How to Bet on Sports: Sports Betting 101

A guide on how to bet on sports

Betting Against the Spread

Betting against the spread or ATS for short is the most popular way to bet on sports games and is also very simple. The team that is favored will be listed with a negative number (ie. -5) and that is the number they need to win the game by. In this example the favorite must win by 6 or more points to “cover” the spread and win the bet. If they win by exactly 5-points the bet is considered a “push” or “no-bet”.

Buying Points

When betting against the spread, most books will allow you to “buy points”, which will change what the line is at adjusted odds.

For example the Patriots are -3.5 favorites to the Rams in the Super Bowl at -110 odds, meaning a $110 bet on the Patriots -3.5 will pay out $100.

You really like the Patriots to win the game, but are worried that the Rams will keep the game close and it could come down to a last second field goal, leading to a Patriots 3-point win, and thus they would not cover the spread.

In this case, you could buy a half point -- bumping to the line Patriots -2.5, and thus making the Patriots cover the spread if they win by a field goal. However, if you decide to do this the odds for new line (Patriots -2.5) will bump to -130 and thus lessing your potential payout.

Moneyline Betting

Betting the moneyline is the simplest form of sports betting. You are simply picking which team will outright win the game. The favorite will be listed as a negative number (ie. -200) that means you will have to bet that amount to win $100. The underdog will be listed as a positive number (ie. +500) that means you will win that amount on a $100 bet.

Betting Totals

Betting the total for a game in a bet on how many total points will be scored in a game. In the NFL game totals are typically between 38 and 60 points. Similar to betting the spread, there can be a “push” if the total amount of points scored in the game exactly equals the total. The term “over/under” can also be used to describe betting the total. Many books also provide “team total” bets, which is a bet on how many points one of the teams will score in either the entire game, one half, or one quarter of play.

Parlay Bets

A parlay bet is when you place two to twelve bets linked together. In a parlay you need all of the bets to win to cash the parlay, but the upside is that you get much better odds in the bet. Many parlays will pay out 6-1000X what the original bet was depending on how bets are included in the parlay.

You can make parlay bets with against the spread, moneyline, and total bets and most books will let you mix and match bets from these three bet types within your parlay.

Teaser Bets

A teaser bet is similar to a parlay bet in that you are “stacking” multiple bets. However, with teasers you are getting adjusted (better) odds in return for a lower payout. For example, you can place a bet on two -6 favorites in a 4-point, 2-team teaser and both teams will need to win for the bet to win but both of their odds will adjust to only -2 favorites.

How many teams you can put in a teaser bet varies slightly from sportsbook to sportsbook from 2 all the way up to 10 teams, with various options for how many points you can tease depending on how many teams are in the the teaser.

Common options in include 4pt, 10pt and 12pt teasers.

Prop Betting

Prop betting is where you place a bet on the performance of one player in a game. Books have a variety of prop bets available, including but not limited to: passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, receptions  first player to score, player to score 2 touchdowns, etc. for NFL, while basketball will allow you to place props on things such as as players total points, rebounds, assists, most points, etc.

Some player props are set up like betting on totals (ie. Patrick Mahomes will throw for over 315.5 passing yards), and like moneyline bets (ie. Alvin Kamara is +500 to score the first touchdown of the game).

Round Robin Bets

Round Robin betting is a variation on a parlay bet that helps to mitigate some of the risk that you are taking on with a typical parlay. A parlay bet is an all or nothing bet, in that either all of your bets win and thus you win your parlay. However, if just one of your bets within the parlay loses, you lose the entire bet. With round robin bets, the multiple legs of your parlay bet are grouped together so that you can still profit if one of the teams in your parlay loses.

As an example, we will use hypothetical NFL lines.

You want to bet the Buccaneers +6, the Lions -2.5, and the Patriots -10.

In a typical parlay bet you would need all three of those events to happen for your ticket to win.

In a round robin bet, the three bets will be broken down into three separate two team parlays that would read as:

Bucs +6/Lions -2.5

Lions -2.5/Patriots -10

Bucs +6/Patriots -10

In this case let’s say that the Buccaneers and the Patriots both cover the spread in their games but the Lions do not. If you were to make a parlay of the three teams, this would a loss. But in a round robin, you would win the Bucs +6/Patriots -10 and still manage to gain some profit.

It’s important to note that round robin bets do not have the same odds as a straight parlay so while the upside is not as high, there is a much higher level of safety in a round robin bet.

Hedging Bets

Hedging your bets is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of sports betting and is something that you need to pay close attention too. Hedging is a system of mitigating your risk in betting.

Golf betting is an excellent example of how you can hedge your bets to lock in profit.

Let’s say that you bet $100 on Tiger Woods at 10/1 ($1,000 payout)  and Phil Mickelson at 20/1 ($2,000) to win the Masters before the tournament starts.

Come Sunday, both Tiger and Phil are both in the Top-3 and and have excellent chances to win the tournament, but Jordan Spieth are also in contention and has a two-shot lead and is a 2/1 live betting favorite to win.

In this case you could hedge your outright bets on Tiger and Phil with a $300 live bet on Speith ($600 payout), that would guarantee a profit on the week if any one of Tiger, Phil, or Spieth won the tournament.

In summary you bet $500 total and would win $1,000 ($500 profit) if Tiger wins, $2,000 ($1,500 profit) if Phil wins, and $600 ($100 profit) if Spieth wins.

We can use parlay and teaser bets as another example for hedging.

In this case lets make a three team NBA parlay with the Knicks +10, Heat -2, and Warriors -10. For this example we’ll say that you make a $100 bet on this parlay to return $600 if all three teams cover. We will say that the Knicks and Heat play at 7:00PM ET and the Warriors at 10:30PM ET.

Let’s say that both the Knicks and Heat cover the spread and you only need the Warriors to cover in the late game for you to cash a nice payout.

In this situation you could hedge your bet by betting $200 on the Warriors opponent at +10, to return ~$180, and thus guaranteeing a profit --  $80 profit if Warriors don’t cover via the straight bet to their opponents, or a $300 profit if the Warriors do cover the spread via your original parlay bet.

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