Sports betting isn’t new. People have known how to bet on sports for as long as there have been sports.
Being able to place a bet on a sporting event online, though, is new indeed.
And the ways that people conduct sports betting have changed over the centuries.
Plenty of books about sports betting are out there, but if you’re just a recreational bettor, you can find most of what you need to know online.
In this guide, I hope to explain everything you need to know about how to bet on sports in 2020 and beyond.
Sports Betting for Beginners
Here’s the thing about sports betting:
When it comes right down to it, sports betting just involves predicting who’s going to win a sporting event. You risk money on whether your prediction comes true.
Beyond that, though, it does get more involved.
The easiest way to bet on sports, of course, is to find a buddy and make a wager.
For example, I might call my buddy Brian and ask him if he wants to bet $100 on the Cowboys game Sunday. I’ll take the Redskins, of course, because Brian is a loyal Cowboys fan and would never bet against them.
If the Cowboys win, I give Brian $100. If the Redskins win, Brian gives me $100.
That’s as straightforward as it gets, but a lot of people can’t find someone willing to bet with them directly. Or they can’t find someone who’s willing to risk as much money as they are.
For example, if I want to bet $1000 on the Cowboys game, Brian’s out. He doesn’t have $1000.
What do I do?
I have multiple options, all of which involve dealing with a professional who specializes in sports betting — a bookmaker.
I could fly to Las Vegas and place a bet with one of the sportsbooks there. They’re professional bookmakers, and the action is legal and regulated there.
Or I could find a neighborhood bookie and place a bet with him. The easiest way to find a bookie is to get a referral from one of his existing customers. Ask around at the bar.
Finally, I could go to an online bookmaker, like one of the many offshore sportsbook sites.
Betting on Underdogs versus Betting on Favorites
I’ll continue to use football for my examples because that’s the most popular sport to bet on in the United States.
You need to understand the concept of underdogs and favorites if you want to bet on sports as a hobby.
In any sporting event, one side is more likely to win than the other.
In football, some teams are just much better than other teams.
The better team — the team that’s expected to win — is the favorite.
The team that’s expected to lose is the underdog, or sometimes just “dog.”
If you could find people willing to give you even money when you bet on the favorite, you could make a big profit by just taking advantage of their naivete.
Most of the time, though, the people or organizations you bet with set their odds in such a way as to reflect the strength of one team over the other.
In football betting, one of the most common ways to bet is by using point spreads.
Point Spreads and How to Bet on Games with a Spread
When you’re point spread betting, you bet on which team is going to “cover the spread.” The spread is the number of points the favorite is expected to win by.
If the underdog loses but still gets enough points to cover the spread, you win your bet on that dog.
In other words, the favorite has to give up points for purposes of determining a winner.
The dog gets points.
Here’s an example:
The Cowboys are playing the Redskins this Sunday, and the Redskins are a 7-point favorite.
The Redskins would be listed with a -7 next to their name, indicating that they lose 7 points when tallying who wins that bet.
These bets usually pay out at even money, except…
The sportsbook has to make a profit, so they usually require you to risk $110 to win $100 when making a bet against the spread. That’s a ratio, not a minimum bet, by the way. You could bet $55 to win $50, for example.
Moneylines and How to Bet on Sports with a Moneyline
The moneyline just represents a ratio of how much money you’ll win or lose, depending on whether you bet the favorite or the dog. The moneyline doesn’t look at the point spread to determine the winner; it’s paid off based on whether the favorite or dog wins, period.
As with point spreads, the moneyline for the favorite is expressed with a – sign. For example, the Redskins might be listed as -150. This means you have to risk $150 to win $100.
Underdogs are listed with a +, which indicates the amount you win if you bet $100 on the underdog. For example, the Cowboys might be listed at +150. If you bet $100 on the Cowboys, and they win, you get $150.
Moneylines are more common when betting on baseball, hockey, or soccer.
Point spreads are more common when betting on basketball or football.
Sportsbooks generally set the moneyline in such a way that they profit when they get equal action on either side. There’s always an inequity, and that inequity is where the book makes its profit.
This is called “vig” or “vigorish,” and it’s the same thing as the risking $110 to win $100 that I already mentioned.
Those Aren’t Your Only Options When Sports Betting
You’re not limited to just betting on the winner of an event. You can also bet on other propositions or bet on multiple events.
Over/under bets are also popular. This is a bet on whether the game’s total score will be higher or lower than the bookmaker’s prediction.
These are also called “totals” bets.
For example, if the Cowboys are playing the Redskins, and the over/under is 45, you’d win a bet on the over if the total score for both teams were 46 or higher. You’d lose if the score were 45 or lower.
If you bet on the under, you’d win if the score were 44 or lower, and you’d lose if the score were 45 or higher.
Parlays are bets on multiple games at the same time. They only pay off if you get all the bets on your parlay card right, and when they do, they pay off at a higher amount.
For example, if you bet on a 5-game parlay, you’d need to win all 5 bets on the card.
But your payoff would be far more than even money.
More about How the Vig Works When You’re Betting on Sports
Remember earlier how I mentioned that you usually have to risk $110 to win $100 when placing a bet against the spread?
At some books, you might only have to risk $105, while at others, you might have to risk $120.
That additional amount that you’re risking is called the vig, and that’s how the bookmaker profits.
Think about it this way:
If the point spread is right, and there’s a 50% probability that the Cowboys will win or lose against the Redskins, what does that mean for the book?
Assume that half the amount of money that’s bet is for the Cowboys, while the other half is for the Redskins.
The bookmaker might have $11,000 in wagers on one side, and $11,000 in wagers on the other side.
The winners get their $11,000 back, and they also get $10,000 in winnings.
But the bookmaker still has $1000 left over, which is the vig.
How to Place a Sports Bet
What are the actual mechanics behind placing a sports bet?
It works more or less the same way whether you’re betting online or at a brick and mortar sportsbook.
You look at the odds on the tote board at the book. Each event has a number. You tell the person at the window which event you want to bet on, and you tell them which side of the event you want to take.
You give them money. They give you a ticket showing what you wagered and on what.
If you’re doing this online, it’s all handled virtually through your computer and the internet.
If you win, you just bring your ticket back to the book and get your winnings (along with the amount you wagered.)
And if you lose, the ticket is worthless except as a souvenir.
Sports betting is easy, but if you’ve never done it before, it can be intimidating.
I hope this guide has explained how to bet on sports in such a way that you have some added confidence.
If you have questions, or if I’ve left something out, please leave me a message in the comments. I’ll do my best to reply quickly.