Are you intrigued by the idea of placing a bet on sports, but view sports betting as a foreign language? That’s okay! At one point, we were all rookies who had to ask, “what’s a parlay?” Instead of wandering aimlessly into the forest of online sports betting, let us be your experienced guide. We’ll we walk you through everything you need to know in order to make an intelligent wager.

In this “betting primer,” we will provide you with the most basic information (laid out in great detail) that’s required to start betting on sports. The four main topics we will cover are: (1) where can you place bets online; (2) what are sports betting odds, and how do you read them; (3) what types of bets can you make, and what events can you bet on; and (4) what are “pushes,” and how do they affect you.

If you already have a general knowledge on some of these topics, and just need some clarification on one specific aspect, you can jump to the relevant section below:

Section Topic
1 Where to Make Sports Bets Online
2 How to Read Betting Odds
2.1 American Odds Explained
2.2 Decimal Odds Explained
2.3 Fractional Odds Explained
3 Bets You Can Make
3.1 Betting the Money Line
3.2 Betting Against the Spread
3.3 Betting Totals
3.4 Proposition Bets
3.5 Futures Bets
3.6 Parlays
3.7 Teasers
3.8 Live Betting
4 What is a Push?

 

But for all you sports betting rookies, let’s start with the basics.

1. Where To Bet Online

First things first, we need to find someone to take your bet. Since your friends may not always be willing to risk their money against your sports genius, we’ve researched and compiled a list of the top 10 sports betting websites that will. Each sportsbook requires you to create an account, and then deposit the money you wish to wager. All of these websites are very user-friendly, easy to navigate, and extremely reliable.

Once you’re set-up, you will then need to select the sport you wish to bet on, and scroll through the events occurring in that sport to find the specific game/event you are interested in. Once you have selected the event, the bet will be added to your “bet slip” or “bet card” (depending on the verbiage of the site) which is often found on the right-hand side of the screen.

If you are finished making selections, proceed to the bet slip and fill in your stake/risk/wager. Those are all just fancy words for how much money you would like to bet. Once you have filled out your desired stake, simply click on “place bet.” After that, your bet is live and all that’s left to do is post about it 15 different times on social media!

Now that we know how to make a bet, let’s carry on so that we can do so intelligently.

2. How to Read Sports Betting Odds

Before we get into the what types of bets you can make, I should clarify what all these weird numbers next to the teams mean. These are odds. The odds serve two purposes:

(a) they signal the implied probability of the outcome it’s attached to, and

(b) they indicate how much money you will win if you bet on that specific event.

We do have to be careful with the probability, though. The bookmakers’ probabilities are influenced by where the money is going, and the sum of the probabilities of a single event will always surpass 100-percent. This tells you how much the bookmaker is charging you to take the bet. You may also hear this referred to as the “juice” or “cut” or “vig(orish).”

As you may have already noticed in your travels through various betting sites, odds are laid out a few different ways. Let’s start with the odds you’ll most commonly see at online sportsbooks.

2.1 American Odds Explained

When you see a -150 or +230, or any other three-digit number with a +/- in front of it, you’re staring at US odds. If the number is negative, that tells you how much you have to bet in order to win $100. (This team is the favorite.) If it’s positive, that’s the amount of money you would win if you bet $100. (This team is the underdog.) Here’s an example to help.

Pittsburgh Penguins -130
Ottawa Senators +110

 

In order to win $100 betting on the Penguins (favorites), you’ll have to wager $130; whereas if you wagered $100 on the Senators (underdogs), you’d win $110. With that in mind, you can solve for any value you wish to wager using proportions. For example, let’s say you only wish to wager $40 on the game above.

If you bet $40 on Pittsburgh (-130), your equation looks like this:

To solve, you cross-multiply to get 130x = 4,000, and then solve for “x”. Therefore, if you wager $40 on Pittsburgh, you will win $30.77, and your return would be $70.77 (your original wager plus your winnings).

If you bet $40 on Ottawa (+110), your equation looks like this:

As mentioned, if you wager $100 on Ottawa, you win $110. But we only wish to wager $40. Again, cross-multiply to get 100x = 4,400, and then solve for “x”. Therefore, if you wager $40 on Ottawa, you will win $44.00, and your return would be $84.00.

Easy enough, right?

Calculating implied probability of US odds can be a tad trickier. We’ll start with positive odds, because they are the easy ones. Here is our formula:

Implied Probability = 100 / (positive US odds + 100)

Continuing with our example from above, we can calculate Ottawa’s (+110) implied probability of winning the game using this formula. We CANNOT use this to calculate Pittsburgh’s, because they have negative odds.

Let’s substitute some numbers into our formula.

Implied Probability = 100 / (110 + 100)

Implied Probability = 0.476 (or 47.6-percent)

Therefore, Ottawa has a 47.6-percent chance of winning according to the bookmaker.

Now let’s tackle the negative odds. Do not get confused by all the brackets and parentheses. Their purpose is basically to flip the sign on the negative US odds. Here’s the formula:

Implied Probability = ( – [negative US odds] ) / ( [ – (negative US odds) ] + 100)

This will look much more comprehensible when we put some numbers in there. Still using our example from above, we can calculate Pittsburgh’s (-130) implied probability of winning the game using this formula. (We CANNOT use this to calculate Ottawa’s, because they have positive odds.) Here’s how it looks for Pittsburgh:

Implied Probability = ( – [-130] ) / ( [ – (-130) ] + 100)

Implied Probability = 130 / 230

Implied Probability = 56.5-percent

Therefore, Pittsburgh has a 56.5-percent chance of winning the game according to the bookmaker.

Let’s look at another example, but this time, you do the leg-work. Plug the numbers below into the formulae laid out above to answer the following questions (then check your results against the answers a little further down the page; no peeking):

San Antonio Spurs +725
Golden State Warriors -1300
  • Probability of San Antonio winning
  • Probability of Golden State winning
  • Winnings if betting $40 on San Antonio
  • Return if betting $40 on San Antonio
  • Winnings if betting $40 on Golden State
  • Return if betting $40 on Golden State


Answers:

  • Probability of San Antonio winning: 12.1-percent
  • Probability of Golden State winning: 92.9-percent
  • Winnings if betting $40 on San Antonio: $290.00
  • Return if betting $40 on San Antonio: $330.00
  • Winnings if betting $40 on Golden State: $3.08
  • Return if betting $40 on Golden State: $43.08

Now that you have a firm grasp of American odds, we’ll move onto decimal odds.

2.2 Decimal Odds Explained

Of the three types of odds you’ll encounter in your betting endeavors, decimal odds are the easiest to work with. Here’s an example of how decimal odds will look:

Tampa Bay Rays 2.40
Cleveland Indians 1.61

 

Determining how much you will win with decimal odds is as easy as it gets. You simply multiply your wager by the odds associated with the team you are betting on. Here’s what the formula looks like:

Winnings = Wager x Decimal Odds

Therefore, if we bet $75 on the Tampa Bay Rays, our winnings are calculated like this:

Winnings = 75 x 2.40

Winnings = $180

Conversely, if we liked the Cleveland Indians, our winnings would be …

Winnings = 75 x 1.61

Winnings = $120.75

In order to figure out the implied probability, follow this formula:

Implied Probability = 1 / Decimal Odds

Using our example from above, here is how you would calculate Tampa Bay’s implied probability of winning:

Implied Probability = 1 / 2.40

Implied Probability = 41.7-percent

And here are Cleveland’s chances of winning:

Implied Probability = 1 / 1.61

Implied Probability = 62.11-percent

Pretty easy, huh? Finally, let’s move onto fractional odds, which are most common in horseracing and in the UK.

2.3 Fractional Odds Explained

These are the funny-looking odds – like 9/5 or 1/2 – that you see when you flip on the Kentucky Derby. The first thing to know is that, if you want to say fractional odds, like 9/5 or 1/2, aloud, you would say “nine to five” or “one to two.”

Now let’s walk through how to determine probability from these fractions.

The number on the left (9) dictates how many times the relevant outcome would fail; whereas the number on the right (5) tells us how many times the outcome would succeed.
Here’s a boxing example to help:

example of boxing odds

Golovkin is the first fighter listed, so he takes the 8/13 odds listed under “Fighter 1.” What those odds are saying is that, if this fight happened 21 times (8 + 13), Golovkin would lose eight times, but win 13 times. To calculate the implied probability of Golovkin winning the fight, you take the number of times he is expected to win (13) and divide it by the total number of trials (21). This results in a 61.9-percent chance for Golovkin to win the fight.

The formula is:

Implied Probability = Denominator / (Denominator + Numerator)

Therefore, after we substitute in Golovkin’s odds, our expression would look like this:

Implied Probability = 13 / (13 + 8)

Implied Probability = 13 / 21

Implied Probability = 61.9-percent

If we want to calculate Alvarez’s probability of winning the match, we do the same thing. His odds are 11/8, meaning if the fight happened 19 times (11 + 8), Alvarez would lose 11 times and win eight times. Therefore, his probability of winning the fight would be calculated by dividing eight (the number of times he would win) by 19 (the total number of trials). Alvarez has a 42.1-percent chance of winning the fight.

Using our formula, it looks like this:

Implied Probability = 8 / (8 + 13)

Implied Probability = 8 / 21

Implied Probability = 42.1-percent

Remember what I said earlier about the “juice”? We haven’t even factored in the probability of a draw yet, and the sum of the probabilities is already over 100-percent (61.9 + 42.1 = 104). You’ve got to pay to play, unfortunately.

As I mentioned, odds also help us determine how much money we will win on the bet. Sticking with our boxing example from above, if you want to bet on Golovkin to win the fight (8/13 odds), your winnings are calculated by multiplying your wager by the quotient of 8 ÷ 13 (0.615). If you wish to bet $10, then your winnings are $6.15 (10 x 0.615). That number is added to your wager to total your “return,” or how much money you receive back. In this case, you receive $16.15 back ($10 + $6.15). Here’s what the formula looks like:

Winnings = Wager x (Numerator / Denominator)

Therefore, after we input Golovkin’s odds, we get:

Winnings = 10 x (8 / 13)

Winnings = 10 x (0.615)

Winnings = $6.15

If you wanted to bet your $10 on Alvarez, then you multiply it by the quotient of 11 ÷ 8 (1.375). Therefore, your winnings are $13.75 ($10 x 1.375). Your return would be $23.75 ($10 + $13.75). Below is how to solve that using the formula.

Winnings = 10 x (11 / 8)

Winnings = 10 x (1.375)

Winnings = $13.75

As you can see, there is a greater payout when betting on Alvarez, who is the “underdog” in this fight. Betting on underdogs allows you to risk less to win more. But remember there is a reason they are the underdog. Siding with Golovkin, the “favorite,” forces you to risk more to get the same return.

Here’s one more example. As we did with American odds, use the formulae above and the fractional odds below to answer the following questions:

Real Madrid 7/4 Draw 11/5 Juventus 9/5
  • Probability of Real Madrid winning
  • Probability of a Draw
  • Probability of Juventus winning
  • Winnings if betting $10 on Real Madrid
  • Return if betting $10 on Real Madrid
  • Winnings if betting $10 on a Draw
  • Return if betting $10 on a Draw
  • Winnings if betting $10 on Juventus
  • Return if betting $10 on Juventus

 

Answers: (all percentages are rounded to one decimal place.)

  • Probability of Real Madrid winning: 36.4-percent
  • Probability of a Draw: 31.3-percent
  • Probability of Juventus winning: 35.7-percent
  • Winnings if betting $10 on Real Madrid: $17.50
  • Return if betting $10 on Real Madrid: $27.50
  • Winnings if betting $10 on a Draw: $22.00
  • Return if betting $10 on a Draw: $32.00
  • Winnings if betting $10 on Juventus: $18.00
  • Return if betting $10 on Juventus: $28.00

 

And those, ladies and gentlemen, are odds! (Pause for applause.)

Now that you know how to read and interpret the three types of odds you will encounter, let’s move to which elements of sporting events you can actually bet on.

3. Types of Sports Bets You Can Make Explained

The days of just betting on the winner of a single game are way behind us. That’s not to say you can’t still bet on the outcome of a single game, but there are many other ways to bet on sports now. For example, we can also bet on multiple games at the same time, the winner of a future championship, the performance of an individual player, and even a single play. And we can make all these bets on basically every sport there is.

Now let’s go through the “betting terms” for everything I just described.

3.1 Money Line

This is the simplest bet you can make. When making a basic money line bet, you are just selecting the outright winner of a single game. Here’s an example:

example of moneyline odds

To place your bet, all you need to do is click on the money line number attached to the team you believe is going to win the game. If you believe Anaheim will win, then click on the +135. If you like Nashville, then click the -155.

As we know from our discussion on odds, the money line numbers next to each team are US odds which (1) indicate each team’s implied probability, and (2) allow us to determine how much money we would win based on our wager.

3.2 Betting Against the Spread

Most sporting events have a perceived favorite, so applying a spread to the game is the bookmakers’ way of creating an even playing field. This is most often seen when betting on the NFL. When you bet “against the spread,” it’s not enough for the favorite to win the game; now, they have to win by more than a specified amount (the spread) in order for them to “cover the spread”.

As with the money line, a negative number indicates the favorite and a positive number indicates the underdog.

Let’s look at an example.

example of point spread odds

As you can see, New England is the favorite in this game by 7.5 points, since they have the negative number. You will often see half-points attached to the spread to avoid “pushes,” or ties for the newbies. (We’ll talk more on that later.) Games with half-point spreads are said to contain a “hook.”

In this circumstance, favored New England is said to be “laying” 7.5 points. This means you subtract 7.5 points from their total score when the game concludes. If they still have more points than the Chiefs, then they “covered.” Therefore, the Patriots will have to win the game by at least eight points for you to win your bet.

While New England is “laying” 7.5 points, Kansas City is “getting” 7.5 points. This means you add 7.5 points to their total score when the game concludes. If, after doing so, they have more points than the Patriots, then they “covered.” So, in order to win your bet, the Chiefs just cannot lose the game by eight points or more. For example, if the Chiefs only lose by three points, you would win if you bet on Kansas City.

Here are a couple of mock outcomes, with the team who covered the spread in bold.

  • Kansas City 21 – New England 24
  • Kansas City 17 – New England 25
  • Kansas City 3 – New England 41
  • Kansas City 30 – New England 27

 

The spreads in football games are subject to change based on where the money is going and weekly injury reports. If Tom Brady is hit by the Madden Curse before the season even starts and is unable to suit up for this game, you’ll see the spread decrease, likely landing around New England -3.5.

Now you may have noticed in the chart above that there is a three-digit number next to each spread, which looks an awful lot like a money line. It is, in essence. Those negative numbers (-110 in this case) indicate how much you have to bet in order to win $100. (Sportsbooks still take their cut when you’re betting against the spread.)

Generally, you will see “even bets,” meaning the payout is the same no matter who you bet on. But that’s not always the case, as you’ll see in the chart for our next example.

point spread odds example #2

If the result of this game is Seattle 21 – Green Bay 28, would I win if I bet on Seattle to cover?

(NO! They lost by more than three points.)

You will also see point spreads in hockey, baseball, and soccer. But they are referred to in different terms . In hockey, it is called a puck line; in baseball, it is a run line; and in soccer, it is a goal line. Puck lines and run lines are almost always fixed at 1.5.

3.3 Totals

When betting totals, you are no longer pledging your allegiance to one team. It does not matter who wins the game or by how much. The only aspect of the game you are concerned with is the total score. The bookmakers will set a projected number of points to be scored in the game, then you decide whether the actual number of points scored will be more (over) or less (under) than the total they set.

Here is an example of what this will look like.

total betting o/u example

Pay no attention to all the other noise that’s going on here. Strictly focus on the “total” column. In this game, the bookmakers have set the total points to be scored in the game at 219. It appears twice to give you the odds for picking both “over” and “under.” If you believe Cleveland and Boston will combine to score more than 219 points, then you’ll want to bet the over. If you believe it will be a defensive battle with fewer than 219 total points scored, then you’ll want to bet the under.

3.4 Proposition Bets

Remember how I said that you could bet on one player? “Prop bets” are where you can do that. Just like when making a totals bet, a prop bet is not concerned with the winner of a game. Instead, we are focusing on very specific stats within a game. For example, in hockey, you may see a proposition bet on how many points Sidney Crosby will score in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. The bookmaker will either set a total, or leave it as a yes/no outcome. Here is what it would look like:

Sidney Crosby Total Points in Game 5 of Eastern Conference Finals: 1.5

Over 1.5 (-120) Under 1.5 (-105)

 

As you did with totals bets, you decide whether Sidney Crosby will score more or fewer than 1.5 points in the game. The prop could also be as simple as, “Will Sidney Crosby score a goal in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals?” In this circumstance, you would choose between “Yes” and “No.”

These types of bets are found in all major sports, and are most popular during the Super Bowl. Prop bets give you the ability to wager on how many passing/rushing/receiving yards a certain player will accumulate, how many touchdowns will be scored by a particular player, how many sacks there will be in the game, and just about any other meaningful stat kept in a football game.

3.5 Futures Bets

As the name would suggest, these types of bets allow you to wager on who will win a future championship or title long before the teams have been determined. You can also make futures bets regarding individual player awards, like MLB MVP.

Going back to the NFL context, even though the season has yet to kickoff, you can already bet on who will win the Super Bowl, and who will win NFL MVP, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, and much more.

3.6 Parlays

A parlay is just a fancy way of describing a bet that includes multiple games. If you like the Patriots to cover the spread against the Chiefs in Week 1 in the NFL, and also like the Packers to beat the Seahawks that same week, you can combine those two bets into one. This allows you to only make one wager, while providing you with a higher potential payout.

In a parlay, you can add any type of bet (bets against the spread, money line bets, totals, etc.). In order to win the parlay, though, all parts of the bet need to win. If you make a parlay with four games, but only three of your picks win, your parlay loses and you surrender your wager. Each bookmaker will have their own limit on how many games you can add to one parlay.

3.7 Teasers

A teaser is a type of parlay, one that only pertains to betting against the spread or totals. The idea here is that bettors get to adjust spreads in their favor in exchange for a lesser potential payout. You may find a betting site that allows you to “tease” the spread of one game in either direction; but generally, teasers require you to make a parlay.

Here is an example of a two-team teaser:

Atlanta Falcons -6.5 (-115)
Chicago Bears +6.5 (-105)

 

Pittsburgh Steelers -9 (-105)
Cleveland Browns +9 (-115)

 

Let’s say you like both Atlanta and Pittsburgh, but are a little worried about them covering their respective spreads. Instead of leaving it as a regular parlay, you can tease the spreads in your favor. You will be given the option of teasing the spread by 6.0, 6.5, or 7.0 points. If we teased our spreads by 6.0 points, our new spreads would be: Atlanta (-0.5) and Pittsburgh (-3). Therefore, Atlanta would just need to win the game, and Pittsburgh would need to win by more than three.

Of course, your winnings will be diminished with the favorable spreads, resulting in you needing to risk more to collect a decent payout.

3.8 Live Betting

Have you ever called a home run before the batter stepped into the box, or known a team was going to erase a massive deficit and pull off a huge comeback? Live betting is how you can be rewarded for your sports knowledge and instincts.

This type of bet occurs during a game, and allows you to bet on anything from who will win to the outcome of the next play. You do have to be quick, though, as odds are constantly changing and there is a short window to place your bet.

Now that you know all the most common types of bets you can make, we only have one more quick issue to address: a push.

4. What Is A Push?

Simply put, a push is a tie. You will not see pushes when betting on money lines because, if a sport allows a game to end in a tie, then a tie or draw will be a possible outcome you can bet on. A push only concerns you when you are betting against the spread or placing a totals bet.

As previously mentioned, you will occasionally see a spread or total that does not feature a half-point to avoid the possibility of a tie. Here is an example:

Baltimore Ravens +2 (-110)
Cincinnati Bengals -2 (-110)

 

If this game were to end 20-18 for Cincinnati, then neither team covered the spread. It is a push. In this circumstance, you would be given your money back and it would be as if the bet never happened.

If you have a four-team parlay, and only one game pushes, most sportsbooks will just reduce the parlay to three teams. Be sure to know your sportsbook, though, as some deem the entire parlay a loss. The same goes for a teaser, as well.

That concludes our sports betting 101 class. Now that you have a solid foundation of knowledge, get out there and start winning some money, responsibly, of course.