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.
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. It’s not as simple as the team with the better record being favored. Things like home-field advantage and injuries 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.
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 Patriots are 7-point favorites (or -7) against the 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.
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 Seahawks are 3-point favorites on the spread against the 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.
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 the 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. 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.
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.