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How to bet on Sports: Betting guide for beginners

New to sports betting? That's OK. As more states legalize sports betting in the U.S., rest assured you're not alone. We have guides for how to bet on North American sports. The most important rules to follow are simple: bet responsibly and have fun.

  • OVERVIEW
  • GLOSSARY

Start with the basics

1. Wagering Pools

For most games on the board, these are the types of wagers you can make:

    • Point Spread
    • Moneyline
    • Over/Under or "Totals"
    • Parlays
    • Live Betting or "In-Game" Betting
 
Learn more about each type of wager below: 
 

2. Point Spreads

Spread betting is any of various types of wagering on the outcome of an event where the pay-off is based on the accuracy of the wager, rather than a simple "win or lose" outcome, such as fixed-odds (or money-line) betting or parimutuel betting.

A point spread represents an estimated margin of victory in a basketball game, giving bettors an opportunity to wager based on that perceived margin of victory. The team that is considered more likely to win – known as the favorite and listed with a “-” sign in front of the spread – would need to win the game by at least a certain number of points. The team that is considered less likely to win – the underdog with a “+” sign preceding the number – is given a margin by which the team can lose the game but still cover the point spread for a winning bet. A very rough rule of thumb is that spreads are set by oddsmakers at a number to make both sides equally enticing to the general betting public, so evenly matched opponents will generate lower number spreads while apparent mismatches will lead to larger spreads.

In baseball, this is referred to as a “run line” and in hockey referred to as the “puck line” 

As an example, if the spread is Chiefs -4 vs. Bills +4, the Chiefs are the favorite and the Bills the underdog. A spread wager on the Chiefs will only be a winning bet if the Chiefs win by more than 4 points. The Bills are the winning wager if they win outright, lose by fewer than 4 or tie (ties are possible only in regular-season NFL games). If the Chiefs win by exactly 4 points, the game is considered a push and all spread bets are refunded.
 

3. Moneyline

Moneyline bets refer to straightforward wagers on which team will win the game. Payout rates are adjusted to compensate for each team’s perceived chances of winning, with lower payouts for the favorite and higher potential winnings for picking the underdog. As with point spread betting, the favorite is indicated with a “-” sign and underdogs with a “+” sign. The number listed with the favorite indicates how much a bettor needs to wager in order to win $100, while the number listed with the underdog shows the payout from a winning $100 bet.

Example: If the moneyline is Dodgers (-121) vs. Rays (+110), this means a $121 wager on the Dodgers pays out $100 (plus the $121 bet) while a successful $100 bet on the Rays pays out $110 (in addition to the $100 wager). When it comes to moneyline betting all that matters is who wins.

4. Over/Under

Over/under wagers refer to the total number of points scored. This bet is also fairly straightforward. A number will be offered for how many points the teams will combine to score and a bettor can wager on whether they expect the total will be higher or lower. The spread, who wins, and how the points are distributed have no effect.

Example: If the Bucks vs. Suns over/under is set at 220.5, the combined points in the final score need to be 220 or lower for an under bet to win, while 221 or higher means the over pays out. It doesn’t matter if the score is 170 - 51 or 111 - 110 or anything in between, a combined 221 points makes the over the winning wager.

5. Parlays

Parlays allow bettors to tie together multiple bets and create a high-risk, high-reward wager. By creating a parlay, payouts are multiplied together and grow significantly, but a single wrong pick within a parlay triggers a loss for the entire series of bets. Simpler parlays include combining an over/under bet with a spread or moneyline pick within the same game, or tying together a series of spreads or moneyline wagers on games happening the same night. More wild and complex parlays might involve player props (based on who will score the first or last points, whether a player lands over or under a given stat accumulation, and more), tying together bets from different sports or leagues, or any combination of seemingly incongruent events that a bettor can imagine.

Example: Consider wagering $100 each on the following moneylines – Tampa Bay (-145), New York Islanders (+200) and Minnesota (+120). If all three teams win outright, those are payouts of $68.97, $200, and $120, respectively, or $388.97 total ($688.97 when including the $300 total wagered). Turning that bet into a parlay with a $300 wager would result in a $3,045.52 payout ($3,345.52 including the wager) – because the odds of winning are so much slimmer when it depends on three correct picks, the payout amounts are multiplied (the math is a bit more complicated) instead of just added. The advantage to making individual bets is the ability to collect winnings on correct picks even if not every wager goes in your favor. However the risk of tying multiple bets together can lead to a larger payout.

6. Live Betting

Bettors can make wagers on dynamic, constantly changing odds as a game unfolds. A wide variety of betting options are available with numbers adjusting in response to a game in real time. With every lead change, momentum shift and injury, oddsmakers will update spreads and moneylines to give bettors more opportunities to wager. If you think the losing team has a good chance of winning, live betting is an opportunity to choose that team with a more favorable moneyline or spread than what was offered before the game started. If you sense a change in momentum or spot a developing advantage for one team, you can get in on the action as you watch the game.

7. Quick facts about the six most popular sports to bet on in U.S. Markets.

NFL: The NFL regular season runs from September to January with all 32 teams playing 17 games (272 games total) over the course of 18 weeks. The NFL Playoffs, a 14-team, single-elimination tournament, begin in January and culminate with the Super Bowl in February.

College Football: NCAA Division I FBS football regular season runs from late August to late November with conference championship games played the first week of December, followed by 44 bowl games starting mid-December and culminating with the College Football Playoff Championship Game in January. 130 schools compete in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, representing 10 conferences along with a handful of independent teams.

MLB: The Major League Baseball regular season begins in late March or early April and runs until late September or early October. All 30 teams are scheduled for 162 games, which are followed by the playoffs in October (which sometimes spill over into November), culminating with a best-of-seven format World Series.

NBA: The National Basketball Association regular season runs from October through April with 30 teams playing 82 games each (for a total of 1,230 games). The NBA Playoffs conclude with a best-of-seven NBA Finals series in June.

NHL: The National Hockey League regular season runs from October to April with each team playing 82 games. The NHL Playoffs go from April until their culmination with the Stanley Cup Finals, a best-of-seven series, which typically ends in early June.

College Basketball: The college basketball regular season runs from November through March with more than 300 schools competing at the NCAA Division I level. There are 32 conference tournaments are played in early to mid-March, followed by the 68-team NCAA Tournament which ends with a championship game in early April.

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