Sports Betting 101 – How to Bet on Sports

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How to Bet on Sports

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Sports betting is an exciting new industry in the United States. With recent changes to the law, thousands of players across the country are getting in on the action. However, all of the jargon and terminology can make it intimidating for new players to figure out how to bet on sports.

Let’s take a closer look at the world of legal online sports betting. In this article, we’ll show you how to read betting odds, what the most popular types of markets are, and we’ll also give you betting tips for getting the best chances to win big.

This information was last updated November 15, 2023.



Just looking at the odds or an offer from an online betting service can seem intimidating. What do all those numbers mean anyway?

The first thing to know when learning how to bet is how these odds are determined. Top online sportsbooks research games thoroughly to determine the most and least likely outcome. The most likely winner is called the ‘favorite’, while the least likely winner is the ‘underdog’.

You can tell which team or player is the favorite by checking the numbers that appear in live betting odds. The favorite will have negative odds, like -140, for example. The underdog, meanwhile, will show a positive number, like +120.

These numbers tell you whether the odds will pay out more or less money than what you wagered. Betting odds on an underdog tell you how much you would win for every $100 bet. For our example of +120 odds, a $100 winning bet would net you a $120 profit for $220 total. This $220 total is made up of your initial $100 wager and the $120 from your winning bet.

Betting odds for a favorite, on the other hand, tell you how much you would need to bet to win a $100 profit. Looking back to our example, on -140 betting odds, you would need to place a wager of $140 to get $100 on a winning bet, for a total return of $240.

Deciding between betting on underdogs or favorites is a fundamental principle of how to bet wisely. Underdogs give you a better chance at a higher payout but are seen as far less likely to win. Favorites are safer bets to win but generally don’t pay out as generously. Make your betting picks with these probabilities in mind.

Understanding these betting odds is the first step towards learning sports betting. Now, let’s take a look at the different kinds of wagers you can place.



These are some of the most straightforward wagers you can play in online betting. With a moneyline, you are simply gambling on which team will win the game. The exact scoreline doesn’t matter here and, as long as your pick wins their game, you’ll receive your payout.

Top online sportsbooks offer moneylines on many sports. They are most popular for betting on low-scoring sports such as hockey, baseball, or soccer.


While moneylines let you bet on the winner of an event, it is also possible to bet on the total number of points that will be scored. For each game, online betting services will set a total number of points they expect to be scored. This total is known as the over/under.

You can then bet on whether the total score of the game will be higher or lower than the over/under. For example, the over/under on a game between the Colts and the Chiefs might be 45. If you place a bet on the under, and the game ends up 21-14, you’ll win the bet as only 35 points were scored. Predicting how high scoring a game will be is a key skill in betting.


Once you get the basics down, you might look at these more intricate wagers. Parlays involve making betting picks for multiple events. You choose a team in every matchup, trying to pick the winner of each game correctly.

If even one of your betting picks doesn’t win their game, you lose your parlay bet. That makes these bets more difficult to win, but they also offer better payouts than a standard moneyline. A parlay bet is particularly good when betting on multiple favorites to win, as the odds for all of the teams to win will offer more value than if you were to just bet on a single favorite in the moneyline market.


Spreads or point spreads allow the bettor to use their knowledge to their advantage. If you're confident about a team, and you think that they're an underdog just waiting to swing out and blow the other team out of the water, then you might find value in point spread betting, which lets you bet on a team's performance whether they win or lose.

For example, let's say the Colts v. Chiefs game sets the Chiefs at a -3.5 and the Colts at +3.5. This means that, in order for a bet on the Colts to win, they've got to win or at least not lose by more than 3 points. Similarly, a bet on the Chiefs at -3.5 means that they must win by at least 4 points or the bet won't cash you out.


As circumstances around a game are constantly changing, top online sportsbooks update their odds in real-time. Betting odds will change throughout the game depending on how the teams or players are performing.

Live betting offers a whole different strategy for sports betting. Rather than doing your research before the game and making your pick accordingly, you can wait until the event has begun to place your bet. That gives you the advantage of seeing the way the game is shaping up before you pick a winner.

For example, let’s say there’s a game between the Steelers and the Packers. The Packers are favorites going into the game, but the Steelers take a lead in the first quarter, and the odds shift in their favor. If they’re looking good, you might back them at this point to go on and win the game. Or, you can take the longer odds that are now offered for the Packers if you think the Steelers’ early lead is a fluke.

You might also wait until the Steelers have further extended their lead before placing your bet. However, the live betting odds will change as the outcome looks more certain, meaning you won’t get as much of a payout. Like so many things in sports betting, it comes down to finding a balance.

Packers vs Steelers
Image courtesy of Getty Images


As well as sports betting offers on particular games, there are also future odds. Future odds involve picking the future league champion, division winner, or the winner of a particular tournament.

Just like particular games with favorites and underdogs, you’ll see different future odds for different predicted winners. For instance, at the height of their dynasty, predicting the Patriots as Super Bowl winners was a pretty safe bet. Betting on the Browns winning the title is less likely but offers a better payout.


No one can predict any sporting event with 100% accuracy. Online betting wouldn’t exist if there was certainty in the result. However, there are ways to increase the accuracy of your picks. Here are some betting tips for you to keep in mind when deciding how to bet:

  • Read injury reports: Whether or not a key player is available for their team is hugely influential on a game’s outcome. Live betting is updated with team news in mind. However, if you can stay in the loop about injury news, you may be able to use information that hasn’t been factored into the odds quite yet.
  • Check past matchups: As we’ve already covered, underdog teams give you better payouts on a winning bet. Despite being weaker teams overall, some of these underdogs often perform better than expected against a particular team. Look into the history of any given matchup to see if an underdog victory might be more likely than usual.
  • Look at the weather report: It may seem like a simple thing, but since most games are played outdoors, the weather can influence a game’s result. Some teams may be known to perform better in inclement weather than others. Bad weather generally makes a game more chaotic, perhaps favoring the chance for an underdog win.
  • If you're not familiar with the term, check out the Draw No Bet Meaning to place a different type of bet!


Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to bet and understand odds, it’s time to decide where to play. You want the best value for the cash you spend on entertainment. So you need to find a provider who offers that value.

When you’re placing your wagers, it’s essential to shop around. There are a number of top online sportsbooks out there. You want to ensure you’re finding the best deal for the wager you’re looking to make.

For instance, let’s say you want to bet on the Yankees winning the world series. Future odds of -120 give you a much better payout than odds of -140 would. Make sure to check a few different sportsbooks to find the best offer before you place a wager.


Best Online Sportsbooks 2023:

Legal States
Bonus Code
Claim Offer

EXCLUSIVE OFFER: Get your First Deposit Matched up to $1,500!

T&C's Apply*, 21+


Get up to $1,000 Back in Bonus Bets if Your First Bet Doesn't Win!

T&C's Apply, 21+


Bet $5, Get $150 in Bonus Bets if You Win!

T&C's Apply, 21+

*In-person registration and betting only in MS. **The BetMGM app is available for mobile wagers in Washington DC, but only at Nationals Park


In addition to the table above, all the top online sportsbooks also offer mobile apps. These let you conveniently bet on the go from anywhere you have an internet connection. Now that you're a betting pro, download one and try it out today.

  • BetMGM: A longtime provider of in-person casinos, MGM has also moved into the world of legal online sports betting. This well-established company operates worldwide, so you’ll receive a service trusted by millions of players.
  • BetRivers: Just like BetMGM, this is another sportsbook coming from a well-established company in the casino world. They are known for their generous rewards program for loyal players.
  • PointsBet: Another contender in the sportsbook industry, Pointsbet emphasizes user-friendliness and speed. Their live betting services let you place bets and withdraw your winnings with ease.
  • FanDuel: FanDuel is one of the biggest companies for daily fantasy sports, and now they also offer live betting services. You’ll be able to get your fantasy sports and sports betting all in one place.


As you get more familiar with how to bet on sports, you’ll start to develop strategies to maximize your chances at winning wagers.

For example, let’s say that Patrick Mahomes had thrown at least three touchdowns in each of his last six games. You could place a side bet, also called a prop bet, on Mahomes throwing at least three touchdowns in the game and have a reasonably high chance of winning that bet. You might also see that he’s a player in great form and bet on the Chiefs winning the game as well.

You can also apply this pattern recognition to future odds. It’s hard to predict who will be champion, which is why these future odds payout so generously. However, if a team is at the height of a dynasty like the Golden State Warriors had been, betting on them bringing home the title stands a good chance to earn you some winnings.


Here’s a quick rundown of some of the common questions you might have about betting:


Legal online sports betting is available in the following states: Arizona, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Connecticut, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia.

Sports fans in other states will have to wait for laws to change to start playing. In the meantime, you can still brush up on betting tips on how to bet on sports. You’ll be ready when the industry opens up near you.


The states mentioned above all offer legal online sports betting. Providers of these services are taxed and regulated in the United States. More and more states are moving away from prohibition and towards regulation. The revenue brought in by legal online betting is hard to ignore.

The repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) in 2018 lifted the federal prohibition on sports gambling. The decision to legalize or prohibit sports gambling now lies with individual states.


There are no guarantees in any kind of gambling. There’s always a bit of luck involved, and you have to accept that you may lose on any wager. However, by following our tips on how to bet on sports, you can improve your chances by being smart with your wagers.

Like any other skill, learning how to bet on sports develops over time. You’ll get better at recognizing patterns, predicting over/under bets, and knowing when to bet on an underdog or play it safe with the favorite. All these factors go into making the best betting picks.


Now that we’ve gone over all the terminology and given you some betting tips, you have a better idea of how to bet on sports. The only thing left for you to do is to get started.

Don’t be too discouraged if you lose a wager or two. Luck is always a factor, and there are no guarantees in gambling. But as your skill at predicting games and player performances develop, you’ll learn how to bet on sports and win more frequently.

You can refer back to our guide any time you need pointers on how to bet on sports. The providers on our list of sports betting sites will also give you the best offers on the web. Check them out today. Good luck and happy playing.

Other great topics to read to learn more about sports betting:

Glossary | Odds | Football | Basketball | Baseball | Hockey | Golf | Auto Racing | Soccer | UFC | Horse Racing Betting | Best Sports Betting Tools | Best Sportsbooks