Stepping into the world of sports betting is very intimidating initially. Like anything in life it’s best to be prepared beforehand. That’s why it’s important to know the basics of betting, which we will cover in this guide. There are three main types of bets: moneyline, ATS (against the spread), and Totals (Over/Under). We’ll dig deep explaining each and how they are scored.
For all of the betting types we’ll use the below sample.
It doesn’t get any simpler than the moneyline bet. A moneyline bet is a wager placed on a team to win. In any sport other than soccer, someone wins and someone loses. With a moneyline bet we don’t care how they win as long as they are the winner at the end. Since moneyline is picking a winner it doesn’t get any simpler than that.
Using our example, the Steelers are favored to win over the Bills. We know that because our ROI (return on investment) on the Steelers is lower than the Bills. A $100 wager placed on the Steelers nets $80 while the same bet on the Bills nets $130.
There is one piece of strategy with moneyline wagering. The general consensus is that the majority of the time the betting public supports the favorite. That makes sense as the favorites SHOULD win. With NFL games being played on Sundays sportsbooks usually make opening lines available the Tuesday beforehand. If you believe the Steelers will win it is wise to bet the odds of -125 while you can. Once the volume of bets placed on the steelers significantly outweighs the volume on the Bills the Steelers will become -135 to deter bets. This is all part of the line movement process which we discuss in another one of our guides.
For those interested in betting the Bills it is advised to wait. Odds of +130 could become larger later in the week.
For What Sports Is the Moneyline Available?
For every major sport except soccer (which includes draws), the moneyline will only offer two options: (1) Team A to win and (2) Team B to win. Since there are no ties in the NFL, MLB, NBA, or NHL these days, sportsbooks always settle your moneyline bets. One team has to win the game. However, it can also be challenging to make a decent return when just betting the moneyline.
Favorites vs. The Dog
The biggest challenge with winning a reasonable return on the moneyline is that, often, there is a substantial favorite — particularly in sports like football and basketball — who is expected to (and goes onto) dominate. Take the Golden State Warriors, for instance, who have run roughshod over the NBA the past few years. It’s been common for them to be -2000 favorites (or shorter) on any given night. In such cases, your options are either to stake a lot of money to win very little, or hope for an upset that is far less likely to happen than the odds suggest. Betting the Warriors repeatedly will see your bankroll grow very slowly, in the best-case scenario. Betting their opponent will, most nights, see your bankroll shrink.
Calculating Your Payout on the Moneyline
How do you determine your potential payout, precisely? The moneyline number is the potential payout. A negative number represents the amount you have to bet to win $100. A positive number represents how much you will win on a $100 bet. In the graphic above, then, you have to bet $550 on Cleveland to win $100, while a $100 bet on Boston will net you a $375 profit.
For wagering games between two evenly matched teams, or in cases where you are expecting a big upset by an underdog, the moneyline is where you want to look.
But otherwise, you’ll want to try betting against the spread.
Betting Against the Spread (ATS)
To counteract the lopsided nature of some games, sportsbooks place a “spread” on the action. The spread is a certain number of points bookmakers determine the favorite must win by for the bet to cash. The team that has a negative symbol in front of their spread has to win by more than that number, while the team with the positive symbol just has to lose by fewer than that number. You may hear this referred to as “ATS” betting, which just stands for “against the spread.”
Half Points on the Spread
To avoid that, sportsbooks usually try and include a half number in the spread (e.g. -17.5), so that one side has to win.
In instances where the spread settles on a whole number and you’d like to avoid a push, you have the option of purchasing a half-point. (By “purchasing,” we mean you will get a lower potential payout, for example, going from -105 to -120.) You can then use that half-point to “move the spread” in your favor. So, if you liked a +3 underdog, you could adjust the spread to +3.5; and if you liked the favorite, you could move it from -3 to -2.5.
Why do Sportsbooks use Point Spreads?
Sportsbooks use point spreads to make the game even and they’ve become very popular amongst bettors. Moneyline odds of -600 is very hard to establish long-term success because the winning payouts are small and one loss could eliminate any positive gains. The same -600 moneyline will have ATS odds of -110 which is more attractive to a bettor.
The point spread is added to (the team getting points) and subtracted from (the team laying points) teams once the game is final to determine the winner.
From our NFL sample, you can see the Bills are getting 4.5 points while the Steelers are laying 4.5. Next to the point spread are the odds which both are at -110. Odds of -110 is pretty common, but sometimes you can find a sportsbook with reduced juice.
Calculating Against The Spread
There are multiple ways to score ATS. Below are the three main scenarios they can play out.
For a WIN
Bills would need to lose by four points at less. Once the game is final you would add 4.5 points to the Bills total and if higher than the Steelers total an ATS bet on the Bills wins
For a LOSE
Bills would need to lose by five points or more. If after adding 4.5 points to the Bills total it doesn’t reach a higher total than the Steelers then an ATS bet on the Bills loses.
For a TIE
In our example there wouldn’t be a tie, but sometimes the line will be four and not 4.5. In the scenario of a tie, if adding the four points to the Bills equals the Steelers then a tie is scored and the wagered amount is returned to the bettor.
How to Read Point Spreads
If you are betting the Bills then the term is referred to as getting the points. Some might refer to it as catching the points also. A bet on the Steelers is referred to as giving the points or more commonly laying the points.
Changes in the point spread
As moneyline odds change as previously mentioned, so does ATS lines. Once the sportsbooks receive more money on the Bills the line will be shifted down to deter additional bets on the Bills. The sportsbook might drop it to 4 or even 3.5. Likewise, if more money is being placed on the Steelers the spread will increase to 5 or 5.5. The shift is because the sportsbooks need to balance out the money wagered between the two sides. There are no limits or restrictions on how often a line can move. Lines can also move in both directions as sportsbooks might change the Bills, +5.5, and Steelers, -5.5. That movement could entice Bills bettors and with enough money bet on the Bills the line could return to +4.5 and -4.5 respectably.
Pro-Tip: Spread Betting
Middling is a strategy of betting both sides of the spread – once before the line moves and once after the line moves – and hoping the final score settles in the middle, so both of your bets win. Because the spread is subject to shifts based on which team is getting more support, a publicly adored favorite can move by a few points, and create an excellent opportunity for aware bettors.
Take Super Bowl 50 as an example. The Carolina Panthers opened the week as 3.5-point favorites over Denver, but because they were 15-1 in the regular season and coming off a blowout win in the NFC Championship, the public bet them all the way to 6-point favorites, before late money made them 5.5-point favorites. If you had grabbed Carolina early in the week at -3, you could’ve taken Denver later in the week at +6, and if the Panthers had won the game 17-12 (a 5-point difference), both your bets would’ve cashed.
The flip side is that if the Panthers didn’t win by four or five points, only one of your bets would have cashed and, when you factor in the vig, you would have ended up with a small loss. But, essentially, you’re risking a very small setback for a potential windfall.
Use of ATS Across the Popular Sports
Point spreads are used in most sports. Hockey and baseball always use +1.5 and -1.5. Very very rarely do those sports post different ATS spreads. Basketball, football and soccer are dependent on the matchups. In basketball and football you can see point spreads into the double digits.
If a matchup is between two competitive and even teams sometimes there won’t be a point spread which is referred to as a pick’em. In this scenario the point spread isn’t in play and a bettor would place a moneyline wager on the desired winning team.
What does the Over Under mean?
If you think not only you know who will win, but how the game will be played out then an over/under bet would appeal to you. Sportsbooks will set the total number of points scored thus allowing you to determine if more or less will occur. The over/under can change leading up to the game for the same reasons as moneyline and ATS move. Similar to ATS, the odds for over/under are usually -110.
Over/Under Prop Bets
In our example of 38.5, if you think the total points scored will be higher than 38 then you’d place a wager on the over. For that bet to win 39 points would have to be scored. For those thinking less than 38 points will be scored a wager on the under would be more to your liking. Since it is a bet on the total points scored it is irrelevant how many each team scores. Over/Under bets are not just limited to total points scored as below are some of the most common you’ll see.
- Over/Under on 1 particular team’s score (example Bills 17.5)
- Over/Under on 2.5 TD passes thrown by Bills quarterback
- Over/Under on 78.5 rushing yards by Bills running back
- Over/Under on 3.5 total turnovers
A dream scenario for over bettors as overtime means more time to score points! When a game is tied after regulation and extra time is needed to determine a winner this is music to the ears of over bettors. Meanwhile, the under bettors are left sweating the extra time.
Moneyline & Over/Under
A common parlay which provides value to the bettor is to combine the moneyline with the over/under. A parlay of Bills and the under means the Bills must win and the total be under 38.5 for a successful bet.
Now that you understand the basics to betting you can succeed! As with most things, consider starting off slow while getting yourself familiar with the industry. Starting with these three basic bets is a great way to start. Soon you’ll want to expand on the basics to ensure a long-term successful betting experience and for that check out our full compliment of guides!
Game Total Betting – Over/Under
Along with a spread, books will set a “game total” for each event. That number represents how many points, combined, are expected to be scored during the game. Bettors have the option to select the “over” or “under”, which is why it’s also known as over/under betting.
Going back, one more time, to the graphic at the top, the “Total” for the Cleveland vs Boston game is 217. If you bet the over, any final score that adds up to 218 or more will make you a winner, and any score that is 216 or lower will cause you to lose. One of the appeals of game total bets is that you can win no matter the quality of the actual game. Whether it’s a close game like 110-109 or a total blowout like 119-100, the over bet would still cash.
Game totals are like spreads in many ways, and we won’t waste your time reiterating what we told you above. Just be aware that totals, like the spread, will do the following:
- will move if one side is seeing more action than the other;
- can result in pushes if the total is set as a whole number; and
- will list the potential payout to the right of the total in parentheses.