terminology bettors use. Let’s look at a few of the must-know terms in the sports betting glossary.
If you are new to the sports betting scene, you will want to get acclimated with all of the different types of betting odds you’ll see. Whether you're looking for NFL odds, NBA odds, NCAA basketball odds, or the odds for any other sport, there are a whole host of different types of betting options. Below, we have highlighted the four main types of betting to give you a basic how-to guide to help you get started:
Favorites vs. Underdogs
For every game, regardless of the sport, oddsmakers first must decide which team is the favorite and which team is the underdog. Many factors go into the process, and it’s not as simple as the team with the better record being favored. Things like home-field advantage, injuries and public perception can help oddsmakers decide one team is more likely to beat the other on a given day.
The favorite is considered the one that is expected to win the game. The underdog, also known simply as the 'dog, is the one expected to lose. However, because favorites are the better team and win most of their games, oddsmakers must make betting fair by providing pros and cons to betting favorites and underdogs; otherwise, everyone would always bet favorites, and the sportsbooks would go bankrupt. As a result, oddsmakers level the playing field by creating risks for betting favorites and providing advantages for betting underdogs. Or put another way, you'll win more money betting $100 on the underdog than on the favorite.
You have two basic ways to bet on a favorite or an underdog, which is referred to as betting “the side.” The most popular bet type is the point spread, also known as the spread. The spread is a certain number of points taken away from the favorite and given to the underdog to level the playing field. The spread has nothing to do with which team wins the game -- the only thing that matters is the margin of victory.
The favorite “gives” or “lays” points to the underdog while the underdog “gets” points. The favorite will have a minus sign (-) in front of its odds, while the underdog will have a plus sign (+ ) in front of its odds.
Favorites win spread bets by winning the game by any margin greater than the spread they are laying. For underdogs to win spread bets, they need to win the game straight up or lose by a number less than the spread they are receiving. If the favorite or underdog fits this criteria, that is considered a “cover,” meaning they covered the spread and won the bet.
For example, let’s say the New England Patriots are 7-point favorites (or -7) against the New York Jets. If you bet the Patriots -7, they would need to win the game by eight points or more for you to win your bet and cover the spread. If the Patriots win by six points or fewer, or lose the game straight up, you lose your bet. If you bet the Jets + 7, they would need to win the game straight up or lose by six points or fewer for you to win your bet and cover the spread. If the Patriots win by exactly seven points, that would be considered a “push,” in which case the sportsbooks would refund the money you bet.
So if the Patriots won the game 24-20, the Jets would have covered the spread.
The spread isn’t the only option available to bettors who want to bet either side of a game. The second-most popular way to bet is on the moneyline. The moneyline is based only on which team will win the game straight up -- the margin of victory does not matter. It could be one point or 100 points; all that matters is winning the game.
Because favorites win most of their games, oddsmakers force bettors to assume more risk and pay a more expensive price when betting favorites. In other words, a favorite lays “minus money.” On the flip side, because underdogs win less often, oddsmakers need to make them more attractive to bet on, so they add a sweetener to underdogs in the form of a bigger payout, popularly referred to as “plus money.”
Let’s say the Seattle Seahawks are 3.5-point favorites against the San Francisco 49ers. You like Seattle to win but aren’t sure it will cover the spread. You could instead bet Seattle -150 on the moneyline. This means you would need to risk $150 to win $100. If Seattle wins, you win $100 and get your $150 back. If Seattle loses, you lose the $150 you risked. On the flip side, the 49ers might be + 140 on the moneyline. This means if you risk $100 on the 49ers and they win the game, you would win $140 plus get back the $100 you risked.
So if Seattle won 17-14, you would win on a Seahawks moneyline bet, but lose if you bet Seattle -3.5.
Betting on favorites and underdogs to win or cover the spread isn’t the only way to bet on a game. You can also bet on the combined number of points scored by both teams. This is called betting on the total, popularly referred to as the “Over/Under.”
Once a total is set by the oddsmakers, bettors can wager on whether the number of points scored will be above or below that total. This is popularly referred to as betting the “Over” or betting the “Under.” Just as for spreads, totals can involve not just whole numbers but half-points as well.
Betting on totals is a completely different way of betting compared with spreads and moneylines. Instead of rooting for one team to win the game or cover the spread, you are rooting for both teams. If you bet the Over, you are cheering for both offenses and rooting for both teams to score a lot of points. If you bet the Under, you are cheering for both defenses and rooting for both teams to score few points.
Let’s say an NFL game between the Giants and Eagles has a total of 47.5, and the Giants are -2. If you bet the Over, you would need the teams to combine to score 48 points or more. If you bet the Under, you would need the teams to combine for 47 points or fewer.
So if the Giants won 21-20, the Giants won on the moneyline, the Eagles covered the spread and the game stayed Under the total of 47.5.
While moneylines, point spreads and totals generally focus on the short term and specific matches, futures are long-term betting odds. They focus on events that will happen further down the line ... or in the future. In this case, you’re betting on things like who will win a division or who will win a championship weeks or months in advance.
There are some benefits and some risks associated with betting on futures. If you win, you can earn a hefty payout. On the flip side, however, your money is locked up for a long period of time. During that time, a lot of things can go wrong. If you bet on a particular team to win the championship and one of their star players is injured, suddenly their prospects of winning don't look as good. Sometimes, the team may just hit a slump partway through the season and lose a lot of valuable momentum. Just like with all betting, it’s important to calculate the risks and possible rewards.
In this kind of bet, the odds are set at the beginning of the season, but they can go up or down as time goes on. Once you make your bet, however, it is locked in at whatever the odds were at the time you placed the bet. This is why making a bet on a long shot early on can bring a potentially substantial payoff. At the beginning of the season, it isn’t entirely clear how well the team will do over the season, and so the odds are longer, offering higher rewards. If, over the course of the season, though, a team is showing that it has a good chance of winning, the odds for them improve, the risk goes down and the payoff gets smaller. Choosing exactly when to make this sort of bet is important.
Futures betting can be applied to more than just national championships. It can also be applied to things such as who will win the MVP award or other events that might happen down the line.
A prop bet, or "prop" for short, is any kind of bet outside of the traditional spread, moneyline and over/under that isn’t tied to the final score. Props for individual player over/unders are referred to as "player props" and have grown in popularity in recent years.
For example, say the Baltimore Ravens are facing the Pittsburgh Steelers. The oddsmakers might set Lamar Jackson's passing yard over/under at 298.5. You could then bet on either the over or the under. Other popular NFL prop bets would include over/under receiving yards, rushing yards and touchdowns for specific players. In the NBA, you can bet on specific players going over or under a certain amount of points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals and minutes. LeBron James might have point total prop of 25.5. You could then bet on either the over or the under.
Player prop over/unders can also be season long bets. For instance, popular MLB props include how many home runs, hits, RBI's or steal a player will hit in a season, along with how many wins, strikeouts or saves a pitcher will have. For example, maybe the oddsmakers set Mike Trout's home run total at 35.5 for the year. You could then bet the over or under.
Player props are a way to bet on a game in which you don't see value on either team winning or covering, or the total going over or under, but instead identify value on a specific player's performance. Instead of betting on a team, you are betting on a player.
Oddsmakers place an additional price or tax on every bet, popularly referred to as the “juice.” It is also called the vig, which is short for vigorish. The juice is a commission you must pay the sportsbooks for them to accept your bet.
Juice is added to all bet types, including spreads, moneylines and totals. It will appear as a three-digit number to the right of the spread or total, usually in parentheses. The juice won’t appear in parentheses next to a moneyline price because it’s already factored into the line.
Standard juice is considered to be -110. This is known as 10-cent juice. It means that for every dollar you wager, you have to pay a fee of 10 cents to the sportsbook.
The juice is almost always a negative number that bettors have to pay, but on rare occasions the juice might be a small plus money number, which means bettors could win a few additional cents if their bet wins.
For example, let’s say the Broncos are playing the Raiders. The line will appear as Broncos -7 (-110) and Raiders + 7 (-110). The -110 number in parentheses is the juice both sides must pay. This means if you wanted to bet on either team, you would need to risk $110 to win $100. If you lose your bet, you lose the $110 you risked. If you win your bet, you win $100 and get back the $110 you risked.
Juice doesn’t stay static. Sportsbooks are constantly adjusting the juice based on the action they are taking in, raising or dropping the juice depending on which side is taking in more money.
Many new bettors assume that to turn a profit betting on sports you have to win only 50.1% of your bets. On the surface, that sounds correct. Just win slightly more games than you lose and you’ll make money. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Why? Because of the juice.
If you assume standard -110 juice, this means bettors actually have to win 52.38% of their bets to break even. This is considered the magic number in betting. To turn a profit, you would need to win at least 52.39% of your plays.
Bettors should always shop around and try to place bets at books providing the best and lowest juice.
But how do you know which sportsbooks offer the best and cheapest juice? In the old days, you would have to physically travel to each sportsbook and check out the prices they were offering. Not anymore. The rise of the internet in the 1990s changed everything for sports bettors. With it came a revolutionary invention called a Live Odds Page.
The Live Odds Page compiles all lines and juice prices from dozens of different sportsbooks together in one easy to view place. Consider it like an E-Trade platform, but instead of showing the prices of all stocks, it displays sports betting lines and odds. The Live Odds page also updates in real time as sportsbooks change lines and adjust the juice. It is considered a bible and a must-have for sports bettors. It allows bettors to read and anticipate line movement and shop for the best odds and juice prices.
Be sure to visit the free VSIN Live odds page to view all lines and odds across the market. Just go to www.vsin.com/odds.
You can also check the current lines and odds in your particular state by visiting https://www.vsin.com/odds/by-state/.
Other common sports betting terms defined:
Action: A bet or wager.
Against the spread: The result of a game, including the point spread.
Bad Beat: A bet that looks like the bettor is going to win but doesn't.
Book (Sportsbook): An place where someone can bet on the outcome of sporting events.
Buck: A $100 bet.
Chalk: The favorite in a game.
Consensus: Percentage of the betting public on each side of a game. Some bettors will bet against the "public money" (whichever team more bettors have placed their bets on).
Cover: The betting outcome on a point spread bet. For a favorite to cover, it must win by a number higher than the spread. An underdog can cover by losing by a number less than the spread or by winning the game outright.
Dime: A $1,000 bet.
Dollar: A $100 bet.
Edge: The advantage a bettor has before a bet is placed.
Even (Even Money): A $100 bet to win $100.
Favorite: A team favored to win a game.
Future bets: A bet on events that will happen further in the future, like who will win a division or who will win a championship well in advance.
Handle: The total amount of money wagered on a game.
Handicapping: Researching sports statistics to pick winners.
Hedging: Betting opposite of a previous bet to guarantee a profit.
Hook: A half-point in the spread.
In-game wagers: Bets made after a game started.
Juice: A commission books win on each bet.
Limit: The maximum allowed wager on a single bet.
Lock: A large favorite.
Long Shot: A large underdog.
Moneyline bet: A bet made if a team will win or lose outright with no point spread.
Nickel: A $500 bet.
No Action: A game that is no longer taking bets and all wagers are refunded.
Oddsmaker (Linemaker): Someone who sets the opening line on a game.
Off the Board: A game bettors cannot wager on.
Over: When the combined score of two teams is more than what the sportsbook set.
Parlay: A bet that combines multiple games for a higher payout. The more games, the higher the risk but the greater the payout. In order for the parlay to win, each game must win or push (tie). If any of the games lose, the entire wager loses.
Pick 'em: A game with no favorite or underdog.
Point spread: Margin of victory set by oddsmakers to attract bets action on both the favorite and the underdog. A favorite must win by a number higher than the point spread to cover the spread. An underdog can cover by losing by a number less than the spread or by winning the game outright.
Puckline: Hockey has a point spread of -1.5 for the favorite and 1.5 for the underdog.
Proposition bets (prop): A bet on anything that is not directly tied to the outcome of the game. For example, it can be the first team or the first player to score in a game.
Push: When neither team covers the spread (the actual margin of victory lands exactly on the spread), no one wins the bet and all wagers are refunded.
Runline: Baseball has a point spread of -1.5 for the favorite and + 1.5 for the underdog.
Sharp (Wiseguy): A professional sports bettor.
Steam: A quick change on a line due to heavy wagering.
Taking the points: Betting an underdog against the spread.
Teaser: Similar to a parlay, spreads are favored towards the bettor but has a lower payout.
Total bet (over/under): A bet on the combined number of points scored by both teams in a game, including overtime/extra innings.
Under: When the combined score of two teams is less than what the sportsbook set.
Underdog ('dog): A team not favored to win a game.
Wager: A bet placed at a sportsbook.
Sportsbooks, Oddsmakers and Setting the Line
No one becomes a sports betting expert overnight. It takes months, if not years, to turn from a rookie bettor into an experienced veteran. The first step is learning how sports betting works and understanding some of the language and terminology that bettors use.
Let's start by focusing on a few basic fundamentals, including sportsbooks, oddsmakers and how lines are set.
The most common way of placing a bet is through a sportsbook, popularly referred to as a "book" or simply "the house." These are the facilities that accept bets and give out money.
There are two kinds of sportsbooks.
The first is a physical place like the South Point in Las Vegas, where you walk up to the cashier, known as "the window" and place your bet in person. Physical sportsbooks are usually located inside or next to a casino. They are considered a sports bettor's paradise because they are filled with wall-to-wall big screen televisions showing dozens of games that bettors can watch and root for their bets, also known as a "sweating a game."
The second type of sportsbook is located online. Once you create an account with the online sportsbook, you can place your bets through a computer, tablet or a mobile app. Mobile apps have become increasingly popular in recent years due to the immediacy and convenience.
Physical sportsbooks employ a vast staff of employees to make the operation run smoothly. This including cashiers (known as ticket writers), supervisors, accountants, risk managers, security officers, betting analysts and technicians. But the most important person at a sportsbook is the head oddsmaker. They are math experts with unparalleled betting knowledge and decades of experience in the industry. They know betting and money like the back of their hands.
The head oddsmaker is the person who creates the odds for all the different games, matchups and events that bettors can wager on. Creating the odds is popularly referred to as “setting the line.” It’s important to remember that there are hundreds of different sportsbooks and not every book posts the same odds a given game. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the region, the clientele and a basic difference of opinion on what the line should be. Some books cater mostly to casual or recreational bettors who bet for fun, known as "Average Joes" or simply "the public." Other books cater to more serious, professional bettors who win at a higher rate and bet large amounts. These are considered sharp bettors, known popularly as "sharps" or "wiseguys."
To determine what the odds should be on a given game, oddsmakers rely heavily on advanced mathematics, scientific formulas, computer algorithms, power ratings and experience. By comparing each team's power ratings and crunching the numbers, oddsmakers will get a rough estimate of what the line should be.
Oddsmakers then adjust or tweak the line based on home-field advantage, injuries, specific head-to-head matchups, scheduling and even weather. If a team suffers an injury to a star player or a team is playing their second game in consecutive nights, known as a back to back, that is factored into the odds. If a football team with a bad offensive line is facing a team with a great defensive line, that is also factored into the odds.
Once oddsmakers set the line, it is then released to the public. The initial line is called the opening line, or "opener" for short. Bettors can then pick which team they want to bet on. Generally speaking, the goal of the oddsmakers, also known as bookmakers, is to set a line that garners balanced 50/50 money on both sides. This way they can limit their risk and mitigate their liability.
Once a line is released, the limits are low. Limits are the amount of money the sportsbooks will accept on a given wager. The sportsbooks use this initial period when the line is first released as a “feeling out” period to see how the early market reacts. Sportsbooks want to protect themselves from professional bettors betting big amounts early and taking advantage of an incorrect or off line, known as a “soft “ line. The books allow professional bettors to bet on games at low limits to help them shape and mold the line to its strongest and most accurate number. Once a universal line is established, known as a "consensus line," then the market takes over.
It's important to know that betting odds are fluid and constantly changing based on the money and bets or "action" the sportsbooks are taking in. The books will adjust the line up or down based on which side is taking in more money. Once books have gotten a read on the market and are able to identify which side the sharps are betting, where the public is and where their liability exists, they will then raise the limits closer to game time and allow bigger bets to come in. Once the game starts, the full-game odds close and you can no longer bet on them.
Full-game odds are the most popular odds to bet on. But sportsbooks also offer other odds to bet on, including first-half odds and first-quarter odds. At halftime, the books release a second-half line based on how the first half went. For halftime bets, bettors must quickly place their bets before the second half begins. Throughout the game, many sportsbooks also offer live lines that are constantly being adjusted based on how the game is playing out. This is known as in-game wagering and has grown in popularity in recent years.
What is a Power Rating and How to Create One
Power ratings are numerical values assigned to each team in each sport, with the best teams at the top and worst teams at the bottom. It is a way to rank and rate all of the different teams based on their overall strength and then compare them. Power ratings are subjective and professional bettors can have differing opinions. They also use different formulas and styles, with some pros leaning more on "feel" and the eye test while others lean more heavily on data, analytics and advanced algorithms.
No matter the style, the thought process is the same: The goal is to have a starting point to go off of and then constantly adjust the ratings based on how each team is performing throughout the season. There are typically bigger adjustments at the start of every season, then fewer adjustments as the season progresses.
Pros will lean heavily on specific statistical categories when setting their power ratings. In football, this would include offensive vs. defensive statistics, yards per play, turnover differential, point differential (especially first half point differential), third-down conversion rate and more. Power ratings also take into account coaching, positional rankings, depth and of course, the most important player on the field, the quarterback.
If you're new to power ratings, a good sport to start with is the NFL because it's the most popular and there are only 32 teams, which means there is so much information and coverage to lean on.
If you're looking to create your own NFL power ratings, a good launching pad is just ranking the teams from 1 to 32 in terms of win totals. For example, the team with the highest win total of any team in an upcoming season would be the No. 1 team, and the team with the lowest win total of any team would be ranked last at 32 overall.
Power ratings are especially important when it comes to college sports because there are over 130 different teams to rank and rate. Typically the top 30 and bottom 30 will be the easiest, but the middle 70 can be tougher to judge.
Many sharp bettors will set power ratings where the best and top teams in the country would be a 100, with the worst teams around 50. For example, in college football Clemson might be a 98 while Alabama and LSU are a 97 and 96; the worst team in the nation might be a 45.
VSiN Plus All Access subscribers can always consult the latest issue of Point Spread Weekly to view power ratings for the current games on the board. We also offer daily updated power on VSiN.com. Just click the sport you’re looking for and you’ll see “Daily Power Ratings” in the drop down menu.
Once the power ratings have been developed, pros will then compare any two teams, make adjustments and come up with a number of what the spread should be. In other words, the power ratings help bettors set their own lines.
For example, let's say Clemson is playing Michigan. One sharp bettor has Clemson's power rating at 98 while Michigan is 90. Clemson is also at home, which typically means you would add three points for home-field advantage. Plus there are some injuries to Michigan and Clemson has a specific edge in terms of defensive line vs offensive line. As a result, the spread would be Clemson -8 to start (98 vs. 90), then maybe it would be tweaked up to Clemson -12 as a result of home field and adjustments. Power ratings aren't the end-all, be-all for pro bettors but they are a huge piece of the puzzle and a great starting point in terms of handicapping any matchup.
Once the oddsmakers release a line, professional bettors will consult their own numbers and look for actionable discrepancies. If the oddsmakers release a line that is far off from the line that pros think it should be, professional bettors will bet the game immediately once the lines are available. For example, in the hypothetical Clemson-Michigan game mentioned above, a professional bettor might have their power ratings showing Clemson as a 12-point favorite.
Let's say the oddsmakers open Clemson as a 10-point favorite. Pros would immediately bet Clemson -10 as soon as the odds are released because they have the game pegged at 12. As a result, they see an edge on Clemson of two points, which means it's a smart bet to jump on. On the flip side, maybe the oddsmakers open Clemson as a 14-point favorite. Since the pros have the game pegged at 12-points, they would instead jump on Michigan + 14 because they are predicting a 12-point game, which means getting 14 points with the Wolverines would constitute a smart bet.
A common phrase to describe pro bettors is that they bet numbers, not teams. They view betting through the lens of value. If value is there, they will make a wager. If it isn't there, they lay off.
At their core, professional bettors are mathematicians at heart. Their No. 1 goal isn't just to pick the right side, but to also get the best possible odds on a game. While a public bettor might only bet through one sportsbook, professional bettors bet through multiple sportsbooks, up to a dozen or more. This is so that they have access to a wide range of different lines and can shop for the best line. This is also referred to as having multiple "outs."
In the end, creating your own power ratings might feel like a daunting task. But that shouldn't stop you from giving it a shot. In doing so, you will find yourself studying the teams in much greater depth, which will pay dividends down the road when you start handicapping specific matchups. Over the years, if you stick with it, your power ratings will get better and better with more experience.
Favorites, Underdogs and the Point Spread
For every game, regardless of the sport, the oddsmakers first must decide which team is the favorite and which team is the underdog. Many factors go into the process. It’s not as simple as the team with the better record being the favorite. Things like home-field advantage and injuries can help the oddsmakers decide that one team is more likely to beat the other on any given day.
The favorite is considered the better team that is expected to win the game. Favorites typically have superior players, more experience, better coaching, a better track record of success and match up better against their opponents. The underdog, also known simply as the “dog,” is the worse team that is expected to lose the game. They might be less talented, less experienced and have inferior coaching.
The spread is available in almost all sports, but it is most popular in football and basketball because the margin of victory can be vast. Baseball and hockey also have a spread, but they aren't as popular because many games result in a margin of victory of one run or one goal. In baseball the spread is known as the "run line" with the favorite giving 1.5 runs and the dog getting 1.5 runs. This means the favorite spread is -1.5 and the dog spread is + 1.5. In hockey, the spread is known as the "puck line" with the favorite laying 1.5 goals and the dog getting 1.5 goals.
If you bet either favorite, they would need to win by two or more runs (or goals) in order for you to win and cover your bet. If they only win by one, or lose the game straight up, you lose your bet. If you bet either dog, they would need to win the game straight up or lose by one run or one goal. Because underdogs are getting an extra run or goal and a half with the spread, bettors must pay a higher price on them. In turn, the price of betting a favorite on the spread is much cheaper because they have to win the game by more than one run or goal.
For favorites to win a spread bet, they need to win by any margin that is greater than the spread they are laying. For underdogs to win the spread bet, they need to win straight up or lose by a number less than the spread they are receiving. If the favorite or underdog fits this criteria, that is considered a “cover,” meaning they covered the spread and won the bet.
It’s important to remember that not all spreads are whole numbers. You often see spreads featuring half points. The extra half point is critical and could end up being the difference between a win, a loss and push. The extra half point is referred to as “the hook.”
In the betting world, teams are measured by two sets of win-loss records: their conventional win-loss record (straight up or "SU") and their win-loss based on how they perform when factoring in the spread, otherwise referred to as their “against the spread” or "ATS" record. This refers to how often a team covers, not how often they win. For example, the Jets might have a win-loss record of 7-9 but go 10-6 ATS. This means they've only won seven of their 16 games, but have covered 10 of them. In terms of the standings, the Jets would be considered a losing team; in terms of betting they would be considered a winning and profitable team to bet on.
What You Should Know About Money-line Bets
After the spread, the second-most popular way to bet on a favorite or an underdog is on the money line, also known as the "ML" for short. The money line is only based on which team will win a game straight up. The margin of victory does not matter. It could be 1 point or 100 points, all that matters is winning the game.
The oddsmakers set money-line prices for each team, which then bettors must pay in order to bet either side. The amount of money you need to risk depends on the price of the money line. If you win your money-line bet, the price of the money line also determines your payout. Unlike spreads where you are giving or getting points, money lines involve paying a specific price determined by the oddsmakers based on how likely or unlikely a team is to win the game.
Because favorites win the majority of their games, the oddsmakers force bettors to assume more risk and pay a more expensive price when betting favorites. In other words, a favorite lays "minus money." On the flip side, because underdogs win less often, oddsmakers need to make them more attractive to bet on so they add a sweetener to underdogs in the form of a bigger payout, which is popularly referred to as "plus money."
You can quickly identify which team is the favorite and which team is the underdog by the plus or minus sign listed in front of their odds. Favorites will have a minus sign in front of their odds and underdogs have a plus sign in front of their price. In both cases, this is the amount of money you would need to risk or stand to win if your bet cashes.
All money lines begin at even odds, also known as "even money," which is -100 or + 100. This would be considered a pick ’em price. The money-line price then increases based on how much better one team is compared to the other.
Money lines are available across all sports but are most common in baseball and hockey. This is due to the fact that they are lower-scoring sports and many games are decided by one run or one goal. As a result, it makes more sense to bet on who will win the game, not the margin of victory.
For example, let’s say the Atlanta Braves are -150 favorites against the St. Louis Cardinals, who are + 135 'dogs. If you wanted to bet on the Braves -150 you would need to risk $150 in order to win $100. If the Braves win, you win $100 plus you get back the $150 you risked. If the Braves lose, you lose the entire $150 that you risked. So while favorites win the majority of their games, they also come with big risk. When they win, you only win the pre-determined amount you stood to gain. But if they lose, you lose much bigger amounts.
On the flip side, if you wanted to bet $100 on the Cardinals at + 135 and they ended up upsetting the Braves and winning the game, you would win $135 plus you would get back the $100 you risked. If the Cardinals lose, you only lose the $100 that you risked. In essence, because underdogs are less likely to win the game, you assume less risk betting on them and receive a bigger reward when they pull off an upset. The plus money and additional payout is what makes underdogs appealing to bet on.
Money lines are available in football and basketball, but they are less popular to bet on than the spread. With football and basketball, the oddsmakers convert the spread into a moneyline price, which bettors can then pay.
For example, let's say the San Francisco 49ers are 10-point favorites on the spread against the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers -10 would translate to roughly -700 on the money line. If you think the 49ers will win the game but aren’t confident in them winning by 11 points or more, you could bypassed the spread and bet San Francisco -700 on the money line.
However, because of the super expensive money-line price, this means you would have to risk $700 just to win $100. Despite paying the massive price, you would think betting the 49ers would still be worth it. A big favorite like that can’t possibly lose, right? But remember, there are no locks in sports betting. There is no such thing as a guarantee. Upsets happen.
This is why point spreads are much more common in football and basketball: They carry far fewer risks than the money line. Sure, favorites will win the majority of their games, but when they lose, you lose big because you had to risk so much to bet on them. This is why bettors should be careful betting huge favorites on the money line. In the end, it's all about risk vs. reward. Always ask yourself: Is the juice worth the squeeze?
Point Totals For Games, 1st Half, 2nd Half, Teams And The Over/Under
Betting on favorites and underdogs to win or cover the spread isn't the only way to bet on a game. In addition to setting the line for favorites and underdogs, oddsmakers also set a line on the cumulative amount of points, goals or runs scored in the game by both teams combined. This is called the total, which is more popularly referred to as the “over/under” or simply the “O/U.”
Oddsmakers set the total based on the same high-level algorithms and formulas they use when determining the spread and ML, but in this case they are leaning more heavily into specific offense vs defense matchups, pace and style of play, coaching philosophies, referee or umpire tendencies and even the weather.
For example, if both teams are struggling on offense and possess great defenses, the oddsmakers will set a low total for the game. On the flip side, if both teams possess high-scoring offenses and play porous defense, the total will be set higher.
The weather can also have a big effect on totals. One of the biggest factors is the wind. Let's say the Chicago Cubs are hosting the Milwaukee Brewers and the wind is howling out to dead-center field at 15 MPH at Wrigley Field. This would lead to oddsmakers setting a higher total than usual because a warning -track fly ball could be pushed over the fence and become a home run thanks to the wind, leading to more runs being scored.
Or maybe a football game between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs features swirling 15 MPH crosswinds. This makes it harder to throw the ball and kick field goals, which would force the oddsmakers to set a lower total. Meanwhile, if a game is being played indoors inside a dome or closed roof stadium, the total would be set higher due to the perfect conditions.
Once a total is set, bettors can then wager on whether the amount of points scored will be above or below the total. This is popularly referred to as a betting the "over" or betting the "under." Just like for spreads, totals can also involve not just whole numbers but half points as well.
Betting on totals is a completely different way of betting compared to spreads and money lines. Instead of rooting for one team to win the game or cover the spread, you are rooting for both teams. If you bet the over, you are cheering on both offenses and rooting for both teams to score a lot of points. If you bet the under, you are cheering on both defenses and rooting for both teams to score a low amount of points.
Totals are available in all sports but are most popular in basketball and football where there are a higher number of total points scored. An average total in the NFL is roughly 45 points. In the NBA it’s usually between 210 and 220 points. MLB totals are typically 8.5 runs and NHL totals are typically 5.5 goals.
For example, let’s say the Chicago Bulls are playing the Los Angeles Lakers and the oddsmakers set the total at 215.5. If you wanted to bet the over, you would need both teams to combine to score 216 points or more. It doesn't matter which team wins the game. If the Lakers win 110-106 or the Bulls win 110-106, you win your over bet. If you bet the under, they would need both teams to combine to score 215 points or less.
It’s important to note that bets on the total are based on the full game results, not the regulation results. So if a game goes to overtime, that counts toward the total. Overtime can be a blessing or a curse depending on what side you’re on. If it’s late in the game and you’re losing your over bet, bettors will hope and pray the game goes to overtime so there is extra time to score more points. On the flip side, if a bettor has an under and the score remains low late in the game, bettors will cross their fingers that the game doesn’t go to overtime, which would lead to more points being scored and potentially sink their under bet.
Anytime you have a bet that is winning for much of the game and loses in heartbreaking fashion at the very end, that is referred to as a "bad beat."
The most popular total bet is on the full game. However, sportsbooks also offer totals for the first half and the first quarter (abbreviated 1H and 1Q). Once the first half is over, the second-half line is released, abbreviated as 2H. Sportsbooks also offer a live-line total for in-game wagering.
In baseball, the first half line is called the "first five," short for the first five innings and abbreviated as F5. It can be a popular bet among sharp bettors, especially if there is a stellar pitching matchup. For example, let's say the Los Angeles Dodgers are playing the Washington Nationals with aces Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg facing off. The full game total might be set at 8 and the first five total might be set at 4. With two of the best pitchers in baseball on the mound, you might want to take the first five under 3.5, thinking that both aces will shut down the opposing offenses and maybe it's 1-0, 1-1, 2-0, 2-1 or scoreless game after the first five innings. However, you bypass the full game under 8 because both teams possess poor bullpens and could give up several runs in the last four innings to sink the full game under 8.
In additional to the full game total for both teams combined, you can also bet on how many points a specific team will score during a game. This is referred to as a team total, abbreviated as TT. So while the Bulls-Lakers game might have a full game total of 215.5, the Bulls TT might be set at 107.5. Maybe you are worried about the full game total going over because the Lakers have a potent offense but see value on the Bulls team total under because Los Angeles has a stellar defense that the Bulls don't match up well against.
Books also offer win totals for each team prior to each season. These are season-long bets based on how many games a given team will win over the course of a year. Then they get adjusted throughout the year based on how each team is performing. For instance, before the season starts, the Atlanta Falcons might have a win total of 8.5. If you think the Falcons will win 9 or more games in the upcoming year you could bet the over. If you think Atlanta will win 8 games or less you could bet the under. You would then have to wait the entire year to cash your ticket if it wins.
What Betting Advice You Should Take And Avoid
Once new bettors have abandoned their long-held allegiances and learned the pitfalls of betting like a fan, the next step is to block out media hype and bias. This means ignoring the noise and not falling into the trap of betting games based solely on the opinions of sports talking heads.
Over decades, an entire entertainment empire has been built around covering sports. There are hundreds if not thousands of televisions shows, radio stations and web sites devoted to sports. Some media outlets provide worthwhile analysis and content, but the vast majority aren't in the business of informing or teaching their audience, especially when it comes to betting.
Instead, they are focused on spewing hot-takes. Why? Because hot takes generate buzz and discussion, which causes viewers, listeners and readers to continue tuning in. The truth is that the coverage of sports is a largely opinion-based industry. And it's all about ratings. The loudest, most outlandish and most controversial opinions generate the most clicks and eyeballs.
The biggest and most popular media outlets, like ESPN or Fox Sports 1, have a massive effect on public perception. Their coverage can influence opinions and shape how the "betting public" views a game.
For example, maybe the Seattle Seahawks open as 7-point favorites against the Detroit Lions on Thursday Night Football. It's a Monday and the game is several days away. All week, you turn on ESPN and see show after show, commentator after commentator hyping up the Seahawks. They air a non-stop stream of highlights showing the Seahawks crushing their opponents. They feature a one-one-one interview with Seattle's star quarterback Russell Wilson, cutting away to clips of Wilson throwing touchdown pass after touchdown pass. The Seahawks look like an unstoppable juggernaut and the greatest team in the world. Then it pans to each "analyst" to give their picks. All 10 select the Seahawks.
Now imagine four straight days of this kind of coverage. Throughout the week, a media narrative forms around how the Seahawks are a much better team and "guaranteed" to blow out the lowly Lions. However, it's important to note that these talking heads are mostly driving opinions based on who will win the game. The conversation is rarely ever about which team will cover the spread.
If you turned off the TV, were unaware of this media bias and decided the Seahawks were the smart bet based on your own research, that's fine. But if you failed to really do your homework and decided to bet on Seattle because the media manipulated you into thinking it was a lock, that is a mistake.
Betting games based on opinion, especially the opinion of others, is a losing strategy. Instead, bettors should rely on hard data that you can quantify and weigh. Bettors need to make informed decisions based on facts, statistics, line movement and value.
One of the main reasons it's important to ignore media hype, aside from the fact that network bias can talk you into a bad bet and out of a smart bet, is the harsh reality of shaded lines.
You have to remember that if you're watching ESPN pump the tires of the Seahawks all week long, it means hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other bettors are watching the same coverage you are. They're hearing and seeing the same pro-Seattle highlights and opinion-driven analysis. And as a result, their opinions will be influenced by the talking heads. They, too, are likely to jump on the bandwagon and want to bet on Seattle.
Unfortunately for the public, the sportsbooks are fully aware of this. They are conscious of which direction public sentiment is trending and will shade their lines accordingly. This means adjusting the line further toward the popular side.
Oddsmakers don't set lines in a vacuum. They also take public bias into account.
For example, maybe the oddsmakers came to the conclusion that the Seahawks should be a 6.5-point favorite in the hypothetical Thursday Night matchup against the Lions. However, they know that the public, with the help of the media hype machine, will be all over the Seahawks no matter what the number is, so they raise the line to 7.
Then, throughout the week as the media bias builds in favor of Seattle, the public, influenced by the coverage, loads up on the Seahawks even more, which causes the line to rise further to -7.5. This causes late Seattle bettors to lay a bad number a full point higher than the true opener.
Anything can happen. The Seahawks could win by 10 and cover. The Lions could lose by 6 or lose by 3 and cover. The singular outcome in and of itself isn't the most important thing to remember here. The idea is to beware of shaded numbers and not let the media noise machine influence your opinion of a game. By buying into the popular and overvalued side, you are playing right into the sportsbooks hands by betting a shaded an overpriced number.
Ignoring the noise isn't just about disregarding the opinions of national TV shows or talk radio hosts. It also applies to social media. Twitter is a fantastic medium that has countless benefits for bettors. It's the best way to monitor breaking news in real time like key injuries. It also allows you to follow on-the-ground reporters for each specific team. The local beat reporters, especially in college sports and student newspapers, can be a great resource for bettors because they give you unparalleled insight into little things that fall through the cracks that the national talking heads might be completely unaware of.
On the flip side, Twitter can have its faults as you are inundated with a constant stream of opinions, many of which come from Average Joes and questionable accounts. There is an entire subculture around betting called "Gambling Twitter" where bettors discuss games, tweet their picks and give their reasoning behind their bets. On the one hand, it's great that the platform provides everyone the opportunity to speak their mind. But on the other hand, very few of these opinions are data-driven and actionable.
A smart way to make sure you're avoiding bias is to cover up the names of the teams and diagnose the matchup based purely on the merits themselves. Instead of seeing the name Seattle, label the Seahawks "Team A" and the Lions "Team B." This is how professional bettors approach games. They bet numbers, not teams. They let the data do the talking, not the media. By covering up the names of the teams, you force yourself to dissect the game from a more objective- not subjective- perspective. You are less likely to talk yourself into a bad bet, or away from a good bet.
Also keep in the back of your head that the popular side doesn't always win. Sure, the Seahawks could cover this individual game despite the lopsided public betting and shaded line, but over the long haul this is a losing endeavor. The house always wins, which means more often than not, the public loses, especially when they're betting the worst of the number after it moves.
Always remember: You are your best analyst. Always trust your own process, you own data and your own methodology, not some talking head or a random person on Twitter.
How to Place a Bet at a Sportsbook or Online
In this guide, we’ve talked a lot about betting philosophies and strategies, ensuring you're on the sharp side of every play, and always trying to get the best number so you can beat the closing line. The goal is simple: Do your homework and always try to make the smartest bet possible. But what good is this if you don't know how to actually place a bet?
Generally speaking, there are two different options for placing a bet. You can either bet in person at a physical sportsbook (usually located inside a casino) or online through a computer, tablet or mobile app.
Betting at a physical sportsbook can be intimidating if you've never done it before. It's usually loud and full of bright lights with lots of people congregating and cheering on their bets, also known as "sweating" their bets. The walls are covered with massive televisions showing every game under the sun. There are huge scoreboard that display countless sports, teams and various numbers. A long line of bettors patiently wait for their turn to place a bet at the cashier, which is also known as the "ticket window" or "window" for short. If you're new to betting, the last thing you want to be is the person who doesn't know what you are doing when it's your turn to place a bet.
Before you place your first bet, it's important to know a few things beforehand. When you first walk into the sportsbook, do yourself a favor and find a seat. It may seem trivial but it’s important. The "book" will likely be packed with patrons. It makes everything a lot easier if you can find a seat instead of having to stand. By claiming a spot, you can set up a work station where you can study the games and go through your bets.
Once you've found a spot, the next thing you want to do is search for the betting sheets. They are typically located in front by the ticket windows. Every sportsbook will print their daily offerings onto sheets of paper, which you can then grab and keep for yourself, free of charge. It will show every sport, every game, the lines and the ID numbers, also known as the rotation numbers.
The sheets will show the opening lines, which will have surely moved by the time the sheets are in your hands. You can compare the opening lines to the current lines listed on the big boards to see how the odds have changed. Circle games of interest and write notes in the margins. Another suggestion is to bring your smart phone and an iPad or tablet, which you can use to look up stats, matchups or access a live odds page, which can help immensely.
Once you've identified the bet or bets you want to make, it's time to walk up to the window and get in line. Make sure you have the betting sheets to lean on and your wallet ready. Remember: They only accept cash. So don't expect to pay for your bets with a check or credit card. Some sportsbooks allow bettors to bet on credit, which is like a loan that you must pay back. But that is only reserved for high rollers who have passed extensive financial background checks.
You will need to know a few key things when it's time to place your bet: the ID number of the game (located on the betting sheet or the scoreboard), the team you're betting on, the bet type and the bet amount. When it's your turn at the window, have a friendly attitude and be courteous to the ticket writer. Say hello and then tell them how much you want to bet, the game number and the bet type for each of your bets.
For example, if you want to bet $50 on the Clemson Tigers as 7-point favorites, know the game number next to the Tigers and then say "fifty dollars on 137 spread." The 137 would be the ID number for Clemson. You can't just say "fifty dollars on Tigers" because the cashier doesn't know if that's the Clemson Tigers, Memphis Tigers or LSU Tigers. They also don't know if you want the moneyline, spread or Clemson to win the national title. The goal is to be efficient and limit confusion. Then hand the cashier your $50.
The ticket writer will then hand you a receipt, also known as a "ticket" or "bet slip." Don't walk away just yet. Inspect the ticket while you're at the window to ensure it's correct. Make sure the game number, team, bet type and amount is correct. If something is wrong, immediately give the ticket back and tell the cashier. They will fix it for you. Once you walk away, there is no way to fix the ticket. All sales are final once you leave the window.
Put the ticket in your wallet in a safe place. Hang onto it. Now it's time to watch the game you bet on and root for your team to win. If the bet wins, you would return to the window where you bet the game and give them your ticket. They will scan the ticket and then hand you your winnings in cash. If you won, it's always a good idea to tip the ticket writer. If you leave the casino or have to leave town early, you can always just keep the ticket and then mail it in. There will be an address on the back. The sportsbook will then mail your winnings.
Once you've placed a few wagers in person, you'll end up loving betting games in person. It's a special experience. The book will become your bettor's paradise.
The second option to place a bet is through a mobile app on your phone or an online website through a computer or tablet. This has become the most convenient and most popular way to place bets, especially if you're located in a legal state but you can't or don't feel like traveling in person to a physical sportsbook. You can place a bet literally from the comfort of your own home.
You first need to create an account with an online sportsbook. This will require filling out some contact information beforehand and then placing money in your account to bet on, also known as funding your account. Once you've created your account, you can then peruse the sportsbook's tabs to locate the games you want to bet on. Many sportsbooks will offer sign up bonuses to new bettors or refer a friend bonuses.
With more than 20 states offering legal sports betting in America, the betting options are nearly limitless nowadays. Just remember, when you're placing a bet in person or online, be sure to shop for the best odds. There are dozens of different books and many have different numbers and juice prices. Take the time to search the market, so you can place your bet at the book that gives you the best number.