Betting 101

Sports betting can be both simple and complicated. The good news is that you don’t need much knowledge to get started, so it’s possible to have a lot of fun without having to first learn a great deal. It’s even possible to win some money as a beginner, especially for those people who bet mostly on sports they truly understand. However, it’s difficult to win money consistently as a casual gambler. This takes more effort, and considerably more expertise. Simply being knowledgeable about sports is not enough. It’s also necessary to learn and develop certain skills. This is something you must bear in mind if your longer term goal is to be a profitable bettor. In this Betting 101 section we provide tons of information and advice. It’s written primarily with the beginner in mind, but most of it will be useful to whether you are a complete novice or an experienced bettor. There are also several advanced betting guides further along near the end for those looking to take their gambling seriously. Betting Basics Most people with even the vaguest of interest in sports betting probably understand the fundamental aspect of what it’s all about. The idea is to predict the outcome of a sporting event and wager your money accordingly, based on what you think is likely to happen. You win money when your predictions are correct and you lose money when they are not. It is, in essence, as simple as that. However, it’s useful to understand a bit more about the mechanics of sports betting if you have any intention of getting involved. Whether you plan on betting simply for a bit of fun or taking it more seriously, you really should have a handle on how it all works.
Why do Bookmakers Exist? In the very early days of sports betting, the most common way for someone to wager on the outcome of an event was to bet with another person who had the opposite view. The two parties would then settle up between themselves according to the results. This worked fine in many ways, and individuals still make sports wagers with other individuals to this day. This method, however, was limited. Over time sports betting became more organized and it wasn’t long before the concept of bookmakers was introduced. The idea of the role was essentially that an individual, group or organization would accept wagers from anyone wanting to bet on a sporting event. The sports betting industry today is huge, and there are a significant amount of bookmaking operations around the world. These range from the individuals who take wagers from a select number of private clients right up to large organizations that service hundreds of thousands of customers on a global scale. Bookmakers are also often referred to as bookies, and the term sportsbook is also frequently used in the US and some other countries. How do Sportsbooks Take Bets? Bookies and sportsbooks operate in a number of different ways. In some countries there are bookmaking shops; retail premises where you can go and place your bets over the counter in cash. You get a betting slip with the details of your wager and, if it wins, you can go back in and claim your winnings. You will also find similar setups in many casinos. Many bookmakers and sportsbooks offer a telephone betting service. To use this, you just have to make a phone call and tell them what wagers you wish to place. Typically you have to pay for your stakes using a debit or credit card, with any winnings credited back to that card. Other payment methods are usually available too, and some operations offer credit accounts. These days the most popular way to bet on sports is without question over the internet. The introduction of online sports betting sites has made a huge impact on the industry, not least because it’s now much easier to place wagers on sporting events. Betting online is simple, convenient, and offers many advantages over the traditional methods. How do Sportsbooks Make Money? All bookmakers and sportsbooks, whether online or otherwise, obviously aim to make a profit out of the bets that they take. In theory this is quite simple – they just have to take more money in losing wagers than they pay out in winning wagers. Of course, as the outcomes of sporting events are outside of their control, it’s possible that that they could lose money if more people bet on the winning results than on the losing results. To reduce risk, sportsbooks run their books in a way that they are guaranteed (theoretically at least) to make a profit whatever the outcome of an individual event. They do this by setting the odds in such a way that they effectively take a commission on all the wagers placed, and creating a “balanced book” where they stand to pay out approximately the same amount regardless of actual results (more on this later). This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to make money out of sports betting. While the bookmakers do make profits from all their customers collectively, it’s possible for any individual to be a winner in the long run. Anyone that’s prepared to spend some time learning about sports betting and what it takes to be successful definitely has the opportunity to win money consistently.
Understanding Betting Odds Odds are a fundamental aspect of sports betting. You really need to understand them fully if you have aspirations of being a successful sports bettor. The basic principle is simple enough; combined with the size of your stake, odds are used to calculate how much money you get back from winning wagers. But there is more than meets the eye, especially depending on where you live. First, there are several different ways of expressing odds. Then there’s the fact that odds are also closely linked to the probability of a wager winning. They also dictate whether or not any particular wager represents good value or not, and value is something that you should always consider when deciding what bets to place. Odds play an intrinsic role in how bookmakers make money too. We cover everything you need to know about odds on this page. We strongly recommend that you take the time to read through all this information, especially if you are relatively new to sports betting.
The Basics of Odds As we’ve already stated, odds are used to determine the amounts paid out on winning bets. This is why they are often referred to as the “price” of a wager. A wager can have a price that is either betting favorite or an underdog. Favorite – The potential amount you can win will be less than the amount staked. Underdog – The potential amount you can win will be greater than the amount staked. You’ll still make a profit from winning a bet on a favorite, as your initial stake is returned too, but you have to risk an amount that’s higher than you stand to gain. Big favorites more likely to win than not, but the bigger the favorite, the bigger the risk. When wagers are more likely to lose than win, they will be an underdog. Odds can also be even money. Winning an even money bet will return exactly the amount staked in profit, plus the original stake. So you basically double your money. A simple rule to remember is that the higher the underdog odds, the less likely a wager is to win but the greater the rewards will be. Different Odds Formats There are three main formats used for expressing betting odds, as follows:
  • Moneyline
  • Fractional
  • Decimal
Moneyline Moneyline odds are used primarily in the United States. This format of odds is a little more complicated to understand, but you’ll find it simple enough once you do. Moneyline odds can be either positive (the relevant number will be preceded by a + sign) or negative (the relevant number will be preceded by a – sign). Positive moneyline odds show how much profit a winning bet of $100 would make. So if you saw odds of +150 you would know that a $100 wager could win you $150. You would also get your stake back, for a total return of $250. Negative moneyline odds show how much you need to bet to make a $100 profit. So if you saw odds of -120 you would know that a wager of $120 could win you $100. Again you would get your stake back, for a total return of $220. Note the equivalent of even money in this format is +100. When a wager is an underdog, positive numbers are used. When a wager is on a favorite, negative numbers are used. Fractional Fractional odds are most commonly used in the United Kingdom, where they are used by bookmaking shops and on course bookies at horse racing tracks. Here are some simple examples of fractional odds: 2/1 (which is said to as two to one) 10/1 (ten to one) 20/1 (twenty to one) And now some slightly more complicated examples. 7/4 (seven to four) 5/2 (five to two) 15/8 (fifteen to eight) These above examples are all underdogs. The following are some examples of favorites. 1/2 (two to one on) 10/11 (eleven to ten on) 4/6 (six to four on) Note that even money is technically expressed as 1/1, but is typically referred to simply as “evens” in the UK. Working out the returns using fractional odds can be a bit more difficult until you get used to them, but in essence the principle is straightforward enough. Each fraction shows how much profit you will make on a winning wager, so you also need to add in your stake to work out your total return. The following calculation is used, where “a” is the first number in the fraction and “b” is the second. Stake * (a/b) = Potential Profit Decimal This is the format most commonly used by non-US targeted betting sites. Decimal odds, which are usually displayed to two decimal places, basically show exactly how much a winning wager will return per unit staked. You simply multiple the amount you want to risk by the current odds to see what the potential return would be. A $100 bet at 1.5 odds would return $150. To figure out the potential profit, you simply subtract 1 from the odds when performing the calculation so looking at the previous example, ($100 * 0.5 = $50 profit). Odds, Probability & Implied Probability To make money out of sports betting, you really have to recognize the difference between odds and probability. Although the two are fundamentally linked, odds are not necessarily a direct reflection of the chances of something happening or not happening. Actual probability in sport is largely subjective. For any given event you are bound to see different opinions about how likely a particular outcome is. One person might think a football team has a 55% chance of winning an upcoming game, while someone else might think they have only a 45-50% chance. Successful sports betting is largely about making accurate assessments about the probability of an outcome, and then determining if the odds of that outcome make a wager worthwhile. To make that determination, we need to understand implied probability. What is Implied Probability? In the context of sports betting, implied probability is what the odds suggest the chances of any given outcome happening are. It can help us to calculate the bookmaker’s advantage in a betting market. More importantly, implied probability is something that can really help us determine whether or not a wager offers us value or not. In principle we should only ever place a wager when it has value, and value exists whenever the odds are theoretically higher than they should be. It is implied probability that can tell us when this is the case. For the purposes of explaining implied probability, let’s use a mixed martial arts fight as an example. Imagine there’s a bout between two equal fighters. A bookmaker gives both fighters the exact same chance of winning, and so prices the odds at +100 (in moneyline format) for each player. In practice a bookmaker would never set the odds at +100 on both players, for reasons we explain a little later. For the sake of this example we will assume that they have. What these odds are telling us is that the match is essentially the same as coin flip. There are two possible outcomes and each one is just as likely as the other. In theory, each fighter has a 50% chance of winning the match. This 50% is the implied probability. It’s easy to work out in such a simple example as this one but that’s not always the case. Luckily, there’s a formula for converting moneyline odds into implied probability.
  • Implied Probability for Underdogs: 100/(100+odds)
  • Implied Probability for Favorites: 100/(100+absolute value odds)
Absolute value is simply the odds without a negative sign in front of them, so -165 would be simply 165 in the above equation for Favorites. Back on subject, this will give you a number of between zero and one, which is how probability should be expressed. It’s easier to think of probability as a percentage though, and this can be calculated by multiplying the result of the above formula by 100. The odds in our cage fight example are +100 as we’ve already stated. So 100 / (100+100) is 0.50, which multiplied by 100 gives us 50%. If each player truly did have a 50% chance of winning this match, then there would be no point in placing a wager on either one. You havea 50% chance of doubling your money, and a 50% chance of losing your stake. Your expectation is therefore completely neutral. However, you might think that one fighter is more likely to win. Perhaps you have been following their careers closely, and you believe that one of the fighters actually has a 60% chance of beating his opponent. In this case, value would exist when betting on your preferred fighter. If your opinion is accurate, you have a 60% chance of doubling your money and only a 40% chance of losing your stake. Your expectation is therefore a positive one. We’ve really simplified things here, as the purpose of this page is just to explain all the ways in which odds are relevant when betting on sports. We’ve written another which explains implied probability and value in much more detail. For now, you should just understand that odds can tell us the implied probability of a particular outcome happening. If our view is that the actual probability is higher than the implied probability, then we’ve found some value. Finding value is a key skill in sports betting, and one that you should try to master if you want to be successful.
    Types of Bets The range of different bets that you can place on sports can seem a little confusing to new or inexperienced bettors, but it’s actually pretty easy to get your head around them all. Although it’s fair to say some wagers are a bit more complex than others, none of them are really that difficult to understand. With that being said, sticking to the simple bets is probably a good idea if you are new to sports betting – at least until you have a bit of confidence in what you are doing. However, if you want to have the best chance of making money out of sports betting then you really do want to learn about the other more advanced wagers too. Very often the real value is to be found in these so it’s well worth knowing how they work. On this page we have provided easy to understand explanations for all the main types of bets, and we suggest you take the time to read through them. You should be aware that some wagers are referred to differently in different parts of the world. In some cases the same terminology can have different meanings depending on where you live, and some bets don’t necessarily work exactly the same way across all sports. We’ve made things as clear as possible for you, but if you are ever unsure about a specific wager you should get a full explanation before staking any money. At most sports betting sites if you just get in touch with customer support they will help you out.
Win Bet or Moneyline Bet Gambling doesn’t come much more straightforward than the win bet. This is one of the most popular wagers that can be placed and is really easy to understand. It’s used in virtually every sport you can bet on and is quite simply a wager on who you think is going to win a match, game or other event. This type of wager is known as the moneyline bet in the United States, to differentiate it from the straight bet (which we explain later). The odds you get for such a wager will depend on the approximate chances of your selection winning. The more likely it is, the worse the odds will be. Examples:
  • Conor McGregor is fighting Frankie Edgar and you feel McGregor will win. You place a bet on McGregor to win.
  • The Cleveland Browns are about to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in football and you predict that Pittsburgh will win. You expect Pittsburgh to win the game so you would place a win bet on Pittsburgh. It’s also worth noting that in some sports, where a tie is possible, there is what’s known as a Win-Draw-Win market. You can put your money on either team to win, or you can also back the draw.
The Point Spread The point spread bet is most commonly placed on American football. It’s very similar to the win bet, in that you are still choosing which team you think will win, but there is a significant difference – a point spread is created to effectively make the two teams equal favorites. This means you either back the favorite to win by at least the size of the spread, or you back the underdog to win or lose by no more than the size of the spread. Example:
  • The Denver Broncos are about to play the Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos are favorites and the point spread is set at 8. If you placed a straight bet on the Broncos you would need them to win by more than 8 points to get a return. If you placed one on the Ravens, providing they either won, or at least lost by less than 8 points you would get a return. If the Broncos won by exactly 8 points, it would be a push and you would get your stake back but no profit. Typically, the odds for straight bets are the same regardless of which team you decide to back. They are generally a little bit shorter than even, something like -110 in moneyline format.
Totals Betting or Over/Under Betting These are really straightforward wagers that have become increasingly popular in recent years. At most sports betting sites you will find these available on a wide range of sports. The idea is the site will set an estimated total of runs, points, or goals expected to be scored in a match, and you have to decide whether you think the actual amount will be higher or lower. Examples:
  • The Cleveland Indians are playing the New York Yankees. The run total for the game is set at 7.5. You can bet the OVER, which means you believe more than 7.5 runs will be scored in the entire game by both teams combined, or the UNDER, which means you believe the total runs scored by both teams would be less than 7.5.
  • Ronda Rousey is fighting Miesha Tate. The Total for the fight is set at 1.5 rounds. You can bet OVER if you think the fight will last longer than one and a half rounds or you can bet the UNDER if you think the fight will be finished in less than 1.5 rounds.
Proposition Bets Wagers that fall into this category are generally considered a bit of fun, but there are a number of examples that are popular with serious bettors. Broadly speaking, they’re wagers on things that do not necessarily affect the final outcome of a sporting event – although there are some exceptions. Popular examples include betting on which team or player scores first in a match, or the time at which the first goal or point will be scored, or perhaps the method of victory in a cage fight. At many sports betting sites you will find whole sections dedicated specifically to these types of wagers. There are quite literally thousands of different specials or proposition bets (often known simply as props) available and they are well worth checking out. Futures Futures are terms generally used for wagers on the winner of a specific tournament, league or competition that are placed before the relevant events start. If you backed a team to win the Super Bowl before the start of the regular season, for example, this would be considered a futures bet. So would a wager on the winner of a golf tournament, placed before it started. Parlays These types of bets are hard to get right, but they can return very decent winnings when you do. Basically, they involve making more than one selection as part of a single wager. So if you wanted to try and predict the winners of five fights, for example, you would make all your picks as part of a parlay. If you got them all right, the odds of all your selections would be multiplied and you would win a nice chunk of money. The downside is that you would lose the wager if you got just one selection wrong.
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About the Author

Brian Hemminger

Brian Hemminger

Brian Hemminger has been involved in MMA since 2007, and is highly regarded for his well-researched and knowledgeable interviews. He has hosted The Verbal Submission MMA podcast for three years and was a staff writer at from 2011 to 2013 with an extensive background in live coverage, fight previews and post-fight analysis.