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The Different Ways to Bet a Sporting Event

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There are several different types of common sports bets and here we explain them all:

Against the Spread

In every game, there is a favorite and an underdog. In order to make the game even for betting purposes, oddsmakers come up with a point spread, or line. The spread is a handicap, the amount of points you have to part with if you bet on the favorite, and the amount you will receive as an underdog.

Every game that has a point spread is considered an even proposition, a 50/50 bet. In fact, that is the purpose of the spread, to make the teams even, so that there is no obvious advantage to picking one side or the other. In order to make money on wagers against the spread, sports books charge a commission (or a vig), typically 10%, that you pay on losing bets, i.e., you have to risk $55 to win $50.

In order to overcome the vig, you have to win roughly 52.5% of the time.

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Also called the total, this is a bet on the sum of points scored by both teams in a given game. For example, the over/under line for the Titans-Cowboys’ game might be 40. If the Titans win 30 – 13, the total is 43, and the over wins. If the Cowboys, win 20 -13, the total is 33 and the under wins. It doesn’t matter which team scores what.

The over/under is also a 50/50 bet, and as such, there is typically a 10% vig attached, just as with games against the spread.

Money Line

The money line is as odds bet. Instead of parting with points or receiving points to make the game even, you part with or receive extra money. For example, if the oddsmakers believe that it’s twice as likely that Dallas will beat Arizona than the other way around, then the odds will look something like this: Dallas (-220) vs. Arizona (+180). Dallas -220 means that if you want to bet on Dallas, you have to risk $220 in order to win $100. Arizona +180 means that if you bet on Arizona, you risk $100 to win $180.


The reason why you lose $220 if you bet Dallas win just $180 if you bet Arizona, is that this disparity takes the place of the vig, i.e., the big is built into the odds here.



Basically, parlays are bad bets. They are essentially the combining of two or more standard against the spread bets for a better payout. For example, if you feel strongly about Tennessee -15 against Dallas and Philadelphia -10 against Arizona, then you may want to parlay the two games. In that case, if you lose either you lose your entire bet. If both win, you get paid 13-5 or 5-2, depending on the house.


In other words, if you parlay $50 on those two games, you’ll win $125-$130 if and only if both teams cover. So why is this a bad bet? Because you have a 50% chance to win each game, and thus a 25% chance to win both. If you were getting true or fair odds, a 25% chance would pay 3:1. In that case, you would risk $50 to win $150. But you only get $125 to $130. Assuming that you get $130, you are receving $20 less (or 13.33%) less than an even bet would pay. But remember: on normal bets against the spread, you only kick in an extra 10% on losses.



There are two basic kinds of teases: a two and a three team tease. With the two team variety, you can take six points and do what you want with it on two different games. For example, if you like Tennessee-15 against Dallas and Philadelphia -10 against Arizona, then you can tease both spreads down by six points, to Tennessee-9 and Philly -4. Assuming you bet $50, if the Titans win 30-20 and the Eagles win 16-10, you will win $50. If either team fails to cover the teased spread, you lose $50. Moreover, if you tie on either leg of the tease, you lose the entire bet.

There’s no need for the house to take a vig because the tease is a bad bet. Six points, as attractive as it seems, doesn’t quite make up for having to win both games.

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