How Many of These Sports Bets Do You Know How to Make?

I think you'd agree with me – the world of sports betting is intimidating if you aren't familiar with the jargon. You can get by just fine placing straight bets all day, but at some point you're going to find yourself tempted by a Pleaser or an If-Bet.

To make sure you don't get lost in the shuffle at your favorite Web-based sportsbook, here's a collection of the most commonly-placed wager types along with a short description and guide to placing them.

Straight Bets

Straight bets are the most common form of sports wager. They're also called side bets. The idea is simple – if you can pick the winning team (the winning side), you win.

Straight bets work a little differently among the big four sports – in basketball and football, side bets include a point spread. Here's how to decode a point spread like a pro – if the number next to the team's name is a positive number, add those points to your side's final score to determine if you won. If the number next to your team's name is a negative number, you subtract the established number of points from your team's final score. Whichever side has the higher score after the addition/subtraction of points is the winner.

Generally speaking, your payoff on a straight bet is $1.00 for every $1.10 you bet. The ten cent difference is the sportsbook's juice – the fee you pay for using their service. If you lay a $100 wager, you'll pay the book $110. Some Web-based sportsbooks offer "reduced juice" promotions, usually sport- or league-specific, in which you can find wagers that cost $1.05 (or less) rather than $1.10 per dollar.


Wagering on totals (also called over/under bets) means placing a bet on whether or not the total number of points scored by both sides will be above or lower than the number posted by the book. If you think the total will be higher than the posted number, that's called taking the over. If you think the total will be lower, you're taking the under. Totals are the second most popular wager placed at sportsbooks, especially popular among NFL and NBA fans.

Here's how to place a bet on a game total – it's really easy. Select a contest from your sportsbook's menu, then find the listing for the over/under. It'll look something like this:

Baltimore Ravens Over 37.5 (-110)

Pittsburgh Steelers Under 37.5 (-110)

Decoding those two lines is a breeze – the team on bottom is the home team, and you should recognize the numbers in parentheses at the end of each team's entry as juice. The only thing left to do is choose whether you think the teams will score more or less than the posted number of 37.5.


The moneyline is an alternative to the point spread. The easiest way to tell them apart is to think of their focus. Point spreads are all about which side wins AND by how many points. The moneyline makes bettors concerned only with selecting the winning side.

So why does the moneyline exist? Mainly because some major sports don't lend themselves to the use of a point spread. We're talking mainly about soccer, baseball, hockey, and a few niche markets like boxing, tennis, and auto racing. In the case of soccer, baseball, and hockey, the differences in points between winners and losers is so small that a point spread would be impossible to manipulate for a profit. Sportsbooks use moneylines mainly to create a profitable market to replace a difficult one.

Let's look at an example of moneyline odds and then decipher it together:

New York Yankees +120

Houston Astros -130

Alright – you already know that the home team is on bottom, so this match features the Yankees heading down south to take on the pride of the Bayou City. Since moneyline odds are so similar to point spread odds, you already know that the Yankees are the underdogs (because their number has a + sign in front of it) and the Astros are favored by the book to win. But what are those goofy numbers at the end all about?

The minus sign doesn't just indicate a favorite – it also tells you how much you'll have to wager on the Astros in order to claim a $100 prize. Why do you have to wager more than you plan to win? The book has predicted a Houston victory - those thirty points are the charge they levy against you for piggy-backing on their selection.

So what does the plus sign do? It tells you what your payout will be for a $100 wager. The book is trying to attract bets on the somehow hapless Yankees by offering twenty points on top of your win, if the Boys of Summer pull off the upset.

Moneylines are laid out in units of $100 for simplicity's sake – it's easy to scale up and down from 100, so that if you wager $10 on the Yankees and they pull off the surprise victory, you'll earn a $12 payout. Similarly, if you put $1,000 on the Yanks, you'd earn $1,200 for a New York upset win.


Parlays are popular wagers in the US for a couple of reasons. For starters, some American states regulate the sale of parlay tickets, which amounts to the only thing close to legal American sports gambling outside of the city of Las Vegas. Parlays look complex if you get ahead of yourself and start looking at strategy advice – but really they're very simple.

A parlay is a series of straight bets (on point spreads, moneylines, or totals, as described above) which are combined into a single bet. In exchange for risking your entire day's payout on any one single outcome, parlays offer really big payouts.

But remember, all sections of a parlay must win for the bet to pay off. Parlays allow no wiggle room – a single push result, or even a game cancellation or "no action" report on any of the games on your parlay ticket drops you down to the next prize level. By that logic, if you play a two-team parlay (with an outcome based on just two results), a single push, cancellation, no action, or loss changes your bet to a straight wager.

Making a parlay bet at Web-based sportsbooks is a simple matter of selecting the first wager you plan on parlaying into a full ticket, then choosing the "Add to Parlay" option. Once the parlay is opened, you can continue adding wagers, up to a limit of 15 teams at every site I'm familiar with.

The payout for your parlay wager depends on how many teams were picked – and the odds on those teams. The vast majority of parlays are built at -110 odds, so for simplicity's sake, I've included a simple chart of parlay payouts as established at the -110 odds level. Keep in mind that these payouts are for football and basketball events only – other sports require different odds. Still, this table will count for most parlays that American bettors will ever make.

# Of Teams In Parlay


2 2.6 to 1 (or 13 to 5)
3 6 to 1
4 10 to 1
5 20 to 1
6 40 to 1
7 75 to 1
8 100 to 1
9 150 to 1
10 300 to 1
11 450 to 1
12 600 to 1
13 750 to 1
14 900 to 1
15 1,500 to 1

Now we'll look briefly at Teaser and Pleasers, two variations of parlays which are pretty popular at Web-based sportsbooks, and are allowed for phone wagering alongside parlays.


Teasers are like parlay tickets made up entirely of straight bets and totals. Unlike parlays, only basketball and football bets are available on standard teasers. The other big difference between parlays and teasers is that the line you wager against on each leg of the parlay is moved into your favor by the number of points set in the teaser.

If that sounds complicated, it's just my poor writing skills. Think of it this way – you select a 6-point teaser (the standard setup for football and basketball teasers) and if the standard line on a game is -10, your line is -4. Everything else about this wager works just like a parlay – all legs of the teaser have to win for the full pay off.

Teaser payouts depend on how many teams are selected and how many points are given to each team, similar to parlay structure. Teaser payouts are much lower than parlay payouts, because the points given to the bettor by the book make a bettor's win more likely.


Pleasers are available for Internet wagers only – no phone bets allowed for this one. Like teasers, pleasers are altered forms of parlay bets. Think of pleasers as "opposite teasers." In pleasers, the line you wager against on each leg of the ticket is moved AGAINST you by a set number of points, traditionally six. So if the standard line is -10 and you're playing a standard 6-point pleaser, then the line you have to beat is -16.