Thanks to recent Supreme Court rulings, sports betting is as popular as ever in the USA. This sports betting guide will introduce you to basic sports betting concepts like moneylines (also called wagerlines), point spreads, and probability, in an attempt to show beginners how to bet on sports.
Sportsbooks can be intimidating to the uninitiated. They’re loud and busy, sometimes even chaotic, dozens of TVs show sports you’ve never even heard of (WTF is netball!? You can bet on BADMINTON!?), and looming over everything are gigantic, black monitors with hundreds of lines of green type — each line constantly changing and incomprehensible — looking like malfunctioning 1980s computer screens.
Once one is initiated, though, those same sportsbooks take on a much different look. The commotion and chaos begins looking like welcoming, encouraging action, the presence of random sports indicates the existence of desperate punters looking to get even, and those “incomprehensible” black and green monitors turn into giant dollar signs. By reading something as simple as this guide, you’ll be inducted into the surprisingly small community of people who understand sports betting.
Sports Betting Terms
One of the biggest hurdles to understanding sports betting is knowing the vocabulary. Here are some of the most common terms you’ll here, along with their definitions…
Moneyline (or Wagerline)
There are two popular ways to bet on games: The spread and the moneyline. In a moneyline bet, you are simply betting on which team you think will win the game.
Point Spread (or Spread, Against the Spread)
There are two popular ways to bet on games: The spread and the moneyline. In a spread bet, the bookmakers decide on a certain number of points they believe will separate the winning team (or, at least, the team they think will win) from the losing team (the team they think will lose). This number of points is called “the spread”. When you place a spread bet, you’re betting that (depending on the team you choose) either the favored team (the team predicted to win) will win the game by MORE than that number of points or that the underdog team (the team predicted to lose) will lose the game by FEWER than that number of points (or will just win the game outright). Example: In a hypothetical basketball game between Duke and Clemson, the spread is “Duke -7.5” (which is the same as saying “Clemson +7.5”). If you place a spread bet on Duke, take their final point total and subtract 7.5. If they still would have won the game, you win the bet. If you placed a spread bet on Clemson, you’d take their final point total and ADD 7.5. If that new total would have been enough to win the game, you win the bet. A popular way to refer to a spread bet is to say you bet “against the spread”, as in “I took Duke against the spread”.
Line (also Price, Opening Line, Closing Line)
The current odds for any specific bet. “Duke -7.5 at -110” is a line. “Yankees -325 on the Moneyline” is a line. The “Opening Line” is the odds at which the bet begin when the bookmaker makes the bet available. In MLB, for example, you usually cannot bet on a game until late, the night before the game is scheduled to play. The odds the sportsbook offers when they first make the bet available is called the “Opening Line”. Conversely, the odds that are available right before the game begins (which is the deadline for placing bets on a game) are called the “Closing Line”.
Used to describe a team’s failure (or success) to win the spread bets placed on them. If Duke was -7.5 vs. Clemson and the final score was Duke 135 – Clemson 125, you would say “Duke covered”. You could also say “Clemson did not cover”.
Future (or Futures)
A type of bet in which you’re wagering on the result of a contest that takes place in the distant future. Futures bets are usually things like “the Yankees to win the World Series”, or “the Packers to win the NFC Championship”: Bets on teams to accomplish something in the future, as opposed to bets on upcoming games. Futures bets are most commonly placed before a team’s season even begins.
A type of bet made on the performance of a specific player or on a very specific aspect of a game. Examples of prop bets would be “LeBron James to score more than 30 points tonight” or “a running back to score the first touchdown in the BAL/NE game”. Props are also what you would call bets placed on things other than sports, like politics (“Who will win the next Presidential Election?”) or entertainment (“Who will replace Jay Leno on The Tonight Show?”).
Getting Down (or To Get Down)
Placing a bet. Example: “I got down on Duke -7.5.”
A half of a point. In the Duke -7.5 vs. Clemson example, that .5 is called “the hook”. It’s a way to ensure bets cannot tie (or “push”). Most sportsbooks will allow you to “buy the hook”, which means you could pay a little bit more and bet on Duke -7 (or Clemson +8). This is almost always an unprofitable decision, but many uninformed bettors do it because of the psychological comfort they get from knowing that half point can’t cost them their bet.
Juice (or Vig)
The way sportsbooks make money. In spread bets, for example, you will usually have to risk about 10% more than you want to earn if your bet wins (if you wanted to win $100 when your bet wins, you’d have to risk $110). Almost all bets at a sportsbook have some juice built in. Let’s say two bettors wanted to bet on the Duke/Clemson game we’ve been using as an example. Bettor A places $110 on Duke -7.5, and Bettor B places $110 on Clemson +7.5, so the sportsbook collects $220 dollars, total. When the game is over, only one of those bettors can possibly win, and the sportsbook will give that winner $210 (their $110 wager plus the $100 they make in profit). Notice the sportsbook collected $220, but only has to pay out $210. That extra $10 is the “juice” from the losing bettor’s wager, and it goes right into the sportsbook’s pocket.
The change in the odds over time. Sportsbooks will regularly change the odds they are offering in order to encourage or discourage bettors from betting on certain things (it is optimal for the sportsbooks to receive an equal dollar amount of bets on each of the teams in a game).
All bets are either won, lost, pushed, or are canceled. These outcomes are called the bet’s “grade”.
A type of bet in which you wager on the outcomes of multiple, unrelated events as opposed to just one. The most common way to place a parlay would be to bet on the outcomes of two different games (for example, Duke -7.5 over Clemson and Ohio State -6.5 over Illinois). The benefit to placing a parlay is that they pay out a lot more money (a $100 bet on the example above would probably win about $260), but the catch is that BOTH of the things you bet on have to win. In the example above, if Duke covered the 7.5 against Clemson, but Ohio State did NOT cover the 6.5 over Illinois, your entire bet would be graded as a loss and you would lose your $100.
Over / Under (or Total)
For almost every game there is a moneyline, a spread, and a total. The total is the sportsbook’s estimation of how many points will be scored in the game by the two teams, combined. If the final score of Duke/Clemson is 135-125, the “total” was 260. “Total” bets can be placed on “the over” or “the under”. If, before the game began, the sportsbook listed the total of the Duke/Clemson game as 254, and you placed a bet on “the over”, you would have won that bet when the final total ended up at 260. Had you bet on “the under”, you would have lost.
A game in which the spread is listed as 0 points. “Wow, the BAL/NE game is a pick’em!”
Public (or The Public, Square(s), Punter(s))
The average person or people betting on things. The masses. Generally, these terms refer to people who are uninformed or otherwise don’t know what they’re doing.
The two teams participating in a game.
Strong line movement in one direction or another. Normally, this happens when a large amount of money is being wagered on a specific side of a game and the sportsbooks want to aggressively encourage people to bet on the other side (again, to balance out the sportsbook’s exposure). See “Line Movement”, above.
The receipt you get verifying your wager. You will need this receipt in order to get your winnings from the sportsbook in the event you win your bet. For online sportsbooks, tickets are unnecessary, as your wager history is saved and linked to your account automatically.
Window (or The Window, Cashier, The Cashier)
Where you go (in a live sportsbook) to either place a bet or to turn in a winning ticket and receive your winnings.
A measurement used in the sports betting industry to describe the size of a bet, and therefore that bettor’s confidence in that bet. Since everyone has different means and may be betting different amounts of money, speaking in terms of dollars is not very effective: A $100 bet for Person A could mean nothing to Person B if Person B is used to betting $10,000 at a time. However, if Person A usually only bets $50, that $100 amount actually reflects that they’re extremely confident in their bet. Converting dollars into “units”, where 1 unit is equal to (roughly) the size of a person’s average bet, makes it easier for Person A and Person B to talk about the games, teams, and props they each like or don’t like. For professional bettors, or anyone looking to take sports betting more seriously, it is commonly-accepted that “1 unit” is equal to 1% of that person’s total sports betting bankroll (the amount of money they have specifically set aside for betting on sports).
Against the Spread
See “Point Spread”
Square / Squares
Punter / Punters
To Get Down
See “Getting Down”
Reading Sports Betting Odds
That big, black and green monitor “looming over” the room of your local sportsbook is not there (just) to confuse you. It’s called “the board”, and it lists all of the bets the sportsbook currently offers. The words on the board are generally easy to understand: They’re the names of sports, leagues, and teams. It’s what is next to those words that usually trips people up:
Numbers. Lots of numbers. Lots and lots of numbers. Positive numbers. Negative numbers. Numbers with decimal points. Numbers with no symbols next to them at all. Lots and lots and lots of numbers. Those numbers are what we’re going to focus on in this section.
The definitions section above introduced you to the concepts of lines/prices/odds, but here we’ll take a look at how sportsbooks (in the US, at least) actually display them for the public and how you can make sense of them quickly and easily.
In the US, sportsbooks list their prices (we’ll usually use the term “prices” moving forward instead of “odds” or “lines”, as it makes translating these numbers into dollars much more palatable for most people) in a format called “American odds”. There are other popular formats around the world (decimal odds, fractional odds, Asian odds, etc.), but nearly 100% of US sportsbooks use American odds, so they’re likely to be the ones you’ll encounter if you’re reading this article.
American odds are always integers (numbers that can be positive or negative, but will never involve decimals or fractions) and, while there is, technically, no limit to how small or how large they can be, almost all of the ones you’ll see in a sportsbook are going to be 3 digits (between -999 and -100 or between +100 and +999).
The important thing to remember when dealing with American odds is that all of the numbers have a specific relationship with the amount of $100.
In the American system, a negative number indicates the amount of money a bettor will have to risk in order to earn a $100 profit on a winning bet. A positive number indicates how much profit the bettor will earn on a winning bet if they risk $100.
We know you had to read that a few times. It’s okay. It’s not the most logical or simple system out there, but that’s an argument for a different article.