Sports Betting: How Does it Work?


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With the rapid expansion of legal sports betting in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and pretty much everywhere else, no longer is ‘sports betting’ a dirty word. Because of this, more and more people are curious about how sports betting works.

In this article, I will outline a short, yet comprehensive guide to sports betting to get you started. It will include the standard betting markets and how the odds work.

Standard Types of Bets:

  • Moneyline
  • Spread Betting (the handicap)
  • Totals (over/under)
  • Futures
  • Props (proposition bets)
  • Parlays

Moneyline Betting

Moneyline betting, also called straight-up or outright, is the simplest form of betting. Taking action on the moneyline is placing a wager on who you believe will win in any given game or match.

Spread Betting

The point spread or handicap is the most common betting market there is. Expert handicappers assess the two sides –whether that be teams or individuals– and create a handicap to make things fair, betting-wise. Using basketball as an example, you might see the Los Angeles Lakers as -6.5 over the Miami Heat. this means that the Lakers are a better team, so the Heat are getting 6.5 points. If you bet the spread +6.5 for the Heat, they don’t have to win; they just need to lose by less than 7 points and you still win.


Total betting is wagering on whether or not the combined score between two sides will be more or less than a predetermined number. For example, Manchester United v Chelsea may have a total goal line of 3.5. You can bet OVER or UNDER that number. If you think four or more goals will be scored you would bet OVER. If you believe three or fewer will be netted, you would choose UNDER.

Future Bets

Futures are exactly how they sound, you are looking at the season as a whole, betting on the future performance of a team or player. For example, will the Western Warriors win their league? Or in the case of American sports, you could bet on whether a team will win their division or conference if you think they will do well, but perhaps are not good enough to win in the finals.

Prop Bets

Prop bets are usually player or team-based proposition bets. For example, you may find odds for how many corners or how many yellow cards will happen in an association football match. In basketball, you may see props odds on rebounds or three-pointers made, etc. Usually, prop bets are set up in an OVER/UNDER format. However, there are many futures-based props, like how many passing yards will Tom Brady have over the course of an NFL season, or how many total runs will a specific cricketer bat in over the duration of the season. My personal favorite is season win totals, which are also a blend between props and futures bets.

Parlay Betting

Parlays are made anytime you add two or more bets together where each has to hit for you to win. It can be a completely mixed back, with props, futures, spread bets, moneylines, you name it. Each part of your parlay may have different odds, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the implied probability and adjusted payouts by using a parlay calculator for your best bets for the day.

Betting Odds

The three most common odds that you’ll see are American, Fraction, and Decimal.

American odds may seem confusing at first but once you understand that they are based on a betting unit of $100, they make a lot of sense. For example, with spread betting, you’ll see most of the time, the odds are set equally for both sides because the handicap is the equalizer, going back to Our example using the Los Angeles Lakers, if they are -6.5 (-110) over the Miami Heat, this means that you would risk 110 dollars (or whatever currency) to win 100. So, if you risked 10 dollars on the Lakers and they won, you would profit $9.09. Conversely, if you see a positive sign in front of the Number, you would win that amount for every 100 dollars risked. So, recent odds showed the Victorian Bushrangers as +177 against New South Wales, who were listed at -215. This means for every 100 dollars risked on the Bushrangers, you would profit 177 (17.7 dollars per 10 wagered. Conversely, there is less value on NSW, as you must risk over 200 dollars in the hopes of winning just 100.

Fractional odds are not true fractions, as the first number indicates your possible win amount and the second number is your risk amount. So, American odds of -110 would read as 10/11 in fractional odds. You must wager 11 to win 10. Decimal odds that imply the same probability would read 1.91. However, decimal odds are listed in reverse to fractional and are based on single monetary units. So, at 1.91, a one-dollar bet would net me a 91-cent return. So, decimal odds of 1.25, would be the same as odds American odds of -400, or fractional odds of 1/4.


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