If you’ve never made a sports bet in your life, looking at a sportsbook can feel like a daunting and intimidating task to tackle. In this piece, I’ll go over many of the terms you need to know to learn sports betting and get you ready to start getting skin in the game.
This is the easiest way to start your betting adventure. When you bet on a moneyline, you’re essentially picking who you think will win that particular event. When you look at a particular game to bet, you’ll see something that looks similar to this:
In this photo, we’re looking at early Week 1 lines for the Texans at Chiefs game for 2020. We have three columns listed with “point spread” “total points” and “moneyline.” As you’ll notice, the Texans have a moneyline of (+370) while the Chiefs, who are the favorites in this game are at (-500). When a team is favored, they’ll have the minus number. The bigger the number, the bigger the favorite. So how much would win if you placed a bet on the Chiefs? It’s easiest to use a $100 bet to help explain what you would get in return if the Chiefs win. On a $100 bet with the -500 moneyline, you would see a return of $120 if the Chiefs won. Essentially, you would need to increase your bet by $100 to earn another $20 for this particular bet. So, if you were to place a $500 bet, you would bring back a return of $600. The favorites are expected to win, so you’re taking more risk by placing these bets.
Where you can really big splash is betting the underdogs, which will have the plus sign on their moneyline. With the Texans, a $100 bet would bring back a return of $470. Quite enticing, right? It certainly feels like an easy way to make money -- but remember, so much information goes into setting these lines for sportsbooks, so these lines are set as they are for a reason. The underdogs are expected to lose so the risk is not as great as betting on a favorite but can be more fruitful if they pull off a victory.
Betting on the spread
In this section, we’ll talk about betting on the spread. This is a very popular bet to make during football and one can argue it is a favorite among serious sports bettors.
We’ll once again be using the Texans and Chiefs game. The spread of this game is set at 10, with the Chiefs as the favorite as -10. When you take this play, you’re betting on the Chiefs to win the game by 11 points or more. Why 11, you may ask? If the Chiefs were to win by exactly 10, it would be called a “push,” which means you would simply get your bet back and you wouldn’t win or lose anything. You want the Chiefs to exceed the 10-point spread to win your bet. If the Chiefs win but do so by nine points or fewer, you would lose your bet.
On the flip side, this is once again a scenario where you could take the underdog. Betting the +10 points for the Texans gives you more than one out because they’re not favored. If you take the +10 points for the Texans, two different scenarios can take place for you to win the bet. If the Texans outright win this game, you would win the bet. Or, if the Texans were to lose by nine points or fewer, you would also win your bet.
Betting on the total points
A bet on the points (or the “over/under”) is a bet on how many points both teams combine will score. If you feel this could be a high-scoring game that would exceed 55 points combined, you’d want to take the over. If you feel that this could go under 55 points, you would bet the under. Just like with betting on the point spread, a total of 55, as given, does have the potential to push if the games combined score were to be 55. Often times, you’ll see points end at 0.5. That helps avoid the push.
Once you start betting, you’ll no doubt hear about what is called a parlay bet. When you place a parlay, you’re making a single bet that is linked to two or more outcomes. To win this bet, all bets included in the parlay must win.
A good example of this would be taking multiple moneylines in one parlay bet. Let’s say you were very confident that the Chiefs (-500) and Patriots (-265) were going to win their respective Week 1 games. You can take the individual bets and place them as normal. But what a parlay allows you to do is place both bets as one and get better odds. For this particular bet, by pairing both moneylines as a parlay, you now see a moneyline of -155. Much more enticing, right? It certainly is. However, both the Chiefs and Patriots must win their games for this bet to payout. The potential return is better, but the more teams and outcomes you add to the bet, the riskier the bet becomes.
A teaser bet is similar to a parlay but the spreads or totals of each bet are adjusted. When you make a teaser bet, you’ll notice the spreads and totals are vastly different than what is normally offered. As with a parlay, all events in your bet must win in order to win.
Teasers do not pay as much as parlays, as the adjusted spreads and totals make it easier to win. However, don’t be roped into the thought that teasers are an easy way to make money, as correctly predicting the outcome of multiple bets can be quite the challenge.
Backdoor cover: A backdoor cover occurs when a favorite was covering the spread until a late flurry of scoring by their opponent ultimately drops the final score below the point spread. The favorite ultimately still wins the game, but not by enough points to cover what bettors had to put on them. The underdog lost the game, but stayed within the point spread, thus executing a successful backdoor cover.
Bankroll: Total amount of money a bettor has to wager. This includes all sportsbooks where the bettor has an account as well as cash dedicated for wagering.
Betting unit: An amount equal to 1% of your bankroll. The actual dollar amount can be different for everyone so when people discuss their plays, they’ll often speak of how many units they’ll place on that particular bet. The thought process being that your total bankroll equals 100%. Each unit is 1% of that bankroll. The mathematical size of a unit never changes, but the amount of money a single unit represents will depending on the size of your bankroll. Someone with $100,000 bankroll will have a unit size of $1,000. If you have $100, your unit size is $1.
Closing line: The closing line refers to the final number offered when wagering closes on any event. Numbers can move throughout the week and one way many sports bettors track their progress is against what the line closes at. If you consistently get better numbers during the week than the final closing line number, you are making good bets at the right time.
Dog: Also known as an underdog, this refers to a team that is not expected to win. In a typical two-way American style line, the DOG will always be the team listed with the (+) in front of their moneyline. The larger the number after the plus sign, the lower the probability of that team winning.
Edge: Term used to explain an advantage for a bettor over the sportsbook or vice versa. Odds are based on the probability of an event happening. The difference between the actual probability of an event happening and the payout offerred if it does occur is considered the edge.
Even money: A wager placed that would return the exact amount as the wager placed in winnings. A +100 wager is considered “even money.” You bet $100 to profit $100 if you are right.
Handle: The amount of money taken in by a sportsbook on all bets. This can refer to a particular wager, an event, or a group of games.
Hedge: A strategy used by bettors to either reduce their risk or guarantee a profit from a bet. This can be done through the use of in game wagering on a single event, it can be done if a line moves drastically, or it can be done with futures bets. The key is some event must occur that forces the line to move in order to offer an opportunity to lock in some profits or reduce the downside.
Live betting: A way to place a wager on a game that is taking place with live odds. As a game plays out, the probability of each team winning or losing changes based on variables like the score, time remaining, and availability of players. The odds are a reflection of a moment in time and will constantly adjust throughtout the game, theoretically creating multiple new wagering opportunities based on the results of each play.
Off the board: When a sportsbook removes a bet from the board. This will often take place after injury news or a transaction with a particular team has taken place that would shift the odds in either direction.
Opening line: Term for the first point spread available for a particular game. The opening line is usually the least accurate projection of a teams probability of winning and losing. Those who try to get the best number before any bets force the line to move, will typically attack the opening lines as soon as they are released by sportsbooks.
Sharp money: Sharp money is when professional bettors with proven track records wager on a particular outcome. These bettors are sometimes known as sharps, and may be part of a bigger betting syndicate. Sharp money coming in typically catches the attention of line makers. You often see lines adjusted in the direction of those sharp bets to make the number less appealing. These are often large bets, but wager size is not what makes a bettor or his bets sharp. The skillfullness and track record of the bettor is what makes his/her bets sharp money.