Guide To Sports Betting

Guide To Sports Betting

Sports betting is one of the few types of gambling that involves a high amount of skill. Sports bettors who make money are in the game for the long run, carefully handicapping matches, soundly practicing bankroll management, and slowly building their profits while hedging their bets.

This guide to sports betting is designed to give you the basics you need to understand the types of bets that you can make, what bets are considered to be good ones and which are sucker bets, how sportsbooks make money, and what it takes to make cash consistently as a bettor.

Basic Types of Sports Bets

There are three basic sports bets that you can make and each is based on the result of the contest. Those bets are

  • Point Spread
  • Moneyline
  • Over/under

Point Spread

A point spread wager involves betting on what team will win a specific game. But your bet is not based on the actual final score, but instead the final score plus or minus the spread. Spread bets are commonly found in basketball and football with a modified spread used in baseball (runline) and hockey (puckline).

With point spread bets the team that is listed on the minus side, that has points taken away once the game has ended, is the favorite, while the club that’s on the plus side, the team that has points added to its total, is the underdog.

A point spread in football looks like this –

  • New England Patriots -13.5 (-110)
  • New York Jets +13.5 (-110)

In the above example, the Patriots at minus-13.5 points are the favorite. If you bet on them, they must win by more than the spread in order for you to collect on your bet. However, with the Jets at plus-13.5, you would make money if the Jets won outright or they lost by less than 14 points.

The payout odds on spread bets are 0.954-1. This is because the bookmaker gets a 10% commission, which is often referred to as vigorish or vig, on all bets. That’s why you have to bet $110 to make a $100 profit on a spread bet. In spread betting, the (-110) next to each team indicates that to win $100, you must bet $110.


The moneyline pays out according to which team actually won the game. Thus, moneyline odds look quite different than spreads. Converting the point spread into s moneyline for the above game, the listing would look like this.

  • New England Patriots -805
  • New York Jets +600

With this moneyline, you would have to bet $805 on the Pats to win $100, while wagering $100 on the Jets yields a profit of $600 if they win. Again, you’re wagering on the actual result of the game; there is no adjustment of the score as there is with the spread.

In moneyline wagering, the team listed on the minus side is the favorite and the number represents what you must risk to win $100, while the team associated with the plus sign is the underdog. That number indicates the amount you will win per $100 wagered.


The over/under bet, which is also referred as a totals bet, commonly pays the same as a point spread wager 0.954-1. With this type of sports bet, you’re wagering on the total number of points that will be scored by both teams. An over/under would look like this –

  • New England Patriots o: -110
  • 41.5 O/U
  • New York Jets u: -110

Again, like the point spread bet, you must wager $110 to win $100 ($11 for every $10 to be won). The bookmaker collects $1.00 on every $11.00 bet whether you win or lose. If the game totals are over 41.5 and you wagered on the over, you win. If you bet on the under, then the total number of points scored must be below 41.5 for you to make any cash.

Exotics and Props

Any type of sports bet other than the three explained above fall under the category of being either an exotic or a prop or proposition bet. Exotics are wagers that in some manner either increase or decrease your chances of winning. With exotics payout odds are adjusted accordingly. The basic rule of thumb to remember is the better the payout odds, the greater your risk, and the less chance you’ll win your bet. Here are some of the more common exotics.


A parlay involves combining two or more bets on one ticket. In order for you to cash in on your wager, you must be correct on all bets. Many sports bettors like parlays because they offer high payouts.

Parlay payouts vary, but generally speaking a two-team bet pays 13-5 and three-team pays 6-1. As an example of how much more the odds go up, the four-team offers odds of 10-1 and the five-team 20-1.

But sports bettors rarely see any profit from a parlay, and the best way to realize cash on this type of bet is to limit your risk to two- and three-team bets. One important thing to remember is that a vast majority of professional sports bettors stay away from this type of bet.

Round Robin

The Round Robin bet allows you to wager on three outcomes on the same ticket and if two or one are correct, you win some cash. Because this type of bet involves less risk for the bettor, payouts are also reduced. If all three bets win, the payout is about 2.2-1 and if two bets are won, your payout odds are approximately 1.5-1. A one team win pays out a .20-1.

Mixed Parlay

The mixed parlay combines on one ticket two or more bets on two or more different types of sports. A mixed parlay may include two NFL games, a NBA game, and a college basketball contest. These are even harder to hit than the one-sport parlay. The payouts on these parlays are calculated by combining the odds of the various events, which will vary quite a bit.


Teasers give sports bettors the opportunity to buy points and use those points on their parlay card. The more points you purchase, the lower your risk on the parlay and the lower your payoff if you do hit on your teaser. These are considered to be bad bets because the teaser negates the reason to play a parlay, which is to garner a large payout.

Teasers range from 6 to 7 points. If you bet a three-team teaser, your odds on the parlay go from 6-1 to 9-5. Thus, a $10.00 bet on a three-team parlay would pay $60.00, while a teaser would pay $18.00


Pleasers are for sports bettors who believe that the teams chosen for their parlay will outperform expert projections. The pleaser is the opposite of the teaser, as teams lose points and must win by a greater margin. Pleasers vary from book to book with the top point reduction being 7. As an example of how a pleaser can change odds, a 7-point, three-team pleaser pays 25-1 and not 6-1. Thus, if you hit a $10.00 on your pleaser, you’d win $250, whereas you’d win $60.00 on a basic three-team parlay.


Some people would put futures bets into a category all their own, neither a prop nor an exotic. But these types of wagers, where you are attempting to pick which team will win a divisional, conference, or national title up to a year ahead of time, are all high risk bets that involve more guesswork than anything else.

Prop Bets

Proposition wagers are those that are based on some specific instance or occasion in a game or series of games. These bets have nothing to do with the outcome of a game or series. They focus on some isolated aspect of the contest or event.

The Super Bowl is known for having innumerable props, many of which are fairly ridiculous, such as which team will win the coin toss, what player will score the first touchdown, and how long it will take to sing the national anthem. You may also bet on if an announcer will use a specific word during the game, what a member of the half-time band will be wearing, and if a specific player will be injured.

As you can tell, the range of props can be far reaching, especially on an event as big and popular as the Super Bowl. Props are often offered as moneyline bets or as straight odds wagers.

Best Prop Bets to Make

Most prop wagers are best to stay away from, with the ones to make being those that call for some form of actual analysis. Don’t play whimsical prop bets, such as those that involve making a pure guess or mere hunches.

Some props that are worth looking at include the over/under on strikeouts by a specific pitcher in a MLB game, passing yards by a NFL quarterback, save percentage by a NHL goalie, and foul shot percentage by a NBA team. All of these may be researched using recent stats and the upcoming matchups in the game.

Why Props Exist

Prop bets, which are sometimes referred to as sucker bets due to the fact that so many are a result of happenstance and chance and cannot be logically analyzed or predicted, exist for two reasons. The first is that the general betting public loves to wager on them. The second reason is that many of them represent pure profit for bookmakers.

Props are designed to appeal to those who enjoy gambling on chance events, such as winning the lottery, playing roulette, and other such gaming opportunities. They play on one of our most basic desires, to trust in fate and chance to reward us. In other words, they toy with our desire to catch some good luck.

Most props take little to no effort to select, as there is no way to accurately predict what will happen. So, if you are going to engage in prop betting, you need to acknowledge but most of the wagers you will make are mere guesses, and chances are you will lose your cash.

If you decide to wager on a proposition bet that involves some real analysis, don’t stress out your bankroll on such wagers. Save your cash for those sports bets that you have a real chance of winning.


Vigorish, which is also called vig, the cut, the take, or juice, is the amount of money that a bookmaker charges for taking a bet. No matter what type of bet you make and no matter whether you win or lose, you’ll end up paying the sportsbook their vig. How does that happen? There are two ways.

With bets listed at -110, such as spread and over/under wagers, the cut is readily discernable. You bet $110 to win $100. What happened to the other $10.00 of your bet? The bookie kept it. Thus, with these types of bets, the cut is instantly deducted.

But what about bets such as moneylines, where’s the vig in those? The vig is hidden in those types of bets, but it’s there. With bets that offer variable returns, sportsbooks charge more for the favorite than they should, and on underdogs, they pay back less than they should. You can’t see it, but, in essence, a book is making a 10% commission on any bet you make, win or lose.

Sports Betting and Handicapping

There is one thing that is very important to understand about sports betting and becoming successful at it. It takes work. You may hit now and then, and even go on winning streak, by playing hunches. But professional sports bettors make cash over the long run because they know the sports on which they bet inside out. That includes how the sport is played, skills needed to be successful, strategies employed, and tactics used. They know everything they can about the teams, coaches, players, general managers, and organizations.

Professional sports bettors monitor the sports on which they wager 365 days a year. When the sport is being played, they also constantly evaluate the lines, knowing that early football lines are often soft, hockey handicapping habitually offers very good deals, college games will have big point spreads that hold, betting second half odds in basketball often pays off, and certain MLB teams consistently beat the runline.

To be a winner at sports betting, you have to do your homework and carefully handicap each contest on which you want to bet. In fact, one of the most important things you need to do before putting any cash down is figuring which games are worth betting.

Smart Money and Value

Professional gamblers in the know usually understand where the smart money is being bet. Smart money often goes against what the general betting public thinks. Pros understand that the favorites don’t always win, and that they certainly don’t always beat the spread. They know what games offer real value by the fact that through research, expert number crunching, monitoring of news and other developments, and, possibly some insider knowledge, they’ve been able to determine what the best bets are.

Bankroll Management

Solid bankroll management is an essential aspect of sports betting. The first thing you want to do is determine how much cash you have to put towards you bankroll for an entire season, whether you’re betting on the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL or a combination of these sports. Whatever that amount is it should be divided into betting units.

The bigger your bankroll, the larger your units can be. However, making a unit $10.00, no matter what the size of your bank is, can be convenient. If you have $1,000 and you divide your bank into $10.00 units, you’re starting with 100 units with which to bet.

Wager more units on games that you feel the surest about and fewer on those whose outcomes seem to be less predictable. Here are some sound money management principles that every sports bettor should utilize.

Keep accurate records on the following:

  • Bankroll
  • Wagers
  • Losses
  • Wins
  • Profit/Loss
  • Other expenses
  • As a rule, play point spread, over/under and moneyline wagers
  • Never put more than 5% of your bank on any one bet.
  • Start with an adequate bank of $500 or more.
  • Do not play all or nothing wagers where you bet everything
  • Don’t play impossible odds wagers.
  • Update all bets, expenses and outcomes immediately in your record book.

Look for good bets, do your homework, and work towards increasing your bankroll a bet at a time.

12 Tips for Sports Bettors

  • Stay away from systems such as the Martingale, they’ve been proven to not work
  • Don’t try to make a killing on one bet; try to make a profit each week
  • Bet on sports that you like and follow
  • Don’t chase losses
  • High profile games often don’t offer value
  • Don’t become transfixed on media hype; focus on stats and data
  • Look for key factors in each game that will determine who will win
  • If you’re unsure of a point spread, then consider the moneyline
  • Treat your sports betting as if it were a business, in a serious manner
  • Find a few handicappers who you connect with and read their columns and blogs
  • Some weeks you’ll make cash, other weeks you’ll lose, and others you’ll break even
  • Monitor odds daily and look for deals, especially when odds are first posted

Plan to stay in the game for the long run, as this will give you the best chance of making cash over time.

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