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Many new bettors struggle with deciding on how to bet on sports. It’s an especially intimidating undertaking for bettors without a background in statistics. However, it doesn’t take a stats genius to learn and enjoy sports betting. Bettors just need to understand probabilities to get started. This Sports Betting 101 Guide will help you get started. 

Beginner’s Guide To Sports Betting 

Anyone asking themselves, “How does sports betting work?” has come to the right place. Our beginner’s guide will help bettors: 

  • Understand what they’re looking at when they open a sportsbook
  • Create basic strategies to manage their bankrolls
  • Find the best sportsbook – or sportsbooks – to create accounts for 

While Gaming Today can’t reveal every winning wager, we can give bettors the tools to do it themselves. The best sports betting sites include: 

If any of these sports betting sites are available, they’re solid choices for newbies. We have reviews for each of these top sports betting apps on Gaming Today. 

How To Sign Up At A Legal Sportsbook

Choosing An Online Sportsbook

All of the legal mobile sports betting apps featured here at Gaming Today offer a comprehensive array of sports and ways to bet. The welcome bonuses and specific betting markets differ across the sportsbooks, however.

Be sure to research each sportsbook and choose the sites that offer the bonuses and markets that suit you.

Verifying Your Location

Several states offer legal online sports betting, with each requiring that bettors are located within state borders when making bets. All legal online sportsbooks use geolocation technology to confirm a user’s location when they try to bet.

If you’re trying to bet at Caesars Michigan, for example, you must be located in Michigan to make a legal wager. If you’re close to the state border, the geolocation services might falsely detect that you’re outside of state borders.

If this happens, moving closer inland usually solves the issue.

Registering A New Account

Signing up for a new online sportsbook account usually takes just a couple of minutes. You’ll need to provide your first and last name, last four digits of your social security number, and a valid email address.

Once your details are verified by the sportsbook, you’re free to make your first deposit and start betting.

Making Your First Deposit

After registering for your new account, navigate to the “Cashier” or “Add Funds” tab, usually at the top right of the lobby at most online sportsbooks. This tab brings up 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 you can make your first deposit. Once you’ve done that, your first deposit should be added to your player balance within seconds.

Sometimes the issuing bank will reject ACH/eCheck and credit/debit card deposits. PayPal and Play+ usually go through 100% of time time, however.

Making Bets At An Online Sportsbook

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

From there, click on the sport you wish to bet, and all available games and ways to bet come up. You make any bet by simply clicking on the line, which sends the bet to your bet slip.

The bet slip will then prompt you to input the amount you wish to wager, and display the potential payoff for winning the bet. Once you’ve inputted your wager amount, you’ll need to click “Confirm” (or something similar) to send the bet through to the sportsbook.

Most Common Types Of Sports Bets 

Bettors will find these core bets at every sportsbook: 

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

Since these bets are everywhere, understanding them is critical to becoming a successful sports bettor. 

Straight Bets 

Straight bets are the foundational basics of sports betting. They’re single bets on single games. These include: 

  • Moneylines
  • Point spreads
  • Point totals 

For example, if a bettor wanted to wager on the Patriots beating the Titans, they could place a moneyline wager on the Patriots. It’s one bet on one outcome. No matter how any other bets turn out, the Patriots wager would win or lose on its own terms. 

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 Aaron Rogers winning an MVP award at the end of the NFL season. The odds of betting correctly is 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. 

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. 

Can You Make Money Sports Betting?

The answer to this question is easy: of course, you can! Sports betting, either via sports betting websites or apps or at 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.

What Kind Of Math Do You Need To Know?

On the surface, it may seem like the only match you need to know is you have to win more than you lose. Well, technically, that is true. But the match behind the concept can be tricky if you do not know what you are doing.

Let’s say you want to play it safe and only bet on games where you can double your money or at least come close. So, you place five bets on games with +110 odds (a $100 bet will win $110) and five on games with -110 odds (you will have to bet $110 to win $100).

For the sake of the example, let’s say you won all five bets placed on the favorite. That means you won $500. But then you lost all bets on the underdogs—which means you lost $550.

The match can actually get a lot more complicated than that. But the point is this, it is not just a matter of winning more than you lose. You must win the right bets.

But what makes a bet the ‘right’ one? You do your homework and figure it out.

Why Do You Need To Do Homework To Bet On Sports?

If you decide how you are going to bet based on your gut, fandom, or because one team has prettier uniforms than the other, you will have a hard time making money betting on sports. No, with sports betting, decisions need to be analytical.

You need to be clear-headed (so wait on the beer until after you place your bets). Separate yourself from your fandom; do not let being a fan of a team or player (or not being one) influence your decision. People that bet on teams with prettier uniforms do not know anything about the game and are just guessing.

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?

The opening betting line for a game will often not be the closing line. For one reason or another, lines will move throughout the week leading up to game time. It could happen because of injuries, weather, or just the public perception of how a game could play out (among other things).

But 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).

But you could also be contrarian, and go against 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.

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

While the once-a-year, Super-Bowl-only bettor may not need to consider their bankroll finances, even the beginning, consistent bettor does. Anyone who bets over the long term will benefit from these few minor mathematical considerations.

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, in the worst-case scenario, to lose. You can also decide to deposit a set amount of cash on, say, a monthly basis.

Step 2: Bet Sizing

Once you’ve established what your bankroll is, the next step is to determine the size of your individual 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, a loss, 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, say, half of your winnings monthly. This strategy would allow you to grow your bankroll slowly while also 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.

10 Common Question About How Sports Betting Works

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 it’s 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’s live bet:

  • Milwaukee Bucks: -530
  • Orlando Magic: +380  

These are the odds from the third quarter, so bettors have a lot of game information to work with. Anyone confident the Bucks would carry the game could wager on the Bucks to win. But anyone confident in a comeback from the Orlando Magic 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 fewer the teams will score fewer combined points than the sportsbook says. For example, a sportsbook might offer odds like this for a hockey game

  • St. Louis Blues: O 5.5
  • Colorado Avalanche: U 5.5

Either the Blues 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 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, almost two dozen states have legal online sportsbooks or are in the process of launching sports betting. Some of the most popular states where sports betting is legal include Michigan, Colorado, and Illinois.

What Is Live Betting? 

Betting on sports games is one thing, but betting during them can be exhilarating. Live betting allows bettors to make wagers during a game. Sometimes, teams will have a rough start, but bring it together in the end. Other teams have a great start then finish poorly. (Broncos anyone?)

Live betting lets bettors take advantage of these changing odds. It tests a bettor’s ability to guess how the game will change during play. It’s a fresh challenge for bettors who pick the basics up quickly. 

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
  • FOX Bet: Bet boosts that can improve odds over other sportsbooks
  • SBK: Competitive odds, overall

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.  

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. 

Sports Betting 101 FAQs

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. 

In Which States Can I Place A Sports Bet Online? 

Here are the states that legalized online sports betting and whose online sports betting industries are live: 

  • Michigan
  • Virginia
  • Nevada
  • Colorado 
  • Iowa 
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • West Virginia
  • Pennsylvania 
  • New Jersey 
  • New Hampshire 
  • Tennessee
  • Arizona
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 en mass. 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 aren’t 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: 

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.

About the Author

Christopher Gerlacher

Christopher Gerlacher is a senior author and contributor for Gaming Today. He's a devout Broncos fan, for better or for worse, living in the foothills of Arvada, Colorado.

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