Sports Betting 101

If you’ve never placed a legal bet on sports before, the world of sports-based gambling may seem complicated. We’ve put together a quick Sports Betting 101 to help visitors who need a quick brush-up on the ways of sports bettors.

We understand the intimidating feeling of betting on sports as a newcomer – literally every sports gambler has been in that position before.

The reasons some folks stay away from sports bets are legion. Some folks no doubt have a negative impression of the world of sports bets thanks to movies and television. The sportsbook itself is tucked away in its own weird little corner. Sportsbooks print wagers using what seem like impenetrable series of numbers and symbols. Sports bettors keep mainly to themselves, until they must interact with one another, and then they speak in jargon.

Sports Betting Basics

The truth is that you can get started betting real money on sports without dipping your toes too deeply into the hobby’s more convoluted byways. A few key terms defined, some basic concepts outlined, and you’ll be well on your way to confident sports betting.

Sports Betting Newbie FAQ
Here are answers to some common questions we get from first-time players:

What is sports betting?
When people place bets on real sporting events, they’re participating in sports betting. This type of gambling isn’t just about wins and losses – providers of this type of betting use tactics to encourage participation, from things like point spreads (more on that later) to modern iterations like competitions involving fantasy sports. You can bet on familiar sports (football, basketball, etc.) as well as less-familiar contests (eSports, Olympics, even political contests), and all of these wagers are contained under the umbrella term “sports betting.”

Are bets on sports legal?
In the 20th century, organized crime families used sports wagers as a cover and source of income. This made lots of headlines and put a bad taste in the mouths of many Americans. This is all ancient history, and the sports betting industry is now heavily regulated and, in some cases, considered a part of the mainstream entertainment industry.

In six US states, traditional in-person sports betting is expressly legal. If you live in or visit Arkansas, Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, or New Mexico, you have live and legal places to place real money sports bets. In several of those states, the only form of legal wagers on sports are special parlay tickets sold by the state alongside lottery and scratch-off tickets. Still, far from across-the-board illegal, sports-based gambling is explicitly legal with a regulatory framework and everything.

In most US states, you’re still legally allowed to place sports bets online, though you should check with your local laws before making a deposit. We offer lots of state-specific sports gambling content on this blog and in our gambling guides.

Can’t you lose all your money betting on sports?

My first answer is that yes, of course, people make bad decisions involving this form of entertainment the same way they make bad decisions in the stock market or investing in private enterprise.

Responsible bettors make up the majority of sports gambling fans. Our guides and blog posts will help you avoid the common pitfalls that lead people to make sports betting mistakes.

Types of Sports Bets

Understanding how books present game odds is mostly a matter of understanding some specialized lingo used by bettors.

Here’s a crash course in the three most common types of wagers:

Point Spread Wagers

The point spread, also called “the spread,” is a method that books use to offer odds and take wagers. The point spread is really a guess made by the book about the eventual number of points a team should win or lose by. This point spread also helps bettors by identifying the team that’s favored to win and the team that’s likely to lose. These are called the favorite and the underdog respectively.

A book may offer a point spread that looks like this:

IND -7

Using these symbols and numbers, we can identify that the Indianapolis Colts (IND) are the favorite, because they’re listed with a – sign next to their name. The number next to it gives the book’s best guess at the point difference at the end of the game between the Colts and the Chicago Bears (CHI). By the way, we also know that the game is being played in Chicago, since the CHI symbol is on the bottom.

Money Line Wagers

Not every sport is ideal for the simplistic point spread system described above. NFL bettors tend to favor money line wagers over point spread bets. This system is a bit more complicated than a point spread, and you need more information than with a simple spread wager.

Your money line bet is simply a choice of the outright winner of a contest. The score doesn’t matter, just the final Win or Loss. It’s basically the same as a point spread, without any attention paid to point totals.

A book’s money line may look like this:

Indianapolis Colts – 200
Chicago Bears +220

Like with point spread bets, you can tell the home team by the team listed on the bottom. We can also tell the favorite by looking for the – symbol, as with point spread bets. So here, we have the favored Colts playing on the road in Chicago. The numbers next to the names?

For the favored team (here, the Colts), that number “200” tells you how much you’ll have to wager in order to earn a $100 payout. If you bet on the underdog Bears, a wager of $100 will net you the printed number, in this case it’s $220. Again, that’s a lot of info crammed into a tiny space.

Game Totals Bets

Though many newcomers stick to point spreads and money line wagers, our staff really likes suggesting newcomers bet on totals.

Sometimes called “over/under” bets, game totals are wagers placed on the combined total of two team’s points. Sportsbooks set the game total, and bettors are tasked with choosing if they think the total will be higher (“over”) or lower (“under”) that amount.

Not all markets embrace game totals, but they’re a major form of wagers in basketball and football markets.


Sports betting is no different from skill-based bets like poker or blackjack. Elements of luck exist in every bet, even in the more complex table and card games. Luck is as much a part of sports betting as anything else offered in gambling halls.

We think with education, experience, and discipline, anyone can enjoy placing wagers on sporting events. The idea behind sports betting is to make sports fandom just a little more entertaining. The fact that we occasionally win big payouts along the way makes it just a bit sweet. In short, we don’t place bets on sports in order to win – as crazy as that sounds. We like being a part of the action, the thrill of the last-second bad beat or big win, and the camaraderie that comes from placing bets around the same group of degenerate buddies every week.

Sports Betting Headquarters is staffed by writers and experts that go out of their way to help people who are just starting out in the hobby. Bookmark us and check out our blog posts, post comments when you need help, and help us create a community where wagering on sports is as much about fun as it is about making perfect picks.

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