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The Basics of Sports Betting

by September 26, 2018

“Give me $50 on the Rams with the points, $25 on the money line, and $20 on the over.” Many of you can read that sentence and know exactly what all of it means. For the rest of you, it may look like a foreign language. In some sense, it is. As with many niche topics, sports betting comes with its own set of rules and terminology. I could go on for thousands of words discussing the various types of wagers that can be placed and the terms used to describe them. For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on the basics.

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There are many types of compound wagers you can make: parlays, reverses, teasers, if/then wagers. Right now, only concern yourself with straight bets. A straight bet is just a single bet placed on a single event. By far, the most common type of football wager is a straight bet placed on the point spread. As a quick refresher, the point spread is the amount of points the bookmakers set that the team favored to win must win by in order for you to win your bet. If the Patriots are (-6.5) for a game, they must win by seven for you to “cover the spread” and win your bet.

For today’s explanations, let’s use the opening game of the 2018 season: Falcons at Eagles. The Eagles are currently listed as four point favorites (-4). The money line is -200 and the total for the game is 46 (more on these in a moment). When looking at the point spread, you must decide whether you think the Eagles will win the game by at least four points. If you place a straight bet on the Eagles, that is, a single wager on just the Eagles where you are laying the four points, and the Eagles win by a field goal, you lose. If the Eagles win by a touchdown, you win. It is that simple. On the flip side, if you bet the Falcons against the point spread, you either need them to win the game outright, or lose by fewer than four points. A typical point spread wager has a vig of -110. It is rare that the vig on a point spread is more than -125, which, as a quick refresher on that as well, means you have to risk $125 to win $100. If you wanted to place a $100 wager on either the Falcons or the Eagles against the point spread right now, you would have to risk $110 to win $100.

A money line bet is a bet on the winner of the game. It is the simplest type of wager you can make because all you have to concern yourself with is which team wins the game. The money line correlates with the point spread. The higher the point spread, the higher the money line. As four point favorites, the Eagles are about -200 on the money line. If you don’t want to concern yourself with the four points and just want to bet on the Eagles to win the game, you will have to risk $200 to win $100. If you want to bet the Falcons to pull out the upset, since they are underdogs, you will get better odds than if you took the four points with the spread. The Falcons are +170 so if you risk $100, you would win $170, but if the Falcons were to lose by a field goal, you would lose the money line bet whereas you’d win a bet on Falcons +4.

Finally, we have the total, otherwise known as the over/under. A bet on the total is a bet on how many points you think the two teams will combine to score in the game. The vig on totals is almost always -110, but, like any vig, it can vary a bit due to exigent circumstances that we won’t get into here. For the Eagles and Falcons, the total is 46 and it is -110 on each side. What do I mean by each side? Well, if you want to place a bet on the amount of points scored in the game, you can take the over or the under. And yes, it is as simple as it sounds. If you bet the over, you need the Eagles and Falcons to combine to score more than 46 points. If you bet the under, you need them to score fewer than 46 points. A $110 bet wins you $100.

So there you have it: the three most basic bets you can place on a football game –point spread, money line, and total. In future articles, you will learn about different types of bets of varying complexity and different ways you can bet things. As always, wager responsibly and never bet more than you can afford to lose. Good luck this season!

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Jason Katz is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive.