There’s a good chance you live in a state that already has legalized sports gambling, or will soon.
There are 20 states that have legalized sports gambling since the 2018 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that each state could decide whether to allow sports betting. Many more are expected to follow.
The world of sports betting has opened up to a whole new audience over the past couple years. For rookies, it can be intimidating to start.
Let’s start with the basics
Are you baffled when announcers at the end of a game make a sly joke about the over/under? Here’s what you need to know to get started ...
Point spread (or “side”): The most familiar bet in sports is betting on one team with the point spread. This is the most common bet in football or basketball. If you see that the Dallas Cowboys are -6.5 over the New York Giants, that means the Cowboys have to win by 7 or more to win your bet. If the Giants lose by 6 or fewer, or win outright, you win. If you bet on a team to win by 3 points and they win by 3, that’s a “push” and you get your bet back.
Over/under (or “total”): This is probably the second-most familiar bet, and it’s a common one for all team sports, or even for how many rounds a boxing or MMA fight will go. It’s pretty simple: You’re betting on the combined points, runs or goals from both teams. If you bet over 8.5 on the St. Louis Cardinals-Los Angeles Dodgers game and the final is 5-4 for 9 total runs, you win.
Moneyline, and what does +190 mean?: This is the most common bet for baseball, hockey and fighting. You’re betting one team to win. Easy, right? You’ll see it offered for sports that have a point spread, too. If you’d rather skip the point spread and take the underdog New York Giants on the moneyline at +190 over the Dallas Cowboys, you’d win $190 on a $100 bet if the Giants win straight up. Or you can take the Cowboys to win straight up at -170, betting $170 to win $100. Most point spread and over/under bets are -110 odds.
Run line/puck line: In baseball and hockey, a popular way to bet is to take the “run line” (called the “puck line” in hockey) that incorporates a point spread but improves the odds. Instead of taking the Yankees at -170 to win straight up, you can bet them at -1.5 runs instead at perhaps -110 odds. But then if the Yankees win 4-3, you lose your bet; they’d have to win by two runs or more. There’s always a catch.
But can I combine those bets to improve my odds?
Of course you can! You haven’t really lived until you’re sweating the final leg of a six-team parlay on a Sunday night.
Parlays: If you want to combine bets on Tyson Fury in his next fight with the Kansas City Chiefs covering a 7-point spread over the Denver Broncos and the St. Louis Blues beating the Chicago Blackhawks, you can do that. It’s called a parlay, and you can combine two teams (2.6-to-1 odds if you’re betting all -110 sides) or 15 teams (10,000-to-1 odds) or anything in between. Or you can bet more than 15 teams if you wish. But you have to win every single game to cash the bet. Las Vegas is paved with stories of winning seven of eight games on a parlay and not winning a cent from it.
Teasers: This is becoming an increasingly popular bet, especially in football. A teaser changes the point spread (usually by 6 points in football), but you have to win multiple games like a parlay. For example, if the Patriots are -9, the Steelers are +1 and the Packers are -7, you can put all three teams on a 6-point teaser and the spreads on each pick would improve to Patriots -3, Steelers +7 and Packers -1. What a deal! But you would get paid the same odds as a two-team parlay (2.6-to-1) and all three teams have to cover.
There are more complicated versions of these bets, like progressive parlays and reverse bets, but if you’re into those wagers you’re probably not reading a betting glossary. And it’s not like there aren’t many other options for the novice bettor.
You can bet on so much more
If you’ve ever walked into a sportsbook and seen a ton of betting sheets, or opened the BetMGM app and seen plenty of tabs for “futures,” “props” or some other unfamiliar terms, here’s what we’re talking about ...
Championship futures: This is a fun one that fans love to play and you hear a lot about. Even the most novice of bettors have probably wandered into a sportsbook and put $10 on their favorite team to win the title at 50-to-1. We can always dream. You can also bet on conference championship odds and even division championship odds.
Over/under win totals: This season-long bet is also pretty popular and applies to all sports. If you want to bet the Milwaukee Bucks to win over 57.5 games in the regular season, the sportsbooks have the lines for you. It’s a fun and simple way to follow a team all season.
First half/second half wagers: Yep, you can bet on just the first half. Or, watch the first half and bet on who will win the second half of a game or the over/under for just the second half. For basketball and football games, you can bet on spreads for specific quarters. The betting doesn’t just have to be for the full game.
Live betting: Also called “in-game wagering,” this method is popular in Europe for sports like tennis and soccer and is catching on in the United States due to the proliferation of apps like BetMGM. It’s a simple concept: Odds change on your phone screen in real time as the game unfolds, and you can bet during the game at the updated spreads and odds. For example, if the Houston Rockets are 6-point favorites before tipoff and fall behind 20-11 early in the first quarter, the live betting line could have the Rockets at +1. This option offers practically limitless possibilities to bet during a game.
Player props: Proposition bets are well known from Super Bowls. If you wanted to bet on Patrick Mahomes scoring the first touchdown of Super Bowl LIV at 22-to-1 odds, you could have done so (and been happy with the result). There are props for players over a certain amount of passing, rushing or receiving yards. It has spread from the Super Bowl too and can be found for plenty of prime-time games. There are also more creative player props. For example, when Tom Brady was set to become a free agent, BetMGM offered odds on which team he’d sign with.
OK, now for the lingo
Every industry has its own language, and the same holds true for sports gambling. Hang around a sportsbook for the first time, and you’ll hear a lot of terms you’ve never heard before. And you’ll also see some things thrown in anger as that sophomore at North Carolina misses two free throws to blow the cover.
Juice: Also known as vigorish, it’s how much extra the bettor is paying to place a bet. That is how sportsbooks make their money. When both sides of a game on the point spread are -110, the $10 on that $110 bet to win $100 is the juice. When the sportsbooks increase those odds to -120 for a team that is getting most of the bets, it’s “extra juice.” Bet long enough and you’ll hear a phrase like “extra juice on the dog” without it sounding strange.
Bad beat: This is used a lot and often incorrectly. When a basketball team misses a jumper at the end to cover, it’s probably not a bad beat. When you bet on a 4-point underdog in the Super Bowl, they lead 28-3 and don’t end up covering, that is a bad beat. When you spend 95 percent of a game assuming you have a winner and then are ripping up a ticket at the end, that qualifies. And like your fantasy team, nobody wants to hear about your bad beat story.
Lock: This does not exist. If someone tells you that they have a “lock,” or a bet that can’t lose, run the other way. Or bet the other side. Vegas doesn’t have all those fancy casinos because there are locks in sports betting.
Live dog: Nothing should warm your heart more than betting a 14-point football underdog, looking up and seeing them winning by 10. You have a live dog.
Chalk: A term for the favorite. If all four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA basketball tournament reach the Final Four, you might hear that the tournament was “chalky.”
Backdoor cover: Ah, that glorious (or painful) moment in which a team is hopelessly going to lose your bet, but rallies in the final minutes for a garbage-time touchdown, basket or goal to unexpectedly cover the spread.
Sharps vs. squares: You’ll hear the “sharp money” is coming in on a team, which mostly refers to regular and professional gamblers who are taking that ugly underdog who nobody thinks can cover. And the squares are generally those recreational gamblers wandering into a sportsbook to blindly lay money on their favorite team no matter the spread. Mostly square bettors prefer favorites and overs. These are the people that will tell you they have a lock.
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