Sports betting is unique from any other form of gambling in that your chance of winning is directly dependent on your ability to predict the outcome of a non-random event.
What does this mean? You are in control. While you can't directly influence a sporting event, being knowledgeable and implementing a solid betting strategy can drastically improve your odds.
The first step is understanding the sportsbook's board. Most sportsbooks throw as much information as possible onto a limited space, and although this isn't as much of an issue online, the end result is an extremely condensed, and ultimately confusing, pile of numbers. A typical sportsbook's board will look like this:
Point Spread Bets consist of betting on the margin by which teams win or lose.
The point spread is usually located next to the favored team and is, therefore, a negative number. In the example above, the Cowboys are favored to win by 8 points. This creates two point spread bets:
The Cowboys will win by at least 9 points
The Chiefs will win or lose by no more than 7 points
If the Cowboys win by exactly 8, the bets would result in a push.
Generally, a point spread bet requires the bettor to wager an additional 10% over the potential winnings. For example, in order to win $50 a bettor would bet $55 ($50 + $5). Nearly all sports bets return the original bet along with the winnings, with the exception of some parlays and teasers. In this instance, a winning $55 bet would return $105.
Total Bets work the same way as point spread bets, except bettors wager on the total number of points scored.
In the example above, bets would be placed on whether the total combined points of the Cowboys and Chiefs will be over or under 42.5. These bets often carry a similar house edge to point spread bets.
Money Lines are merely bets on who will win.
One team is always favored, of course, so sportsbooks try to even the betting field by incentivizing gamblers with higher payouts for the underdog. In the example above, the Cowboys are favored to win. If a $100 bet is placed on the Chiefs, the +300 means it would win $300 if the Chiefs win the game. The -400 is the point spread on the Cowboys, and payouts work the opposite way: bettors must wager $400 to win $100.
Money line payouts can be calculated using the following formula:
Parlay Bets are single wagers that combine two or more individual sports bets and requires all of those bets winning to pay out.
A major advantage of parlays is that they offer much higher payouts than you would achieve by placing each individual bet separately, but it is also much more difficult to win. If any of the wagers in the parlay lose, the whole parlay loses. If any of the bets push (result in a tie), the parlay moves to a lower number of plays with a corresponding odds reduction.
Parlays are bet relative to the point spread, and they can either be (1) off the board, or (2) off the card. Betting off the board will use the board's point spread for all of the bettors picks. Going off the card, the bettor will fill out a Parlay Card with their picks against the point spreads indicated on the card.
Below is an example of a typical Sportsbook's Parlay Card, illustrating typical payouts for a two to 11 team parlay bet.
While the parlay payout ratios can reach enormous levels, you can see they are always below "true" odds and thus a house edge is built into every bet. Furthermore, the more picks your parlay card contains, the higher edge against you. The verdict is still out as to whether or not parlays are good sports betting strategy.
Teasers are combinations of two to ten bets where bettors can move the point spreads and/or totals in their favor in exchange for a reduced payout.
These bets are most common in football and basketball. They work in much the same way as parlays, where all individual bets must be won to pay out.
Football teasers generally give players 6 to 7 points while basketball teasers give 4 to 5 points. In the game above, if the Cowboys were part of a 7-point teaser, they would only have to win by more than one point to cover the spread. If the Chiefs were part of a teaser, they could either win, or lose by less than 15 points, to cover.
Pleasers are the opposite of teasers.
Instead of moving the lines in your favor, you move them against you to earn an increased payout. Pleaser bets are very risky, but offer the highest payouts among sports wagers. We generally recommend avoiding them unless you favor high-risk, high-reward gambling over sensible betting.