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How Sports Betting Works

How Sports Betting Works

By Loot, Sports Handicapper,

Sports betting is not easy to master, but the basics are as easy as it gets. Learning how to become an expert bettor can take decades to cultivate. But learning how it is generally done will only require a few minutes.

There are really two-types of betting, each of which are applied to different sports. You have point-spreads and you have odds. For example, the Patriots are a 7-point favorite or Floyd Mayweather is a 5-to-1 favorite. In essence, you’ll either be making a bet “against the spread” or simply picking a winner with odds.

In point-spread betting, each team pays the same, so a point-spread is used to make the game even. If the Miami Heat are playing the worst team in the league, it’s obviously not an even game. But if you “take” 12 points from Miami and “give” 12 points to their opponent, now both sides of the bet have a theoretically-even chance of winning.

When odds are involved, we don’t use the fractional form of expression like the one used above, as in something is a 3-to-1 underdog, for example. It is expressed on a money line. It’s a number that expresses odds. For example, a 3-to-1 underdog would be expressed as +300. +300 means you win $300 for every $100 you bet. A 3-to-1 favorite would be -300, meaning you need to bet $300 to win $100. Note that the usage of $100 as a reference point is just in order to make it easy to understand. You can bet any amount, it doesn’t have to revolve around $100.


Football: Straight-betting in football takes place on the point-spread. For example, San Diego is playing Kansas City. San Diego is -3 and Kansas City is +3, meaning San Diego is a 3-point favorite, with Kansas City being a 3-point underdog. When you see -3, or minus-any number, that means that team is giving that number of points. They need to win by a number that exceeds that number, so a bet on San Diego would only win if the Chargers won by 4 or more points. Kansas City at +3 means they can either win the game or lose by a number less than 3 for a bet to win. If San Diego wins by exactly 3, the bet is a “push.”

On all point-spreads, you will be betting on a line. The bookie is not in this for our entertainment, right? So generally, we will be betting on a -110 line, even though -105 lines can be had quite easily nowadays (Offered at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Also note that in football, we can also bet on the money line, where teams are given odds to simply win the game. In any sport with a point-spread, you can bet on the money line.

Baseball: Straight baseball betting takes place with a money line. In other words, a team simply needs to win for you to win a baseball bet. It doesn’t matter by how many when making a straight bet to win. Baseball betting uses odds, expressed with the money line. Let’s say the Dodgers are playing the Rockies. The Dodgers are -140, while the Rockies are +130. That means the Dodgers are the favorite, with the Rockies being the underdog. To understand money lines, just remember a (-) sign is always a favorite and the number you see is the amount you must bet in order to win $100. A (+) sign is always an underdog and the number you see is the amount you stand to win if you bet $100.

Basketball: Basketball betting is done on a point-spread. Like all point-spread driven sports, you can also bet on the money line--when wanting to simply pick which team will win. Let’s say the Golden State Warriors are -5.5 against the Portland Trailblazers, who are +5.5. For a bet to win on Golden State, they need to win by at least 6 points. Portland, meanwhile, can either win the game outright or lose by 5 or less points. When betting against the spread, we will always be betting a little more than we stand to win. It’s what makes the betting world go round, but try to find the best value. If able to find a -105 line, you can cut your “juice” in half.

MMA: MMA wagering takes place on the money line. The two fighters each have a different set of odds--one being the favorite and one being the underdog. Let’s say Anderson Silva (-500) is facing Chael Sonnen (+350). Silva at -500 means you need to bet $500 for every $100 you want to win. Meanwhile, a $100 bet on Sonnen would win $350.

Boxing: Same as MMA. Boxing uses the money line odds expression. Any (-) sign is a favorite and any (+) sign is an underdog. If Floyd Mayweather is -800 to beat Robert Guerrero at +500, that means an $800 bet on Mayweather would win $100, while a $100 bet on Guerrero would win $500 if he won, which he didn’t.

Soccer: Soccer betting is done on the money line. Soccer betting can be a little tricky. When you pick a team to win, they need to win in regulation, which makes picking a tie a very viable selection that sometimes has odds similar to the ones for picking a side. With 3 reasonable choices, it throws the whole favorite/underdog dynamic into a new realm. There are still favorites and underdogs, but unlike other sports, you can actually win more than you bet when wagering on a favorite. That’s how much power the “draw” option has in soccer betting.

Tennis: Straight tennis betting occurs on the money line, with each player being assigned a set of odds. If Rafael Nadal is -500 against Roger Federer at +400, that means Nadal is a favorite and to win $100, you would need to wager $500. A $100 bet on Federer would yield $400 if he won the match.

Auto Racing: This is one area of wagering where you might still see fractional odds, as in a driver being 8/1 to win, for example. Otherwise, the money line is used, which is just another way to express odds. The two main types of auto wagering are a driver vs. the field bet, or a driver vs. driver wager. You can pick a driver to win the whole race or bet on him in a match-up to beat another driver. When you bet on a driver to win a race, the odds can get a little confusing when using the money line. As an example, just remember that -300 means 3-to-1, -3000 means 30-to-1, and -30000 means 300-to-1.

If you liked this article, you will also want to read how win-loss records apply to sports betting.

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