Betting Basics

How Sports Betting Works (link)

In this article I provide an overview of how sports betting works. If you are already familiar with the basics I suggest instead reading How to Become a Winning Sports Bettor. For everyone else, on this page I explain betting odds, wager types and how to calculate payouts. I also give a quick introduction to using local bookies, Las Vegas sportsbooks and online betting sites. Let’s go ahead to start with a quick explanation of betting odds, then I introduce you to point spreads and handicaps.

Betting Odds Explained

The most basic form of wagering is a bet on which team will win a game. It doesn’t matter how much they win by (only that they win). Most sports fans are aware that teams are often not evenly matched. One is more likely to win than the other. For that reason betting odds are employed. In the United States these are called moneyline odds, or American odds and work as follows.

  • Positive Moneyline Odds

: With positive money lines you’re dealing with a wager that pays more than even money. In other words, risk X to win more than X profit. The actual odds are how much profit would be made on a $100 stake. Therefore a moneyline of +450 is risk $100 to win $450. A simple trick is to just move the decimal over 2 places. If the moneyline is +343 then this is 3.43. However much you risk times it by 3.43 and that is amount you stand to profit if that bet wins.

  • Negative Moneyline Odds

: When betting negative moneylines you’re dealing with a bet that pays less than even money. The odds are expressed as how much you would need to risk in order to win $100. For example odds -175 is risk $175 to win $100. Of course you can bet any amount. To calculate the payout on other stakes, move the decimal odds two places, but this time divide. If your stake is $133 on odds -175 this is $133/1.75=$76. So, in that case, your bet is risk $133 to win $76 profit.

Outside the United States there are many different odds formats. European decimal odds are very well known and are also used in Canada by Sport Select, PRO-Line,, and of course all over Europe too. In this odds format the odds are simply how much will be retuned on a win. For example: odds 1.91, if you bet $100 you’ll get back $100*1.91=$191. Of that, $100 was the stake and $91 is profit. There are other odds formats too, but in this article I will mention only American and note the decimal odds. You can however see our odds converter to convert odds between formats and to learn more about how each works.

Most Popular Bet Types

A challenge with just betting on which team will win the game is that most sports bettors don’t like having to stake a lot of money to win a small amount. If the Denver Broncos are the best team in the league and are playing at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars who are the worst team in the league you might have to bet $500 or $600 just to win $100. You might say the solution is to instead to bet on the underdog but here again is a challenge. Most sports fans don’t like betting long shots that are nowhere near 50% to win. The great news is this was solved way back in the 1940s with wagering propositions that are much closer to 50/50.

  • Point Spread Betting

– Point spreads are the most popular way that basketball and American football are wagered. To show how it works: in an NBA basketball game where the lines are Chicago Bulls +6.5 vs. L.A. Clippers -6.5 you can choose to bet either one. In this case the Bulls are a +6.5 point underdog. If you bet them 6.5 points will be added to their final score to decide the winner for betting purpose. On the other side the Clippers are favored by -6.5. If you bet them at the end 6.5 will be deducted from their score to see if you are a winner for betting purposes.

  • Total Betting (Over/Under): Total betting is also very popular and is offered by online betting sites, local bookies, and Vegas sportsbooks alike. In this form of wagering the bookmaker predicts how many points will be scored in a match. Bettors then have the options to bet that the total points scored by both teams will go either under or over the posted total. Like point spreads this is close to a 50/50 proposition.


Unless otherwise stated, Point Spread and Total Bets are wagered at American odds -110 (1.91 decimals odds). Even though the underdog, favorite, under, or over each have a 50% chance of winning you’ll need to stake $1.10 for each $1.00 you want to win. The reason why is because no matter if we’re talking local bookies, internet gambling sites, or Las Vegas sportsbooks, the bookmaker needs to make a profit. He’ll let you do the research and pick any side you want to bet, but he charges a markup for that privilege.

There are times where a bookmaker knows he can’t quite reach a 50/50 proposition. He might have an NFL football match set at over 55 -105 / under 55 -115. Here the -105 part and -115 part are the American Moneylines. On the over -105 you need to risk $1.05 for each dollar you want to win, and on under -115: $1.15 does the same.

What Happens in a Tie?

Point spreads and totals sometimes use half points and other times do not. If a total is 55.5 or a point spread is -6.5 there is no possible way to tie. If however it was 55 and -6 it is possible to tie. In situations where you bet a point spread or total and tie all bets are refunded.

3-Way Markets

There is one other form of betting called 1X2 that is not too popular in the US but is super popular elsewhere in the world. You can wager 1. Home team, X. draw, or 2. Away team. That’s 3 wagering options. This is the most popular way soccer is bet. In soccer, unless otherwise stated, 3-way market bets are for regulation time only. Any sudden death period or penalty shots do not count for betting purposes. Not too common in the US (though is common in Canada) hockey is sometimes bet this same way.

Now that you have a solid intro in how betting works. Let me give you a very quick introduction to where you can bet.

Where can I make Sports Bets?

All over the world sports betting is legal. In the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, etc. you just walk to your nearest betting shop and place a bet. In Canada, China, Taiwan and Singapore and several other countries legal sports betting is ran by a government monopoly. It is only very few countries where betting is prohibited. Namely, these include Israel (Jewish), India (Hindu), Thailand (Buddhist) and all the Muslim counties. See: betting laws by country, for more details.

In the United States things are very interesting. Only in Nevada are there bookies that are licensed to legally take bets. In every other state bookmaking is illegal. Those who take bets while in one state, to another state, are violating federal law. Those booking within a state are in violation of that state’s bookmaking laws. What many are surprised to learn is that: most states do not have laws against sports betting (only bookmaking). I’m not a legal expert, and you should check with one in your state before proceeding, but it is my limited understanding that in many states the actual bettors are not committing any crimes. So with that said here are the 3 possible ways to bet.

Option 1: Using a Local Bookie

This is a catch 22 situation. Local bookies operate illegally. Also, in most every state gambling debts are not enforceable as contracts. What this means is if you use a local bookie and he gets arrested and goes to jail, chance are you won’t be paid. If he doesn’t pay you over that reason, or any other reason, there is no recourse whatsoever.

The risks being as they are stated above, there are however many bookies that have solid reputations for paying. If you hang around in sports bars, or network with other gamblers, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a local. You do however have to understand the risk. You might also need to know how baseball odds work (for locals).

Today many bookies are technologically advanced. Locals will often refer you to a website to place your bets, and then you settle in cash with them each week. There however still some old fashion ones that use the newspaper. Here the odds are as described in this article for all sports other than baseball. For baseball the odds will be listed such as: Redsox 9 7 Royals. This is a $5 base and what it means is Red Sox are favored and you need to risk 9 to win 5 on them. The Royals are underdogs and for every 5 you risk you’ll be paid 7 on them. The higher number is the favorite, and the lower number is the underdog.

Option 2: Betting with Nevada Bookies

This is obviously a viable option for those living in Nevada or those living in surrounding states that can cross the border to make a bet. Understand it is also possible to make the bet in person while on holiday to say Las Vegas or Reno, and then mail your winning tickets in for redemption. When doing this it is probably a good idea to make a photo copy of the ticket before mailing it in. The sportsbook will cut and mail you a check. Doing this is fully legal despite being from another state and having not been in Nevada when the game was being played. So long as it was you in person that bought the ticket, all is fine.

The first time you make a bet in Las Vegas it can be intimidating. The procedure is however this. You first look at the board where there is a bunch of games and the odds listed. You’ll find that every team has a rotation number next to it. This makes it easy to communicate the exact team you are looking to bet. If instead, you say Arizona, they might not know for what sport. The same if you say Cardinals – there are many teams named Cardinals. So just use the rotation number.

Next walk to the cage, (if you have one) hand them your player card, and then say “Hi, give me (“routing number”) on the (“point spread” or “moneyline”) for (“dollar amount”). If you want to bet the over or under, on game with teams 112 and 113 you would say: “Hi, give me the over on 112-113 for (“dollar amount”).

If you want to make a parlay bet there are cards for doing so, or you can bet against the board. To do the latter write it down first. Then say “Hi, give me a 4-team parlay on … (run quickly through the bets reading off what you’ve jotted down).

Anyway, for those easily intimidated, the great news is many Las Vegas sportsbooks now offer online betting and mobile betting accounts too.

Option #3: Betting Online with Offshore Companies

The easiest way to bet online is with offshore betting sites. Here it is important to choose one that is reputable. There are many under financed startups based in Costa Rica which also seems to be a haven for scammers. As the Costa Rican government does not license or regulate sports betting sites, these operate legally, but without any regulation or auditing. This can be a major risk.

There are however very reputable companies. Take for example This is the US version of Bodog, a gambling brand that was founded by Calvin Ayre in 2001. He has made Forbes Magazine’s Billionaire list and his home has been featured on MTV Cribs. This is a well-financed company that is licensed in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory which is located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada, across from Montreal. They are licensed, regulated, and the US has no jurisdiction over them. does however attempt to respect certain US state laws. In New York and Maryland sports betting is a crime and in Washington online betting is the same. As their players would be violating these laws if they wagered, Bovada blocks those 3 states. Residents of those states need to perhaps use Panama based bookie Bovada is ideal for the other 47 states.

No matter which you use the steps: 1) are join their website online and 2) make a postup deposit. The deposit can be with credit card, or cash transfer through Western Union or MoneyGram. The amount you post up is your betting balance. When you make a bet the money is removed from your account (placed on hold). If the bet wins that hold is released and the winnings are added too. If at any time you want to cash out all or part of your balance you can request this online. There are several options for getting paid of which paper check is the most popular.

Editor’s Note: Hopefully this overview into how sports betting works has provided you with the insights you were after. If you navigate our website you can learn much more about online betting, including strategy content, betting site reviews, laws by area, and so much more. We hope you’ll do just that and we at wish you the best of luck.