Betting on sports is a fun way to be a part of the action without breaking a sweat. Let’s investigate sports betting to understand how it works so you can play like a champ.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to make online or in-person retail bets on sports. While every place has its own sports betting options and rules, there are a few key concepts to understand.
In some jurisdictions—including Canada—the law forbids sports betting on a single event. You must make a “parlay” bet, which is a bet on two or more outcomes. In other words, you cannot place a bet only on a hockey team to win a game, you must also bet on a second outcome, such as the two teams combining for 10 goals.
For sports betting, the odds may be presented in one of three formats: decimal, American or fractional. You can usually choose the one you prefer. We present our examples below using decimal odds, which is the common format for sports betting in Canada, Europe and Australia.
With decimal odds, you simply multiply the amount of your bet by the value of the odds to determine how much you stand to win—though your winnings includes the amount of your bet. If two outcomes are listed, the one with the lower number is more likely to happen.
For example, if the odds given are 2.00, and you bet $10, the calculation is:
The odds (2.00) x Your bet ($10) = Your payout ($20)
Remember that your payout includes the amount you bet. So your profit on this wager is $10.
To determine your potential winnings on a parlay bet of multiple outcomes, you simply multiply the values of the all the odds, then multiply that by the amount of your bet.
For example, if the odds of your parlay bet on two outcomes are 1.50 and 3.00, and you bet $10, the calculation is:
The odds for outcome one (1.50) x The odds for outcome two (3.00) x your bet ($10) = $45
Your profit if you won both these bets would be $45 – $10 = $35.
In a moneyline bet, you simply bet on which team will win. It doesn’t matter what the final score is, only who wins. You can place moneyline bets in almost any sport.
Here’s an example of what you’d see for a moneyline bet:
In this example, if you bet $10 on Pittsburgh to win, you would win $15, for a profit of $5. If you bet $10 on Washington to win, you would win $25, for a tidy $15 profit.
If you bet on a point spread, you’re betting that a result is going to happen by a certain amount. It’s not enough that the team you bet on wins—they have to win by more than the point spread.
Here’s an example of what you’d see for a point spread bet:
Tampa Bay +5.5 (1.90)
Seattle -5.5 (1.90)
In this example, a bet on Seattle would mean that you think Seattle will win by more than 5.5 points. If they do win by more than 5.5 points, you would say they “covered the spread.” If you bet $10 that Seattle would cover the point spread, you would win $19, including your original $10 bet, for a profit of $9.
If Seattle wins by fewer than 5.5 points, or if they lose, you would say they did not cover the spread, or you could say they lost “against the spread.” If you bet on Seattle in this case, you would lose your money.
If you bet on Tampa Bay—+5.5 on the point spread—and they win the game, or if they lose by fewer than 5.5 points, you win. If you bet $10, you would win $19, for a profit of $9.
An outright bet is a bet on the outcome of a series of matches, such as an entire season or tournament. For instance, you could place an outright bet on the winner of the Stanley Cup, or of the US Open golf tournament.
You can place a bet before the season or event starts, or, in some cases, you can place a bet as it progresses. The odds will change during the season or event, based on all the factors that influence the ultimate outcome. How the competitors are performing against expectations, for example, and who they might be expected to play in the final matches.
Over/under total points
This is a bet on a particular stat being achieved in the course of an event. The most common type of over/under bet is on the combined points scored by two teams in a game, which is also known as a “game total bet.” Over/under bets may be offered on other stats as well, like the total number of penalty minutes in a hockey game, or the total number of hits in a baseball game.
Here’s an example of what you’d see for an over/under total points bet:
Victoria vs. Calgary Total Points
Over 6.5 (1.75)
Under 6.5 (2.1)
For this game between Victoria and Calgary, the over/under is 6.5. If you place a bet on the over, you win if the two teams combine to score more than 6.5 points. It doesn’t matter which team wins, or what the score is—it could be 7–0 or 4–3. All that matters is the total number of points scored by the two teams.
Like the other examples, the 1.75 indicates that If you correctly bet $10 on the over, you win 1.75 x $10, or $17.50.
If you place a bet on the under, you’re betting that the two teams will combine to score fewer than 6.5 points. In this example, if you correctly bet $10 on the under, you’re paid 2.1 x $10, or $21.
If the total points scored equals the over/under, it’s known as a push. You don’t win, and you don’t lose.
Odds, skill and chance
People who know a lot about sports may think they can use that knowledge to their advantage for placing bets.
The challenge is that the oddsmakers know a lot too. They have access to detailed statistics that you’ve probably never heard of, and sophisticated systems for generating odds.
They study the players’ health, team matchups, the weather—anything that may influence outcomes, and they incorporate those factors into the odds of a particular bet.
Don’t be fooled, chance still plays a big part, no matter your skill level.