Moneyline Betting Guide

Updated on February 20, 2020

The sports betting menu is crowded with choices. Some of the wagering opportunities you’ll come across are a bit on the advanced side, but there are also ones which are straightforward and easy to wrap your head around.

Moneyline bets fall into the latter category. For these wagers, you’re simply choosing the winner of the game. That’s it. There’s no point spread to worry about or anything like that. If the side you pick wins the game, you’re golden.

While the concept itself is simple, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the moneyline. There are times when the bets make sense, situations where you should pass, and other scenarios in which you may want to do a little shopping.

We’re going to take a detailed look at everything you need to know right here. For starters, here are the best spots to place your bets online legally and safely.

How Does the Moneyline Work?

After a quick glance at the moneyline odds, you will immediately know which side is the favorite or the underdog in a game. Oddsmakers will attach odds to both sides of the equation.

The favorite will be designated with negative odds, while the underdog will have positive odds attached. Here’s what they’ll look like at an online sportsbook using a random NFL game as an example.

  • Los Angeles Rams +110
  • San Francisco 49ers -130

In this fictitious game, the 49ers are favored, and bets on that side will pay out at odds of -130 if correct. For the underdog Rams, successful bets on that side pay out at odds of +110.

So how do the odds impact what the actual return will be. Here’s the math on both sides for a $100 wager.

  • $100 bet at odds of +110 = potential total return of $210 (the original $100 bet plus a profit of $110).
  • $100 bet at odds of -130 = potential total return of $176.90 (the original $100 stake plus a profit of $76.90).

As you can see, a successful bet at positive odds offers the chance for greater returns than successful bets at negative odds.

However, that doesn’t mean you should randomly place your wagers on underdogs and hope for the best. Normal handicapping rules apply with moneyline betting, and the goal is to place your bets on the side you feel gives you the greatest chance of being right.

What is a Moneyline Bet?

A moneyline wager is a straight bet on the winner of a game. There are no point spreads attached or any other factors to consider. The sole concern is which side will win the contest.

After taking a look at the moneyline odds for a game you’re interested in betting on, you’ll know which side is expected to win. The favorite will have negative odds attached, while the underdog has positive odds.

Once you know that, the task at hand is to handicap the game and figure out which side you like. We’ll cover some tips on handicapping in a bit. For now, just know that it’s not as complex as it may sound.

Returns are going to vary based on which side you bet on. In a nutshell, you’ll see larger returns for correct bets on underdogs, but you shouldn’t let that be the determining factor on your choices.

There will be times when you find that the underdog makes the most sense, but there will also be plenty of times when you come up with the favorite as the answer to the question.

It can be helpful to be selective with which wagers you place on the moneyline. We’ll be covering that in more detail as we move along.

Betting on Favorites vs. Underdogs

When looking at moneyline odds, the favorite and the underdog will be readily apparent.

  • Chicago Bulls +120
  • Houston Rockets -140

In this fictitious NBA matchup, the Rockets are a decent-sized favorite. You’ll see less of a return for betting on that side as a result, while successful wagers on the underdog Bulls would see a bigger return.

Once again, it’s important not to let the potential return be your guide. Making the correct call is the bottom line, so your choices should revolve around which side you think has the greater chance to win.

To that end, it can be helpful to break down the game first prior to worrying about what the potential return will be. After you do this enough times, you’ll be able to figure out the range of returns quickly anyway, and that can help you be more selective with your choices.

For example, you may find that huge favorites are relatively safe wagers, but that the returns aren’t what you have in mind on a long-term basis. As such, you make a concerted effort to look for other opportunities first, such as favorites at odds of -180 or less.

After breaking down enough games on the other side, you’ll begin to understand that huge underdogs are that way for a reason. Sure, they’ll come in here and there, but solely focusing on big underdogs and hoping for a big score is not a recipe for a healthy bankroll.

Balance is a big key with moneyline betting, and the ultimate return on investment is the bottom line to focus on.

Examples of Moneyline Betting

Moneyline odds are offered for all of the major North American sports. The odds are presented in the same way for each, so you’ll be able to interpret them quickly.

For example, here’s a moneyline for an MLB game with a huge favorite.

  • San Francisco Giants +180
  • Los Angeles Dodgers -220

At first glance, you can quickly tell that the Dodgers have a big advantage for this contest, such as a stronger overall team or a substantial edge in pitching.

Now, let’s take a look at an NHL contest which has much tighter odds.

  • Boston Bruins +100
  • Montreal Canadiens -120

After looking at this game, we can reasonably assume that these two squads are relatively even. The Canadiens are favored, but the gap in odds is far from substantial.

For basketball and football, point spread bets receive a ton of attention, but there’s also moneyline betting for these two sports. A common misconception is that there’s not enough value to be found on the moneyline in comparison to the spread.

If you solely focus on big favorites, that’s true. However, there are plenty of games in which the moneyline odds are tight. When you look at the point spread for these contests, you can quickly see which ones may have favorable moneyline odds.

As an example, a point spread of 2.5 points or less is a good indicator of a tight game. That being the case, the moneyline odds will have decent value on both sides that’s worth exploring.

Moneyline Betting on Close Games

Speaking of close games, you’ll come across many of these on the odds board regardless of which sport you’re focused on. When evenly-matched teams square off, it can be close to a toss-up in terms of which side will win.

Oddsmakers recognize this, and they will price the games accordingly. For example, in a really tight NFL game, you could see moneyline odds like this.

  • Minnesota Vikings -105
  • New Orleans Saints -115

When the odds are in such a close range, the difference in return is pretty small. However, that doesn’t mean you should flip a coin and hope for the best.

You’ll still be handicapping the game in search of a winner. It doesn’t matter how even teams may seem at first glance or according to the odds. There are almost always points of difference to be found, and you can always pass on those that are legitimately too close to call.

Moneyline Bet Odds and Line Moves

When odds are released for a slate of games, these are known as the opening lines. After they’re out, the betting public has a chance to weigh in.

Depending on how the action comes in, this can lead to a shift in lines. For example, if lots of money comes in on the favorite, odds on that side will rise in a bid to even out the action.

For bookmakers, the goal is to not be too lopsided one way or the other. If they get a ton of bets on one side and few on the other, that opens up liability on their end. To limit situations such as this, they will adjust the odds where needed in a bid to attract action on the other side.

Lines can also move based on new information that emerges after the initial release. A lineup change, trade, or previously undisclosed injury are among the things which can have an impact.

A good rule of thumb is to examine any changes from the opening line to the time you are ready to place your bets. This can point you to what the overall market sentiment is on the game, and also potentially alert you that there’s some news out there that you may have missed.

Moneyline shopping – What is it, how do you do it?

All odds are not created equal. While major sportsbook operators are typically in range, you can find some ticks of difference, especially on the moneyline.

In general, the differences won’t be eye-popping. Bookmakers that are far off the beaten path will stick out like a sore thumb. As a result, bettors will quickly jump on that line and bring it back more to the level of the general consensus.

To find these points of difference, you’ll need to engage in what’s known as line shopping. This refers to checking the odds and lines at different sportsbooks in a quest to find the best price.

If you were going to buy something online and found differing prices in a few different spots, you would naturally gravitate towards the better deal. It’s the same thing with sports betting.

For example, if one book is offering odds of -140 on a favorite, but another book is at -130, the better deal is at the latter. You’ll get a better return there for placing your wager on that particular game.

How to Handicap Moneyline Bets

Handicapping games can sound formidable when you’re unfamiliar with the concept. However, it can actually be a simple process if you allow it to be.

It can be quite easy to get lost in research, and that can make it just as simple to get overwhelmed with information. Especially when starting out, keep it simple and focus on the things that really matter.

Here’s a simple five-point plan that you can use as a starting point.

  • The odds and lines for the game. What is this telling you?
  • Overall strength of the two teams. Is there a marked difference between the squads?
  • Home/road splits. How do the two teams perform in the role they have for this game?
  • Key Stats. Points for and against, and other sport-specific stats that really make a difference in the outcome.
  • Recent Play. Is one team playing much better than the other recently?

The process gets quicker the more times you go through it. Once you have a handle on it, you can begin to tweak and personalize it to your specifications, such as by adding more stats into the equation that you feel really impact the outcome.

The Bottom Line on Moneyline Betting

Moneyline bets are straight forward wagers in which you are simply deciding which side you think will win. For each game on the docket, oddsmakers will designate a favorite and underdog.

Which side is which will be reflected in the odds. Favorites will have negative odds, while the underdog will have positive odds. The odds tell us the likelihood of something happening, as well as what the potential return will be for our wagers.

Moneyline odds are found for all of the major sports. The odds can shift based on market action, as well as news which may develop after the initial release.

There are a number of different systems for handicapping moneyline odds. We’ve included a simple one here in this article which you can use as a starting point. As you advance with sports betting, you’ll be able to implement your own system and tweak as needed.

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