Beginner’s Guide to Sports Betting

Beginner's Guide To Sports Betting
New to sports betting? SharpSide’s Beginner’s Guide To Sports Betting is the perfect place to start

Sports betting can be a very fun and profitable activity, either giving you an extra sweat on the games you’re watching or padding your bankroll. It can also be intimidating, especially for beginners. That’s why SharpSide is here to help get you started with our Beginner’s Guide to Sports Betting, a perfect sports betting guide to get you headed in the right direction.

Casinos can have a lot of bright lights and moving parts. Fast talkers throw around words and phrases you’ve never heard before. Sportsbooks display a myriad of numbers with plus and minus signs galore that can confuse the heck out of people. This all comes with betting real money. You know you want in, but you’re a little timid for what this world brings.

In this sports betting guide, you’ll find a few of the often-asked questions from beginners, plus you’ll find a few links for further reading to keep you on the right path.

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Once you’re done arming yourself with a bit of knowledge, go ahead and download the free-to-use SharpSide app. It’s the perfect tool for your to try our sports betting without having to put any actual money on the line. Available now for iOS and Android, the SharpSide app allows you to make free picks for a wide variety of sports and bets, track results, compete on leaderboards, and win great prizes. Get your feet wet, try out new strategies, and hone your skills with the free SharpSide sports betting app today.

What is a favorite?

A favorite is a team or competitor that oddsmakers expect to win, and it is often displayed with a minus sign in front of the odds. This is the team or competitor that is favored over the opposition, hence being called a favorite. When betting a point spread, the favorite will often be laying or giving points to the opposition to make the wager evener. When wagering on the money line, the favorite will have a lesser return on the money that is bet.

What is an underdog?

Opposite to a favorite, an underdog is the team or competitor oddsmakers expect to lose. Underdogs are often displayed with a plus sign in front of the odds. Underdogs operate in similar fashion to favorites when it comes to a point spread or a moneyline, just opposite. When betting a point spread, the underdog will often be receiving extra points versus the opposition to make the wager evener. When wagering on the money line, the underdog will have a greater return on the money that is bet.

What is a pick or pick’em?

A pick or a pick’em is when a bet is even on both sides in terms of who the oddsmakers expect to win, meaning it’s a 50-50 proposition. You just “pick” who you think is going to come out on top without having to overcome a point spread or lay odds. In pick’em contests, betting the money line will lend an even return.

What is the point spread and how do spreads work?

A point spread is used to even a betting matchup between two sides. The favorite will be giving points to the other side, and the underdog will be receiving points. To win against the point spread, the favorite must overcome the number of points given to the underdog. For the underdog to win against the point spread, the underdog can use the points given to overcome the opposition.

For example, let’s say the Boston Celtics are -4 favorites over the Los Angeles Lakers, who are +4 underdogs. After the final score is realized, the Celtics would subtract four points from their total if that’s the team you bet on, or the Lakers would add four points if you bet on this side. This would then determine if the bet was won “against the spread.” In this example, if the Celtics beat the Lakers by a score of 100-90, all bets placed on Boston at -4 would win, as they overcame the four-point spread, and all bets placed on Los Angeles at +4 would lose because the team failed to overcome Boston’s total even with the added points. Likewise, if the final score was 94-92 in favor of the Celtics, the Celtics would lose a point-spread bet and the Lakers would win.

Because the point spread is used to even the matchup, the odds you receive on a point-spread bet are much closer to even in terms of your return.

For more on the point spread, check out our point spread betting page.

What is the money line and how does it work?

Betting on the money line means you are betting on the two sides straight up, without the added or subtracted points that a point spread provides.

If the Dallas Cowboys played the New York Giants, you pick which team you would want to win and the odds factor in who is the favorite and who is the underdog. In this example, the Cowboys might be listed at a price of -200 and the Giants listed as +175. This shows us that the Cowboys are the favorite to win the game and the Giants are the underdog (note the minus and plus signs, as mentioned before). With these odds, you would need to bet $200 on the Cowboys to win $100. On the other side, a bet of $100 on the Giants would win you $175.

This same game may be listed using a point spread, too, and that can help you determine where you want to make your bet.

What is a total?

In a game, a total is the number of points scored. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks will often release lines for the total amount of points scored between both teams in a game, and bettors can wager on if they think the total will be over or under the listed amount. This is often referred to as an “over/under” bet. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks can also put up totals for each side separately.

Totals can also apply to wins in a season. In fact, season win totals are some of the most popular wagers across all major sports, especially in the NFL. An oddsmaker or a sportsbook will determine a line to set for the number of wins a team will get in a regular season. Bettors can then wager on if they think the team will win more or fewer games than the number posted.

Where can you place a sports bet?

Depending on the jurisdiction, sports bets can be placed in a sportsbook or online, but those interested in placing a sports bet should understand the rules and regulations of the market they are in. Las Vegas is known for its dozens of state-of-the-art sportsbooks that cater to all kinds of sports bettors. If you’re making a trip to Sin City, check out SharpSide’s list and reviews of Las Vegas sportsbooks.

For sports betting options in other states, check out the links below.


How much should you bet?

A wise man once said, “Only bet what you can afford to lose.” This applies to investing in stocks, playing poker, and especially to betting on sports. Only wagering in amounts that are comfortable to you is part of proper bankroll management, and know that each person is different, with varying thresholds.

Oftentimes you’ll hear sports bettors refer to the amount of money wagered in “units.” A unit is a predetermined bet size a bettor will use as an average wager. From there, a bettor will determine how many units to wager depending on the conservative or aggressive nature of the bet.

It is commonly suggested that bettors risk in the range of 1%-5% of his or her bankroll on each individual bet, depending on the confidence level you have in the bet. The lower end of that range, 1%, is often one unit for a sports bettor. Putting this into an example, let’s say you have $1,000 in your betting bankroll. Each unit would be 1% or $10 and your maximum bet can be 5% or $50. Applying the 1%-5% rule, sports bettors can guard against losing streaks and avoid losing an entire bankroll quickly.

Why did the odds change?

In most cases, the odds are always changing. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks are constantly trying to find and keep the best middle ground in a wager and often need to adjust one side of a bet, the other, or both in order to do so. Too much money being bet on one side or the other can cause the odds or point spread to be adjusted, and then there are things like changes in the weather or injury news that can affect how a game will play out and push oddsmakers to adjust.

Odds or point spreads changing is completely normal. Just like the prices in the stock market can and will adjust over time, so will the odds and point spreads at a sportsbook. Odds change and line movement can work for you, but they can also work against you. This is why it’s suggested to study line movements when you are looking to place a wager.

What if there’s a tie?

A tie in the world of sports betting is often referred to as a “push.” If you bet on the money line and there was a tie as the result, you’ll likely get your money back and that’s it. The same goes for a point spread if the result ends up equating to a tie.

What’s next?

Now that you’ve read through our sports betting guide and have familiarized yourself with the basics, it’s time to dive a little deeper. Next up, make sure you review the list of common sports betting and gambling terms. It will rehash some of the things discussed in this sports betting guide, plus help you build your knowledge base.

Another good place to look is SharpSide’s Sports Betting 101 series. We’ve got content covering the topics of understanding the juice, betting against the public, common do’s and don’ts of sports betting, and more.

Understanding what the juice (or vig) is will help make you a more knowledgable sports bettor. It’s how you’ll understand betting odds and prices on bets. To learn more, we’ve got you covered on the topic right here.

A common betting strategy, and a very simple one for beginners to follow, is to bet against the public. You’ll often hear “public” and “square” terminology tossed around in this industry, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the concept of betting against the public, what it means, and why you might want to do it. Check out our betting against the public article to get up to speed.

Another excellent sports betting resource comes in the form of our ‘Do’s and Don’ts of Sports Betting’ article. In this piece, we cover line shopping, large moneyline favorites, correlated parlays, live betting, and more.

The most common sport to bet on is football. Whether you’re someone who wants to bet college football or bet on the NFL, we’ve got you covered. J.J. Apricena, lead sports betting contributor for the SharpSide YouTube channel, put together a pair of videos that cover the topics of college football betting and NFL betting. You can check out the college football one here. For the one that covers NFL betting, check it out here.

That wraps up our sports betting guide, for now. Be sure to check back every so often as we’ll be working to add to this page when we can, with the goal of providing you, the sports bettor, with more information on how you can go from being a beginner to a sharp.

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