Sports Betting 101

Photo illustration of the Draft Kings app on an iPhone. News Online Sports Betting Project

This Sports Betting 101 guide offers an overview of how to bet at legal online sports betting sites. Knowing how to bet on sports is essential for those that get into the industry with the intention of winning some money. It’s not necessarily hard to learn how to bet on sports, but there are key pieces of information that a bettor must know. 

Understanding how to read sports betting odds is a big part of it, but you still need to know what to do with those odds. There are some simple ways to bet on sports, but there are also some bets that can get pretty complicated. 

This article will explain how to bet on sports and will take a closer look at some of the most popular betting types that are available. 

Sports Betting 101: How Does Sports Betting Work? 

Sports betting is actually pretty simple at its core as the main goal is to win some money and beat the sportsbook. There are different betting options available, and there are always going to be at least two different choices that can be made with each wager. 

Each betting type is going to have a different meaning, but a moneyline bet is the easiest to understand. A moneyline bet is simply a wager on a team or individual to win a certain sporting event. 

In the 2022 NHL Playoffs, the Calgary Flames were moneyline favorites at -220 over the Dallas Stars in their Game 7 matchup at DraftKings Sportsbook. That might not mean anything to you at this point, but the -220 actually explains how much money you can possibly win.

The moneyline refers to the amount of money that can be won in reference to $100. A $100 bet is not required, but it makes things pretty easy when trying to figure out how much you can win. 

This is also called the vig or the juice and this is how sportsbooks make money. The typical juice is -110 for most betting options, and that simply means that it will take a $110 wager to win $100. 

The vig or juice will change at each sportsbook, but the standard is -110 for a basic wager. 

Sports Betting 101: How To Read Sports Betting Odds 

When looking to bet on sports, the first thing you are going to look for is the odds of each particular game. You can really get into the odds and get overwhelmed, but there is some specific information that you will notice right away. 

When you first see a game listed, you are going to see the moneyline, total, and spread betting odds listed. All three of these are different bets, but they all work together to form the sports betting odds. 

It’s best to look at an example, and we will use an NBA Playoff game from 2022 to explain this:

Boston Celtics +110 +2.0 Over/Under 206.5

Miami Heat -130 -2.0 Over/Under 206.5

American odds are used at sportsbooks in the United States, but there are also decimal and fractional odds used in other parts of the world. When using American odds, there are a couple of things that you can note right away before really getting into the odds. 

The betting favorite in any matchup will come with a (-) sign attached, and the underdogs will come with a (+) sign. This sign will be available for both the moneyline odds and the spread betting odds. 

Let’s look at the Boston Celtics in this particular matchup above. Boston is a two-point underdog in this matchup and they are at +110 on the moneyline. This means that the Celtics would have to lose by one point or less to win the bet, and it also means that a $100 bet would come with a payout of $110. 

The Miami Heat then are the underdog, and betting on them would not come with as big of a payout as betting on the Celtics. Miami has to win the game by at least three points to cover the spread, and it would take a $130 bet to win $100. 

The over/under odds simply refer to the total number of points scored in this NBA game. If there are at least 207 points scored then the over would hit, and if there are 206 points or less then the under would hit. 

Sports Betting 101: Popular Bet Types

The sports betting industry just continues to grow, and new betting options continue to emerge. While more options do mean more opportunities, there will always be some specific betting types that remain the best option. 

This section will explore some of the most popular betting types that you will find at the sportsbook, and will also explain how these bets work. You will find all of these options when looking for games to wager on, and you can simply choose the one that works the best for you. 

Point Spread

A point spread bet is extremely popular when it comes to MLB or NBA action, but this can be used in other sports as well. You will hear people refer to “betting against the spread” and this is the bet that is being discussed. 

When betting against the spread, you can actually bet on the losing team and still win this wager. The spread is the difference in the final score between the two teams at the end of a game or contest. 

For Game 7 of the NBA Playoff Series, FanDuel Sportsbook has the Boston Celtics as five-point betting favorites over the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference. The odds for each side of this bet are set at -110, which means there is the same payout for each side. 


A moneyline wager is popular with all sports, even sports that don’t have much of a following. This is also the betting type that most beginners focus on because it’s simply picking the winning team or individual of a game. 

With moneyline wagers, the odds will be different for each side of the bet. The favorite in the specific game will not have as big of a payout as betting on the underdog and winning that wager. 

The New York Rangers are -125 on the moneyline against the Pittsburgh Penguins (+105) at PointsBet Sportsbook in Game 7 of the NHL Playoffs. 

Totals (Over/Under)

A total bet, or “over/under” doesn’t look at the winner or loser of a game at all. Instead this type of bet focuses on the total number of runs/points/goals scored in a particular game. 

This is a unique betting option that doesn’t force bettors to wager on the winning team, which can be hard to do. The odds for a totals bet are usually set at -110 for each side, but they can be different depending on the sport. 

The Dallas Mavericks face the Phoenix Suns in an NBA Playoff game, and the over/under at PointsBet Sportsbook is 205.0.


A parlay is not a single wager on any one game, but rather a combination of small wagers all wrapped into one. This has become a popular option for bettors because there is a chance for a big payout with every leg that is added. 

Sportsbooks have started to recognize how popular this betting option has become and offer boosts and promotions around parlay betting. Some sites also allow for same game parlays, which is just a parlay but all of the bets come from the same game. 

Even though sportsbooks will put together some parlays, the bettor really has all of the power when making this bet. 


Futures betting is much different than what we have already discussed as this is not a wager on a single event. Instead, futures betting is a bet based on what will take place at the conclusion of a season.

Futures betting odds change often, and they are released months before a regular-season even starts. Picking the eventual champion, or making a bet on various individual awards are two of the most common futures bets available. 

At DraftKings Sportsbook, the Buffalo Bills are the favorites to win the Super Bowl at +600. 

Live Betting

Live betting is a wager that is placed while a sporting event is underway. This is a betting type that has just started to gain traction in recent years, and you will usually have a long list of options available.

All of the betting types discussed above can be made as a live bet, except for a futures wager. These live betting odds change quickly, and can actually change with every play depending on the sport.