Introduction to sports betting

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This guide provides novice bettors with a proper introduction to sportsbetting. Covered topics include selecting a betting site, navigating the sportsbook interface, understanding betting markets, and the fundamentals of proper betting strategy. The goal of this article is to establish a strong foundation of betting knowledge to avoid the development of bad habits early on.

Sportsbetting Introduction

Sportsbettors attempt to predict the outcome of matches and wager accordingly. Bets are placed at sportsbooks which can be found in-person at casinos or online at betting sites. Later on we will discuss what you need to know about picking your first betting site. Sportsbooks take wagers on most sports however the ones that attract the largest amount of action are football, basketball, soccer, hockey, tennis, boxing, and MMA.

Odds Formats

Betting odds reveal how much money one would make relative to their initial risk if the bet were to win. The more likely an event is to occur the lower the odds will be. Winning such a bet would result in a smaller profit. These bets are referred to as having short odds. Consequently, the more unlikely an event is to occur the higher the odds will be. These wagers are said to have long odds, and would return a larger profit should they win.

It's important to note the difference between the terms betting lines and betting odds. Although sometimes used interchangeably, a betting line refers to the conditions that must be met for a wager to be graded as a win, while betting odds allows you to calculate the payout you will receive relative to the initial risk.

Odds are displayed in a variety of different formats. The frequency of use of each format varies throughout the world. Most modern sportsbooks allow you to select your preferred format. It may benefit you to learn different formats if you desire to communicate with other sportsbettors across the world. The three most common formats you will encounter are American odds, decimal odds, and fractional odds.

American odds

The American odds format is most frequently used in the United States. Positive and negative numbers indicate the profit a bet would yield relative to the initial risk. Negative odds display how much theoretical risk is required to net $100 profit. The more negative the odds the more likely an event is to occur. The LSU Tigers have -485 odds to win the game straight-up. A $485 risk would yield $100 in profit for a total return of $585.

Team Spread Total Moneyline
LSU.png LSU Tigers -13.5 (-110) Over 75.5 (-110) -485
Sooners.png Oklahoma Sooners +13.5 (-110) Under 75.5 (-110) +385

Positive odds display the profit yielded by a theoretical $100 risk. The larger the positive number the less likely an event is to occur. The Oklahoma Sooners have +385 odds to win the game. Risking $100 would net $385 in profit for a return of $485. It's important not to confuse the positive and negative numbers of American odds with those of the spread.

The following table depicting the change-over between positive and negative American odds:

American Odds Risk Profit Return
-500 $500 $100 $600
-250 $250 $100 $350
-125 $125 $100 $225
-110 $110 $100 $210
-105 $105 $100 $205
-101 $101 $100 $201
+100 $100 $100 $200
+101 $100 $101 $201
+105 $100 $105 $205
+110 $100 $110 $210
+125 $100 $125 $225
+250 $100 $250 $350
+500 $100 $500 $600

Decimal odds

The decimal odds format is used in Europe, Canada, and Australia. Betting odds are displayed as decimal numbers. Multiplying the initial risk by the decimal odds reveals the total return (which includes both risk and profit). The smaller the decimal odds the more likely an event is to occur. The Montreal Canadiens have 1.66 odds to win the match. Risking $300 on the Canadiens would yield a $498 return. Deducting the initial risk of $300 reveals that this bet would provide $198 in profit.

Team Puck Line Total Moneyline
Canadiens.png Montreal Canadiens -1.5 (2.70) Over 6.5 (1.91) 1.66
MapleLeafs.png Toronto Maple Leafs +1.5 (1.50) Under 6.5 (1.91) 2.30

Consequently the less likely an event is to occur the larger the decimal odds. Betting on the Toronto Maple Leafs at 2.30 odds would turn the same $300 risk into a $690 return for a profit of $390. The following table features some sample decimal odds and the calculations required to determine return and profit for a fixed $100 risk:

Decimal Odds Risk Return Calculation Profit Calculation
1.20 $100 $100 x 1.20 = $120 $120 - $100 = $20
1.50 $100 $100 x 1.50 = $150 $150 - $100 = $50
1.91 $100 $100 x 1.91 = $191 $191 - $100 = $91
2.00 $100 $100 x 2.00 = $200 $200 - $100 = $100
2.10 $100 $100 x 2.10 = $210 $210 - $100 = $110
2.50 $100 $100 x 2.50 = $250 $250 - $100 = $150
3.00 $100 $100 x 3.00 = $300 $300 - $100 = $200
5.00 $100 $100 x 5.00 = $500 $500 - $100 = $400

Fractional odds

Fractional odds are less frequently used than American and Decimal. They are almost exclusively used when describing unlikely events which have long odds. Betting odds are displayed in the form of a reduced fraction. The profit of a bet is calculated by multiplying the initial risk by the fractional odds. This varies slightly from Decimal odds which displayed the total return instead. The smaller the fraction the more likely an event is to occur. The Los Angeles Lakers have 1/9 fractional odds to win the game. Multiplying a $300 risk by the 1/9 odds would reveal $100 profit.

Team Spread Total Moneyline
Lakers.png Los Angeles Lakers -11.5 (10/11) Over 217.5 (10/11) 1/9
Grizzlies.png Memphis Grizzlies +11.5 (10/11) Under 217.5 (10/11) 6/1

The larger the fraction the less likely an event is to occur resulting in a larger payout. The Memphis Grizzlies have 6/1 odds to win which means the same $300 risk now carries a potential $1,800 profit should they pull off the upset. Below are some sample calculations for various fractional odds based on a fixed $100 risk:

Fractional Odds Risk Profit Calculation Return Calculation
1/4 $100 $100 x 1/4 = $25 $25 + $100 = $125
1/2 $100 $100 x 1/2 = $50 $50 + $100 = $150
10/11 $100 $100 x 10/11 = $91 $91 + $100 = $191
1/1 $100 $100 x 1/1 = $100 $$100 + $100 = $200
2/1 $100 $100 x 2/1 = $200 $200 + $100 = $300
5/1 $100 $100 x 5/1 = $500 $500 + $100 = $600
10/1 $100 $100 x 10/1 = $1,000 $1,000 + $100 = $1,110
25/1 $100 $100 x 25/1 = $2,500 $2,500 + $100 = $2,600

As previously mentioned fractional odds are mainly used to describe unlikely events such as which team will win their league championship. Stating that a team has 20/1 odds to win the title is easier to communicate compared to +2000 (American) or 21.00 (Decimal). Below are some sample NBA championship odds for some of the leagues' top teams:

Team Championship Odds Risk Profit
Los Angeles Clippers 7/2 $100 $350
Los Angeles Lakers 7/2 $100 $350
Milwaukee Bucks 5/1 $100 $500
Philadelphia 76ers 15/2 $100 $750
Houston Rockets 8/1 $100 $800
Denver Nuggets 14/1 $100 $1,400
Utah Jazz 19/1 $100 $1,900
Toronto Raptors 21/1 $100 $2,100

Betting Markets

Betting markets are the different types of bets you can place on a game. The larger the sporting event the more betting markets are typically offered. The most frequent bets placed are moneylines, spreads, and totals. Betting markets may have different names depending on which part of the world you live in.

Moneyline

A moneyline is a bet on which team will win a given match outright. This term is most commonly used in North America, and is often given the abbreviation ML. Moneyline wagers are simple; if the team you bet on wins, your bet also wins.

Moneyline betting markets are normally written with just the betting odds (which determine the payout you will receive relative to your initial risk). In the example below the New England Patriots' moneyline is -180. This is American odds, and means a $180 bet will yield $100 profit for a total return of $280 if the Patriots were to win the game straight-up.

Team Spread Total Moneyline
Patriots.png New England Patriots -3.5 (-110) Over 44.5 (-110) -180
Ravens.png Baltimore Ravens +3.5 (-110) Under 44.5 (-110) +160

The moneyline market in Europe is often referred to as 12 (pronounced one-two). This indicates that there is two possible outcomes for the bet; 1 implies the home team winning, and 2 the away team. These markets include overtime. In the event that the match ends in a draw, bets will be refunded.

It is important not to confuse the two-way moneyline described above with the entirely different three-way moneyline. The latter does not

Market Abbreviation Definition
Moneyline ML or 12 A bet on which team will win a match straight-up.
Total O/U A bet on if the combined total points or goals scored by both competing teams will be over or under a fixed number.

Selecting a betting site

When you are ready to pick a betting site first consider which ones are available in your country or state. Most sportsbooks restrict access to residents in certain parts of the world. Betting Wiki lists the available countries on each sportsbook's respective page. Once you have comprised a list of possible sites

Here is a concise list of steps to take when choosing your first betting site:

  1. Create a list of every betting site available in your country or state.
  2. Research each site's reputation to ensure they are legitimate.
  3. Check which sportsbooks offer your preferred deposit and withdrawal methods.
  4. Determine if the betting site offers sharp or square lines.

Availability

Many online sportsbooks only accept customers from certain countries (or states). The first step to choosing a betting site is to draft a list of eligible options available in your region.

Betting Wiki includes a table of available countries on each sportsbook's respective wiki page:

Example Sportsbook Availability by Country
Albania.svg Albania Australia.svg Australia Austria.svg Austria
Belarus.svg Belarus Belgium.svg Belgium Bosnia.svg Bosnia
Bulgaria.svg Bulgaria Canada.svg Canada China.svg China
Croatia.svg Croatia CzechRepublic.svg Czechia Denmark.svg Denmark
Estonia.svg Estonia Finland.svg Finland France.svg France
Germany.svg Germany Greece.svg Greece Hungary.svg Hungary
Iceland.svg Iceland Ireland.svg Ireland Italy.svg Italy
Japan.svg Japan Latvia.svg Latvia Lithuania.svg Lithuania
Macedonia.svg Macedonia Mexico.svg Mexico Moldova.svg Moldova
Montenegro.svg Montenegro Netherlands.svg Netherlands NewZealand.svg New Zealand
Norway.svg Norway Poland.svg Poland Portugal.svg Portugal
Romania.svg Romania Russia.svg Russia Serbia.svg Serbia
Singapore.svg Singapore Slovakia.svg Slovakia Slovenia.svg Slovenia
Spain.svg Spain Sweden.svg Sweden Switzerland.svg Switzerland
Ukraine.svg Ukraine UnitedKingdom.svg United Kingdom USA.svg United States

Reputation

Only use betting sites that have a clean reputation. Researching the history of a sportsbook will reveal any past incidents that have occurred. Betting Wiki aims to list any concerning events in the history section of a sportsbook's respective wiki page.

Deposits

Each betting site offers customers different ways of funding their accounts. Most sportsbooks accept credit card deposits, while others offer convenient alternatives such as direct bank transfers and cryptocurrency. Before deciding on a betting site ensure that your desired deposit method is offered. Bettors should also make themselves aware of any limits or additional processing fees associated with that payment option.

Betting Wiki maintains an updated table on each sportsbook's wiki page displaying offered deposit methods, minimum and maximum limits, as well as processing fees.

Example Sportsbook Deposit Methods (USD)
Method Min Max Fee
VISA.svg VISA $45 $2,500 None
MasterCard.svg MasterCard $45 $2,500 None
MoneyGram.png MoneyGram $100 $500 None
ECheck.png eCheck $100 $5,000 None
ETransfer.png e-Transfer $250 $1,000 None
Bitcoin.png Bitcoin $45 No limit None
BitcoinCash.png Bitcoin Cash $45 No limit None
Litecoin.png Litecoin $45 No limit None

Withdrawals

Before proceeding to make a deposit it is crucial that bettors are aware of a sportsbook's withdrawal policies. Verify that your preferred payout method is offered. Similar to the previous section it is also important to note the fees, processing time, and limits associated with each withdrawal option.

Detailed information on a sportsbook's withdrawal options will be made available on their wiki page:

Example Sportsbook Withdrawal Methods (USD)
Method Min Max Fee Process Time
Bitcoin.png Bitcoin $25 $5,000 None 2 hours
BankWire.png Bank Wire $500 $5,000 None 1 week
ECheck.png eCheck $50 $3,000 None 1 week

Sharp or Square

The last criteria to evaluate is whether a betting site offers square or sharp odds. It helps to first understand how oddsmakers set betting lines. Although simplified, a sportsbook desires to have an equal amount of money staked on both sides of a given market. This guarantees profit as a result of the bookmaker's commission (known as vig).

Let's look at an example match to illustrate this concept. A moneyline bet is a wager on which team will win the match. The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots both have the same odds of winning at -110. For those not familiar with American odds, this means a $110 risk would yield $100 profit for a total return of $210 if that team were to win.

Team Spread Total Moneyline
Patriots.png New England Patriots PK (-110) Over 49.5 (-110) -110
Ravens.png Baltimore Ravens PK (-110) Under 49.5 (-110) -110

Imagine that a betting site's customers wagered a combined $22,000 on this game's moneyline market. The ideal scenario for a bookmaker would be to have a total of $11,000 bet on the Patriots and $11,000 on the Ravens. In this scenario regardless of which team wins they will pay $10,000 to the winners and collect $11,000 from the losers for a net return of $1,000.

With this in mind one can see how oddsmakers must anticipate how their customers will perceive the lines they set. It is often not optimal for a sportsbook to set a line based strictly on the expected outcome determined by statistics. Bettors often believe certain teams are stronger or weaker than they actually are. In the previous example match assume that the math indicated that on average the Ravens would beat the Patriots by 3.5 points. At the time of writing this guide the Patriots are a team many people frequently bet on. Releasing a spread of 3.5 based strictly on the expected outcome would likely result in a distinct imbalance in money staked. Instead the spread is adjusted to 0.0 (PK) and both teams are given equal betting odds on the moneyline in order to attract net action to the other side.

While this has been simplified it provides enough foundation to define the concepts of square and sharp. These terms can be used to describe individual lines or entire betting sites. It's important to note that different sportsbooks offer different lines for the same match, adjusted for their respective customer base.

A square line is one that has a large deviation from the expected outcome. Oddsmakers adjust the line to make the side they expect a majority of their customers' action to be placed on less favourable. This is done to attract more bets to the other side in an attempt to achieve a balance of action.

Consequently, a sharp line is one that has a smaller deviation from the expected outcome. Betting lines are close to what statistics would indicate is the average outcome of the game (if it were to be played many times over a large sample size).

It is common for betting sites to exclusively deal sharp or square lines. This is dependent on their respective customer bases' betting habits. Square sportsbooks cater to recreational and novice gamblers. Inexperienced sportsbettors are generally more inclined to bet on the square side of a given market. To take advantage of this oddsmakers shift the line to make it less favorable to bet on. This works to attract more bets to the other side in order to achieve a balance. And if it were to fail, and a majority of bets are still placed on the square side of the game, those bettors would be at an increased disadvantage for having a worse line relative to those available at competing sportsbooks. Those paying close attention might ask themselves why experienced bettors with large bankrolls don't take advantage of square adjustments by betting on the other side. These square sportsbooks generally prevent knowledgable bettors from doing this by restricting access, offering low betting limits, and issuing dual lines.

Sharp betting sites generally have a more diverse customer base. Novice, intermediate, and experienced sportsbettors allow the site to issue lines that are closer to the expected outcome. Even if a large portion of novice and intermediate bettors take the square side, experienced bettors would balance it out by placing larger wagers on the other side.

Sportsbook Interface

Betting Habits

Glossary

Below is a list of common sportsbetting terms and their corresponding definitions. For a more detailed explanation as well as examples visit each term's respective wiki page. Glossary of Sportsbetting Terms