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How Do Sports Bets Work?

Sports betting can seem a little intimidating to those who have never tried it before. It’s all great to be a self-proclaimed expert in a sport, but when you see those numbers and lines at sportsbooks, your head begins to spin. It’s okay; we’ve all been there before, so believe us when we tell you that it appears to be more complicated than what it actually is. So, how do sports bets work?

Well, you really only need to learn more about a handful of concepts that are very easy to grasp to understand it all. These concepts include a brief definition of sports betting, how odds work, the lines often made available to you, and an explanation for vigs. If you make it through to the end of the guide, you should have a much clearer understanding of how sports bets work. You should also be ready to begin placing your first bets, which is very exciting.

1.      What is Sports Betting?

So, let’s start with first things first, defining sports betting. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re still unsure, sports betting involves placing a bet on a sports event. Sportsbooks set odds on betting options available (called lines) so that you know what your potential prize will be when staking your money.

how sports betting works

If your betting selection proves to be correct, you the previously agreed upon cash prize. It really is as simple as that. Sports betting is incredibly popular with gambling analysts expecting the industry to generate more than $8 billion a year by 2025 in the United States alone. It is suggested that the industry worldwide could be worth more than $3 trillion.

The popularity of this form of betting comes from the fact that it is tied to another incredibly popular entertainment industry: sports. Just to put it in perspective, individual sporting teams, such as the New York Yankees and Manchester United, are considered to worth billions due to their branding. Sports appeal to far larger audiences than general casino games, which is why more gamblers prefer this form of betting.

2.      How Do Odds Work?

Reading odds is usually one of the barriers to entry with regards to sports betting. A lot of people see loads of numbers and freak out, thinking of all those stats lessons they had to go through in high school. But really, there isn’t any reason to be so afraid.

There are three types of odds systems used by sportsbooks around the world: moneyline (American), decimal and fractional. Most betting sites will allow you to switch between the types depending on your preference. Here is how each of them works (if you are still confused afterward, remember that sports betting sites provide you with converters to show you what you could win with your bet anyway):

Moneyline (American)

This format features numbers with a plus or minus sign at the end of the betting line. For example, +200 or -200. The sign determines how much you can win on a wager. Bettors can use the following formulas to calculate their winnings based on the sign in front of the number:

  • Plus – Odds x (Stake/100)
  • Minus – (100/Odds) x Stake

A minus sign generally denotes a favored outcome, whereas a plus denotes an outcome unlikely to happen (meaning you can potentially win more cash). As can probably be deduced by the name, this is the most popular format at sportsbooks in the US.

sports betting odds explained


Sportsbooks that use the decimal odds system add decimals at the end of each potential betting option. All you need to do to calculate your total winnings is multiply your stake by the decimal, making the formula the following:

  • Stake x Odds = Winnings

Decimal odds are the system most often used by European and Australian sports betting sites.


Sportsbooks that use the fractional odds system add fractions at the end of each potential betting option. For example, 10/1. All you need to do is multiply your stake by the odds and then divide it by the denominator (the second number), and you’ll get your potential winnings without your stake included.

Fractional odds are the system most often used by sportsbooks in the United Kingdom.

3.      What are Betting Lines?

So, a betting line is merely a betting option. If we are going to try and get all technical about it, betting sites try to gauge the outcome of a potential bet and set odds accordingly. Here is an example of a betting line:

To Win/Moneyline
Memphis Grizzlies+110
Brooklyn Nets-130

The above line illustrates the betting options available in a “to win” or “moneyline” bet using American odds. Bettors can either bet on the Grizzlies or the Nets to win this one.

Here is the same line using decimal odds:

To Win/Moneyline
Memphis Grizzlies2.19
Brooklyn Nets1.82

And fractional odds:

To Win/Moneyline
Memphis Grizzlies11/10
Brooklyn Nets10/13

Most Popular Betting Lines at Sports Betting Sites

So, what sort of bets can you make on sports? Well, we have briefly outlined the most popular betting options available at sportsbooks. (We recommend that you check out our dedicated guides if you would like to go more in-depth with each option.)

  • Moneyline/To Win – this is a bet placed on the overall outcome of the game. For example, which team will win a game.
  • Spread/Line Betting – as odds can be pretty unappealing when a favored team and an underdog play each other, sportsbooks try to get around that by setting a scoreline that the favorite will need to win by in these bets. You can then bet on the favorite to reach the scoreline or the underdog to cover.
  • Totals/Over Unders – these bets involve the total score of the game. Will the total score be over or under a line set by the sportsbook?
  • Futures – these are bets placed on events that are due to take place sometime in the future. Think along the lines of placing a bet on a team to win the Stanley Cup at the beginning of the season.
  • Props – these are event-based bets, rather than result-based. For example, will Cristiano Ronaldo score a hattrick against Inter Milan?

There are many other bets available to you when you visit top online gambling sites, and we really encourage you to explore and test them out.

sports betting lines explained

4.      What is a Vig?

If you have ever wondered how sportsbooks make money, it is with the vig. The term “vig” refers to the fee sportsbook charge you to place bets. Sportsbooks build these fees into lines, so you don’t actually have to calculate for them when you place bets. It is something to keep in mind when placing bets, though.

Quite simply, some bets aren’t worth making. These are usually situations in which it is pretty clear that a particular outcome will likely happen. Think about it in this manner: Serena Williams vs. the woman who is ranked 76th in the sport. Who is going to win? We’d put our money on the 23-time Grand Slam winner, but it probably wouldn’t be worth it as everybody knows how this game is going to go.

5.      Where to Place Bets

If you find yourself with a more solid understanding of sports betting, you can begin placing bets at one of the recommended betting sites below. Each has a load of wonderful betting lines for you to test your luck and skill on.

Top Sites In America
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