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Introduction to Online Sports Betting

If you really want to understand what goes into sports betting online, then you have to appreciate just how many different sports, leagues and levels to those leagues that there are at the college or club level and up. Now, multiply that by the number of games and events that happen for all of those sports, and you’ll have a little bit of the idea of the scope under which sports betting operates on the Internet.

The huge number of events available to wager on is one of the things that makes sports betting the single most popular form of gambling online in terms of the total amount of money wagered and the total number of bets placed.

What makes this type of betting so much more complicated is that it’s one of the few styles of betting where you can actually beat the house if you’re skilled enough, and that’s enough to entice tons of players to try to get an edge over the bookie. However, you don’t have to take it that seriously either, and you can simply bet for your favorites and root for them with a little bit extra on the line to make things more exciting, which is another reason why it has such a huge level of popularity.

Sports Betting Example
Sports Betting Example

In what follows, we’re going to walk you through all of the basics that you will need to know if you want to bet on sports online because there are several styles of betting for different parts of the world and several ways to put together combination bets and other kinds of wagers. It can get fairly complicated if you don’t pay close attention, so we’re going to take things step-by-step to make sure that you know everything you need to get started.

Systems for Expressing Betting Odds

If you were going to bet on sports in a land-based shop, you’d already be familiar with the style of expressing odds that was used in your region, so you would have no reason to learn how it’s done on the other side of the world. However, in the same way that the Internet brings us closer together, it also puts tons of players from all over the globe in the same virtual betting shop, so different types of odds expression can be found at the same sites.

What we’re going to do here is walk you through the basics for the most common forms of expressing odds online. There are only three of them, but they look drastically different, which can make them confusing if you’re used to one and end up on a site that only offers another. Converting between these three options is also a possibility, and we’ll show you the essentials of how that can be done without needing some kind of mathematics background as well.

Fractional or British Odds

If you see something listed as a fraction like 5/1 or 3/2, then that is called fractional odds, but it’s also sometimes called British or UK odds. These odds are basically a ratio of the rate at which you’ll profit on a bet if you win. For example, 3/1 means that you’ll have odds of 3:1 on your wager, so if you were to bet €10 and win, you would profit at a rate of €30.

Sometimes you’ll have these odds expressed in a way that does not have a one on the right-hand side, and there’s a simple way to simplify things so that it does. Simply divide both sides by whatever number is on the right-hand side to bring it down to a base level. Here are a couple of quick examples:

  • If a wager is listed at 3/2, you can divide both sides by two to get 1.5/1. This means you’ll profit 1.5x (ie: the number remaining on the left-hand side) your wager if you win.
  • Another wager could be listed at 2/5. Dividing both sides by 5 gets 0.4/1, so you’ll profit 0.4x when winning. For a wager of €10, for example, you would profit €4 by getting paid back €14 total on a win.

These odds are pretty straightforward in terms of figuring out what your payout will be when you win as long as you use the simple approach given above.

Decimal or European Odds

Another way to write the same thing is called decimal odds, and it will simply list a return rate of the amount that you’ll be paid per €1 wagered. Note that this is not your profit but is instead the amount that you’ll be given out as a payout. You can subtract one from this amount to get your rate of profit, which we’ll show in examples below.

Decimal odds are sometimes called European odds as well, but you can find them used all over the world in different countries like New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

So let’s say that odds were given on a certain event of 2.50 in decimal odds. If you wagered €25 on this event, winning would mean that you’d be paid out 2.50 x €25 = €62.50. You could subtract your actual bet size of €25 from that amount of €62.50 to get your profit of €37.50, but that’s what the decimal odds mean in terms of what your payout will look like.

If you want to see just what your profit will be, then you can subtract one from the decimal payouts odds. For example, a decimal payout of 3.25 would mean that your profit would be based on a multiple of 2.25 times your total bet size. While a wager of €10 would give you payout of 3.25 x €10 for a total of €32.50, your profit could be found by doing 2.25 x €10 for an amount of €22.50 as a sort of shortcut instead.

Money Line or American Odds

If you see odds listed as whole numbers with plus or minus signs out front, then you’re dealing with the money line approach to listing odds, which is also known as American odds because of how popular it is in the United States.

The odds will be listed a little differently based on whether you’re betting on the favorite or an underdog:

  • Betting on the favorite is signaled by a plus sign for something that looks like +110 or +150. The amount listed is the amount that you’d have to wager to profit €100 on a win.
  • Bets on the underdog are signaled by a minus sign, and they will look like -120 or -135. The amount listed here is the amount you’ll profit if you place a wager of €100.
  • Even money wagers are listed as =100 or just as “even money” depending on the sports betting site that you’re playing with. Either way, they’ll make it clear that what you’re wagering on has even money odds.

The money line approach is probably the most confusing for most people most of the time. It’s also the type that’s the hardest to convert to the other two (decimal and fractional).

Despite being primarily used in just the United States, you’ll see it alongside the other two most popular ways of listing odds pretty often, even for European or British sites.

The Different Types of Sports Betting Wagers

While there are three major ways to express odds when betting, they are all different ways of describing the exact same thing: your payouts if you win on a particular wager. However, there are a variety of different types of actual bets that can be placed, and when you add in combinations of those wagers, you can get some pretty creative ways to handle your betting.

In what follows, we’re going to look at the most types of bets available in the online sports betting world and what you need to know about how they work from a basic level.

Money Line or Straight-up Wagers

Money line wagers should not be confused with the money line odds approach to listing payouts. A money line wager, sometimes called a straight-up wager or other names, is the most basic type of bet that you can place on any sport:

With a money line bet, you’re simply picking the individual or team that you think will win the game or match. It’s the most straightforward way to bet on sports, and it’s the recommended type of wager to take if you’re new to this type of betting.

It’s really hard to get any more simple than this in terms of the concept of what’s being wagered on. What’s more is that you really need to get familiar with how this type of betting works if you want to move on to the other options since they all build on this particular style of betting in different ways.

Point Spread Wagers

One of the problems with sports betting in the modern information age is that it’s usually pretty clear which side is the favorite and which side is the underdog. Because of this, betting on the favorite usually seems uncomfortable since you’ll often only have chances to profit much less than what you’re actually putting up as a wager.

The point spread is a solution used for this issue, and it works by slightly changing the way that the winner of the bet is determined so that it doesn’t necessarily correlate directly with who has won the game or contest itself.

Here’s how a point spread works. First, you will see what the point spread is. In a game like American football, it might be something like six points. In a game like basketball, it might be something like 10 or 12 points. In any event, the team that’s the favorite has to win by more than the given number of points to “beat the spread” and be a win for the wager.

Another way to think about a spread is that it’s like giving the underdog team a headstart of a given number of points.

For an example of how this could work, Team A could be the favorite over Team B with a five-point spread. If Team A won the game 96-93, they would only actually win by three points, so they would not beat the spread, and a wager on Team B would be the winning bet here.

However, to compensate for the spread, the odds of the wager are changed. Betting on the favorite will give a better payout since it’s less likely that they beat the spread than simply beating the underdog, and the underdog will give a worse payout since they can lose the game but still cause the wager to be a win by keeping the score close enough that the favorite does not beat the spread.

Total Score Wagers

Another common type of wager is a bet on the total number of points scored as an over/under. For example, you might have an option to bet on the total number of points in a football game being more or less than 3.5.

Generally speaking, these types of total bets require you to wager 10 percent more than you would profit. For example, a bet of €22 would profit €20 if you win no matter if you take the over or under, but in either case, you have to win a little more than 50 percent of the time to make a profit.

Total wagers are usually seen as a sort of specialty wager that most people won’t be interested in because it’s not directly tied to one side winning or losing most of the time, but it still retains quite a fair amount of popularity among players who try to out-calculate the handicapper that sets the lines.

Parlay Bets

A parlay is a type of longshot bet that’s based on the results of multiple games, events or contests. Long story short, the basic idea is that you’ll need to pick the winner for several of these matches to successfully win a parlay wager. That means that you’ll lose the overwhelming majority of the time simply based on the probabilities alone, but there’s an upside to this as well:

Although a parlay bet is a longshot to win, it comes with an absolutely huge payout if you’re successful, which is why it’s so popular among players.

One way to handle a parlay is to actually make a specific bet on each of the individual games or matches involved in it so that you can still turn out as profit if you manage to pick correctly for several of those games. If you end up picking all of them correctly, then you’ll get paid off that much more.

Something worth noting about parlays is that, because of their huge popularity online, many sportsbooks will have promotions and offers that give you rebates or consolation prizes if you miss winning a parlay bet by just one game. For example, you could pick the results of five games and get only four of them correct but still end up breaking even or as a small winner just depending on how that particular promotion works.

Note that parlays can be done on the actual results of games or on betting point spreads in most cases. Some online sportsbooks may allow parlays on other types of wagers as well, but you’ll have to view those on a case-by-case basis.


A teaser is a type of parlay bet on point spreads that’s kind of a speciality wager that targets a specific demographic since a lot of people never take the time to learn what they are.

What makes a teaser special is that the person betting will usually have extra points added or subtracted from a spread (depending on which way they bet) to help them have better chances of winning. As a result, the combination of games or matches is easier to win, and the payout rate is lowered accordingly.

Teasers are seen as generally being more accessible to players than regular parlays because they have substantially better rates of winning. Even though the prizes are smaller than normal parlay wagers, you’ll still be able to win several times the amount that you’ve put up, so it’s seen as a lower volatility variation of the parlay bet.


Most of the types of bets that we have listed here play out over a short period of time. Even in the case of parlays or teasers, the set of games or events being wagered on usually take place the same day or within a two or three day span at the most.

A future stands out as being more of a long-term wager that’s usually about the result of a tournament or league standing instead of a single game or match.

For example, if there were 12 teams that could still be eligible to win the NBA finals in the US, then you could make futures wagers on any of those 12 teams to win the whole thing. The finals series could be weeks or months away, and some of those teams could drop out of contention in the meantime, which makes things even more interesting when the odds are updated over time.

Many people will start betting on futures very early on in a season with particularly small wagers and then make new wagers every week or two that are equally small until the season starts winding down. If you make correct guesses early on, then you can be in for some pretty significant payouts. However, if you switch teams in the last portion of the season and pick correctly, then a win can wipe out all of your early season losses and provide a profit on top of that, so it’s easy to see the appeal of this season-long approach with them.

Proposition Bets

Proposition bets, often known as prop bets for short, are other available wagers listed at various odds that aren’t tied in to which team wins and loses or what the scores happen to be. There are a ton of examples of these since each individual sport has its own rules and opportunities for these types of things, but here are a few common examples:

  • Football: Will a given player score a hat trick?
  • American Football: Will either team score a safety?
  • Baseball: Will a run be scored in the first inning?
  • Basketball: Will a specific player foul out by the end of the game?

You can get a pretty good idea of what’s types of bets we’re talking about here, and they offer a little bit of extra action based on other types of things that happen in the games and matches other than who is winning and who is losing.

As a result of this, many players match up more traditional wagers like point spreads with smaller wagers on prop bets on the same game to add some serious excitement on both the macro level (ie: the result of the game) and the micro level (ie: the performance of individual players).

In-play Betting

A type of betting that’s really revolutionized how sports betting online goes down is called in-play betting, and it’s a type of betting that requires you to sort of play along while you’re watching the game or contest in question. In-play betting is basically a series of ongoing prop bets that you can make one at a time as the action unfolds.

You can bet on things like which team will score next, which player will commit a foul next and so on when using in-play sports betting.

As you can probably imagine, you can rack up a ton of these in-play wagers over the course of a game that lasts a couple of hours, so players almost always use much smaller stakes for these than they would use for macro-level betting on the overall result of the contest.

Additionally, this type of betting works really well with mobile sports betting apps since you don’t have to have your computer in your lap the entire time and can instead pick out bets from your smartphone, tablet or other type of mobile device.


Taking part in online sports betting is a lot different than betting in a traditional brick and mortar style shop. There’s a lot more going on, especially with in-play betting and especially with the fact that a ton more games can be listed from more leagues and more sports all in the same place.

With that having been said, there are basically two betting styles that players will take part in these days. One is a more traditional route of betting on the outcome, and the other is through a more interactive approach that includes betting on a variety of ongoing prop bets through the in-play approach.

Either way you want to play is a lot of fun, and it really just comes down to personal taste.


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