How to Bet on Sports: Sports Betting for Beginners
It’s not a stroke of luck as to why sports betting is becoming more popular and mainstream. Wagering on sports can be exciting and fun and continues to reach a wider audience as more states move to make it legal.
By the end of 2020, it’s likely that placing a wager on an NFL or NBA game, PGA Tour event or European soccer match will be legal in half of the states in the U.S.
While placing a sports wager at sports betting sites is easy, consistently winning is not. But with a little knowledge, wagering savvy and some luck, many of your sports gambling experiences can be both memorable and profitable.
How Does Sports Betting Work?
For the longest time, nearly all legal sports betting in the U.S. was limited to Nevada. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court changed that with a landmark decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, giving each state the right to legalize sports betting. Many states have quickly signed sports betting bills into law because voters want it (approved in referendums) and for the tax revenue it provides.
Most states with legalized sports betting allow both in-person and online/mobile wagering. Some allow only in-person betting at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. In 2019, Tennessee became the first state to legalize online-only sports wagering.
Nearly all states with legal sports gambling allow betting on all the popular pro sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL), major college football and basketball, and a variety of international sports. Some states prohibit wagering on games that involve in-state college teams or collegiate games played within the state.
If you’re unfamiliar with sports betting lines, odds and terminology, this guide can be a helpful place to start and will serve as a gateway to even more guides to make you a better sports bettor.
How to Read Betting Lines
Betting odds are determined by sportsbooks to make wagering on every game as balanced as possible. Ideally, sportsbooks want to attract an equal amount of betting money on both sides. The sportsbook makes its profit on its per-bet fees (known as vigorish or juice).
Moneyline odds reflect how likely a team is to win a specific game. Let’s use the following NFL betting example:
|Kansas City Chiefs||-200|
Based on the moneyline, the Chiefs are -200, or 2-1 favorites to win the game. If you placed a $200 moneyline bet on Kansas City and won, you would receive $100 in winnings, plus your original $200. A $100 moneyline wager on underdog Falcons would return $180, plus your original $100. You can also use our odds calculator to calculate potential payouts.
In point spread odds, a team is favored to win a game by a specific number of points. Using the same NFL game as an example:
|Kansas City Chiefs||-5|
The Chiefs are 5-point favorites over the Falcons. That means Kansas City must win the game by more than 5 points to cover the spread. The Falcons cover the spread if they lose by 4 points or less or win the game outright. If the Chiefs win by exactly 5 points, it’s a tie (also known as a push) and bets are refunded.
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How to Place a Bet
Whether visiting a brick-and-mortar sportsbook or betting online, the process of placing a sports bet is simple, whether it be a moneyline wager our something more exotic, like a parlay bet or prop bet.
At a physical sportsbook, an odds board usually updates all betting lines in real time. After deciding on your selection(s), go to the betting counter. State the type of bet you wish to make, the team, and the amount. Then check your ticket to make sure it’s correct. That’s it.
Note: Sportsbooks assign a rotation number (101, 102, etc.) to each team listed on the odds board. It’s easier for the ticket writers if you tell them your team’s rotation number, rather than the team name, though either (or both) will get the job done.
Most sports wagers are placed online using mobile devices or computers. To open an online betting account you must be in a state that allows online sports betting and be physically located in that state when placing your wager. The legal minimum age, determined by state, is usually 21.
Once you’ve opened an account by completing the registration process and depositing funds, you are ready to bet. Navigate your screen to find the sport and game you wish to bet on. Click on your selection and enter the wager amount. The sportsbook will alert you to your potential payout. The amount of your bet will be deducted from your account balance. Winnings are automatically added to your account.
Different Bets You Can Make
Whether wagering at a physical sportsbook or online, you will find a large selection of bets to choose from. These are the most common:
Moneyline: A wager on a team to win a game with odds set by the sportsbook. No point spreads involved. Learn More About Moneyline Betting
Over/under: Popular betting option on whether the combined score of both teams in a game will be over or under the number set by the sportsbook. Also known as a totals wager Learn More About Totals Betting
Spread betting: The most popular form of wagering, especially for pro and college football betting. A team is favored by a specific number of points, set by the oddsmakers. Bettors choose the favorite or underdog with their respective odds. Learn More About Spread Betting
Parlays: As opposed to betting on a single game, a parlay bet is a wager on two or more games, all of which must win for the parlay to cash. Parlays range from as few as two teams to a dozen or more. The more teams in the parlay, the higher the odds and potential payoff. Learn More About Parlay Betting
Teasers: Wagers in which a bettor can adjust the point spread in exchange for reduced odds. Usually used for parlays. If the Seattle Seahawks are 10-point favorites over the Cincinnati Bengals, a 7-point teaser allows the bettor to select Seattle -3 or Cincinnati +17. The same 7-point adjustment is applied to all other games in the parlay. The reduced payout is determined by how many points are teased. Learn More About Teasers
Futures: A wager on a team or event to be determined in the future. Example of futures bets are wagering on a team to win the NCAA Tournament before or during the college basketball season, or betting on a player to win the Masters prior to the tournament teeing off.
Prop bets: A wager on something that may or may not occur in a specific game and may not affect the outcome or final score. Examples of prop bets: Which team will score first? Will there be a safety? How many home runs will be hit in a game? Learn More About Prop Betting
In-play wagering: Wagers placed after a game has started. Online sportsbooks use computer algorithms to set in-game wagering odds (such as adjusted point spreads after one team or another has scored). Be ready, the action moves quickly.
Betting Tips to Help you Get Started
Compare Betting Lines
Price and value matter when betting on sports. Comparing odds at different sportsbooks helps give bettors an edge. A one-point variance in the point spread could be the difference between winning and losing your wager.
Note that once a wager is placed at a sports betting site, your odds and point spread are locked in. Any line movement after that has no impact on your bet.
Discover your risk tolerance and what kind of bettor you are. Are you happy with small wins or more inclined to place riskier bets with higher potential payoffs? Do you prefer betting the same amount on every game, or placing larger wagers on games in which you have a stronger opinion?
Many beginning bettors are more comfortable placing small single-game bets to preserve their bankroll. Others are more risk-averse and seek larger payoffs with parlay wagering. Remember that the quality of your selections is only one aspect of sports betting. How you wager and manage your bankroll are just as important.
Sports Betting Terminology
Some terms sports bettors are likely to come across:
ATS: Against the spread. If a team is 3-0 ATS, it has covered the point spread in all three games of the current season.
Dog: Short for underdog.
Hedging: Betting the opposite side of your original wager to lessen risk. If the point spread in a particular game moves significantly, bettors sometimes attempt to “middle” a wager by winning both sides of the bet.
Hook: The equivalent of half a point. A team that is a 7.5-point (seven and a hook) favorite must win by 8 points or more to cover the spread. A 7-point win means the underdog covers the spread.
Juice: Also known as vigorish, it’s the commission the sportsbook takes to accept your bet, usually 10%.
Off the board: When the sportsbook removes a game from its sports betting menu. This happens when the participation of a key player (such as a starting quarterback) comes into question, usually due to injury.
Pick’em: An evenly matched game in which the point spread is zero.
Push: A wager that ends in a draw. In most cases, the wager is refunded.
Knowing When To Stop
As part of effective money management, bettors can set a loss limit and stop wagering if and when that limit is reached. It’s important that bettors have the discipline not to continually chase losses and know there will be future wagering opportunities down the road.
If you feel you have a sports betting problem, several local and national support groups are available, such as Gamblers Anonymous. Most states require online sportsbooks to include responsible gaming measures, such as setting deposit and wager limits, along with a self-exclusion option, in which bettors can ban themselves from wagering.