How Does Sports Betting Work?

how does sports betting work

As a sports fan, you’re familiar with the excitement that happens each time your team enters onto the ice rink, court, or field. But imagine your excitement if you could make money off the game’s outcome.

Maybe you’ve followed sports all your life, and you’ve got a knack for picking the winning teams. Or, you know a friend who’s won big on a sports bet. If so, you might be thinking that it’s time to put your skills to use and start earning money by betting on sports.

Football is the most popular sport for betting, but betting is also popular in the NHL, MLB, and NBA. Sports bets aren’t as simple as they might sound. To place a sharp bet, you need knowledge of the common lingo, the odds, and the different types of bets. In this guide, we’re going to cover all that you need to know to get into sports betting.

The History of Sports Betting

Sports betting dates back to the ancient Greeks, over 2000 years ago, when they started the Olympics. As the centuries went by, it became a popular activity across the globe, especially in horse racing. But why do sports fans love to place bets? Well, it’s engaging to watch a game when you’re rooting for a favorite team, but even more so when you have a personal stake in it.

These days, sports betting has gained more traction than ever, especially with the rise of online sports books. Despite its widespread popularity, sports betting isn’t legal everywhere in the United States. Some might wonder why sports betting remains illegal in some places. Well, the hobby had its reputation tarnished due to past scandals. One of the biggest sports scandals of all time was due to betting. It took place during the 1919 World Series when Joseph Sullivan, a gambler, paid 8 members of the White Sox $10,000 each to intentionally lose the championship.

Today, sports betting has become commonplace, especially in football games, though not all states in America have legalized sports betting. The PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) made it illegal for people to bet on sports in any state. But states that already had popular sports betting systems (such as Nevada, Montana, Delaware, and Oregon) were grandfathered in. In recent years, public approval of sports betting has increased. 

Everything changed in May of 2018 when the Supreme Court ruled that PASPA violated the rights of sports fans by prohibiting them from betting. This movement started in New Jersey but has rippled outward since. To this day, more states continue to legalize sports betting. 

Common Terms

Before we get into how sports betting works, let’s briefly define a few terms that you’ll often come across in the sports betting industry:

  • Push: This occurs when teams win by exactly the number of points in a spread. When this happens, both sides of the bet are refunded the full amount with no gains or losses. To avoid this situation, sports books often use half points in point spreads. Some bettors prefer to wager on spreads with whole points; it gives a sort of safety cushion since they won’t lose their money if their team matches the point spread. 
  • Action: A term that refers to any type of betting. You’ll often hear bettors say they have action on a game, which just means they’ve placed a bet.
  • Spread: The parameters for a point spread that are determined by oddsmakers. The spread indicates the number of points that one team must win by, or the other must not lose by.
  • Unit: This is the size of the bet that one bettor chooses to place. One unit equals one percent of your total bankroll. For example, if you bet $100, and your bankroll was $10,000, that bet would be 1 unit.
  • Handle: The total amount of money wagered by all bettors for one bet. The handle for the Stanley Cup finals can be several million.
  • Straight bets: A single bet that can be placed on an over/under total, moneyline, or point spread. With a straight bet, you’ll win $100 for every $110 that you bet.
  • Pick ‘em: This is what happens when both teams are considered an equal match. Neither one is the favorite or the underdog. This is called a pick ‘em.
  • Juice: This is the cut that sports books take from every bet (usually 10%). It’s also called the vig.

How to Read Picks

Reading the lines isn’t as straightforward as you might think. 

One of the first things you’ll notice about picks are the moneyline odds; these are numbers beside each team with a (+) or (-) symbol in front. They’re based on the assumption that you will bet $100. Of course, you can bet any amount that you’d like, but the number 100 is used to make it easier to understand.

Another consideration is the cut that sports books will take from the bet. Whenever you place a bet, a percentage will be kept by the bookie. It’s referred to as the juice. Typically, this gets factored into the odds themselves. Here’s an example: 

  • Pittsburgh Penguins: -110.

We can see that the Penguins are favored to win this game because of the (-). You’ll notice that the odds are -110 instead of an even -100—that extra 10 is where the juice comes from, or the bookie’s cut. As you can see, $10 goes towards the sports books, so you’ll need to bet $110 to win 100 dollars.

If the bookie notices that one side is getting a lot of action (or sports bets), they may decide to move the lines. Remember, their goal is to come out ahead on both fronts—they want equal bets on either position of the game. If one side of the bet is getting significantly more action, it means that the odds may be uneven. This position is not advantageous for the sports book, since they’ll end up losing money overall. 

For this reason, many bettors like to place a bet right as the lines open. Even if the lines are adjusted later, bets placed earlier on will still be honored at the original rate. 

There are other reasons why sports books will adjust the moneyline or point spread. As the game gets closer, different factors can influence the outcome of the game. Something as simple as a change in the weather forecast can affect the point spread (if it’s too hot outside, players may feel lethargic and score fewer points. A windy day during a football game can interfere with passes and cause a low-scoring game). Unexpected events in a player’s personal life can affect their performance in the next game. And finally, a star player may come in close contact with COVID-19 and be required to stay home. This could result in the bet being canceled entirely, which is referred to as no action. Odds can change up to the last minute of game time, so bettors need to keep their eyes on the books!

Once you know how to read picks, you’re ready to start betting. But what kind of bets can you place, and which will be the most profitable?

Types of Sports Betting

There isn’t just one way to bet on any sports game. Each type carries a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. You can do more than bet on the winner of a game (although that’s certainly an option)—with sports betting, there is a range of ways that you can wager your money. Depending on the situation, you may decide to choose one type of bet over another.

To give you a better idea of your options, we’re going to cover each type of bet, and why it’s advantageous in a given situation:

What is a moneyline bet?

This is the form of betting that most people are familiar with. In a moneyline bet, you wager on which team will win. These bets are most popular with low-scoring sports like hockey and baseball. But it isn’t as linear as choosing between two teams—you need to know what the different odds mean when placing bets.

In any moneyline bet, there is a point favorite team and an underdog (that is, unless the game is a pick ‘em). The numbers beside the favored team tell you what you’ll need to bet to win 100 dollars. With the underdog, it’s the opposite; the numbers tell you what you’ll win if you bet $100.

Here’s one example of moneyline odds for two hockey teams:

  • Washington Capitals: -200
  • Toronto Maple Leafs: +100

Let’s say that your bet amount is $100. If you want to bet on the Leafs (the underdogs), then you’ll win $100 if they’re victorious (along with your original bet). Any number that follows the (+) tells you how much you’ll win if you bet $100. But remember the cut from the bookie, which means that you need to bet $110 to win $100. If you want to bet on the Capitals (the favorite) instead, you’ll need to wager $200 just to win $100. This means that numbers that follow the (+) tell you what you need to wager to win $100.

Given that it’s safer to place a bet on a favorite, you’ll need to pay a greater amount of money to win $100. Conversely, if you place a bet on the underdog, it carries a greater risk, and you’ll enjoy a bigger payout if they win. This is to incentivize betting on either side—it wouldn’t make sense to win $100 for betting on the favorite and the underdog, since one is riskier than the other.

If there’s a big discrepancy in the numbers between both teams, that means one team is heavily favored to win. In some cases, both teams may have negative numbers, meaning that each has a fair shot at winning. If there is little difference between the odds, then bookkeepers expect it will be a close game—this is often the case for Super Bowl games or other finals.

What are point spreads?

A point spread is the margin of victory between two teams. This type of bet is more popular with high-scoring sports, like basketball and football. With a point spread bet, you aren’t just betting on which team will win or lose. Instead, you’re wagering that one team will win the game by more than the number of points in the spread. This is called covering the spread. If you bet on the underdog, you’re wagering that they will lose by less than the point spread or win outright. 

It might seem confusing at first, so here’s an example to clear it up:

Let’s pretend that Team A and Team B are competing at a football sporting event. The point spread looks like this:

  • Team A: -7
  • Team B: +7

We can see that Team A is the favorite, while Team B is the underdog. 

When the game concludes, the final score is 31-18 for Team A. In this case, Team A has covered the point spread, and a bet on them would result in a payout. 

But if the score was 31-27 for Team A, they would not cover the spread, even though they won the game. A spread bet on them would result in a loss. On the other hand, any bettor who placed a bet on Team B would receive a payout, since that team lost by less than 7 points.

There are so many factors to consider when betting on a point spread. Does one team have a home field advantage? Usually, it’s easier for the home team to score points. There might be recent injuries that tilt the scales in one direction. In any point spread, you need to look for the factors that oddsmakers didn’t consider or put enough weight on.

Even though betting on the underdog has a greater payout, sometimes it may seem like a real long run for them to win. In that case, you might choose the favorite instead for a safer bet.

With any point spread, you’ll see the number (-110) after the spread, like this:

  • Green Bay Packers: -7 (-110)
  • Detroit Lions: +7 (-110)

This is to indicate the odds of the game. Unlike a moneyline bet, you won’t win more for betting on one side over the other. It’s common for the odds in point spreads to be the same on both sides. Point spreads with equal odds mean that you’ll win $100 for choosing the favorite or the underdog. Just like with a moneyline bet, the -110 indicates the cut that the sports books will take. So, if you want to bet on the Packers point spread, you’ll need to bet $110 to win $100. With a spread bet, you’ll win the same amount of money no matter which side you choose.

If you’re confident that a team will win the game, but not by enough to cover the spread, then you may be better off going with a moneyline bet. If you’re sure that you’ll win your bet on the underdog, a moneyline bet has a greater payout for the non-favored team. 

What are over/under bets?

In this type of bet, you aren’t wagering on which team will win or lose. Instead, you’re betting on the number of points that will be scored in the game. This total factors in the scores from both teams. Oddsmakers give a number that they estimate the game total will be. Then, you bet if the score in the game will be more or less than that total. 

Let’s say that the given number is 28.5 for a football game (with a half point to avoid a push). If the combined score of both teams is 31 when the game ends, then you’d win the bet if you chose over, and lose if you’d bet under. Like point spreads, the odds are usually set to -110 in over/under bets, so you’ll get the same payout on either side of the bet.

If the final total of the game is the exact number of the over/under bet, then it results in a push, and your money will be refunded. Better luck next time!

What are parlays?

What if you want to bet on a series of outcomes rather than a single game? Combination bets involve a sequence of wagers on a set of games (two or more). The stakes are higher with this type of bet, but so are the payouts. For a bettor to win a parlay, they need to win every bet they place. A single loss disqualifies the entire slip. Even if they win 4 out of 5 of their bets, it still results in a total loss if the final team loses.

With a parlay bet, you’re wagering on a series of outcomes. You can place a parlay bet on a point spread, moneyline, or an over/under. Compared to a single bet, parlays tend to pay more. That said, the odds of winning a combination bet are much slimmer. With each subsequent game that you add to your parlay, the odds get slimmer.

How does a push work in a parlay bet? The good news is that it won’t disqualify your entire bet. However, it will shift the odds; the push is removed from the bet, but the remaining games are still counted.

Another type of bet that is similar to parlays is called a teaser bet. They’re like parlays in that bettors choose a series of events that must occur. The difference is that with teaser bets, the bettor can alter the point spread or over/under totals by a few points. This is where the bet gets its name, because of how tempting it might be to adjust the spread by a point or two. This makes them slightly safer bets, but with lower payouts. 

  • Can I bet on half or a quarter of a game?

In every bet we’ve mentioned so far, it assumes that you’re wagering on the final outcome of the game. But there are also period-specific bets you can make. 

For example, you can bet on who will be winning at the halftime of a hockey game. In an NBA game, you can bet on the outcome of the first quarter. This is attractive to many sports bettors because the condensed time frame affects how teams perform. You might place a quarter bet if you believe one team will get more points at the beginning, but taper off toward the end. Since injuries and substitutes tend to happen toward the end of games, you might have a clearer idea of how the first half will play out than the end.

A time-specific bet can be made with a point spread, moneyline, or over/under. Since these bets only apply to part of a game, they only pay a portion of a full-game payout.

Which Type of Bet Should You Place?

You know how each type of bet works—the question is, which will be most advantageous to you?

The answer will depend on the type of game, the odds, and how comfortable you are with risk.

As we mentioned, some sports see higher-scoring games than others. You might be more inclined to place a spread bet on a basketball game than a hockey game. 

If you believe that a team will win, but not by enough to cover the spread, you can place a moneyline bet to be safe. Since this type of bet ignores the points scored and only considers the winner or loser, it’s your best bet in this situation.

Betting on the underdog might be more attractive with a point spread. You won’t win as much as you would with a moneyline bet, but your team doesn’t need to win the game outright—they only need to lose by less than the point spread.

But any sports bettor’s main question is: which bet will be the most profitable? To answer that, you need to understand that with a higher payout comes a greater risk. Sure, placing a moneyline bet on the underdog team pays more for a win, but that win is much less likely. Parlay bets, which have higher payouts, have the slimmest odds of all. If you want to win big, you need to be comfortable with that risk.

Luckily for you, there’s a service that can help you secure the highest-paying bets each game. 

Leave it to the professionals by purchasing a sports handicapper’s premium picks! You won’t have to worry about which bet to place when you can just refer to the picks made by professional sports bettors.

Using a Sports Handicapping Service

Betting on sports is undeniably exciting. There’s a reason why this activity has prevailed despite all the court attempts to prohibit it.

But you don’t want to bet your money blindly. A well-placed bet involves careful statistical analysis. There are a range of factors to consider, all of which influence whether a team will win, lose, or cover the spread. When your hard-earned money is at stake, you want to know the best picks to make.

If you want to bet on the winning team, you should refer to a sports handicapping service. But what is this service, and how does it work? It’s a way for you to start earning money on sports betting without putting in hours of research and statistical analysis. 

These analysts find the data that oddsmakers overlook. They pay attention to each game and examine each factor that can influence one team’s advantage over another. When you bet on your own, it can be tempting to let your favorite teams or players sway your picks in one direction or another. A sports handicapper will view the odds objectively without making any emotional decisions.

Signing up for a sports handicapping service is simple. All you need to do is purchase a VIP package for the sport you’re most interested in. You’ll instantly gain access to the picks with the best value. It helps you find the bets to place more of your units on for a higher payout. Start getting better returns from your bets when you follow the picks from professional sports handicappers. 

How to Place a Bet

If you want to bet on the next big game, follow these steps:

  • Look for an online sportsbook. Common sites are YouWager, BetOnline, and Bovada. Then, set up an account with the amount of money that you want to bet. Remember, only wager what you are comfortable with.
  • Visit a sports handicapping website to find the best picks of the week. Purchase a VIP package for premium picks.
  • Follow the picks from the sports handicapping website and place your bet on the sportsbook of your choice. 
  • Enjoy your winnings! Keep in mind that you will profit in proportion to how much you wager. If you bet $100, you could win $100 or more depending on the type of bet you placed.

Looking for the best bets today? Kyle Covers provides daily premium picks for all VIP members. His team of sports analysts meticulously analyzes the data of each game to find the best bets, with a track record that speaks for itself. When you follow expert picks from sports handicappers, you can be confident each time you place a bet.

There’s a lot more that goes into placing bets than simply selecting your favorite team. Placing sharp, informed bets can make the next game the highlight of your week. If you’re ready to get into the exciting world of betting on sports, make sure you’ve got the experts on your side of the books.