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Sports Betting 101

If you are just getting into sports betting, some of the terminology, strategy, or even rules may seem intimidating. Learning how to read spreads, odds, moneylines, and totals is key for anybody looking to wager their hard earned money on the plethora of sports on the bettor off platform. So, without further ado, here is a short guide to the basics of sports betting.

Point Spread

For many people, betting the spread is their go-to method for wagering on games. A point spread is simply the projected margin of victory between two teams. A minus sign (-) means that the team is the favorite. A plus sign (+) means that the team is the underdog.

For instance, let's say the Packers are playing the Chargers on Monday Night Football. If the Packers are favored by 6.5 points, the line on your sportsbook will look something like this:

Green Bay -6.5

Los Angeles +6.5

Now, this means that if you bet on the Packers, you need them to win by 7 or more points in order for you to win your bet. Conversely, if you bet on the Chargers, you need them to lose by less than 7 points in order to win your bet. This is known as “covering the spread."

One of the reasons why betting the spread is so popular in America is that, generally speaking, you have even odds no matter which side you bet. This means you stand to gain or lose the same amount of money no matter which side you bet — in other words, your risk to reward ratio is 1:1.

American Odds

American odds are used in almost every American sportsbook. The numbers are based on a $100 bet. Just like point spreads, if a team has a negative number as their odds, they are the favorite. A positive number means they are an underdog.


The negative number will represent the amount you would have to wager in order to win $100. For instance, placing a $140 dollar bet on a team with -140 odds would pay out $100 for a win. Obviously, not everyone is betting exact $100 units every time, so the number acts as a ratio. Example: a $70 dollar bet would pay out $50 for a win with the same -140 odds.

  • (Wager / Odds) x 100 = Payout
  • Underdog:

    (or team with the + numbers beside them) works in reverse. The number is a representation of how much a win will pay out on a $100 wager. For instance, betting $100 on a team with +150 odds would pay out $150 with a win. Generally, the American odds will appear beside all bets, even spreads.

  • (Odds / 100) x Wager = Payout
  • Moneyline

    A moneyline bet is a wager on a specific team or person to win the match/game. Unlike spread betting, the margin of victory does not matter here. As discussed above, in American Odds, each team/competitor is assigned lines based on their chance of winning. Positive numbers for underdogs, negative for favorites.Here is an example of a College Football matchup between Clemson and Virginia Tech:

    Clemson -250

    Virginia Tech +200

    Based on these odds, wagering on a Clemson win would pot you $100 for every $250 you bet. Conversely, a wager on Virginia Tech would pay out double whatever you bet.


    Over/Unders (also known as “totals") are numbers representing the projected combination of points between both sides in a competition. Betting the “over" means you are wagering that the combined score will be higher than a certain number, and betting the “under" means you are wagering on the combined score being lower than that number. Here is an example of an NHL matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. The line may look something like this:

    New York Rangers

    Over 5.5

    Philadelphia Flyers

    Under 5.5

    Who wins the matchup and what the margin of victory is has no effect on the over/under. All that matters is the total amount of points (or in this case goals) scored by both teams. So, let's say you bet the over in this game. The following scores would all be wins for you:

    Rangers 4

    Flyers 5

    Rangers 4

    Flyers 6

    Flyers 2

    Rangers 1

    Flyers 3

    Rangers 0


    These scores would all result in a loss for over bettors:

    Flyers 2

    Rangers 5

    Flyers 3

    Rangers 3

    Rangers 1

    Flyers 0

    Rangers 2

    Flyers 1



    The juice or “vig" is the sportsbook's fee for using the platform. In America, the standard juice is typically 10%. This means that most bets that are considered “even odds" show odds of -110. For instance, a spread bet will often appear something like this:

    Miami Dolphins



    Kansas City Chiefs



    Despite having the same perceived chance at covering the spread both bets require you to pay a premium of 10%. This is how the book makes its money.


    Units are a way of comparing bettors' wins and losses while neutralizing the size of their bets. People from all socioeconomic backgrounds like to wager. A twenty dollar bet to one person may carry as much weight as a 500 dollar bet to another person.

    So, when somebody talks about a “unit," they are referring to their average wager amount. Most bettors figure out the unit that makes sense for them and then bet with that amount in mind. Somebody who is confident in a certain wager may opt to throw two units on the game instead of one. The idea is a way to keep track of amounts won or lost without revealing or comparing dollar amounts.


    Parlaying is a slightly more nuanced method of betting. A parlay wager is a combination of multiple bets. In order to win a parlay bet, each individual bet must hit. The potential win amount is raised for each “leg" of a parlay you add. For instance, let's say that there are two matchups on an NFL Sunday that catch your eye. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the following examples:

    Detroit Lions



    Baltimore Ravens



    New England Patriots



    New York Jets



    Okay, so if you believe that both the Lions and Patriots will cover these spreads, you can turn that into a parlay bet, as opposed to betting them both separately. After placing a parlay bet, the only way to win is for all of your selected wagers to win. So, let's say you placed your parlay on the Lions and Patriots. The Patriots cover, the Lions do not. That is a loss. The Lions cover, the Patriots do not. Loss. Both fail to cover. Loss. Both cover. Win. The win amount is calculated on a sliding scale depending on the number of legs in a parlay and the odds for each one. Generally speaking, a two team parlay with even odds will produce a 2.65x win total to a straight bet.

    As you can see, there are a wide array of options for bettors these days. These are some of the basic options out there, but there are countless other more complicated betting styles and lingo. Always be informed where your money is going and what your possible outcomes are.

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