Last Updated: Sep. 6, 2015
On This Page
I have a ton of stuff on this web site about sports betting. Way to much to fit on one page. If you're already familiar with the basics of how to make a sports bet, I invite you to go to skip this page and jump to one of my pages on a specific sport, as follows:
If you're new to sports betting, this page will endeavor to teach you the major types of bets. We'll use the photo above as a reference for some of them. In particular, we'll focus on the Rams/Vikings game, which looks like this:
Oct. 11, 2009 — Vikings Vs. Rams
In all sports betting, the odds are on a "to one" basis. In other words, you always get your bet back, plus winnings, if you win. So, for example, if you must bet $11 to win $10, then you would present $11 at the window and the writer will give you a ticket worth $21 if it wins.
Money Line bets are simply on whom will win. No point spreads or any other nonsense.
Most of the time, one team will be favored over the other. So, if you bet the underdog, then you're rewarded with more than even money if they win. If you want to bet the favorite, then you will have to risk more than what you stand to win.
Consider game numbers 401 and 402 in the example above. The +400 for the Rams means that a bet on the Rams would pay 4 to 1. The -600 on the Vikings means that if you bet them, then you have to lay 6 to 1.
- A $100 on the Rams would win $400.
- A $600 bet on the Vikings would win $100.
The most common way to bet football and basketball is with a point spread. Most sports bettors like a wager that has about a 50% chance to win. Less than that and you'll probably lose. More than that and you won't win much if you do win.
To achieve about a 50/50 chance of winning a bet on a lopsided game, like the Rams vs. Vikings above, the sports books have come up with the "point spread."
Before I go on, let me clarify some terminology. Despite it being probably the most popular way to bet, there is no particular term for a bet against the spread. Many people call this a "straight bet." However, this term can also be used, and is printed on tickets for, money line bets, total bets, and any other bet involving just one game. For purposes of this page, I call such bets a "point spread" bet, and invite the rest of the world to adopt this terminology.
A point spread is simply a handicap you give the weaker team, or deduct from the stronger one, depending on how you look at it. For example, if my average scoring in bowling is 120 and I play somebody with an average of 140, then to make a wager fair, I might be given a free 20 points. In this case you would say my point spread is +20.
In the example above you can see a -10 next to the Vikings. That means that the Vikings are favored to win by 10 points. So, if you bet the Vikings you give up ten points and if you bet the Rams you get 10 points.
Usually with point spread bets you risk $11 for every $10 you stand to win.
- A $110 bet on the Rams would win $100 if they win the game or lose by less than 10.
- A $110 bet on the Vikings would win $100 if the Vikings win by more than 10.
Both bets will push if the Vikings win by exactly 10.
Total Bets are similar to point spread bets, except the bettor bets on the total points scored. In the example above the bettor bets whether the total points combined between the Vikings and Rams will be over or under 41. Like point spread bets the bettor must generally risk $11 to win $10, for a house edge of 4.54%.
- A $55 bet on the under would win $50 if the total points in the game were 40 or less.
Parlay bets are a good and popular way to potentially win big with a small wager. The way they work is the bettor picks two or more events, which all must win or push to win the bet. One or more loss will cause the whole parlay bet to lose. In the event of a push, that "leg" of the parlay bet will be ignored and the win will be reduced to whatever it would pay if that selection were never made.
Parlay bets can be done "off the board" or on a parlay card. If betting off the board, the goes up to the window and states his picks and the point spread on the board is used. Somehow when I want to make a quick simple bet I get stuck behind somebody putting in lots of these for small amounts.
When betting off the board a calculation will be made according to the odds on each event in the parlay. You will win the same amount as if you bet each event separately and parlayed all winnings as you went. An exception is if every event you pick is at -110 odds, in which case predetermined nice round odds will be used. Except for a three-leg parlay, these preset odds are not as generous as if the calculation method were used. For this reason, it is a good idea to have at least one event in the parlay that isn't -110, which will force the calculation method to be used.
If you don't want to hold up the line, you can fill out a parlay card. These are 4.25" by 11" colored cards with lots of choices to bet on. Just bubble in the picks you want, the total number of picks, and the bet amount. The machine will read the card and print out a ticket in seconds.
For more information on parlays, please see my section on parlay bets the NFL.
Teasers are similar to parlays except the point spread on each game moves a certain number of points in the player's favor. In football the player gets 6 to 7 points, and in basketball, 4 to 5 points. The player pays for this in the form of much lower winnings. For example, if the Vikings were part of a 6-point teaser, then they would only need to win by more than 4 points to cover. If the Rams were part of a teaser, they could win, or lose by less than 16, and cover.
- Teaser bets in the NFL.
- Vegas sports book comparison for the teaser odds at all the Vegas sports book groups.
Buying Half a Point
In football and baskbetball, the straight bet player has the option to move the point spread 1/2 point to his advantage. The cost of this half point is laying 120, as opposed to 110. Not all sports books allow this, and if they do, they usually don't let you buy off of the common three-point margin of victory in football.
Futures are a bet on who will win the championship when there are still more than two possible teams to bet on. The house edge on futures varies substantially from one sports book to another. However, in general, they are a sucker bet.
- For information on who does offer the best futures in Las Vegas visit my sports betting appendix 5.
- You can also use my sports futures calculator to calculate the overall house edge of a set of futures bets.
Often big games will have "proposition" bets on things not directly related to the final score of the game. These are usually abbreviated to "prop" bets. For example, in football whether or not the first score will be a touchdown. In baseball whether a run will be scored in the first inning. In hockey/soccer, whether anybody will score a hat trick. The odds on these are expressed like point spread bets. For example, as I write this the Golden Nugget has the following proposition bet on Super Bowl 49:
Will there be a safety in the game?
This means a bet on the "yes" pays 5 to 1, and on the "no" pays 1 to 7.
I could talk all day about betting sports but I know some of my readers just want it simplified to nice sound bites. For them, here is my basic strategy for sports betting:
- Money lines: Bet underdogs.
- Point spread bets: Bet underdogs.
- Totals: Bet unders.
- Parlays: Bet off the board as opposed to the cards. Either do a three-team parlay or mix in one event that doesn't pay -110 odds.
- Teasers: Unless you know to cross the key numbers (namely 3 and 7 in football), avoid teasers completely.
- Futures: Avoid them, as they carry a high house edge of about 30%. If you must bet them, for entertainment reasons, do so in strict moderation.
- Propositions: Bet unders and things not to happen.
- All bets: Shop around. Lines can vary from one sports book to another. It pays to compare lines for extra points or better odds.
- Betting the NFL In-depth look at betting professional football.
- Betting College Football In-depth look at betting college football.
- Parlay Bets in the NFL
- Teaser Bets in the NFL
- Pleaser Bets in the NFL
- Betting the MLB In-depth look at betting professional baseball.
- Betting the NBA In-depth look at betting professional basketball.
- Appendix 1 Comparative study on who has the best lines in Vegas.
- Appendix 2 Various topics in sports betting.
- Appendix 3 List of Las Vegas sports book families.
- Appendix 4 Fair prices to buy and sell points in the NFL.
- Appendix 5 Explores sports futures in greater depth.
- Appendix 6 Lost and expired tickets.
- Appendix 7 Companion to appendix 1, showing NFL money line pairs from several Internet sportbooks.
- Appendix 8 Comparative study on who has the best lines offshore.
- Appendix 9 Companion to appendix 8, showing NFL money line pairs from offshore sportbooks.
- Appendix 11 College football money lines.
- Total number of kickoffs in Super Bowl 43. Were there 9 or 10?
- Vegas sports book comparison at WizardOfVegas.com. Who offers what odds on parlays and teasers, as well as rebate percentages.
- NFL proposition bet calculator: The fair line on lots of common props, given the spread the total.
- Sports parlay calculator: To see what an off-the-board parlay pays, that isn't all -110 legs.
- Straight bet calculator: Calculate the house edge of any straight (two outcome) bet.
- Sports futures calculator: Calculate the house edge of a set of futures bets.