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. 


Betting on the moneyline

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. 

Glossary of common betting terms:

Backdoor cover: A term you’ll hear when a team covers a point spread lead in the game.
Bankroll: Total amount of money a bettor has on their account.
Betting unit: The amount of a typical wager. A unit 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. 
Closing line: The line for a spread when the game officially begins.
Dog: Also known as an underdog, this refers to a team that is not expected to win.
Edge: Term used to explain an advantage for a bettor over the sportsbook or vice versa.
Even money: A wager that is placed that would return the exact amount placed. EV or sometimes +100 are considered “even money.”
Handle: The amount of money taken in by a sportsbook for a particular wager. This is often used to see where the big money bets have been placed to help identify where big money bettors are leaning.
Hedge: A strategy used by bettors to either reduce their risk or guarantee a profit from a bet.
Live betting: A way to place a wager on a game that is taking place with live odds.
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.
Sharp money: Sharp money is when large wagers are placed by professional bettors, also known as whales. This coincides with the “handle.