Sports Wagering 101

Sports betting once had a negative reputation and “action” could only be found in a small corner of a few casinos or with unsavory characters in a dive bar on the wrong side of town. Since the Supreme Court’s decision in 2018 to lift the federal ban, sports betting is rapidly taking over the American gaming world with 14 states legalizing and regulating the practice, major casinos dedicating hundreds of square feet to lavish sportsbooks, and programs being aired on ESPN that specifically discuss wagering with national games on television displaying the spread and over/ under for each contest. Sports betting at your local casino or online through apps may not be available in your state yet, but it likely will be soon as 24 more states currently have pending legislation. If you are fortunate enough to have access to sports wagering or would like to know more to enhance your next trip to Vegas, this is the article and website for you. In this piece we will briefly cover the types of sports bets you can place and how to read a football betting line. Terms in this article you may not recognize can be found in the Sports Betting Terms glossary

Straight Bets

A straight bet is a wager on the moneyline, point spread or total (the over / under). It is the simplest and therefore most popular wager at a sportsbook. A betting line at a sportsbook will look like this:

In this example the Cowboys and Chiefs game has a point spread of -8, a total of 42.5 and moneyline odds displayed for either team to win outright. The rotation numbers are numbers assigned to every type of bet you can make at a sportsbook so the teller can identify the wager and there is no confusion with so many games and betting options available. It is inconsequential to placing your wager but it is considered good etiquette to include the rotation number when you place your bet to make it easier on the teller (example: walk up to the counter and say, “#403, Cowboys -8, $100” to mean $100 on the Cowboys to cover the 8 points).

Against the Spread wager

Back to the betting line, if you wanted to take the Cowboys to win you could place a wager on the point spread meaning they would have to win by more than 8 points for the bet to pay. If the Cowboys win by 7 points or less or outright lose, the wager is lost. If they win by exactly 8 points, it is considered a Push and your bet is refunded. Vig/ vigorish or “the juice” on straight bets is typically (-110) which means if you win there is 10% of the wager taken out to pay the casino as a tax or commission for betting with them. So for example, if you wager $100 on the Cowboys spread of 8 and they win by 9 or more your payout would be your $100 back plus $90 more dollars profit with the 10% vig staying with the sportsbook. If you lose the bet you only lose your $100 with no additional fees or amounts. Alternatively, if you think the Chiefs will win outright or not lose by more than 7 points you can play the underdog and still win with the payback under the same (-110) vig criteria.

Moneyline wager

Not feeling confident the Cowboys will pull off the win outside of a touchdown (7 points)? You can then play the moneyline which means all the Cowboys have to do is win the game outright regardless of the point spread. These wagers on a favorite are typically safer however carry a bigger risk if lost and smaller payout if won and vice versa if you take the dog on the moneyline. These odds are represented by a (-) or (+) with the (-) identifying the favorite in the game and the (+) identifying the underdog. The higher the number next to the (+) or (-), the more likely that side is to win (-) or lose (+). The numbers next to the (-) or (+) are called ‘American odds’ and use a baseline value of $100. To wager a moneyline favorite you are always risking money to win $100. For an underdog you are risking $100 to win the amount. For example: the Cowboys at a (-400) favorite means you must risk $400 to win $100 from the sportsbook. So you either lose $400 or win $100, or the bet pushes. The Chiefs as a +300 underdog means you risk only $100, but you win $300 if they win the game. You either lose $100 or win $300, or push. There is always tremendous value in underdog moneyline plays so they are really the best straight wager play to try and identify and win as no other type of straight wager will give you back a larger return. Adversely, favorite moneyline plays will win more often than not, however not be as profitable in the long term.

Over/ under or totals wager

Have no clue who will win the Cowboys vs Chiefs game but think there will be a lot of offense? Perhaps both teams have excellent defenses and there will not be a lot of scoring. The total for the game is set at 42.5 points so to place a wager on the over / under is to simply play the game to be under or over the combined two teams final points of 42.5. Most but not all totals will have a half point (called “the hook”) added to the total to prevent the total from landing on an even number, in this case 42, and allow for a push. If the football game goes to overtime the bet is still live until the game concludes. The vig on the over or the under is usually (-110). Totals are a fun way to get involved in a game without taking a side and root for an exciting game with lots of offense (playing the over). Sportbooks however, know this so will usually shade the total higher than they expect the game combined score to finish to take advantage of the public. So typically unders can be slightly more profitable in the long run.

Parlays

A parlay wager is a straight wager linked to at least one other straight wager to achieve a bigger payout. Parlays are popular because of a larger payout than choosing a straight wager to win. But there’s more risk to these types of wagers because every “leg” of the parlay needs to not lose in order to win. If one leg loses, the whole parlay bet loses. The parlay can still be a winner if a game is canceled or ends in a tie. The pay schedule will move down to the lesser payment. For example, the bettor will win if a baseball parlay for four teams has three winners and one game is canceled because of rain. The bet will only pay based on the schedule for three winners instead of four as originally wagered. Parlays are also fun because you can cross different games and sports. For example, a bettor might parlay the New Orleans Saints moneyline with the Jacksonville Jaguars to cover the spread with the Houston Astros moneyline with the Saskatchewan Roughriders over.

Teasers

A two team teaser is a type of parlay that allows the bettor to combine bets on two different games, but the bettor can adjust the point spreads and/ or total for those two games, but realizes a lower return on the bets in the event of a win. A multi team teaser is most commonly in basketball and football. The multi-team wager, allowing the bettor to choose a minimum of two teams up to, in some cases, 15 teams to tease. Just like a regular parlay, all the legs must win for the teaser wager to pay. The amount of points to adjust the spread or total is between 4 and 10 points depending on the sport and teaser. The payout from the sportsbook for a teaser is lower than a parlay since these are anecdotally easier to win. Here is an example of an NFL betting line with a six point teaser:

Original wager options:

  • Dallas Cowboys -8 (-110) at Kansas City Chiefs +8 (-110)
  • Jacksonville Jaguars +3 (-110) at New Orleans Saints -3 (-110)

A two-team six-point teaser on the underdogs would change the point spreads to the following:

  • Dallas Cowboys -2 at Kansas City Chiefs
  • Jacksonville Jaguars +9 at New Orleans Saints

A two-team six-point teaser on the favorites would change the point spreads to the following:

  • Dallas Cowboys at Kansas City Chiefs +14
  • Jacksonville Jaguars at New Orleans Saints +3

As mentioned before, the total can also be teased. In our original example betting line, the Cowboys v Chiefs total was 42.5. A six point teaser to the total for another leg in the teaser parlay might be over the total, which would drop the total to 36.5. Teasing the total under would raise the total to 48.5, in both instances making it easier to win that leg of the wager.

Changing the point spread and point total make the wagers potentially easier to win. However, winning multiple bets is never easy. But the adjusted lines should help bettors find a little more confidence in their bets.

Prop bets

A prop bet, short for proposition bet, is any wager inside of a single game not directly tied to the score or final outcome. Prop bets are typically broken into three categories:

Player props – anything pertaining to an individual player’s statistics or outcomes if considered a player prop. For the NFL this could include a wager on the over / under of passing yards by a quarterback or receiving yards by a wide receiver. In the NBA it could be a yes or no wager on if a player will make a triple double in the game. In MLB it could be if a pitcher will go over or under a set number of strikeouts.

Game props – wagers pertaining to the outcome of something in the game. Examples include over or under the number of passing touchdowns thrown in the game. Which team will score first or be the first to score 10 points? Many game props are ‘yes or no’ outcomes for a bettor to wager on simply if the event will happen or not. Examples include will there be a 45.5 yard or longer pass? Will the game go into overtime? Will there be a safety in the game? Etc.

Exotic or novelty props – opposite to a game prop, a novelty or exotic prop pertains to any wager outside of the actual game. Examples include if the coin toss is heads or tails. What color shirt will the head coach be wearing? Will a fan run on the field? These are extremely popular during the Superbowl where last year’s event offered over 100 various game props from different sportsbooks.

Future bets (futures)

A future bet is any bet made for an outcome sometime in the future. Most future bets are related to winning that sport’s respective championship, but a future bet can be made on almost anything that will occur at a future date. Odds are set by an oddsmaker based on the potential outcomes with most, if not all options, at plus money. Over and under win totals, odds for MVP of the league or who will win the Heisman trophy are also examples of futures. Futures can be lucrative because often there are big payouts for winning wagers, however the downside is that the money placed on the wager is tied up in the bet for the duration of a season in most cases.

Conclusion

In this piece we used an example from the country’s most popular wagered sport, football. Baseball, hockey and basketball betting lines look exactly the same with a few differences in betting options depending on the sport. The straight, parlay, teaser, prop and future wagers are universal so you can feel comfortable putting these types of wagers down for the four major American sports year-round. Remember, tellers and sportsbook employees are always happy to explain more complex wagers or house rules and offer comps for plays, so take advantage. Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose and enjoy betting sports!