How to Bet on Sports Online: The Sports Betting Basics

Are you hoping to learn how to bet on sports online or gain a better understanding of props and parlays? Lucky for you, you’ve come to the right place. This sports betting 101 guide breaks down the basics, fundamentals, and more advanced practices that can help you become a successful sports bettor in 2024.

We can’t guarantee wins at Gaming Today, but we aim to help you learn how to bet on sports and better understand sports betting strategies so you can confidently place wagers on your favorite leagues.

How to Bet on Sports: A Beginner’s Guide

Our Sports Betting 101 beginner’s guide will help new bettors:

  • Understand how to open a new sportsbook account.
  • Learn the most common types of bets and how they work.
  • Create basic strategies to manage their bankrolls.

If you’d like to learn how to bet on a specific event or league, check out the following resources:

Find a Sportsbook for Your Personal Preferences

The best online sports betting apps offer highly competitive odds, great market depth, advanced security features, responsible gaming and customer service resources, top-rated sportsbook rewards programs, and more.

If you live in one of the states with legal sports betting, these licensed sportsbooks represent safe and trusted options that are likely available to you.

How to Sign Up at a Legal Sportsbook

 

1

Claim Welcome Offer at an Online Sportsbook

The legal mobile sports betting apps featured at Gaming Today offer various sports and bet types. Each major sportsbook brand provides several ways to bet on college football, the NFL, the Kentucky Derby, NBA playoffs, and other major leagues.

The welcome bonuses, specific betting markets, and odds will differ across the sportsbooks, so be sure to research each one and choose the betting sites offering sportsbook bonuses, rewards programs, and markets that suit you.

Click one of Gaming Today’s sign-up links and enter the promo code (if applicable) to start the registration process.

2

Register a New Sportsbook Account

Creating a new online sportsbook account usually takes just a couple of minutes. You must provide identity-verifying information, including your first and last name, email address, and phone number.

Once the sportsbook verifies your details, you can make your first deposit and start betting.

The welcome offer will automatically be applied to your account if you click one of our sign-up links and enter the promo code when prompted.

3

Make Your First Deposit

After registering your new account, navigate to the “Cashier”, “Account”, or “Add Funds” tab — usually located on the right side of the menu bar. This tab includes deposit options like ACH/eCheck, credit/debit card, PayPal, and Play+.

You might need to upload a digital copy of your driver’s license or state ID before making your first deposit. Once you’ve done that, your first deposit should be added to your player balance within seconds.

4

Place Your First Bets

The betting markets at online sportsbooks include domestic, international, and sometimes niche sports. At DraftKings, for example, clicking on the “A-Z Sports” link at the left of the main lobby brings up all available sports.

You can click on the sport you wish to bet on. You should see all available matches and betting options for each. You can make a bet by simply clicking the line, which sends the wager to your bet slip.

The bet slip will then prompt you to input the amount you wish to wager and display the potential payout for winning the bet. Once you’ve inputted your wager amount, you must click “Confirm” (or something similar) to officially place the bet.

Most Common Types Of Sports Bets

Bettors will find these core types of bets at every major sportsbook:

  • Straight bets
  • Futures bets
  • Prop bets
  • Parlay bets

Since these popular wager options are readily available everywhere, understanding them is critical to becoming a successful sports bettor.

Straight Bets

Straight bets represent the foundation of match betting. They’re single bets placed on single games. These include:

  • Moneylines
  • Point Spreads
  • Totals (Over/Under)

Moneylines

For example, if a bettor wants to wager on the Green Bay Packers to beat the Detroit Lions, they could place a moneyline wager on the Packers. It’s one bet on one outcome. No matter how many other bets turn out, the Packers’ wager would win or lose on its terms.

Point Spreads

With point spread betting, you can bet on the margin of victory within a matchup featuring two teams or two individual players. Spread betting makes it possible to bet on the underdog confidently. You can bet on the underdog to “cover the spread”, and they’ll have to win the game outright or lose by less than a number of points set by oddsmakers. When taking the favorite to cover the spread, they must win the match outright by at least a certain number of points.

For example, if you wager on the New York Knicks (-5.5) over the Golden State Warriors, they must win the game by at least 5.5 points to cover the spread. On the flip side, if you like the underdog Warriors, they must win the game outright or lose by less than 5.5 points in order to cover.

Totals (Over/Under)

Similar to point spreads, totals are set by sportsbook oddsmakers for every match. A total (Over/Under) represents the combined number of points the two teams are expected to score.

So, you can bet on Over the listed point total if you think it will be a high-scoring matchup or Under the point total if you don’t think the two teams will score as many combined points as the oddsmakers.

Let’s say you want to bet on the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Boston Bruins, but aren’t sure which team will win. In this case, you could bet on the total number of goals scored in the matchup. Take Over 6.5 if you think the two teams will combine for at least 7 goals or Under 6.5 if you think it will be a lower-scoring affair.

Futures Bets

Futures bets are high-risk, high-reward wagers on a season’s outcome. That includes everything from Championship winners to award winners. A wager on the Packers winning the Super Bowl would be a futures bet. So would a wager on Justin Jefferson winning an MVP award at the end of the NFL season. The odds of betting correctly are challenging, even for sophisticated statistical models. But the rewards are massive for bettors who wager correctly. So, high-risk bettors with strong opinions may be drawn to these.

Some available futures odds:

Prop Bets

Prop bets are also called fun bets. They’re wagers that have nothing to do with a game’s outcome. They’re on random events during the game. They could include everything from the first team to score a set number of touchdowns to the length of the high note at the end of the National Anthem. They’re fun random wagers and are good for parties.

Parlay Bets

Parlay bets are a string of bets that all have to come true for the bet to win. So, bettors could create a parlay bet that wagers the Broncos and Notre Dame will both win their games. In a parlay bet, both wagers have to win for the parlay to win. There’s no partial credit. It’s risky, but it boosts the odds and increases payouts.

Daily Fantasy Sports

Not all sportsbooks offer daily fantasy sports (DFS) betting, and it may not be available in all states where other legal sports bets are allowed.

For everyone else, DFS betting should be an easy transition if you’ve hopped online or met up with friends to draft a fantasy sports team.

  • Best Ball contests favor bettors who draft well. In that format, fans pick a league and pay an entry fee. Set your team through a snake-draft then watch the bet unfold all season long. No need to worry about setting lineups each week, scouring the waiver wire or waiting for a buddy to answer your trade offer. With Best Ball, your highest-scoring line-up is selected for you automatically each week.
  • You’ll also use a snake draft to place a Battle Royale bet. This format favors fans who pay attention to favorable matchups each day or each week — depending on the sport. If you enter an NFL Battle Royale league on an NFL Sunday, the bet is settled when that day’s action is over.
  • Fans of prop bets and parlays might like DFS Pick’em contests. For example, you can choose Justin Herbert to throw for more yards than Josh Allen and choose Alex Ovechkin to score — or not — in a Washington Capitals hockey game. Much like a parlay, the entire bet loses if you miss one of your Pick’em guesses.

DFS Apps: Betr Promo CodePrizePicks Fantasy Promo CodeSleeper Fantasy Promo CodeSuperDraft Fantasy Promo Code | Underdog Fantasy Promo Code

Can You Make Money Betting on Sports?

The answer to this question is easy: of course, you can! Wagering via sportsbook betting apps, online sportsbooks, or retail locations did not become a billion-dollar industry based on the possibility of making money. Some people have and do make money simply from betting on sports.

However, it is worth noting that more people lose than win, which is why the gambling industry is as lucrative as it is. But if you are smart, understand the math, and stick to a plan, you can be one of those people who come out on top.

How Do You Make A Sports Bet Successful?

Have an honest conversation with yourself about why you got involved in sports betting in the first place. Many people have dreams about betting on sports for a living. The reality is that’s a tough putt to make. The magic number for being a successful sports bettor is winning 52.4% of your bets at standard odds of -110 and a corresponding vig of 4.76%. The vig, or vigorish, is the amount a sportsbook charges to handle your bet. Remember: You’re not getting rich by winning 52.4% of the time. You’re just barely breaking even on the plus side.

You may be a recreational sports bettor and enjoy having a small or moderate amount of money on a game. As the old axiom goes, you bet with your head and not over it. These types of players will enjoy the overall experience more.

Why You Need To Do Homework To Bet On Sports

If you decide you will bet based on your gut instincts, your favorite team(s), or because one team has more colorful uniforms than the other, you’re likely to have a difficult time betting on sports. Sports betting decisions must be analytical and should be based on facts rather than feelings.

You need to be clear-headed (wait on the beer until after you’ve placed your bets). Separate yourself from your fandom. You shouldn’t let being a fan of a team or player (or not being one) influence your decision.

Never guess or make an “educated guess.”

You can avoid guessing and make it easier to set your fandom aside by doing your homework. Learn what you can about both teams. Not just how well they are playing or what they are good at, but injuries and anything else that could impact a game.

But there is more to it than just knowing the two teams. You need to understand the odds and how they may move.

Why Should I Care About Moving Lines?

Oddsmakers set an opening betting line to attract even money on both sides of the bet. They are always trying to limit liability for their sportsbook. The opening betting line for a game will often not be the closing line. Lines shift for a variety of reasons, including weather, injuries, player transactions, team form, and how the public is betting the line.

When lines move, the odds will favor one side more while adding value to the other. The team with value is also going to be the underdog. But that is where doing your homework comes in. If you have reason to believe the underdog can win the game, you have found a bet worth making.

Do I Want To Be Contrarian?

Lines move because of injuries and other factors that impact the game. But they often move because much of the public is betting one way, and the book needs more people to bet the other. Now, you can go with the majority and bet on one team (go with the public).

You could also be contrarian and go against (or fade) the public and bet on the other side. The other side will be the underdog, which will mean a higher payout if you win. But it needs to be the right bet for the right amount.

What Is A Bankroll And Why Is Managing It So Important?

Along with keeping a calm, clear head when you bet and doing your homework, you need to have a plan as you kick off your sports betting journey. Figure out how much money you want to risk throughout the season—this is your bankroll.

You want your bankroll to last, so figure out how much of it you want to risk per game/week—and stick to that number. Avoid committing too much to one game because your bankroll takes a severe hit if you lose.

If you win, do not get cocky and bet more the following week. Consequently, do not chase losses by making bigger bets the next week. Both scenarios are recipes for disaster.

Bankroll Management In Practice

If you only bet on Super Bowl odds each year to make the game more interesting, you may not need to emphasize bankroll finances. But, if you bet with any consistency at all,  even in the beginning, you will benefit from a few minor mathematical considerations in the long run.

Step 1: Determining Bankroll Size

Probably the most important aspect of bankroll management is establishing a proper understanding of your financial situation. Investing the right amount of money in yourself helps to mitigate much of the emotion in betting and, therefore, many of the bad decisions.

To determine the right amount of money to invest, first ask yourself the following question: How much money can I afford to lose? If your answer to that question is less than you have invested, abort the mission ASAP.

This number will range widely between bettors and depends entirely on your personal finances and risk tolerance. Do not put $1,000 into your account if you will need that money for rent or a car payment.

Instead, you should decide on a reasonable amount of money to invest from your savings – a number you are willing to lose in the worst-case scenario. You can also decide to deposit a set amount of cash on, say, a monthly basis.

Step 2: Bet Sizing

Once you’ve established your bankroll, the next step is to determine the size of your bets. Just because you have invested $1,000 in your sportsbook doesn’t mean you should throw it all down on one bet.

The above situation can be classified as a “negative risk asymmetry.” Your potential risk (in real, not merely economic, terms) outweighs your potential gains. A doubling-up would be nice, while a loss would be disastrous. Never extend yourself so much that a single loss, or a few consecutive losses, is enough to wipe your account clean.

Instead, you should decide on a percentage of your bankroll that you are comfortable allocating for each wager. Bettors will fall into one of the following three categories: risk-averse, risk-neutral, and risk-loving; these categories map onto the preferred bet sizing strategies, respectively: conservative, average, and aggressive.

As a rule of thumb, a conservative bettor should wager 1 – 2% of their bankroll per bet, an average bettor 3%, an aggressive, 4 – 5%. As an example, if you adopt a conservative strategy and have a bankroll of $1,000, your standard bet size should be between $10 and $20.

Step 3: Recalibrating Bankroll And Risk

As you continue placing bets, your bankroll will change. Though hopefully positive, any change in bankroll size may necessitate a recalibration. Say you started with $1,000 and an aggressive strategy, betting $50 per wager – what should you do if your bankroll grows to $1,500?

Your first option is to change nothing. You can hope to continue your success with those $50 bets. However, those $50 bets would become a smaller and smaller proportion of your bankroll the more money you make.

In other words, if you kept up the $50 bets once your bankroll reached $1,500, you would only be betting about 3% of your bankroll – downgrading your risk strategy from aggressive to average.

To avoid this outcome, you can recalibrate your bet sizing whenever your bankroll changes. In the previous example (if you wanted to maintain a 5% bet size), you would change your standard bet from $50 to $75.

If it seems a bit tedious to recalculate your bet sizing after every win or loss, that’s because it is. Most bettors prefer to recalibrate their bankroll on a fixed schedule – perhaps once a month.

A third option is to withdraw funds. If you feel comfortable with your $50 bets and want to maintain the proportionality for an aggressive strategy, you could decide to withdraw any money you make that exceeds your $1,000 principal investment.

You could also utilize a hybrid strategy, withdrawing half of your winnings monthly. This strategy would allow you to grow your bankroll while slowly solidifying some of your gains.

How Bankroll Management Gives You A Sports Betting Edge

While taking the time to calculate these financial details may seem monotonous, it is definitely worth the effort. Of all the tweaks you can make to your game, managing your bankroll properly may be the best bang for your buck. It’s the difference between having a long-term strategy and going along without a plan. Whatever your winning percentage, proper bankroll management is a must.

How to Bet On Sports: Common Questions

Many bettors have similar questions at the beginning. Here are the top ten.

What Is a Point Spread?

Point spreads are the number of points a team has to win or lose by. Here’s what they mean:

  • -2.5 means the favorite to win has to win by at least three points.
  • +2.5 means the underdog has to lose by less than three points.

That gives bettors who wager on their favorite teams the same chance to win bets as bettors who wager on the best teams.

Any betting guide worth its salt can answer that.

What Is a Moneyline Bet?

Moneyline bets are the most basic of sports betting basics. It’s a bet on who will win the game. Here’s an example from an NBA live bet:

  • Philadelphia 76ers: -530
  • New York Knicks: +380

These are the odds from the third quarter, so bettors have a lot of game information to work with. Anyone confident the 76ers would carry the game could wager on Philadelphia to win. But anyone confident in a comeback from the New York Knicks could bet on them to win.

What Is a Favorite and What is an Underdog?

A favorite is the team expected to win the game. The underdog is the team expected to lose. Favorites are marked with a negative sign, and underdogs are marked with a positive sign. Those signs tell bettors how risky their wagers are. The lower the negative odds, the higher the chances the favorite will win. The higher the positive odds, the lower the chances the underdog will win.

What Does Over/Under Mean?

Over/Unders refer to point total bets. Bettors who wager over the point total are betting that the two teams will score more combined points than the sportsbook says. Unders wager that the teams will score fewer combined points than the sportsbook says. For example, a sportsbook might offer NHL odds like this:

  • Chicago Blackhawks: O 5.5
  • Colorado Avalanche: U 5.5

Either the Blackhawks have to score six or more goals, or the Avalanche has to score five or fewer goals.

What Does -125 Mean?

-125 tells bettors a few things. First, these are odds on the favorite. Whichever team this is is predicted to win – in this case, 55.6%. (Online odds calculators can convert sportsbook odds to probabilities.) These odds also mean that bettors have to wager $125 to win $100. Since this team is more likely to win, sportsbooks aren’t going to pay more out than they accept. Bettors may profit individually, but underdog wagers and house advantages are going to keep sportsbook profits up.

Where Can I Place A Bet?

Since placing bets is integral to sports betting, bettors should know how to find sportsbooks. Many states list licensed sportsbook operators either on the Department of Revenue website or the Lottery Division website. (It depends on who runs sportsbooks in that state.) Bettors can also search for sportsbooks at casinos or find sportsbook websites and apps in states that allow online wagering.

The list of states with legal online sports betting is growing by the year. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legal sports gambling, and several more are in the process of launching sports betting. Some of the most popular states where sports betting is legal now include New York, Louisiana, New Jersey, Michigan, Colorado, and Illinois.

What Is Live Betting?

Live betting, or in-game wagering, has become an increasingly popular option among sports bettors. Live bets are made after a game has officially started. These are the opposite of traditional pre-flop (made before the game) bets.

Oddsmakers adjust odds on a real-time basis based on how the game is playing out. Sometimes, it can be beneficial to watch the early portion of game to get a feel for it. Does it look to be a high-scoring affair or a defensive slugfest? Based on your early impression, you can make an informed bet on the adjusted total.

How Much Should I Bet?

No more than you’re willing to lose. Learn how to bet on sports one at a time, first. Then you can make a few wagers at a time. Eventually, bettors will be able to put several wagers on one bankroll. Professional bettors know how to distribute their bets so they can balance wins against losses. They begin to run their bet slips like sportsbooks run books.

And it all starts from learning how to make one bet at a time.

What Sports Betting App Offers The Best Odds?

It depends. Some sportsbooks offer strong odds on the favorite, the underdog, certain sports, or offer so many boosts and promotions that they beat the competition. Here are some common trends:

  • DraftKings: Competitive odds on favorites
  • FanDuel: Competitive odds on underdogs
  • BetMGM: Bet boosts that can improve odds over other sportsbooks

No sportsbook will have the best odds every time. The best way to bet on sports is to understand your own preferences. Then, find a sportsbook that matches them.

Pick Your Sport, Pick the Best Sportsbook Offers

Gaming Today always recommends opening multiple sports betting accounts. This will allow you to shop around for the best odds on any game in the future. Odds can vary from sportsbook to sportsbook based on how their customers are betting on a game. Find the best betting odds out there because even a half-point can mean the difference between winning and losing your wager.

What Are The Most Common Betting Mistakes?

Betting on your favorite team instead of the best team is the best way to burn through your money. If you keep losing wagers, don’t keep trying to make the same strategy work. Chasing losses doesn’t work in Vegas, and it doesn’t work on DraftKings. Failing to learn and adjust will hurt new bettors more than most things they can do. (It’s as true on the field as it is off the field.)

Understanding sports betting means understanding that feelings can’t be part of your wagers. Deliberate strategies beat feelings over the lifetime of a sportsbook account.

How to Bet on Sports FAQ

What Is The First Step To Start Betting On Sports? 

Pick a sportsbook. Bettors don’t have to know the ins and outs of sportsbooks to start betting. They just have to choose a licensed brand, create an account, and start betting. Bettors shouldn’t deposit more than they’re willing to lose, though. Responsible gaming is important. They should also take welcome bonuses into account when they’re making their first deposits and wagers.

Are Sports Gambling Apps Legal In The US? 

Some states allow them. Sports betting has spread across the United States, but not every state has implemented it the same way. Some sportsbooks only allow retail sports betting. Others have online and mobile sports betting. Bettors can check their states’ laws to see whether mobile betting is on the table for them.

What Is The Best Sports Betting App On The Market?

DraftKings, BetMGM, FanDuel, and Caesars Sportsbook are all “best in class” sports betting apps that you should consider downloading. These are blue-chip sportsbooks that offer significant sign-up bonuses for new users, too.

What Are The Benefits Of Using Legal Sports Betting Apps Rather Than Illegal Bookmaker Apps? 

Reliable payouts, site security, and state regulation. In Colorado, licensed sportsbooks are required to keep enough cash on hand to pay bettors. Most states require security audits before sportsbooks go live so social security numbers aren’t stolen. Finally, state governments can twist sportsbooks’ arms into operating legitimately. The risks of abandoning these protections aren’t worth the potential rewards of using illegal sportsbooks.

Are the “better” odds associated with illegal sportsbooks worth your social security number?

Is It Safe To Place Sports Bets Online? 

Yes. Licensed sportsbook sites are audited by either state or independent authorities to ensure player data is safe. The most common security measure is end-to-end encryption. That means a hacker can’t even see what bettors are typing into their screens. It’s the kind of security bettors should expect in an industry handling such sensitive information.

How Old Do I Need To Be To Bet On Sports In The US? 

In most states, 21. However, three states with legalized (but not necessarily live and operational) sports betting allow 18-year-olds to gamble:

  • Washington
  • Montana
  • Rhode Island
  • Kentucky

Each of these states probably has a fascinating history that explains why it lets 18-year-olds gamble. But in the meantime, all we can say is not to blow all your college money at a sportsbook.

Even though a few states set the age limit at 18, many sportsbooks keep the 21+ restriction. They prefer consistent rules no matter where their customers are.

About the Author
Carson Mundy

Carson Mundy

Brand Content Manager
Carson Mundy is the brand content manager of Gaming Today. With a background in politics and sports, he covers the legislative side of the sports betting industry. Carson has more than a decade of experience in the Canadian media and marketing industries, with time spent at resulta, The Canadian Press, Microsoft News, and other national outlets.

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