Sports Betting 101: How To Bet On Sports

Last Updated:
Sports Betting 101: How To Bet On Sports
Photo Credit: Jamie Germano/USA Today Network


Sports betting is no doubt one of the most exciting ways to gamble. It gives you the chance to wager on entertaining sporting contests—both big and small—and win money. Assuming you’re among the surging number of new bettors in the U.S., though, you’ll have to learn how to bet on sports before you can start consistently winning.

The following guide covers everything you need to know to start betting, from reading odds to bet types. It also discusses some of the best online sportsbooks and what makes it so great to bet on sports online.

How Does Sports Betting Work?

Sports gambling is a simple concept that involves wagering on sports outcomes. You can place sports bets with friends or visit a land-based or online sportsbook and bet against bookies. The latter is the most popular way to bet on sports because sportsbooks are convenient and widely available.

A sportsbook offers a range of bet types and betting lines on different games. You can choose from these many odds, bets, and teams when placing a sports bet. The basic premise is to select a successful outcome and win profits, rather than losing a bet and your stake.

Most bookmakers feature plenty of sports (a.k.a. markets) as well. Common markets that are available at sportsbooks include:

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Boxing
  • Cricket
  • Football
  • Golf
  • Hockey
  • Horse racing
  • Mixed martial arts
  • Rugby
  • Soccer
  • Swimming
  • Table tennis
  • Tennis

You won’t find all of these sports at every legal online sports betting site or land-based sportsbook. The majority of these markets, though, are available with the average bookmaker.

Sportsbooks require you to place a minimum bet to participate. If a bookmaker’s minimum wager is $10, for example, then you’ll need to bet at least this much. Online sports betting sites and brick-and-mortar sportsbooks also have maximum wagers too. The max bet varies greatly depending upon where you go, varying anywhere from $2,000 to 1 million dollars.

How To Read Sports Betting Odds

Sports betting odds seem like learning Greek or Chinese language at first glance. However, new sports bettors can quickly understand this subject after just a few moments. The main three types of odds include American (e.g. -125), decimal (e.g., 1.7), and fractional (e.g., 5/4). We’re going to focus on American odds in this discussion because they’re the most common at North American-facing sportsbooks.

Here’s the first thing to understand about American odds:

  • A minus (-) sign indicates the favorite. You must bet more money than you stand to win in this situation.
  • A plus (+) sign indicates the underdog. You stand to win more than you bet in this scenario.

Just by understanding this one aspect alone, you’ll be close to knowing how sports betting odds work. The next step in learning how to bet on sports involves winnings. Specifically, you want to know how much you stand to win based on the odds.

The following betting line provides an example of potential winnings:

  • Toronto Blue Jays +175 (bet $100 to win $175 in profits)
  • New York Yankees -225 (wager $225 to win $100 in profits)

You can of course bet other amounts besides $100. If you wagered $20 on the Blue Jays, for example, you’d stand to win $35. When betting the same $20 on the Yankees, you would earn $8.88 if New York wins the game.

To recap, the main points behind betting odds include:

  1. Plus and minus signs indicate the underdog and favorite, respectively.
  2. The size of the odds (e.g., +200 odds = bet $100 to win $200) determine what you stand to win.

How To Bet On Sports: Types Of Bets

The sports betting world is never a dull place thanks to its variety of bet types. You can wager on everything from the final score to mascot antics. These different bets fall into specific categories, including point spreads, moneylines, totals, parlays, props, futures, and live bets.

Once you have the odds down, you shouldn’t have much trouble learning each bet type. Nevertheless, the various sports bets do have intricacies and differ from each other in certain ways. For example, a point spread is going to work differently than a futures bet. Assuming you’re interested in multiple wager types, then you’ll certainly want to know these differences.

Point Spread

A point spread handicaps each team with a certain amount of points. Your chosen team needs to cover its assigned point spread for a successful wager. Here’s an example of how a point spread works:

  • Miami Dolphins +6.5 (-110) – Dolphins must lose by 6 points or less (or win).
  • Buffalo Bills -6.5 (-110) – Bills needs to win by 7 points or more.

Both sports bets in this example pay $100 for a $110 wager. The underdog Dolphins are starting with a 6.5-point cushion, meaning they can deliver a successful bet even when losing. The favored Bills not only have to win but also win the game by a touchdown.


A moneyline is, in many ways, the simplest wager in sports betting. Moneyline bets appear in our earlier examples on reading odds and how to bet on sports. Simply put, you just need to pick which team will win a game outright to win the bet.

The only difficult aspect to moneylines (a.k.a. straight bets) involves the odds. If you already read the earlier section on American odds, though, you’ll have little trouble understanding moneyline odds.

Here’s a moneyline example from an NFL game:

  • Tennessee Titans -250
  • Houston Texans +195

You’d need to wager $250 for every $100 in winnings on the Titans. You would bet $100 for every $195 in winnings on the Texans.

Totals (Over/Under)

A totals bet (a.k.a. over/under) revolves around a game’s total points scored. Specifically, you’re wagering on how many points two teams will combine for. You can either bet over or under the given line.

Here’s an example of an over/under involving college football:

  • Florida State over 62.5 (-110)
  • NC State under 62.5 (-110)

If you take the over, the two teams’ combined score needs to be 63 points or more for a win. When picking the under, the teams’ total number of points scored must be fewer combined points than 62.


Most sports bets involve betting on one team or outcome. A parlay, on the other hand, calls on you to put two or more bets on the same ticket. A sports bettor can place various bet types on the ticket for parlay bets, including moneylines, point spreads, prop bets, and more.

Here’s an example of a 3-leg parlay bet, taken from three games on an NFL weekend:

  • Kansas City Chiefs -9.5
  • Green Bay vs Minnesota Vikings over 51.5
  • Detroit Lions +185

You need to win every outcome for a winning parlay bet. A parlay functions as one bet, no matter how many individual bets are placed on the ticket. The advantage, though, is that you’ll earn a larger payout versus wagering on one team.

Same-game parlays (SGP) are a relatively new wagering type in the U.S. sports betting industry. An SGP allows sports bettors to combine various bets from the same game into a parlay. An SGP often gives reduced odds, however, when compared to the odds of placing each sports bet individually.

Most sportsbooks banned SGP bets until recently, and required parlays to be built from multiple games.

Here’s a look at common parlay payouts based on the number of teams/outcomes involved:

  • 2 team parlay – 2.6-to-1 payout
  • 3 teams – 6 to 1
  • 4 teams – 11 to 1
  • 5 teams – 22 to 1
  • 6 teams – 45 to 1
  • 7 teams – 90 to 1
  • 8 teams – 180 to 1
  • 9 teams – 360 to 1
  • 10 teams – 720 to 1

Prop Bets

Proposition bets (a.k.a. props) involve outcomes beyond the game winner or final score. They’re particularly popular for big contests, such as the Super Bowl or NCAA Basketball National Championship.

Sportsbooks can get really creative with prop bets, offering coin toss, mascot, or halftime show wagers. Due to their creativity, prop bets are quite popular among casual sports fans. Here’s an example of a prop wager:

Who will score the first touchdown (rushing or receiving) during the Steelers vs Ravens?

  • Najee Harris +375
  • Mark Andrews +525
  • Diontae Johnson +575
  • Lamar Jackson +800
  • Chase Claypool +950


Futures are bets that won’t conclude until a distant point in time—usually weeks or months. Therefore, you’re not making a game-based decision but rather a prediction on the long term.

These bets are quite common for championships, such as the World Series or NBA Finals. Here’s an example of a futures bet:

Who will win the Stanley Cup Finals?

  • Colorado Avalanche +450
  • Toronto Maple Leafs +875
  • Florida Panthers +950
  • Tampa Bay Lightning +1000
  • Carolina Hurricanes +1050
  • Vegas Golden Knights +1500

Live Betting

Sportsbooks used to require sports bettors to place all wagers before matches begin. Betting sites changed this, though, by offering live wagers in the middle of games. A live bet is simply one that comes up in the middle of a match.

Just like with prop bets, bookmakers can offer all sorts of live wagers. They can update the moneyline after the first quarter, ask who will hit the next home run, and more. Simply put, live bets provide more options after a game is running. You can see an example of a live bet below:

Will another touchdown be scored (fourth quarter)?

  • Yes -110
  • No -110

Live betting has emerged as a popular sports bet type for recreational and professional bettors alike. The format offers almost infinite ways to bet on sports on a given day.

How To Bet On Sports: Where To Place A Sports Bet

Online Sportsbooks

Betting sites have revolutionized the sports betting industry. They allow you to bet sports through a phone, tablet, or computer, thus providing great convenience. Online sportsbooks are also able to update odds quickly and provide live bets.

You can get started at betting sites by visiting an online sportsbook and registering. The next step is to choose an available deposit method and fund your account. You’ll then select from the available odds and add a bet(s) to your slip. Assuming you already understand sports betting basics, then you’ll have no trouble wagering online.

Retail Sportsbooks

Las Vegas casinos used to be the only places that offered in-person betting. Nowadays, though, many states and large cities feature brick-and-mortar betting locations.

With retail betting, you just need to find a casino or similar establishment that offers legal sports wagering. You can then visit the desk, place your bet, and wait for the outcome. Many retail operators even provide TVs and lounge areas, where you can watch games play out in comfort.

How To Bet On Sports: Best Online Sportsbooks

Online sports betting is now legal in nearly half of all U.S. states. Some of the biggest legal online sports betting market include:

DraftKings Sportsbook

DraftKings Sportsbook is one of the leading betting sites in many states. Although its offerings vary by state, DraftKings typically offers more markets and bigger bonuses than the average competitor. It also has a high-rated app, thus ensuring a smooth sports betting experience.

This bookmaker boasts one of the industry’s best reputations as well. DraftKings has excellent customer service and delivers payouts in a timely manner. That said, it’s no wonder why DraftKings remains one of the game’s top online betting operators.

You can read more about this top-flight online book in our review of DraftKings Sportsbook.

FanDuel Sportsbook

FanDuel is one of DraftKings’ top competitors across the American market. It’s often either the first or second-most-popular online sportsbook in many states.

Like DraftKings, FanDuel also does an excellent job of providing many markets and large bonuses. Its app ratings at Google Play and the App Store rival DraftKings as well. Long story short, you can’t go wrong if you decide to bet at the FanDuel sportsbook.

Check out the FanDuel Sportsbook review for more about the nation’s No. 1 online sports betting app.


BetMGM operates as an online gambling platform backed by the MGM Resorts brand. BetMGM Sportsbook competes with anything in the U.S. market in terms of betting markets, available sports, and availability.

Take a look at our BetMGM Sportsbook review for more on the BetMGM sports betting app.

Caesars Sportsbook

Caesars Sportsbook took over the William Hill U.S. brand in 2021, and rapidly expanded across the nation. Caesars is known for extending some of the most player-friendly welcome bonuses in the industry.

Check out the review of Caesars Sportsbook for everything you need to know about the app.

How Much To Bet On Sports

The most important thing with sports betting is to have fun. Betting on sports is supposed to be for entertainment purposes, with winning money taking a backseat. That said, you want to figure out a reasonable amount to bet on sports and not develop a gambling problem.

Bankroll management is key to enjoying yourself with sports betting. It involves determining how much you can afford to lose and plan out bet sizes. Even when you lose money, you’ll still feel comfortable with the losses thanks to a disciplined approach.

Here’s a sample plan that you can use:

  • You have a $1,000 bankroll.
  • You plan to only bet 1% to 3% of your funds on any single contest.
  • 0.01 = $10 per wager / 0.03 = $30 per bet
  • You’ll only risk $10 to $30 per game or outcome.

Sports betting is so unpredictable due to injuries, weather, and other unforeseen outcomes. A star player may not even play due to injury or illness. Bankroll management can help you deal with this unpredictability and avoid gambling based on emotions. That said, we strongly recommend you go into sports betting with some sort of plan, and understand what the right wager amount is for you and your level of rsk tolerance.

How To Find The Best Sports Betting Odds

As covered above, legal sports gambling should be about fun and entertainment. Nevertheless, you should still give yourself the best possible chance to beat any sport. You can accomplish this goal by finding bookmakers with the best odds on sports betting. Everything begins with understanding exactly what to look for.

All sportsbooks take “juice” (a.k.a. vigorish) from the losing side of a sports wager. This process leads to a margin or the cut that bookmakers receive from all betting action. Here’s an example to explain:

  • A bet has -110 odds on both sides.
  • Two sports bettors each wager $110.
  • The winner receives $100 (plus the original stake), while the loser pays $110 (roughly 10% juice).
  • 10 (juice) / 210 (total money exchanged) = 4.77% margin

The goal involves finding bookmakers that consistently offer lower margins and better odds, thus increasing the probability of winning money. A great way to accomplish this is by checking out reviews, most notably the odds section.

Many online wagering sites reviews discuss how an operator fares on odds and margins. You definitely want to choose bookmakers that provide the best sports betting odds and lowest margins on a regular basis.

How To Bet On Sports FAQ

How do sports betting odds work?

Betting odds handicap each team and help distribute betting action more evenly. If the line is Detroit -165 vs Chicago +130, the favorite Detroit requires a $165 bet to win $100. The underdog Chicago, meanwhile, only requires a $130 wager to win $100.

What states are sports betting legal in?

Sports betting is currently legal in over two dozen states. Some markets that offer legal betting include Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Virginia.

How do sportsbooks make money?

Sportsbooks primarily earn profits by taking juice (vigorish) from the losing side of wagers. They typically take 10-15% juice from losers, with the lower end being more common. This leads to profit margins of 5-7% on the overall betting action (winners and losers included).

Which sports betting app is the best?

The U.S. online sports betting market features plenty of quality apps. However, DraftKings and FanDuel stand above the rest thanks to their app ratings and smooth performance. These betting sites also fare well regarding bonuses, markets, and customer support.

What is a moneyline bet?

Moneylines are popular no matter if you’re betting team-based sports (e.g., basketball) or individual sports (e.g., tennis). They handicap the favorite (- sign) and underdog (+ sign) to more evenly distribute the action. In a betting line of -225 Milwaukee vs +175 Cincinnati favored Milwaukee would pay $100 for a winning $225 wager.

How do I win at sports betting?

Becoming a winning sports betting requires lots of hard work and discipline. You’ll need to learn handicapping skills, arbitrage betting, and more to turn the page and become a success. Basically, you must immerse yourself in the sports gambling world and put countless hours into the matter.