How to bet on sports: sports betting 101

by Big Al Staff

How to bet on sports:  sports betting 101

Sports have been a great part of society for thousands of years.  The most famous sports grow each year, and even new sports are invented.  Every year, there are hundreds of thousands of sporting events throughout the world.  This ranges from a small soccer match between local clubs, to professional leagues like the NFL and the NBA. 

With the evolution of sports, the betting industry has grown along with it.  As of today, the sports betting market, itself, is a multi-billion dollar industry which is more popular than ever.  New sportsbooks, betting sites and bookmakers have continuously popped up as the legal climate has become more welcoming.  Sports bettors now have more possibilities than ever before.  But, for new bettors, it can all feel a bit overwhelming. 

In this guide, we want to provide you with some hands-on betting tips.  After reading through the following page, you'll know what sports betting is all about and how you can create a winning sports betting strategy.  Above all that, we will explain to you how to select a sportsbook (our current top-rated sportsbook is BetAnySports), and show you where you can start wagering today!

How to get started with sports betting
To start betting on any sport, you have to get familiar with the basics.  The more you know about a particular sport, the greater your chances of making the right prediction.  For the basics of sports betting, we take sports that consist of two teams competing against each other.  That comes down to all major sports in the United States like the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL.  There are a couple of bets called straight wagers, which involve betting on the outcome of a single match.

Moneyline 
The moneyline bet is the easiest to understand. You predict which team or player wins the game -- simple as that.  With the moneyline, the sportsbook decides which team is favored and which team is the underdog. They do so with the minus (-) sign, which represents the favorite, and the plus (+) sign, which represents the underdog. 

Point spread
The point spread bet is another popular bet.  With this bet, you're betting on a team to cover the spread.  The spread is the difference in points between the two teams.  The bookmakers predict which team is more likely to cover the spread, as you can see in the odds. The point spread requires a little example to explain fully.  Let's take a matchup between the Knicks and the Lakers:

  • New York Knicks +5
  • Los Angeles Lakers -5

In this example, the Lakers are the favorite.  To cover the spread, they need to win the game by more than 5 points.  The New York Knicks, on the other hand, would cover if they either win, or do not lose by 5 or more points. 

Over/under
The over/under (also known as a totals bet) is a bet on the total number of points scored in the game by both teams, combined.  The bookies come up with a number of points, and you have to predict whether the final score (combined) will be over or under that amount.  This is particularly popular with NBA, NFL and MLB bettors. 

Other types of bets
The above is just the beginning when it comes to sports betting.  When you're starting as a bettor, it's nice to start playing around with some of the straight wagers.  However, after you’ve gained more experience, you can dive into the following bet types:

  • Prop bets:  With prop bets (also known as proposition bets), you are wagering on an event within a sporting event.  An example could be which player or team scores first in the match.  This bet type can also take place during the game in the form of live betting, which has grown massively in popularity with the maturity of the internet. 

  • Parlay bets:  When you're up for a little more risk, you can try your luck with parlay bets.  Also known as an accumulator bet, with a parlay, you're combining multiple wagers into one bet.  Each individual bet has to be successful to secure a payout.  The chance of success, of course, gets smaller, as the number of elements in the parlay increases. 

  • Teasers:  The teaser is a variation of the parlay bet.  With a parlay, you can't change anything about the odds given by the bookies for each individual match.  With a teaser, you can.  For example, 2-team, 6-point NFL teasers are extremely popular.  In this bet, a gambler gets to add six points to each of the two teams he selects.  Thus, each individual element of the teaser has a better chance to win.  The payout odds, of course, reflect the fact that the odds of winning are increased. 

  • Futures bet:  This is literally betting on an event far in the future.  You could predict the winner of the upcoming Super Bowl or Premier League before the season starts.  And the odds can be incredible here, as it's tough to predict.  Recall the 1999 St. Louis Rams, who were 300-1 going into their NFL championship season.  Or Leicester City, which was 5000-1 before its stunning, title-winning Premier League season in 2015-16.

  • Hedge betting:  When you've placed a significant wager, it might be smart to secure at least a little payout.  Sometimes, you can do so by hedging your bet, but only if an opportunity presents itself where you can’t lose.  This only would be possible if the odds have moved since you placed your original wager, and the team you selected now has an increased chance to win.  This means placing a bet on the other side of your original wager.  Then, regardless of how the game ends, and depending on how you structured your hedge bet, your entire stake for your initial wager would not be at risk. 

The above wagers are available for most major sports and fantasy sports. However, horse racing is different.  The types of bets are different, and the structure of the sport as well.  Thus, we've written a separate betting guide to educate you on horse racing. 

How to read betting odds
The essence of knowing how to bet is understanding the odds for each bet.  Across the world, there are three different types of display odds:  American odds, fractional odds, and decimal odds.  Since we're focusing on the United States, we'll focus on the American odds, also known as moneyline odds.

The moneyline odds are relatively simple.  In general, all bets come down to the same structure.  The bookmaker picks the favorite and the underdog.  The favorite holds the minus sign (-), while the underdog holds the plus sign (+).  Let's take the two NBA teams we used earlier:

  • New York Knicks +210
  • Los Angeles Lakers -250

These betting lines are based on a moneyline wager.  You can see that the Lakers are the favorite, while the Knicks are the underdog.  To calculate our payout, you should know that the moneyline odds assume you're wagering $100.  With that in mind, we can calculate our payout for the example above:

  • You bet $100 on the underdog, the Knicks, and they win.  You profit $210 over and above the initial stake of $100 -- your total payout is $310.
  • You bet $100 on the favorite, the Lakers, and they win. You profit $40 over and above your initial stake of $100.  (If you wanted to profit $100 when betting on the Lakers, you need to wager $250.)

This gives you an idea of how the moneyline odds work.  It's not more complicated than that.  Now, there are lots of odds calculators that you can use when you're in doubt, so don't hesitate to consult an additional source!

How to choose your online sportsbook
You might be wondering where to start placing your bets after taking in all of the above.  You know what kind of bets there are and how the odds work, but where do you bet?  Those who have been to Las Vegas will probably have an answer to this straightaway.  There are many brick-and-mortar Las Vegas sportsbooks that will happily take your bets since it's legal in Nevada.  Across the country, many brick-and-mortar sportsbooks will also take your bets, but there's also a more convenient way.

When you don't feel like traveling all the time when you want to place a simple bet, you can try betting sites.  These are nothing more than online sportsbooks.  However, online betting sites usually offer way more than merely a site where you place bets.  To illustrate this, we want to share a little checklist we use when analyzing an online betting site:

  • Does the betting site welcome you with a nice sign-up bonus?
  • Does the online sportsbook’s website have a modern user interface?
  • Is the betting site able to handle your wagering limits?
  • Does the betting site offer convenient banking methods?
  • Does the betting site offer competitive odds on straight bets, parlays, and teasers?

The competition is strong when it comes to online sportsbooks, so you should take advantage.  For example, if you want great sign-up and reload bonuses, then join BetNow Sportsbook.  But if it’s reduced juice (e.g., -105 odds on football and basketball games, rather than -110), or 10% bonus payouts on winnings at major horse tracks, then join BetAnySports.  And if you’re looking for the best parlay and teaser odds, then BetAnySports is the ideal choice for that, as well.   It's also never wrong to have accounts at multiple books so you can shop around for the best lines, bonuses, or promotions. 

How to create a winning sports betting strategy
You might notice that figuring out how to place bets is not the hardest part.  After doing a little research, you'll probably find your way through the betting market.  The point where things might get complicated is when you start wagering for the long term -- when you want to do more than merely place a bet for entertainment.  For those who desire a sustainable career as a sports bettor, we want to give you some tips.

Keep your eyes on your money
When you first start, you have to decide how much money you want to make available for your betting habits.  Our best advice is to never risk more money than you're able to lose.  You don't want to risk your savings or your kids' college fund on your new passion for sports betting.  Start small, keep your eyes on your bankroll, and slowly build up your betting account.  The more you accumulate, the more risk you can take. 

Keep your eyes on the calendar
When it comes to all of the major sports, they lead up to major betting events.  This ranges from the Super Bowl, to March Madness, to the World Cup in soccer.  Whatever it is, view it as a great opportunity to make money.  Usually, novice bettors find these events a great time to place a wager just for fun.  Sportsbooks know there's a significant influx of novice bettors at those times so they will take advantage of this.  And that's when odds start to shift, and the professional bettors with a plan can step in for easy profits.

Keep your eyes on the statistics
When you're about to place a bet, always ask yourself:  did you do all the research you could to wager your money thoughtfully?  You have to be mindful of all the statistics about each matchup before putting any money on the line.  Read up about past performances, the players, the teams, the weather conditions, travel time, or whatever it might be.  The more you research, the better!  And if you don’t have the time, our handicapping experts here are happy to help.

With all that being said, we want to wish you a lot of fun.  Go ahead and think for yourself which sport suits you the best.  Think about the first type of wager you want to place and dive right in.  Pick a sportsbook which matches your needs and go for it!  You'll learn new stuff along the way and figure out all there is to sports betting.  We're always here to advise you too, so don't be a stranger!

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

© 2020 Al McMordie's BigAl.com. All Rights Reserved.