The Basics of Sports Betting

12 / 10 / 2021 By Robert Kowalski

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Don’t let the numbers at the sports books confuse you. Learn all the basics to sports betting on this page along with a few advanced methods. 

This guide is provided for informational purposes only.  

Auto racing

Betting on auto racing has exploded in popularity everywhere in recent years, and its appeal continues to grow.

The structure of betting on auto racing is similar to that of golf. The most basic wager involves picking the winner of a race. Typically a sports book will list 20 or more individual drivers along with a field (all others) option, at various odds.

For example, Jeff Gordon may be listed at 4-1, Jeff Burton at 15-1, Casey Atwood at 100-1, etc. If you bet $10 on Burton 15-1 and he goes on to win the race, you win $150 plus your $10 back, for a total payoff of $160.

Driver Odds
Jeff Gordon 4-1
Jeff Burton 15-1
Casey Atwood 100-1

Auto racing matchup propositions also are available, in which two drivers are paired against each other in a head-to-head wager, with a betting line on each driver set by the oddsmaker. The driver with the better finish in the race wins the matchup. (Both drivers must start for action.)

For example, a matchup may pit Dale Jarrett (minus 145) against Bobby Labonte (plus 125). If you bet $145 on the favored Jarrett, the payoff would be $100 plus your $145 back, for a total of $245. If you bet $100 on the underdog Labonte, the payoff would be $125 plus your $100 back, for a total of $225.

Driver Money Line
Dale Jarrett -145
Bobby Labonte +125

Baseball

To bet on baseball, tell the ticket writer the bet number of the team you wish to bet and the amount you wish to wager.

If your team wins the game, you win. The payout varies according to the odds posted. Baseball odds are shown using a “Money Line.”

The Money Line: Odds for a game based on $1. A “minus” (-) preceding the number indicates the team is a favorite. A “plus” (+) preceding the number indicates the team is an underdog.

Example:

Pitcher listed is starting pitcher

Bet Num. Team Pitcher Odds Total Money line
for total
301 Dodgers Urias +110 7.5 Over -110
302 Braves Fried -120   Under -110

Note: The bottom team is always listed as the home team unless otherwise noted.

The Braves’ odds are -120, meaning a $12 bet would win $10, for a return of $22. The Dodgers’ odds are +110, meaning a $10 bet would win $11, for a return of $21.

On Today’s Line we use a different format, the idea is the same. You will not find the odds for the Underdog. The Underdog’s odds are based on what the casino has for its line. Most use a “Dime Line” or something close to that.

Dime Line:
Braves -120
Dodgers +110

20 cent line:
Braves -130
Dodgers +110

Here are two more examples of a dime line and a 20-cent line. See whether you can tell them apart.

Braves -105
Dodgers -105

Braves -120
Dodgers Even

You can arrive at the underdog’s price by looking at the favorite’s line. Dime lines are slowly disappearing as sports books look to make a larger profit during what is traditionally the slowest betting season. Several books still offer dime lines.

Money lines change constantly. The listed money line the time you make your bet may be different from the money line when the game starts. The listed line on your ticket is your official odds, unless the starting pitcher is changed. This is explained later.

Total: Total runs scored in a game. Also called the over/under.

You may wager that the total score of the game will be more or less than the number listed. It makes no difference which team wins. Simply add the final scores of each team. The payout, unless stated otherwise, is figured at odds of 10/11. (-110)

Note: When betting a total, these rules apply:

(a) The game must go nine innings, or 8 1/2 innings if the home team wins.
(b) Both listed pitchers must start the game.
If either doesn’t happen, the bet is refunded.

All runs scored in extra innings count in over/under bets.

Baseball Run Lines

The run line: a point spread of 1 1/2 given to a baseball game.

A favorite must win by 2 runs or more, or the underdog must either:
(a) Win the game.
(b) Must lose by only one run.
The payout varies according to the money line odds assigned to each outcome.

Example:

Bet Num. Team Pitcher Money Line Total Money Line
for totals
Run Line Money Line
for run line
301 Dodgers Urias +110 7.5 Ov -110 +1.5 -180
302 Braves Fried -120   Un -110 -1.5 +160

 The Braves must win by 2 runs; a $10 bet would win $16, and return $26. The Dodgers must not lose by 2 runs; an $18 bet would win $10, and return $28.

Note: Same rules apply to run line bets as totals.
(a) The game must go nine innings, or 8 1/2 innings if the home team wins.
(b) Both listed pitchers must start the game.
If either doesn’t happen, the bet is refunded.

Baseball Parlays

You may combine several teams into one wager. All teams must win to win the bet.

Baseball parlays are figured out by calculating the payout for the first game, based on the money line, then applying that amount to the next game, and so-forth.

If a game is postponed for any reason, the parlay reduces by one team. The bet is treated as if the postponed game were never included in the parlay.

Here’s an example of how to figure out a baseball parlay: 

Amount
wagered
Odds for
Team 1
Odds for
Team 2
Odds for
Team 3
 
$10 +120 -130 -150  
$10 x 2.20 x 1.77 x 1.67 = $65.03

 Listed pitcher(s) option

When making a baseball bet, you are betting team vs. team. You have the option to specify that either or both listed pitchers must start the game.

Since baseball odds are determined on starting pitchers, any late pitching changes often force an adjustment in the odds. This will increase or decrease the payout on a winning ticket. However, if you list starting pitchers, and your pitcher doesn’t start, then the bet is refunded.

Basketball

To bet on basketball, tell the ticket writer the bet number of the team you wish to bet, with the point spread, and the amount you wish to wager. The payout, unless stated otherwise, is figured at odds of 10/11. This means that a wager of $11 would win $10 and return $21.

This is called a straight bet.

The Point Spread: When betting on basketball, the team you bet on must “cover the spread.” This means the team must win or not lose by a predetermined margin of points.

Example: 

Bet No. Team Line Total
201 Bulls -3  
202 Lakers   198

Note: The bottom team is always listed as the home team unless otherwise noted.

The point spread is always placed to the immediate right of the team that is favored. In this example, if you bet the Bulls, the Bulls must win by 4 points for you to win your bet. If you bet the Lakers, any of the following will declare you a winner.
(a) The Lakers win the game.
(b) The Lakers lose the game by not more than 3 points.

If the Bulls win by exactly 3 points then the wager is declared a push and all money is refunded.

Point spreads change constantly. The listed point spread the time you make your bet may be different from the point spread when the game starts. The point spread that is listed on your ticket is your official spread.

Total: Total points scored in a game. Also called the over/under.

You may wager that the total score of the game will be more or less than the number listed. It makes no difference which team covers the spread. Simply add the final score of each team. The payout, unless stated otherwise, is figured at odds of 10/11. (-110)

Basketball Parlays: More than one team on the same bet.

You may combine several teams into one wager. All teams and/or totals must cover the point spread to win the bet. Odds and the number of teams vary from casino to casino. 

Any game that results in a push reduces the parlay by one team. A two-team parlay would become a straight bet.

Basketball Teasers: A wager that improves the point spread, but at reduced odds.

“Teasing” the point spread is done by adding points to an underdog or by subtracting points from a favorite. This increases the probability of winning your bet but decreases the odds of the parlay. Odds and the number of points available to “tease” vary from casino to casino. 

Boxing

To bet on boxing, tell the ticket writer the bet number of the boxer you wish to bet and the amount you wish to wager. Boxing odds are shown using a “Money Line.”

The Money Line: Odds for a game based on $1.00. A “minus” (-) preceding the number indicates a favorite. A “plus” (+) preceding the number indicates an underdog.

Example:

Bet No. Boxer Odds
2001 Muhammad Ali -260
2002 Joe Frazier +220

Ali is favored to win the bout. If Ali wins, a $26 bet would win $10 and return $36. If Frazier wins, a $10 bet would win $22 and return $32.

A draw on a straight bet will refund your bet.

Boxing matches often feature money line proposition wagers on knockouts, draws, rounds and the duration of the fight. Odds vary on each fight.

Football

To bet on football, tell the ticket writer the bet number of the team you wish to bet, with the point spread and the amount you wish to wager. The payout, unless stated otherwise, is figured at odds of 10/11. This means that a wager of $11 would win $10 and return $21.

This is called a straight bet. A straight bet is the most common type of football bet.

The point spread: When betting on football, the team you bet on must “cover the spread.” This means the team must win or not lose by a predetermined margin of points.

Example:

Bet No. Team Line
101 Jets  
102 Dolphins -6

Note: The bottom team is always listed as the home team unless otherwise noted.

The point spread is always placed to the immediate right of the team that is favored. If you bet the Dolphins, the Dolphins must win by 7 points for you to win your bet. If you bet the Jets, any of the following will declare you a winner.
(a) The Jets win the game.
(b) The game ends in a tie.
(c) The Jets lose the game by not more than 6 points.

If the Dolphins win by exactly 6 points, the wager is declared a push and all money is refunded.

Point spreads change constantly. The listed point spread at the time you make your bet may be different from the point spread when the game starts. The point spread that is listed on your ticket is your official spread.

Bet No. Team Line Total Money Line
101 Jets   40 +160
102 Dolphins -6   -180

 Total: Total points scored in a game. Also called the over/under.

You may wager that the total score of the game will be more or less than the number listed. It makes no difference which team covers the spread. Simply add the final score of each team. The payout, unless stated otherwise, is figured at odds of 10/11.

In some cases, bettors have the option to discard the point spread and bet on which team will win. This is called betting on the “Money Line”

The Money Line: Odds for a game based on $1.00. A “minus” (-) preceding the number indicates the team is a favorite. A “plus” (+) preceding the number indicates the team is an underdog.

Bet No. Team Line Total Money Line
101 Jets   40 +160
102 Dolphins -6   -180

The Dolphins’ odds are -180, meaning an $18 bet would win $10 for a return of $28. The Jets’ odds are +160, meaning a $10 bet would win $16 for a return of $26.

Football Parlays: More than one team on the same bet.

You may combine several teams into one wager. All teams and/or totals must cover the point spread to win the bet. Odds and the number of teams vary from casino to casino. 

Any game that results in a push reduces the parlay by one team. A two-team parlay would become a straight bet.

Parlay Cards: These offer the potential for huge returns while betting as little as $2.

Sports books offer a number of different cards, each one having different rules. Rules for parlay cards are placed on the back of each card. Read them carefully before wagering. The cards are simple to fill out. Simply darken the boxes, or circles, that apply to the teams you wish to parlay. Then darken the amount you want to bet.

Football Teasers: A wager that improves the point spread, but at reduced odds.

Teasers can not be straight bets.

“Teasing” the point spread is done by adding points to an underdog or by subtracting points from a favorite. This increases the probability of winning your bet but decreases the odds of the parlay. Odds and the number of points available to “tease” will vary.

Futures

Sports books offer bettors the opportunity to wager on the outcome of a season — for example, which team will win the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup or the American League pennant. This is known as “futures book” or “future book” betting.

As an illustration, let’s look at Super Bowl futures. Sports books list each NFL team with corresponding odds to win the Super Bowl. For example, the Ravens may be 5-1, the Redskins 12-1, the Cardinals 100-1, etc. If you place $10 on the Redskins and they go on to win the Super Bowl, you collect $120 plus your $10 back for a total payoff of $130. It does not matter whether your team covers the point spread in the Super Bowl. For the purposes of future book betting, the team has to win only the Super Bowl.

When you make a futures bet, your odds are “locked.” That means if you bet the Redskins at 12-1, you will get paid off at 12-1 odds, even if the sports book later adjusts the odds (to 6-1, for instance).

Futures betting also is offered on the major events in horse racing, such as the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup. In horse racing futures, if your horse does not start the race due to injury or any other reason, you lose the bet — there are no refunds. On the other hand, the odds on your horse racing futures bet also are “locked,” regardless of the horse’s odds on race day.

Some sports books offer futures betting on unusual propositions, such as which major league baseball player will hit the most home runs in the regular season. Note that in this type of wager, all bets are action regardless of injuries or other unforeseen events.

Another form of futures betting involves the over/under on the number of games a particular team will win in the regular season. This type of wager is typically found on pro football and major league baseball, and sometimes on pro basketball. For example, the over/under on the Yankees may be 93 wins. If the Yankees go on to win 94 or more games, the “over” is a winner. If they win 92 or fewer games, the “under” is a winner. If they win exactly 93, the bet is a push and tickets are refunded.

Golf

Among gamblers, golf is considered one of the two fastest-growing sports to bet on (auto racing is the other).

The most basic form of golf betting involves picking the winner of a tournament. Typically a sports book will list 50 or more individual golfers along with a field (all others) option, at various odds.

For example, Tiger Woods may be listed at 2-1, Tom Lehman at 25-1, Bob May at 100-1, etc. If you bet $10 on Lehman at 25-1 and he goes on to win the tournament, you win $250 plus your $10 back, for a total payoff of $260.

Another popular form of golf betting involves matchup propositions, in which two golfers are paired against each other in a head-to-head wager, with a betting line on each golfer set by the oddsmaker. The golfer with the better (lower) score wins the matchup. (If one golfer continues play in the tournament after his opponent misses the cut, the golfer who continues play wins the matchup.)

For example, a matchup may pit Lehman (minus 125) against Jim Furyk (plus 105). If you bet $125 on the favored Lehman, the payoff would be $100 plus your $125 back, for a total of $225. If you bet $100 on the underdog Furyk, the payoff would be $105 plus your $100 back, for a total of $205.

Some matchups pit one (usually very good) golfer against two or more others. For example, Woods may be pitted against Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III and Ernie Els. To determine the winner, take Woods’ score and compare it to the best (lowest) score recorded by the three others.

Especially in major tournaments, some sports books offer odds on unusual golf propositions, such as the over/under on the winning score, the over/under on the lowest round by any golfer or the over/under on the finishing position by a particular golfer. For example, the over/under on Woods’ finishing position may be 3 1/2. If he finishes first, second or third in the tournament, the “under” wins; if he finishes fourth or worse, the “over” tickets cash.

Rules vary, but usually your golfer must tee off in the tournament for “action” (meaning once he tees off, you will either win or lose your bet). If for some reason he does not tee off, this is usually considered “no action” and tickets are refunded.

In head-to-head matchup propositions, both golfers must tee off for action.

Hockey

To bet on hockey, tell the ticket writer the bet number of the team you wish to bet and the amount you wish to wager. If your team covers the goal spread, you win. The payout is based on a “Money Line”.

The Goal Spread:

When betting on hockey, the team you bet on must “cover the spread.” This means the team must win or not lose by a predetermined margin of goals.

The Money Line: Odds for a game based on $1.00 A “minus” (-) preceding the number indicates the team is a favorite. A “plus” (+) preceding the number indicates the team is an underdog.

Example: 

Bet No. Team Line Money Line Total
401 Rangers +1.5 +130  
402 Islanders -1.5 -150 5

 Note: The bottom team is always listed as the home team unless otherwise noted.

The Islanders are 1 1/2-goal favorites to win. The Rangers must win the game by at least two goals to be a winner. If you bet on the Sharks, you win your bet if:
(a) The Rangers win the game.
(b) The Rangers lose the game by not more than 1 goal.

Note: The money line is used in conjunction with the point spread. If the Islanders win by 2 goals; a $15 bet would win $10 and return $25. If the Rangers win, or lose by one goal; a $10 bet would win $13 and return $23.

Total: Total points scored in a game. Also called the over/under.

You may wager that the total score of the game will be more or less than the number listed. It makes no difference which team covers the spread. Simply add the final scores of each team. The payout, unless stated otherwise, is figured at odds of 10/11 (-110).

Hockey Parlays

You may combine several teams into one wager. All teams must win to win the bet. Hockey parlays are figured out by calculating the payout for the first game, based on the money line, then applying that amount to the next game and so forth.

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