How Does Sports Betting Work: Placing Your First Bet

Whether you’re new to the world of sports betting or already a seasoned pro, understanding its inner workings can help you make more informed decisions and get better odds when placing a bet.

But how does sports betting work? Let’s take a look at the basics of placing a bet, the different bet types available, the odds involved, and provide tips for winning big. So, whether you’re looking to fill in your first betting slip or improve your existing strategies, read on to learn more about the ins and outs of sports betting.

🏆 Top Casino & Sports Betting Sites

Considering a range of factors, here are the best online gambling platforms with the most favorable wagering options, suitable for both beginners and pros:

  1. BetUS (🎉 125% Sign-Up Bonus up to $3,125)
  2. BetOnline (💸 50% Welcome Bonus up to $1,000)
  3. Ducky Luck(💰 500% Welcome Bonus up to $2,500)

Betting on Sports: The Basics

how does sports betting work

Sports betting is placing a bet on the outcome of a sporting event. It can be done through a brick-and-mortar bookmaker or an online sportsbook and can involve betting on individual games or on the results of entire tournaments or leagues.

Betting on sports online can be a fun and exciting way for sports fans to add an extra dimension to their favorite events or even fantasy sports teams. On top of that, with more and more US states legalizing sports betting, it can be a lucrative way to make some money if you know what you’re doing.

But what is sports betting without an adrenaline boost? When you place a bet, you’re essentially making a risky prediction about what will happen during the event. Different types of bets involve various levels of risk and reward, which is why it’s important to consider your options carefully and weigh all the factors that could affect the outcome.

After calculating the odds, assess the different types of bets available and determine the amount you’re willing and able to risk before you start.

Favorites vs. Underdogs

Before we delve deeper into explaining sports betting types, let’s touch upon the concept of favorites and underdogs. A favorite is a team or player that is expected to win a particular sporting event, while an underdog is expected to lose. The odds of winning a bet on a favorite will therefore be lower than the odds of winning a bet on an underdog, since there is less risk associated with placing a bet on the favorite.

Some things that can affect whether a team or player is a favorite or an underdog are their overall performance, what they’ve done in recent games, what they’ve done in similar situations in the past, and how well they do at home. Any sports betting tutorial will also tell you to consider any other bets placed on the same event, as this can impact the odds and payouts associated with your bet.

How Do Odds Work in Sports Betting?

Odds are arguably the most important element of betting. The odds show how likely it is that something will happen, and they are usually written as a fraction or a decimal. For example, if the odds of an event occurring are 2/1, this means that for every $1 you bet, you will receive $2 back if the event occurs. The higher the odds, the less likely the event is to happen, and vice-versa.

There are all sorts of odds when it comes to sports betting. Decimal odds are the most common, but you might also see American or fractional odds. So, how do the odds in sports betting work?

Decimal odds are the easiest when it comes to understanding sports betting – they represent the amount of money you’ll get back for every dollar you bet, including your original stake. So, if the decimal odds are 3.00 and you bet $100, you will get $300 back (your original $100 plus $200 profit). Decimal odds are popular in Europe, Australia, and Canada.

American odds, also called moneyline, can be either positive or negative and are tied to $100 bets. They are usually written as whole numbers with a plus or minus sign in front of them. A positive number indicates how much profit you would make on a $100 bet, while a negative number means how much you would need to bet to win $100.

So, placing bets on sports using American odds goes like this: if the odds are +150, then you would need to bet $100 to win $150. Conversely, if the odds are -150, you would need to bet $150 to win $100. American odds are popular in the United States.

Fractional odds focus on how much profit you’ll make in relation to your original stake. So, if the fractional odds are 2/1 (pronounced “2-to-1”) and you bet $100, you’ll get $200 back if you win (your original stake plus 100% profit). Fractional odds are standard in the UK.

 British oddsEuropean oddsAmerican odds
The method of representationIn fractionsIn decimalsWith a minus or plus sign, in whole numbers
Odds10/110.001. +100

2. -300

Winning$1,100 ($1,000+your wager)$1,0001. $200 (winning $100 + wager $100)

2. $400 (winning $100 + wager $300)

Point Spread Betting Odds

The point spread is one of the two most common numbers you may see on the betting sites. The amount won is decided by the odds included in the moneyline, usually shown next to the point spread. However, the point spread allows you more mobility than just deciding on the winner or loser.

But what is the point spread? A simple explanation of the point spread is that it is a number that shows the expected difference in points.

If the point spread is -1.5 for Team A and +1.5 for Team B, Team A is expected to win by at least 1.5 points.

To understand how to win at sports betting with a point spread, let’s look at an example. Let’s say two teams are playing a match, with the odds of -1.5 for Team A and +1.5 for Team B. The person that bets on Team B wins the money if Team B either wins or loses by less than 1.5 points.

The person that places a bet on Team A will win if Team A wins by more than 1.5 points. If the teams win or lose by exactly 1.5 points, the bet is void, and the wager is returned.

Parlay Betting Odds

This type of betting allows you to bet on different games and different sports with just one ticket. Parlay betting allows you to bet on five teams, and if all of them win, your ticket passes, thus winning you money. This ticket’s main advantage is the higher money earning potential for the same wager.

Calculating Parlay Odds

The problem with parlay tickets is that they are usually written in decimals, which are European odds. To be clear on what you’re betting on and what your expected odds are, it’s best to convert decimal odds to the American system. Here’s how:

American oddsDecimal odds
-130 ($130 wager + $100 earned = $230 total winnings)Total winnings/wager=decimal odd


The first step to learning how to win sports betting parlays is to calculate the decimal odds for each item on your parlay ticket. If you wager -130 on each item on your ticket, your total decimal odd is 5,538006 (decimal odds multiplied by each other).

1.769231*1.769231*1.769231 = 5.538006

Your decimal odds multiplied with your wager gives you the total potential winnings of your bet: 5.538006*130=719.94078. This means that for $130 with a triple parlay ticket, you stand to earn almost $720 as opposed to the $100 you’d get for a single wager.

If this parley conversion sports odds explanation seems too complicated or exhausting, some odds calculators can help you.

Total or Over/Under Betting Odds

Over/under odds represent another type of betting that allows you more freedom than a straight moneyline bet. In over/under, you are given points for the complete game. You have an option to choose either over or under.

To get the gist of how to win at sports betting with over/under odds, let’s look at the example.

50.5 OVER -110

50.5 UNDER -115

The person who wagered “over” wins if the game has 51 points or more, while the person who wagered “under” wins if the match has 50 or fewer points. In the case where the total odds are an even number, the push (returning all wagers) may also happen if the number of points is equal to the total odds number.


Without teaser bets to increase the heart rate, what good is a sportsbook? Teasers let you bet on more than one game at the same time and change the point spread to give yourself better odds. For example, if you’re betting on both a football game and a basketball game, you might place a teaser that adjusts the point spreads in both games to increase your odds of winning.

Teaser bets are typically made on multiple games and can involve both point spreads and totals. While they give the bettor juicy odds, they also come with increased risk because all of the bets must be successful for the bettor to win.

Round Robins

Finally, here’s how betting on sports works when savvy punters are involved. A type of betting, round robin, is similar to parlays but involves placing multiple bets on different outcomes within a single event.

For example, you might bet on the winner of each quarter or half of a football match rather than on the overall winner of the event. Alternatively, a bettor might place four separate bets on four different horses in a race. The bettors will win if any of the horses win.

Round robins are usually set up as a series of nested parlays, where each leg of the bet affects the others and could make the payouts bigger if the predictions are right. Due to their complex nature and significant risk exposure, round robins are typically the domain of more advanced bettors.

Odds in Different Sports

Even though the odds mentioned before are considered to be universal, each sport follows its own rules. How do the odds change for different sports? That is the question we answer in the following part.

NFL Betting Odds Explained

Football is America’s favorite sport, which is why many need football betting odds explained when starting out on their wagering journey. With 70% of Americans betting on football at least once in their lifetime, it is not unusual for the question, “How do the odds work in football?” to arise when talking about betting.

To better understand odds in NFL sports betting, let’s look at some common types:

  1. Traditional moneyline odds, meaning that you bet only on the team that will win the game.
  2. Point spread odds, the most popular type of betting in sports betting history in the US, give you the option to bet on the points the teams will have (more or less than the given number).
  3. Totals or over/under, are bets on the total number of points in a game. The number of points is presented as a number. For example, if the number presented is 45, you have the option to choose whether the final number of points will be over or under 45.

In the NFL, you can bet on individual games or the outcome of the whole season. The most popular types of odds concerning the NFL are the Super Bowl gambling odds, which is not a surprise since the Super Bowl is the most-watched sports event in the US.

Baseball Betting Odds: Explained

Moneyline and total odds are a part of both baseball and NFL betting odds. But unlike the NFL, baseball doesn’t have traditional point spread odds. The run line is somewhat similar, but it is specific to baseball.

The run line has two options, like the point spread, but instead of points, it deals with runs. For example, the odds can show -2.5 runs to +2.5 runs.

To understand how to win at sports betting with the run line, you need to know the following — if you bet on the favorite with -2.5 odds and they win with more than three runs, you win. If you bet on the underdog, and they win or lose by no more than two runs, your bet also passes.

Like with the NFL, it is possible to bet on just one game, more games, or the season finale (so-called future odds).

MMA and UFC Betting Odds: Explained

“How do betting odds work in the UFC?” and “How do betting odds work in MMA?” are the questions that often arise when talking about betting odds. These popular sports bets normally rely on the moneyline. You can bet on the winner of the match, or you can also choose the way the match will end. The options would be an end by a knockout, submission, or decision.

If you choose the winner and the knockout ending, and your prediction comes true, your ticket passes. Besides these odds, there are also round odds. These odds are similar to total odds, but instead of total points, you bet on the total number of rounds.

Soccer Betting Odds: Explained

The most popular soccer clubs come from Europe. Thus, most of the soccer betting odds you’ll encounter are presented either fractionally or decimally. However, most modern sites allow you to see all the odds in the moneyline style as well.

Unlike American football odds, where you can have just a winner and a loser, soccer can also have a draw. In moneyline, you may have two options where you only get a –odd for the favorite and a +odd for the underdog. If the team you bet on wins, you win, and you get a refund if the team you bet on draws. Moneyline can also have three options, with two odds for the teams and one with the draw.

Other soccer betting options are point spreads for the whole game or half a game, totals (over/under), and parlays.

Horse Racing Betting Odds: Explained

Horse races offer odds rarely shown in the American system, and the British or fractional system is more popular. Fractional odds show how much you stand to win on the left side while showing your wager on the right.

When fractional betting odds are explained in an approachable way, they are actually pretty simple to understand, especially with some practice.

Let’s look at an example. If you see an odd presented as 8/1, it means that for each $1 you wager, you get 8 times more. If you bet the standard bet of $100, you will get $800 + the $100 you wagered. The odds change depending on the type of bet you choose. The odds are smallest for a single bet where you take a guess on the winning horse.

If you decide on an exacta (first two horses), trifecta (first three horses), or superfecta (first four horses), the odds increase, but the possibility decreases. Among these bets, the trifecta statistically brings the most money with the least risk.

Live Sports Betting

Live betting is a form of gambling that allows betting on the outcome of a sporting event as it’s happening. This type of wagering can be fascinating, as it will enable you to place bets on real-time action and watch the results unfold before your eyes.

Unlike traditional betting on sports, which takes place before a game begins, in-play betting gives bettors the option to adjust their wagers and even take advantage of changing odds as the event progresses. This makes in-play betting exciting and fast-paced, creating more opportunities for engagement and profit while making viewers feel more involved in the action on the field.

At most venues, live betting is available for a wide variety of popular sporting events, including football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, and tennis. This comes as no surprise because, after all, what is a sports bookie without a diverse selection of live sports markets and esports betting? And thanks to advances in technology and the growth of online betting sites, in-play betting has been growing in popularity.

How to Get Started with Sports Betting

Now that you’re familiar with the ins and outs of everyone’s favorite pastime, it’s time to walk you through the steps you need to take towards your first wager. First, you’ll need to find a reputable sportsbook that accepts bets on your chosen sport. Once you’ve registered an account, it’s time to learn about the different bet types at your disposal.

There are many types of bets that you can place, each with its own set of odds and risk/reward profiles. These include moneylines, where you are only required to make one prediction about the outcome of an event, and parlays, where you need to predict multiple outcomes in order to win your bet.

Once you pick the sport and the bet type, the next step is to choose the side you want to bet on. This is where your research comes in handy, as you’ll need to understand the odds of each outcome and the different factors that can affect the result of the event. Making an educated choice among sports betting operators is also an important factor.

Finally, you’ll need to place your bet and track its progress over the course of the event. This may involve adjusting your wager or making follow-up bets based on how the event is unfolding. With proper research and attention to detail, you too can win big from betting.


With all this information in tow, it should be easier for you to journey into the betting world. To better understand sports betting and start winning big, the only thing left for you to do is get some practice and have a little bit of good luck.

Read the Japanese version of this post here.


Why do I need to understand sports betting odds?

Understanding how sports odds work is important because they give you all the information you need to start betting like a pro.

The odds show you the amount of money you need to wager and how much you will get if you win. Reading sports odds will also help you know who the favorite is and the implied probabilities of the teams winning or losing.

Who sets the odds for sports betting?

Linemakers, or odd compilers, set the odds for sports betting. These people are employed by the bookkeepers to calculate all the variables concerning the event and the money expected to be wagered on a match.

The odd compilers might have to change some odds at the last minute if many people bet on only one team/competitor.

What is the easiest sport to bet on?

According to statistics, soccer is the easiest sport to bet on. There are a small number of points in each game. Clubs with international superstars such as Messi and Ronaldo, who can always be expected to score a goal, are usually a safe bet.

Even for beginners, betting on soccer can be pretty safe and easy if you are not looking for big profits. Soccer betting can also be profitable, but it might require a lot of knowledge and research.

What is the biggest sports bet ever?

The biggest known sports bet win was $1.2M. James Adducci placed an $85K wager on Tiger Woods’ Masters in 2019 and won. Adducci maintains that this was his very first sports bet.

However, the biggest wager ever placed was $5.9 million. This bet was placed by none other than Floyd Mayweather, a famous boxing star. He betted on the win of the Miami Heats in 2013 and won around $590,000.

If you want to learn more about how betting odds work in boxing, check out our boxing section above.

What are the odds of winning a sports bet?

The odds of a professional punter winning a sports bet typically fall between 53% and 60%, while the odds of winning a sports bet are around 50%. Moreover, the main difference between professionals and rookies is in the number of bets they place daily and the money they earn.

What do odds of +200 mean?

When odds are expressed with a + or a – followed by a number, they are American moneyline odds: +200 signifies the amount a bettor could win if wagering $100. If the bet works out, the player will receive a total payout of $300 ($200 net profit + $100 initial stake).

What is minus 1.5 in betting?

For those wondering what sports betting is, pluses and minuses may seem like an overly complicated thing. However, don’t get discouraged as the rules are simpler than you may think. For example, minus 1.5 in betting means you place a bet that the total number of points scored in a game will be higher than the specified number, but by less than 1.5 points.

In football, the bettor will win if the team they backed wins the match with a difference of two or more goals. On the contrary, if the chosen team wins by just one goal or fails to win at all, the bet is considered a loss.

How do you play sports betting?

How does sports betting work? First, you’ll need to find a legal online sports betting provider or bookmaker where you can place your bets. Once you’ve registered an account with the sportsbook, you’ll typically be able to browse the betting options and place your wagers.

You may also need to make follow-up bets or adjust your wager based on how the event unfolds. Pay attention to all the relevant details and stay up-to-date on any developments.