Sports betting is one of the fastest growing trends in the United States and it will only gain in popularity as more states legalize sports wagers after Supreme Court lifted a decades-long ban on sports gambling outside of Nevada. But terms like “cover the spread” and “ATS record” can be confusing if you are just getting into sports gaming and can make the whole thing seem overwhelming. It’s not.
Sports betting has a few very basic tenets and once you get the hang of those the rest will naturally fall into place. Here is a quick primer on how sports odds work, the types of bets you can place, and how to choose your picks wisely.
How Do Betting Odds Work?
Most sports odds you will deal with concern two things: the favorite, marked with a minus sign, and the underdog, marked with a plus sign.
The most universal bet type is the moneyline, which shows the ratio between your bet and the payout. If the Cowboys are a -110 favorite, you would need to bet $110 to win $100. If the Lakers are a +120 underdog, your $100 bet would win $120 if the Lakers win, because they are less likely to get a victory.
One way sportsbooks incentivize betting on games where there may be a heavy favorite is the point spread. Most common to football and basketball, the point spread in the margin the favorite must win by in order for your bet to win. So if the Patriots are a -3 favorite, they would need to win by at least 4 points for your bet to win. If the Knicks are a +5 underdog, they can lose by up to 4 points and your bet will still win. Hockey and baseball use “puck lines” and “run lines,” which essentially set the spread for each game at 1.5.
Betting Lines and Types
Every game will be listed with a spread or moneyline and an over/under. The over/under allows you to bet on whether the final combined score in any given game will be higher or lower than the projected point total set by each sportsbook.
Beyond betting on the game winner and score, many sportsbooks will allow you to place prop bets or in-game bets, letting you wager on any single event like which player will score the most points or whether Tom Brady will throw over or under 3 touchdowns. Some sportsbooks will offer live betting which allows you to bet on individual possessions in realtime.
Futures betting is similar to in-game bets but allow you to wager on any season-long event, like which player will win the MVP or whether the Rams will win over or under 11 games.
What is the Best System for Making Betting Picks?
There is no one set system that will guarantee you will be a winner but a good strategy is to not rush in and slowly build up betting prowess as you learn. It’s also best to start with one sport, and then apply what you’ve learned to others later.
A good way to start is moneyline betting, since you just have to pick a winner. Once you are comfortable picking a winner, you can start dabbling in the point spread, which requires you to guess the margin of victory and which teams are most likely to overperform or underachieve.
As you continue to improve, start paying closer attention to personnel moves. Is a certain player injured? How will a new addition affect the starting lineup? How does rain affect kickers in open air stadiums? These are all key to understanding who is likely to cover the spread and who is not.
One popular strategy is to fade the public, which means betting against the majority of bettors. This may sounds counter intuitive but it relies on the sportsbook’s inherent edge. Sportsbook algorithms use heavy betting action against the public by adjusting the odds accordingly, making it less likely that the popular favorite will be able to cover or a popular underdog will win against the spread.