How To Bet On Sports: A Beginner’s Guide

It wasn’t too long ago that sports betting was only for Las Vegas and risky offshore operators. Well, that’s not the case any longer. Several states have legalized sports betting, and many more will follow.

Sports betting is starting to go mainstream as well. What was once mentioned with a wink and a nod is now discussed openly. There are even shows on major sports networks that cover wagering daily. It’s a boom time for sports bettors, and the playing field is wide open for even those who are new to the game.

Retail sportsbooks and betting apps continue to launch in legalized states. As a result, betting fans have numerous legal online and mobile sportsbook options.

Betting on sports seems a bit complex at first, but it’ll feel a lot less foreign after you gain some experience.

This guide aims to help cut down your learning curve immensely. Let’s begin with the basics.

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What is sports betting?

Sports betting revolves around placing a wager on the outcome of an upcoming game or event.

Bettors attempt to forecast the results and make their best guess on what the outcome will be.

Bettors typically wager with a sportsbook. Oddsmakers at the various books will set lines or odds for the available wagers.

Essentially, the odds show the likelihood of a particular event occurring. Also, they point to the potential return for those who bet successfully.

Sportsbooks offer a wide range of markets.

From major sports such as NFL betting and NBA betting to niche offerings such as cricket and rugby, you’ll find plenty of wagering opportunities available.

The same applies when it comes to betting types.

The most standard wager merely involves choosing a winning side. However, there are plenty of other ways to bet and factors to consider.

Sports betting is a popular pastime that is attracting even more attention due to legalization in several US markets.

Why do people bet on sports?

The answer varies from person to person.

Some folks bet for entertainment purposes, while others wager based on the profit potential.

Plenty of bettors have their specific reasons. So, let’s take a look at some of the more common answers to the question:

  • Entertainment: Quite simply, betting on sports is fun. While games and events can be entertaining enough, adding a little money into the equation can enhance the enjoyment.
  • Profit Potential: If you’re correct on your bets, you’ll win money. Naturally, that applies in reverse, too. However, the chance to earn a profit keeps folks engaged and leaves them coming back for more.
  • The Challenge: While the concept of picking winners and losers is simple, continual success is far from a sure thing. Therein lies another part of what keeps folks so engaged. Sports betting is a mental challenge that can prove to be quite stimulating.
  • Skin in the Game: What’s the easiest way to make a random game or event that you have no rooting interest in that much more appealing? By having a little skin in the game on the outcome, you can suddenly have a contest to look forward to and enjoy.
  • Ease of Getting Started: In states that have fully legalized sports betting, getting started is a breeze. You can sign up with an online or mobile betting operator and be up and running in minutes. It was once a fantasy to have a sportsbook in your pocket. That’s now a reality.

There are plenty of other reasons why folks may choose to bet on sports, but the above list covers the primary ones. It’s a fun pastime that can be quite rewarding. Furthermore, the interest level will only continue to grow as more states legalize it.

Sports betting 101

So you’re new to sports betting and ready to get started. Now what?

Beginning any new endeavor can be overwhelming at first, but many times you’ll see it’s not all that tough once you start digging in. That’s certainly true with sports betting.

As with many other situations, it’s best to start with the basics and build out from there:

  • Benefits of Sports Betting: Legalized sports betting has been a boon for each of the states the industry has entered. A practice that was once illegal is now generating additional tax revenue. Furthermore, jobs have been and continue to be created in each new market.
  • Is Sports Betting Legal?: In May 2018, the US Supreme Court finally weighed in on a long-running case that questioned the legality of a federal ban on sports betting. The justices ruled that it was a matter for states to decide for themselves. Many of them have done just that and now have thriving sports betting industries.
  • How to Start Betting on Sports: It couldn’t be easier to get started betting on sports. Many operators are serving the legal markets, and signing up for an account with them is a snap. From there, you can add and remove funds from your account with ease and begin exploring opportunities.
  • The Mechanics of Sports Betting: One of the coolest things about sports betting is that you can get as advanced as you like at your pace. You can keep it simple and stick to the basics, or dive in with both feet to improve your skill level from the start. That’s ultimately up to you, and there’s no right or wrong approach. It comes down to a matter of what works best for you.
  • Understanding the Odds: This is an area that can confuse those new to the game. In a nutshell, odds tell you the implied probabilities and potential return for successful wagers. For a simplified example, negative odds imply a favorite and less of return potential. While positive odds point to an underdog and the potential for bigger returns.

For each of the categories, there’s a lot more to understand moving forward. As you advance, you can explore topics, such as the odds, in much more depth. Before long, those once foreign concepts will evolve into something you understand well.

Understanding types of bets

As you gain experience with sports betting, you’ll soon come to understand that there’s a lot more to it than picking winners and losers.

There are many ways to bet on sports, and each requires its own set of knowledge.

Here’s a look at the main types of bets you can place at sportsbooks.

  • Moneyline: A moneyline bet is the most straightforward of all bets. You’re simply picking the winner of the game. Favorites are designated with negative odds such as -110, while underdogs typically have positive odds like +120.
  • Over/Unders: Also known as a totals bet, over/unders is a wager on the total points scored in a game. Oddsmakers set a benchmark number, and then you decide if you think the total will go “over” or “under” that number.
  • Prop Specials: A prop bet is essentially a side wager on something that may occur during a game. Examples include whether an NFL quarterback will throw for a certain amount of yards or not, or how many total points will be scored in a half of an NBA game.
  • Accumulators: An accumulator is a wager on four or more outcomes on a single ticket. For this bet to be a winner, all your selections must be correct. One wrong choice means that the accumulator bet is a loser.
  • Parlays: A parlay is a wager in which you choose two or more bets on a single ticket. All the wagers on your ticket must be correct to win. Parlays are popular wagers that are high-risk while offering the chance for higher returns.
  • If/Reverse: This type of bet is essentially a chain reaction. You place two or more bets together. If the first one is correct, then the second bet goes through as well. If the first bet is a loser, then the chain stops, and no additional bets are placed.
  • Pleasers: This is a wager on two or more games at the same time. You place a bet on odds that are more favorable toward the bookmaker but have a chance at greater returns if your bets are correct.
  • Futures/Outrights: A future or outright bet is a wager on an event that has yet to happen. For example, you can place a bet on the winner of the upcoming Masters Golf Tournament. Futures markets on popular sports such as the NFL can be quite active.
  • Point Spread: Point spread bets are most popular for sports such as the NFL or NBA. Oddsmakers will designate a margin of points that you must factor into the equation. To “coverthe spread, favorites need to win by more than the margin, while underdogs cover when they keep the margin less than that.
  • Handicap: A handicap bet is similar to point spread betting. An additional margin is added to the equation, such as two goals in a hockey or soccer game. As opposed to betting on huge favorites, you can place bets on them with a handicap in exchange for more favorable odds.
  • Live Betting: Live betting is one of the most popular innovations the industry has seen in recent years. These are wagers you can place after the action has gotten underway. Markets will vary, and the odds move fast, which helps to enhance the appeal. For online and mobile operators, live betting has evolved from a niche offering to a must-have feature.

For those new to sports betting, it can be helpful to start with the simpler bets, such as moneylines and totals, before branching out into other areas.

As you gain experience and confidence in each area, you can add more options to the arsenal. You’ll be able to try them all eventually and determine which ones work best for you and your strategy.

Things to keep in mind

Sports betting can be extremely entertaining, and there’s also the chance to make a profit while doing something you enjoy. That’s a win-win scenario, but it’s also essential to go into it with a clear head.

There’s always the possibility of hitting a big parlay you’re going to get rich with overnight. Sports betting is challenging and can be a grind, but that’s also part of the appeal.

Begin sports betting with realistic expectations and with a laser-like focus on being disciplined.

For those new to the game, you should consider the money you are wagering as part of your entertainment budget.

Only wager what you are comfortable betting and don’t exceed that amount. There will be plenty of time to increase your stakes as your skills improve, so there’s no need to rush it while you’re still learning.

Last but not least, remember that this is something you should find entertaining and enjoyable. If it stops feeling that way — or if you hit the inevitable losing streak — don’t be afraid to take a break.

Taking a step back and reflecting a bit will allow you to tweak your approach and strategy where needed. Taking a breather and gaining additional perspective can lead you to feel rejuvenated when you’re ready to play again.

How do sportsbooks make money?

Sportsbook operators are for-profit entities. As such, they’re not providing a betting marketplace out of the goodness of their hearts. The goal for them is the same as you: to make money.

Books that don’t accomplish that goal won’t be around too long. Oddsmakers who consistently take a beating will eventually be looking for a new line of work. That said, the overwhelming majority of established operators are really good at what they do.

They turn a profit as a result. So, how do they do that? Sportsbooks make money by the commissions they collect for taking action on bets. This is often referred to as the vig or juice.

Let’s consider an example using a standard set of point spread odds of -110.

  • You place a $100 bet at odds of -110.
  • If your bet is correct, you’ll get back $190.90, which is your $100% stake, plus a profit of $90.90.

So why didn’t you double your money? That’s because the bookmaker has essentially kept a percentage of the return for themselves. In addition, consider that the operator is also taking bets on both sides of the equation.

In a perfect world, they’ll receive even action on both sides. Half of the bets will win, while the other half will lose. The net of what they collect, minus what they pay out, represents profit.

Of course, not all bets will attract even action, which is why you’ll see odds move after they are released. If the bookmaker’s liability on one side of an outcome becomes too great, they’ll make the odds a bit more favorable on the other side to attract more action.

Mistakes you should avoid

Whenever you are starting with something new, it’s essential to understand that there will be a learning curve.

Mistakes will happen along the way, but you can learn from each of them and improve your overall knowledge base.

When it comes to sports betting, you’re going to make mistakes. You’ll miss something that seems obvious in your handicapping in advance of the game. Or you’ll place a bet on odds that suddenly become a lot more favorable on the side you are leaning.

It’s all going to happen, and there’s no way to prevent every mistake. However, you can avoid many major pitfalls that could make your sports betting career short-lived.

  • Don’t Chase Your Losses: You’re going to lose some bets. Any sports bettor who tells you they win all the time is simply not being truthful. When losses happen, analyze why, suck it up and move on. Do not attempt to “get even” by doubling down because you’re “due for a win.” That can be a quick recipe for disaster.
  • Don’t Bet Over Your Head: It’s essential to have a crystal clear budget in mind for your sports betting bankroll. Only deposit what you can afford to lose, and resist the urge to go overboard when things aren’t going your way. If your weekly budget is gone, take that as an opportunity to take a break and get back to it with a clear head.
  • Don’t Be Unrealistic or Overestimate Your Skills: By nature, many sports fans are passionate. Some folks can take that to the extreme and feel as if they are always right and are destined to make tons of money betting. Don’t be that guy or gal. Know that you’ll have work to do regardless of your sports knowledge level, and also keep your profit goals reasonable.

Sports betting can be a great source of entertainment and a potentially profitable venture. However, the chances of both happening increase when you avoid the above pitfalls.

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