How To Bet On Sports For Beginners

Bears Grossman FootballWith the NFL season nearly half over and the World Series starting TONIGHT, I thought I'd talk about sports betting. No, I'm not talking about seedy bookies who'll break your legs if you don't cough up the three hundy you lost on the Giants game, but legal and easy-to-use Internet bookies. BTW, betting on sports is illegal unless you a) go to Vegas and use one of the authorized sportsbooks, or b) you use an offshore, online sportsbook. I've had an account with, headquartered in Antigua, for a couple of years now and I'm totally happy with them.

Before we get started on the fundamentals, there are several online sportsbooks (,,, to name a few), and they all are a little bit different. Research all of them and see what they have to offer, read reviews of service and reliability, and then open your account. I have a pal who swears by because they send him free calendars and swimsuit videos, plus he generally likes their lines.

Okay, if you've NEVER utilized placed a wager, I'll break the basics.

The Spread

The most basic type of bet is a point spread bet. The point spread is the estimated difference in points between the favorite and the underdog. I'll use an example to illustrate:

The Colts and Titans are playing this weekend, and according my sportsbook, the Titans are favored over the Colts by 4 points. Here's the spread:
Colts +4
Titans -4

If you bet the Titans, they must win the game by 5 points or more for you to win money. If they win by 4 points, the bet is a push and you get your money back. If they win by 3 points or less, you lose the bet and thus your money. Pretty simple.

I won't get into why one bet is better than another in this post, but I do have to say it's your job as a bettor to know the sport and be informed about the teams in order to make an intelligent bet. If you know absolutely nothing about football, don't pick teams out of a hat, because you'll never make money that way.

So, in my above example, if you've done your homework and you think the Colts are going to win or lose by just a field goal, you could plunk your money on the Colts and feel good about the bet. Alternatively, the Titans are one of the best teams in the league, they're playing at home, and the Colts D is terrible, you might take the Titans to win by more than 4 and thus happily lay the points.

The Juice

The way that sportsbooks make money is by charging you a small fee to place your bet. This fee is commonly referred to as the juice Oftentimes, in a football bet, it will cost you $110 to potentially win $100. The $10 is the juice, however, if you WIN your bet, you get your original $110 back PLUS the $100 you just won. So the potential bet might look like this:
Colts +4 (-110)
Titans -4 (-110)

Sometimes the bookies want to entice you to bet a certain way, so they might offer a ratio on the plus side, ie (+105). This means that a $100 bet would pay out $105. With my sportsbook, the Saints this weekend are 3 point underdogs, but the odds are (+105).

Moneyline Bets

Another type of bet is a moneyline bet. Here, you're picking the winner straight up. This might seem super easy on the surface, but the way casinos make money is by stacking the odds. So, for the Colts-Titans game, the bet might look like this:
Colts +175
Titans -200

Thus, betting $100 on the Colts pays out $175 if they win. A $200 bet on the Titans to win straight up (they are favored, remember) would only net you $100 (2 to 1 odds). So, it's less enticing to bet the Titans to win straight up because the payout is half the original bet.

Over/Under Bets

The last type of bet I'll cover in this post is the over/under. Basically, the over/under is what the handicapper thinks the total score will be. You're betting that the actual score is either over or under what the sportsbook says. The over/under in the Colts game is 41, so you would bet that the total combined score is less than or greater than 41.

Example: You bet the over. The score at the end of the game is 20-24, so the total is 46. You've won the bet.

There are tons of other types of bets out there: parlays, teasers, props, live betting. If you're a newb, I would stick with the basic bets at first and get comfortable putting money out there.

Some Advice

NFL Pre-Season 2008 - Miami at JacksonvilleI did picks purely on paper for a couple of weeks when I first started just to see if I could pick'em and not totally suck. I did this on college football for three weeks, won about 65% of my bets, and decided to try it with actual money.

Bet for fun, not to make money. If you can't afford it, don't do it. Period. Some sportsbooks have a minimum bet of $5. If you're just starting out, try making a couple of minimum bets until you get your feet wet. I currently bet either $10 or $20 per game, and only on big games will I go over $50. The highest bet I ever made was $100, and that was a moneyline bet on the Gators to win the national championship. I believe the odds on that one was +175, so I made $175.

Okay, the World Series starts tonight and the Rays are 1.5 point underdogs and the over/under is 7.5 runs. I'm taking the Rays to win straight up (-107) and also taking the over (even). We'll see how those picks pan out tomorrow.

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About Lance Lance is a tech geek by day, social artist and fitness enthusiast by night. He specializes in relationships in real life situations, such as workplace and in business, and his goal is to create high value social circles filled with opportunity. For more on his dating and relationship perspective, check out his blog

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