How to Bet on Sports
New to making bets online? Welcome. Let’s see if we can help you out by telling you about odds, and about a few of the more common bets people make and how you can make them.
First thing to understand with any bet is to understand what the odds are. Odds are the likelihood of an event occurring. The odds you may see expressed in a variety of ways, but in North America you’ll typically see odds expressed in three different ways. Odds are typically expressed in three forms for bets we see in North America: Decimal, Fractional, or American.
Decimal odds are the most common expression you’ll see in Canada and in England, at least online. A decimal odd is simply an expression of the payout you’ll receive, in the event you win your bet, as a multiple of your original bet, inclusive of that wager. Let’s take a football game as an example: If you bet $10 on the Saskatchewan Roughriders at 1.80. If they win the game, your bet of $10 will cash out for $18, a profit of $8.
Fractional Odds are what you see with horse racing wagers, but in England you’ll see odds expressed this way for soccer matches, and anything else you may wager on. From the example above on the Roughriders, where the decimal odds were listed as 1.80, this would be expressed in fractional odds as 4/5 or said as ‘4 to 5’ verbally. Same thing, you are winning $4 for every $5 you wager, or $8 for every $10.
American Odds are an expression in the positive or negative of what you win on for every $100 bet. In this example, American odds would list the payout as -125, meaning you have to wager $125 to win $100, of which you only want to bet $100 so the win would be $80.
The most common wager that anyone makes on a sporting event is the Win Bet. it requires no knowledge of the point spread, or any other handicap added to a bet. Like Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders used to say, “Just win, baby.” If your team wins the game, you win your bet. Simple as that. However, when you make a win bet, otherwise known as a bet on the “money line”, meaning you are not including a point spread, you will be subject to different odds. Odds are the likelihood the team you are betting on will simply win the game. Two teams can be very evenly matched, and if that’s the case, you’ll see your odds being about even money, or slightly less as the juice (sometimes called ‘the vig’) is taken by the house. The juice is how the company taking your bet makes its money. In a perfect world a company will have a bunch of money bet on one team and a fairly equal amount bet on the opposing team, so that the juice, the small percentage taken when paying out your bet, is enough that there is a profit for the offering of the service.
If two teams are not evenly matched, you’ll see a potentially large discrepancy in the odds on each team. After all, you should get greater odds if you are taking a far inferior team to win a game. Anything can happen, but the likelihood of an outcome is captured within the odds. You might like one fighter better than another in a UFC match for example, and the odds on one fighter are 1.30 and the other fighter has 3.00 odds. Clearly the first fighter is considered the better fighter, but that doesn’t mean he won’t let his guard down and lose the fight with a moment of carelessness. it happens, and it’s why there’s odds on the fight, and “it’s why they play the game”, as the old saying goes. Games and fights happen in real life, not in a simulator.
The simplest bet to make is just taking a team to win the game. The Patriots are playing the Cowboys and you think the Cowboys have the edge in this game as it’s being played at AT&T stadium, the Pats are coming West to play, and the Cowboys are traditionally good in games played in Prime Time. OK, you’ve got your rationale for the bet. So you look at the odds: Cowboys are -125 on the money line and EVEN with a spread of -2.5. So what does that mean? (recall above how odds can be expressed in different ways)
Money line (“Win Bet”): this is what was described above, simply a win bet. Betting on the money line will see you win if your team wins the game, but the amount you win will depend on the odds that the bookmaker, and the public have set the market at when you make your bet. What this means is that your bet and the odds you get are entirely dependent on the time you make your bet. Weather changes in open-air games, injury reports, trades, coaching changes, anything that transpires between the time you make your bet and the time the game starts can affect the present odds. The bookmaker will also adjust odds to entice action on with one team or the other depending on how much action they’re taking or anticipating on one team over the other. You may get better odds, or have worse odds than are offered at game time as a result of what’s transpired since you made your bet. If you bet on Thursday for an NFL game on Sunday and the QB sprains his ankle in practice on Friday, you’re going to be stuck with the odds you got prior to that occurring. It’s why a lot of sharp bettors wait until game time to make the bet, unless they see gross discrepancy between what the opening line is and what they think it’s likely to become closer to game time, based on their opinion and experience in predicting changes to the betting lines.
Point Spread: Getting or giving points in a game is how you can get close to even odds. In exchange for those close to even odds though you have to give up some points. That means in a football game you may have to win by at least a field goal in order to win your bet, or a run and a laf or a goal and a half in baseball and hockey. You’re spotting the other side some points, just like you do in a golf game with your handicap. The better player has to give strokes to the less skilled player, and in sports betting the favourite has to give points to the underdog team. You might see the Dallas Cowboys as 10 point favourites over Cleveland, for example. This would be expressed as COWBOYS -10 or CLEVELAND +10. So if the final score was COWBOYS 43, CLEVELAND 23, a Cowboy bettor would win as they ‘covered the spread’. If the final score was COWBOYS 32 CLEVELAND 27, then a Cowboy bettor would lose the bet as although the Cowboys won the game, they did not cover the 10 point handicap assigned to the game.
O/U (totals): You don’t have to just bet on one team or the other to win in order to enjoy a wager and some excitement on a game. You could bet on the total of the game, or what you’re more likely to hear referred to as “The OVER UNDER’. This refers to the total points to be scored in the game, the sum of both teams. If you think a game in the cold, wind, and rain is likely to be low scoring as passing is difficult and catches will be dropped and fumbles are more likely, then you could bet on the UNDER. Let’s say a football game’s total is 41. That means a bet on the UNDER would mean if the combined score of both teams added up to less than 41, you would win your bet. Of course, fumbles and interceptions can also lead to scoring plays, even in inclement weather, so a lot of fumbles or interceptions doesn’t necessarily mean a game will be low scoring. It’s just an opinion to take on the game, like all bets are. But it is a good one to play if you don’t particularly have an affinity or an opinion on one team or the other winning the game.
Parlay: let’s say you like a couple of games in a day or in the week and you want to bet them both. A parlay can be anything from a bet on two games, to as many as are on the board to bet. But as we noted above, everything in betting is a trade off. In a parlay, you can get much better odds/payouts by selecting more than one game. But, you have to get both games correct to win the bet. What a parlay effectively does is take the winnings of your first bet, and lets it ride on the second, third, or however many games you parlayed. The payoff can be incredible, but the odds of winning are obviously much harder as you’ve got to be right on all of it, and not just right on one or most of the games. The one saving grace in a parlay is if one of your games matches the spread exactly, meaning you didn’t beat the spread or lose to it, but you landed on the number itself. If this happens that game will be removed from the parlay as a null event and it will reduce your payout by the multiplier of that game, that is, the odds you got on that game.
As an example, let’s just make an easy one: Let’s say you bet on 3 games. You take Toronto at 1.80 odds, Montreal at 2.30 odds, and Vancouver at 1.6 odds in a 3-game parlay on Saturday night’s NHL action. Let’s say you bet $20. How much do you win if all three of the teams win the game? 1.80 x 2.30 x 1.60 gives you odds of 6.624 for the parlay. So a $20 bet would pay $20 x 6.6624, or $132.48. Not bad for a little action on a Saturday night on the couch!
Parlays can be fun, but they are tough to hit with regularity. Betting on single game outcomes is by far a more likely way to win.
Prop Bets: still another way to bet on a game but not on a team itself is to take a prop bet, short for a proposition bet. This kind of bet takes a specific player stat or game stat and makes it the determining factor for your action. An example of a prop bet would be in football taking a running back and betting that he would specifically run for more than 45 yards rushing, or the quarterback would pass for more than 187.5 yards passing. These are fun to track in-game to see the progress the player makes with each passing moment of the game and if he’s ahead or behind the pace you need to get to that final number you bet.
In-game: I just used that term above to describe the action during the game. In-game odds are a relatively new feature of sportsbooks as the technology to provide it has arrived. In the old days you couldn’t phone up a bookie and bet at any moment of the game while it was underway. How would they be able to provide you with a line that made any sense to you or him? Best you could do is bet on the quarter or more likely at halftime once some math wizards from Vegas were able to crunch the numbers and come up with a realistic estimation of a score from that point in the game.
But now, there are service providers that sportsbooks can subscribe to that allow them to give their customers not only the chance to make a bet after the game has started at prevailing odds, but also to give players the opportunity to CASH OUT of a bet and take their money off the table before the contest finishes. Think of in-game wagering as the popular game show “Deal or No Deal”. You can accept the price the banker will give you to end the bet now and walk away, or you can play the game to it’s finale and see what the final payout will be. In this case you know what the final payout will be and the payout you will be offered will inch closer to that number as time ticks away in the game and you are in the lead. But like the stock market, it’s when you pounce that will determine your profit and loss. Prices (odds) will change with every movement on the field and on the clock.
Futures: A futures bet is a wager on something that isn’t to be decided in the short term. Obviously a bet on a single hockey game will be decided in the near future, but a bet on how many wins the Seattle Seahawks get in the season will not be determined until the regular season is over. A futures bet is your premonition on how a season will play out vs all the opponents over the whole campaign. It can be a team’s overall win record, or which team wins the championship, the conference, or the division. If you made a futures bet on the St. Louis Blues to win the Stanley Cup last year right about the time of the All-Star break, at that time St. Louis was in the basement and the futures bet on them hoisting the Stanley Cup was a staggering 200-1 !
We hope these definitions and examples provide you with a little clarity on all the options you have out there! There’s always an opinion to take and a bet to make.