Sports Betting 101: 10 Tips to Get Started
Sports betting is like riding a rollercoaster: The highs and lows can be truly exhilarating, as long as you’re strapped in and ready for what the ride entails. Knowing the basics — the different bet types, how to read betting odds, the best sportsbooks and strategies to use — will help you avoid scary (read: costly) sports betting mistakes.
These 10 essential sports betting tips for beginners will help you handle the ups and downs like a pro. Click on a tip to jump down to it!
- Find out where sports betting is legal
- Understand these common bet types and sports betting terms
- Learn how to read betting odds
- Take advantage of sports betting bonuses
- Compare the best sports betting apps for 2021
- Test drive a few sports betting apps before depositing money
- Learn how to place a bet
- Read articles, commentary, and game previews
- Consider paid picks… carefully
- Follow these sports betting tips for beginners
1. Find out where sports betting is legal
In 2018, the Supreme Court gave each state the right to pass its own sports betting laws. Before then, Americans with an itch to bet on sports had to use a bookie (illegal), offshore sportsbook (illegal), place bets among friends and family (illegal), or fly to Las Vegas (legal!) to gamble. The 2018 Supreme Court ruling changed that, and today sports betting is legal to various degrees in more than 28 states.
- Sports betting is legal in these 20 states, plus Washington, D.C.: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, D.C., Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. Each state offers in-person betting, online betting, or both.
- Sports betting is legal but not yet live in eight states: Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming. It is legal for each state to offer in-person betting, online betting, or both.
- Sports betting is not legal in these 22 states: Alabama, Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin.
Dive deeper: See our complete guide to where sports betting is legal in the U.S. .
What states have legal online sports betting?
The following states have legal online sports betting: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia.
2. Understand these common bet types and sports betting terms
Most sports offer well over 100 types of bets per game. You can bet on who will win the game, how many points will be scored, how many points specific players will score, and much, much more. Each bet is assigned odds that determine how much you get paid if your bet is correct.
Don’t worry: You really only need to be familiar with a handful of betting terms and six common bet types to get started. Here’s what to know.
What are the most common terms in sports betting?
Some of the most common terms in sports betting are: favorite, underdog, spread, puck line, run line and live betting.
- Favorite: The team that is expected to win the game.
- Underdog: The team that is expected to lose the game.
- Spread: A number that estimates how many points the favorite is expected to win by and how many points the loser is expected to lose by.
- Puck line: The spread for hockey games. Typically hockey puck lines are almost always set at + or - 1.5 goals.
- Run line: The spread for baseball games. Typically baseball run lines are almost always set at + or - 1.5 goals.
- Live betting: Placing a wager on a game that has already started. This is also called in-play wagering.
What is a moneyline bet?
A moneyline bet is a bet on which team will win the game. Period. It doesn’t matter if the team you bet on wins by one point or 50 points; as long as they win the game, you win your bet.
What is a spread bet?
A spread bet is a wager on which team will cover the spread or point spread (the number of points by which a team is expected to win or lose). Point spreads are assigned to each team. Teams that are favored to win will be given negative points (-1, -3, -7). Underdogs will be assigned extra points (+1, +3, +7). To win a spread bet of -3, the team you bet on has to win by more than three points. To win a spread bet of +3, the team you bet on has to win the game or lose by less than three points.
What is a total (over/under) bet?
A total bet is a bet on the total number of points that will be scored during the game. If the over/under for a game is 55, you can bet whether the total combined points for both teams will be more than or less than 55.
What is a parlay bet?
A parlay bet combines multiple bets into a single bet to increase the overall payout. In order to win the parlay, all bets must win.
What is a prop bet?
A prop bet is any bet on the outcome of a player or team’s performance. “Will Tom Brady throw over or under two touchdowns?” is an example of a prop bet.
What is a future bet?
A future bet is betting on the outcome of an event that hasn’t taken place yet.
3. Learn how to read betting odds
When you enter your bet with a sportsbook you can see how much money you could earn before formally placing the bet. That amount is based on the odds.
Odds represent the likelihood of a particular outcome occurring. In sports betting each team is assigned odds that represent the likelihood of them winning the game. American odds are displayed on every U.S. sportsbook and sports betting app — handy, so you don’t actually have to do the math in your head.
How to read betting odds
When reading odds you’ll notice that:
- Odds have either a plus sign or minus sign in front of them.
- Odds are expressed in increments of 100.
Betting odds are written in terms of 100 as an industry standard. The easiest way to think of the plus and minus signs is as follows: If the number is preceded by a plus sign (+105, +210 +350), you will receive more than a $100 payout on a $100 bet. If there’s a minus sign (-105, -210, -350), you will have to bet more than $100 to win a $100 payout.
Odds greater than +100 are easy to understand: +100 means one-to-one odds. So, for every $1 you wager, you will win $1. This is also referred to as even money. +200 means two-to-one odds, meaning for every $1 you wager, you will win $2. +343 means for every $1 you wager, you will win $3.43.
Odds less than +100 don’t follow the same formula. At -110 odds, you have to wager $110 to win $100. At -200 odds, you’ll need to wager $200 to win $100. At -343 odds, the wager is $343 to win $100.
Here’s a table outlining how much you stand to win wagering $10 at different odds.
Sports betting odds examples with payouts
|Odds||Bet||To Win||Total Payout|
|+100||$10||$10||$20 = ($10 bet + $10 won)|
|+150||$10||$15||$25 = ($10 bet + $15 won)|
|+215||$10||$21.50||$31.50 = ($10 bet + $21.50 won)|
|-130||$10||$7.69||$17.69 = ($10 bet + $7.69 won)|
|-275||$10||$3.64||$13.64 = ($10 bet + $3.64 won)|
Dive deeper: See more in our detailed guide on reading odds.
4. Take advantage of sports betting bonuses
Sports betting apps offer customers two types of bonuses or promotions: Welcome bonuses when you first sign up with a sportsbook and ongoing bonuses (new ones daily or weekly) aimed at further enticing existing customers.
Pay close attention to that welcome bonus because — and I cannot emphasize this enough — they give you the biggest opportunity to make money. Typically new customers are offered the chance to win $50 to $1,000 in free money.
Welcome bonuses explained
The two most common types of welcome bonuses are risk-free bets and deposit matches. Since you have only one opportunity to take your welcome bonus, sportsbooks will try to lure you with a seemingly no-brainer promotion because (and this is key) the payout is lower. For example, you may see a welcome bonus where a $1 bet buys you the opportunity to win $100. Don't reflexively fall for it just because it’s a low-risk wager. Low-risk also means the reward is low compared to what you could get for one of the other welcome bonuses being offered.
As long as you’re comfortable with the amount being wagered, risk-free bets — my personal favorite when it comes to welcome bonuses — are the way to go. Here’s how they work:
What is a risk-free bet?
When you deposit money with a sportsbook for the first time, your first bet — and only your first bet — is deemed risk-free. If a sportsbook is offering a $500 risk-free bet and you bet $500 on a team to win, if that team wins, you collect your winnings, and that’s it. The promotion is over. If you lose your first bet, your $500 will be refunded to you. However, how your $500 is refunded varies from sportsbook to sportsbook.
Each sportsbook sets up its risk-free bets differently as far as handling losses. Some sportsbooks will refund the money to you all at once. When this happens, you can roll it over (a process described below) at your own pace, meaning you can make 500 $1 bets or one $500 bet. Some sportsbooks will break up that $500 into five $100 bets and force you to roll it over in those increments.
What is a rollover in sports betting?
There are rollover requirements that bettors must fulfill before bonus money from a win can be withdrawn. All sportsbooks employ rollover requirements so that bettors can’t just deposit money, grab any winnings, and leave without betting again.
Most rollover requirements are 1X, meaning you have to bet through the bonus money at least one time. For example, let’s say you lose a risk-free bet of $500. You will then be required to bet that $500 before you can take the money out. These follow-up bets are not risk-free: You can lose your money. That’s what makes the “risk-free” initial bonus offer a bit of a misnomer. Because of the rollover requirements, eventually you will be required to take on some risk.
Also be aware of rollover time limits. Rolling a bonus over could take a few weeks of betting. Some sportsbooks give you a month or two to roll over any bonus money while others require bettors to do it in just seven to 14 days. That’s why I always recommend reading bonus terms and conditions before participating.
Bonuses with a 1X rollover are easier to roll over than ones with 5X to 25X rollover, where you need to make sure you’re betting frequently enough to roll them over. That said, you should only deposit what you are comfortable with rolling over — and potentially losing.
Become a better bettor: Learn more about bonus rollover requirements.
What is a deposit match in sports betting?
If a sportsbook matches first-time deposits at 100%, up to $250, that means that if you deposit $250, the sportsbook will give you $250 in bonus money. If the rollover requirement in this example was 1X, you’d have to bet the $250 in bonus money only once before you can withdraw it.
Deposit matches can be a great bonus to take advantage of if the rollover requirement is 1X and the match is 100% (you’ll find this sort of offer at BetRivers). If the deposit match is only 20% and requires a 25X rollover requirement (what DraftKings offers, for example), it isn’t worth accepting. In that case you’d receive a $200 bonus on a $1,000 deposit. And to unlock and withdraw this bonus you’d be required to wager a comparatively large amount of money ($5,000).
5. Compare the best sports betting apps for 2021
To bet on sports online, you need to use an online sportsbook or mobile app. Some sportsbooks specialize in welcome promotions. Others are known for offering unique bet types or killer mobile apps. Our state-specific guides list recommended mobile betting apps in these locales: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada (must register in-person), New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia.
Here are the top seven sportsbooks in various categories across Moneyline’s 2021 annual review based on more than 36,000 data points:
- DraftKings Sportsbook – Best Overall
- PointsBet – Best Bonuses and Promotions
- FanDuel Sportsbook – Best Live Betting
- Barstool Sportsbook – Best for Stoolies
- BetMGM – Great Mobile App
- William Hill – Good Odds
- FOX Bet – Great Bet Variety
6. Test drive a few sports betting apps before depositing money
Before you place your first bet you should get a feel for a few different sports betting apps.I recommend looking at the mobile app or website of two or three sportsbooks to compare their layouts, bet types and promotions, and to get some hands-on experience to find what looks and feels right for you. Go and look up a few bets you would normally place and add them to the bet slip. This is the quickest way to judge if an app is a good fit or not.
Here’s what the mobile apps of our top-rated sportsbooks look like:
What is the best sports betting app?
The DraftKings Sportsbook app is Moneyline.com’s pick for the best sports betting app. The DraftKings app is one of the easiest to navigate, rarely crashes, updates quickly, and has the most to offer. From placing bets to viewing statistics or promotions, the experience is seamless.
To test mobile betting apps, we compared dozens of features on more than 20 sportsbooks. We rated each on ease of use, reliability, sports and bets offered, live betting, app navigation, and more. See the full lineup of Moneyline.com reviews for more insights and tips on using the top sports betting apps.
7. Learn how to place a bet
At this point in your betting education, you’re ready to put some skin in the game! Here’s how to place a sports bet:
- Create an account. Every online sportsbook has a website or mobile app. To create an account you’ll need to provide your name, address, phone number, and email address. Some sportsbooks might ask for more information, such as Social Security number, which is normal.
- Fund the account. There are many ways to deposit money into your newly created account, including using a credit/debit card, PayPal, ACH bank transfer (e-check), a Play+ Card, and PayNearMe.
- Add your bet(s) to the betslip. To do this, click on the sport that you want to bet on. Then, scroll until you see the game that you want to wager on. Now, scroll through the bets until you find the one that you want to place (e.g., spread, moneyline, total).
- Select the wager amount. Enter the amount of money you want to wager. The bet slip will display your total wager and potential payout. Keep in mind that the potential payout includes the money that you’re wagering. For example, in the screenshot below, you’re betting $10 to win $8.80. Thus, the potential payout is $18.80 (your total wager — $10 — plus your potential winnings — $8.80).
- Finalize the bet. Place your bet and set an alarm for game time!
Those are the five official steps on how to place a bet. Depending on the outcome, however, there’s one more step, and that is to either collect your winnings — or lick your wounds.
If you don’t win, you can replay that tragic 4th quarter fumble over and over in your mind. (Been there.)
If you won your bet you can either withdraw your winnings or leave them in your account to bet again. To withdraw your winnings, navigate to the cashier portion of the app and select your method of withdrawal and withdrawal amount (I recommend linking an online bank account). Here’s a video on how to deposit and withdraw money from FanDuel Sportsbook. Note: some sportsbooks impose minimum withdrawal amounts of $5 to $10.
8. Read articles, commentary, and game previews
This is less of a tip on learning sports betting and more of a tip on having a good time while doing it.
I love reading game previews, seeing what people are saying on Twitter, and following the debates on apps like theScore or silly TV shows like First Take. For me, it’s part of the fun of sports betting. I’ll even admit that I’m guilty of letting stats I hear on “Pardon My Take” (my favorite podcast) influence some of my bets. Remember, when all is said and done, you can take credit for the games you’re right about and blame whatever losses you have on that ESPN game preview you read.
9. Consider paid picks… carefully
Some bettors prefer to rely on professional research and picks rather than trying to pick games themselves. I enjoy the adrenaline rush of watching the bet cash in on games that I correctly picked myself. That said, I’ve also paid for picks when I had to roll over some bonus money and felt like I didn’t know enough to make fully informed picks.
There are hundreds of professional handicappers selling picks online. Here are some tips to consider before buying paid picks.
- Find professionals with a public display of past picks: Anyone can claim to make thousands of dollars or have gone 30 - 1 in their last 31 selections. Don’t just take their word for it. Find someone that tracks their picks publicly on their website or other platform, such as Twitter, Action Network or Betsperts.
- Compare prices: Some handicappers might charge $50 for a single pick, while others only charge $20. Price isn't necessarily an indication of quality. Keep this in mind when auditing professionals.
- Subscribe to newsletters with free picks: Lots of professional handicappers send out both premium and free newsletters. If you’re on the fence about using a handicapper, subscribe to their free newsletter to see some of their free picks and their reasoning behind them. Examples include Kyle Hunter sports picks or The OddsBreakers.
- Use common sense: If you get a message on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube from someone claiming to be 40 - 4 in their last 44 picks, be skeptical. Sports betting is hard; Professionals usually get around 55% of their picks right. If someone claims to be picking accurately at a 90% clip and you can’t verify their past picks, it’s probably a scam.
What is a sports handicapper?
A sports handicapper is another name for a professional sports bettor. Handicappers bet on sports for a living, and often sell their picks or are involved in sports and sports betting media.
Who is the best sports handicapper?
Unlike in the investing world, there is no Warren Buffett of sports handicapping. There are several websites such as BoydsBets or SportsCapping that track wins and losses for professionals, but they only include the track records of the pros who sell picks on those sites.
Another reason it’s hard to identify the best sports handicappers is that some professionals stay anonymous when betting on sports because sportsbooks can turn you down as a client if you consistently beat them.
10. Follow these sports betting tips for beginners
Here are four general tips if you’re new to sports betting: don’t chase your losses, look at injury reports, be careful when live betting, and hedge your bets.
- Don’t chase losses. If you’re on a losing streak, don’t bet two or three times as much as you normally would to make up for your losses. Instead, take off a day or two to reevaluate the bets you’ve been making. Look for patterns. For example, do you keep betting the same team every week? Maybe it’s time to switch things up.
- Be careful when live betting. Along the lines of chasing losses, don’t fall victim to live betting your team every time they fall further and further behind in a game. If you see an opportunity once or twice in a game to live bet a team at a good price or to hedge another bet, by all means take it. But mindlessly doubling down on your bet every time your team falls behind is a quick way to lose a lot of money.
- Look at injury reports. If a betting line looks off, there’s a good chance one team could be dealing with injuries. Knowing whether or not a star player is going to be active is important, especially in sports like basketball or football. BoydsBets does a great job of covering injuries.
- Hedge your bets. Most sportsbooks allow you to cash out bets before the game ends. By settling or amending the original bet (or a portion of the bet) before the event has concluded, bettors can lock in a profit or a loss. For example, let’s say you bet $20 on the Dolphins to beat the Jaguars at +100 odds (a $20 bet wins $20). At the end of the 3rd quarter the Dolphins are winning 30 - 20. You could hedge your bet by cashing out your ticket early or placing a live bet on the Jaguars at increased odds. Either way, hedging gives you the opportunity to guarantee a profit or minimize your losses.
Can you get rich from sports betting?
While a majority of sports bettors lose money, there are some professionals who bet on games and earn enough to make a living. Professional handicapping is a full-time job in itself; handicappers typically spend hours analyzing games and data trying to find an edge over the books. Even professionals are happy to get more than 55% of their bets right over an extended period of time. So, while technically speaking you could get rich from sports betting, it is highly unlikely.
What is the easiest sport to bet on?
The easiest sport to bet on is the sport you know the most about. If you watch every MLB game, play fantasy baseball, and read baseball news every day. you’re probably going to be a lot better at picking Yankees games than Patriots or Lakers games.
What is hedging?
Hedging in sports betting is a strategy used to help secure profits or minimize losses. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you bet $10 on the Jaguars to beat the Saints at +300 odds (a $10 bet wins you $30). At half-time, the Jaguars are winning 24 - 13. You can hedge your bet by placing money on the Saints moneyline at halftime. Let’s say the halftime odds on the Saints moneyline are +100 (every $1 wins $1). If you bet $10 on the Saints to win, you are guaranteed to profit on your bet (with the exception of a tie). If the Jaguars win, you will still profit $20, and if the Saints win, you will break even.
What states offer legal online casino games?
Online casino games include online slot machines, online blackjack, online roulette, online bingo, online virtual poker (against a computer), and more.
What states have legal online poker?
Online poker consists of wagering real money against other online poker players. Common games offered include cash games, daily tournaments, and sit-and-go tables.
For Moneyline.com’s annual best online sportsbooks review, we collected more than 36,000 data points over five months from 20 sportsbooks that serve 11 states where full-scale mobile betting is legalized. Hundreds of hours were spent testing and scoring each sportsbook (mobile and online/desktop) in seven core categories: sports and bets offered, odds, live betting, mobile betting, education, ease of use, and bonuses and promotions. The results determined each sportsbook’s overall rating.
Data from more than 1,700 bets (including moneyline, spread and total bets) was used to generate each sportsbook’s comparative odds ranking. Leagues and bet types collected include NCAA football moneyline bets, NCAA basketball moneyline bets, NFL moneyline, spread and total bets, NBA spread, moneyline and total bets, NHL moneyline, puckline and total bets, and soccer 3-way result (moneyline) bets. When collecting odds, we made sure to collect the same games at the same time for each sportsbook, ensuring data accuracy.
About Moneyline.com’s chief sportsbook researcher, Joey Shadeck: I’ve been a hobby sports bettor for more than six years, placing hundreds of bets on my favorite sports (football, basketball, MMA) and teams (Packers, Spartans, and whoever is playing the Lions). Beyond sports betting, I’m known for saying “Wanna bet on it?” in almost any situation and that is how I found out I can eat 42 chicken nuggets in less than 20 minutes.
As of February 2021, 22 different states have legalized sports betting to some capacity. Of those 22 states, the following 11 have legalized full-scale mobile betting: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada (must register in-person), New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia.
Learn more about how we test.
About the Author
Joey Shadeck Joey Shadeck is the lead writer for Moneyline.com and content strategist for Reink Media Group. He has closely tracked sports betting in the United States for the last two years, compiling hundreds of data points across dozens of sportsbooks. He has 6 years of online betting experience with hundreds of bets placed during that time.