Updated January 5, 2024
Reviewed By Stuart Stalter

How to Bet on Sports: The Beginners Guide

Sports betting has blown up in popularity over the years after it was deemed legal in the United States. Now, many bettors are signing up on the leading sportsbooks for a chance to wager on their favorite teams. 

However, if you are new to sports betting, the numerous terms and jargon used in sportsbooks can quickly become overwhelming. No need to fret, as even the most experienced bettors started with the basics. 

This guide will cover everything you need to dive into sports betting as a beginner. You'll learn the meaning of sports betting, how to wager on sports online, the top sportsbooks in the United States, and more.

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What is Sports Betting?

Sports betting is a type of gambling that involves placing a wager on the outcome of a sporting event. This form of betting is extremely popular because it leverages the passion of different sports fans. 

How Do You Wager on Sports?

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The most common way to bet on sports is via an online sportsbook. This is a platform that accepts bets on various sporting events. Depending on the betting site, you’ll find a variety of sports and events available to wager on – with odds set for each event. 

The odds you find on sports betting sites are based on the likelihood of an outcome occurring. This allows you to bet on the team you believe will win while the sportsbook backs the opposing team. If a team has a high probability of winning, this means it has a lower risk, and the payout won't be as much. In sports betting, the higher the risk, the larger your reward. 

Today, you'll find many sportsbooks in the United States all promising different benefits. But not all are built the same way, with some offering better odds and markets than others. We will cover the best sportsbooks in detail later in this guide.

Can You Make Money By Betting on Sports?

That is the point of sports betting. While the initial flush of sports betting is the excitement one feels when placing money on a specific game, it can be a very painful experience if the sports bettor is not winning – or at least breaking even.

If you want to win, here’s the best advice possible: Gather as much good information as possible. Learn the injury situations that each team is facing and get a strong feeling of which players will play and which ones will sit out. Determine which players are limited and which ones are unencumbered.

Also, have an understanding of past trends and past results. These can have a strong influence on how a game plays out.

Find 2 or 3 games to make straight bets and avoid trying to parlay bets with any kind of frequency. Parlay bets can be very exciting because the odds go up and profits can be multiplied, but the fact is they rarely win – especially those that include three or more games. Sports bettors quickly learn it’s hard enough to win straight bets, so don’t go overboard on multiple-team parlay bets.

Do You Need To Do Homework To Bet On Sports?

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It makes sense to know as much as possible about teams you are betting on before the wager is made. Avoid leaning on your instincts as the sole factor before placing a bet. “I have a feeling about the Packers, Celtics, or Dodgers …” is not good enough when your money is on the line.

Strive for consistency in your preparation. Read as much as you can from credible sources – legitimate newspaper reporters, sharp analysts, and former coaches – to draw credible conclusions. Learn about past performance in recent confrontations between the two teams playing.

Avoid listening to your friend, who has a cousin, who spoke to a player’s neighbor about inside information. It is most likely to be wrong. 

Paying Attention to Line Movement

Money movement impacts the betting lines, particularly as the week progresses in the NFL and some high-profile college football games. 

The lines move because bookmakers notice large bets from influential bettors – known as sharps – and they respect their betting history. For example, Mr. Jones is known for his large bets and he has a strong history of winning. When he places a bet, the bookmaker respects that opinion and may change the line to protect himself.

If the Vikings are 3-point favorites over the Bears, and an influential bettor wagers substantially on Minnesota, the Vikings may become 4- or 5-point favorites.

Another factor that can change the line is key injuries. If a starting quarterback gets injured during the week or a top receiver returns after being out, this can influence bettors and alter the line.

Does a moving line indicate which team will win? The answer is sometimes. There are no guarantees. However, lines usually move for good reasons, and it is a factor that should be considered before placing a wager.

Betting Strategy

Sports bettors should strive for consistency in the size and frequency of bets. When you hear touts on television or radio talking about their “game of the year” in which you can wager 10, 15, 20, or 100 times your usual wager, ignore that advice. The tout, who claims expertise and a 90 percent success rate, is more often than not a charlatan who is just trying to get rich at your expense.

Consistency in betting amounts is a secret to longevity. If your betting unit is $100, don’t suddenly start betting $500 per game because you feel the desire to make more money or make up for past losses. This is one of the traps of gambling. Don’t chase your losses.

The underlying factor is to understand your financial situation and know how much you can afford to lose if things go wrong. There are very few professional gamblers who make money year after year. Don’t try to join them. Set a budget, study as much as you can from the available information, and then make your bet.

If you can do this in a calm and rational manner, sports betting can be enjoyable. If a losing bet sets you into a rage or induces you to multiply your bet, think carefully before you get involved in sports gambling.

Most Common Types Of Sports Bets

As we mentioned earlier, the goal of sports betting is to wager on the possibility of an outcome occurring over another. Here are some of the most common types of bets you’ll find in a sportsbook…


This is the simplest type of wager you can place on a sportsbook. Here, you are betting on which team will win a match. You don’t consider the margin or other variables here – simply which team wins or loses. If you wager on a team and they win, your bet wins.

Point Spread

Here, you are wagering on a team to win or lose a match by a specific number of points. It involves betting on a favorite or an underdog in a specific game. If you are wagering on a favorite, they must win the match by more than the point spread assigned to them. 

For instance, in Week 5 of the NFL, the Washington Commanders were -5.5-point favorites to win against the Chicago Bears. If you wagered on the Commanders, they needed to win by 6 points or more for your bet to win. Your bet loses if they win by 5 points or less, or lose outright. 

In contrast, if you wager on the underdog, they must win the match outright or lose by less than the point spread. So, if you wager on the Bears, they will need to win the match or lose by 5 points or less for your wager to win. 


Totals are also referred to as over/under bets. Here, you are placing a bet that one team or both teams will score more or fewer points than what is assigned by the sportsbook. Most sports betting sites indicate totals as "O" and "U" before a number.

The total for the Jaguars–Bills game is 48.5 points. If you wager over, you believe the teams will score a combined point of at least 49. If you wager on the under, you believe both teams will combine for 48 points or less. 


This is a single bet consisting of two wagers or more. Parlay bets come with more risk, but also an opportunity for more profit. You can mix bets like point spreads, moneyline, and totals in a parlay. However, all the bets in your parlay must win for it to be successful. 

So, let's assume you want to parlay the Commanders (-240) moneyline, with Jaguars (+5.5) and Houston/Atlanta total (41.5) – you get a potential payout of $416.32 for a $100 wager. 

While parlays typically offer larger payouts, they aren’t ideal for bettors without experience. This is because of the high level of risk involved. 


A teaser is a type of parlay bet since it involves combining two bets or more in a single wager. Here, you can alter the point spread for an event, giving you a better chance of winning. Each bet is adjusted by the same margin. 

Note that you’ll need to choose at least two teams to bet on if you are using a teaser. This increases the possibility of you losing a leg, and like a parlay, you must win all the legs in the game for your wager to win. The sports betting site may also add higher odds to teaser bets, resulting in lower profits if you win. 

So, using the NFL Week 5 again for our example, the Bears are a +5.5 point underdog to the Commanders. In a teaser, you can add six points to give them a new spread of +11.5. The total is 44.5, and the teaser adds six points to that, moving it up or down based on your preference. So you can tease the Bears to +11.5 and the under to 50.5. In most cases, a sportsbook typically gives you a price of -120 on teasers with two teams. 

Like parlays, a teaser might not be the best choice for inexperienced players. 


A futures bet is a wager you place on a distant match/event. These events typically take days, weeks, or months to complete. For instance, who will win the Super Bowl or which player will win the MVP. Futures bets offer great payouts and longer odds, making them better than many other bets. 

In addition to the above, you'll find many other bets, including: 

  • Prop Bets: This is a bet on things that may happen in a game pertaining to individual players or outcomes. For instance, which player will first get a yellow card or score a goal in a soccer match. 
  • Live Bets: Live bets are those you place on an event that is ongoing. Odds are updated in real time, allowing you to wager with recent information. On the downside, the odds may not be as great as other forms of betting. 
  • Asian Handicap: These are more common in soccer. A team gets a disadvantage or handicap to bring both teams to the same level.
  • Exchange Bets: Here, you wager against other bettors instead of the sportsbook. After every successful wager, the sports betting site takes a commission.

How to Find the Best Online Sportsbooks 

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Now that you know the different kinds of bets in sports, how do you find the right betting site to use? As we mentioned earlier, not all sports betting platforms are built the same way. Top sportsbooks, for instance, offer better odds, events, and promotions. 

Before settling for an option, it is important to determine what you need in a sportsbook. This will make it easier to find the right one for you. For instance, a sports betting platform may be great in other areas but may not offer betting options on your favorite sports. Signing up here will be a waste since you can't bet on the sports you enjoy. 

Knowing this, here are some general factors we recommend you consider before you choose a sportsbook... 

Licensing and Security

Choosing a reliable and trustworthy sportsbook is non-negotiable. Online sports betting is legal in the U.S., and betting sites must have a proper license from approved regulatory bodies. These regulatory bodies keep them in check, ensuring you only get fair odds and betting opportunities when you wager. 

Also, your security is important. Any sportsbook you consider must feature security measures like SSL encryption to safeguard your personal information. 

Bonuses and Promotions 

Top sports betting sites will offer you welcome bonuses and other offers when you sign up. It is important to compare the offerings from various sites and find the one that benefits you the most. We recommend you look at the terms and conditions, as shady platforms have been known to attach stringent conditions to appealing bonus offers. 

You’ll also want a site that offers frequent offers like weekly promotions, boosted odds, and more. These will help you earn extra funds to wager on your ideal sports. 

Sports Betting Markets and Betting Options 

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Another important fact is the number of sports betting markets available on the site. You'll want a platform that covers all major sports events like football, soccer, basketball, and more. This will ensure you always have something to bet on. 

What's more, you'll want to opt for a sportsbook that offers a variety of betting options. These include spreads, parlays, teasers, moneylines, and more. 

Payment Methods

You must make a deposit before placing a bet on a sports betting site. Therefore, checking out the available payment options on the site is important. Also, you'll want to check out the withdrawal options, the fees, and payout speed. 

All the leading online sportsbooks offer various options like credit/debit cards, wire transfers, and eWallets. Sometimes, you may find cryptocurrency as a payment option as it grows in popularity. Ideally, we recommend you opt for a site with numerous options. 

Customer Support 

Regardless of all the measures put in place by an online sportsbook, there will be instances where you might need help. Therefore, it is crucial to opt for a site that provides various means to get support in the event of issues. 

The best online sportsbooks offer 24/7 support via email, phone, or live chat. Also, ensure the support staff is knowledgeable and fluent in your chosen language. This way, you can be certain of getting the help you need if problems crop up. 

How to Sign up on a Sportsbook and Place a Wager 

After you have settled on a sports betting site, the next step is to place a bet. Here's a handy guide to help you do this…

Register on Your Preferred Sportsbook 

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To wager on any sports betting site, you must sign up first. Choose one of the options on our recommended list or use the tips above to select a site. 

Click on the signup button and provide your details. These include your name, email, address, and phone number. Sometimes, the operator may require you to provide the last four digits of your SSN to verify your identity. 

Once done, hit the register button, and your account will be created.

Make a Deposit 

After creating your account, head to the cashier section and pick one of the available deposit options. This will usually be a requirement to claim your welcome bonus. Read the terms and conditions to find the minimum deposit, but this typically ranges from $10 to $20. 

Place Your Wager 

Now, all that's left is to pick your favorite sports game and make a wager. If you are lucky, you just might be the next winner!

Top U.S. Sportsbooks


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DraftKings is the most-used online sports betting app in the U.S. with good reason. We named it the best sports app on the market. DraftKings’ sportsbook is legal in 19 states. Daily fantasy sports through the site are legal in 44 states. It and FanDuel offer the widest availability of betting options for sports available. The site has an easily accessible app/website with plenty of quick support to keep operations smooth.


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FanDuel rivals DraftKings for sports betting superiority. It slightly trails DraftKings in useability. FanDuel is legal in 17 states. It offers the widest availability of betting markets. In fact, FanDuel and Caesars Sportsbook remain the only two prominent books allowing lacrosse bets. 


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BetMGM rounds out the trio of online destinations to bet on sports. The sportsbook offers a risk-free bet of up to $1,000 to all first-time users.BetMGM is available in 19 states. BetMGM covers the most popular professional sports, and rarer niche ones, such as darts and even snooker.


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Caesars Sportsbook rules your options outside of the DraftKings, Fanduel, and BetGM. The alternative king of betting sites for gambling on sports online. Caesars sportsbook is currently available in 17 states. Caesars offers a wide range of options on the “Big Four” comparable to similar-sized sportsbooks. A website and mobile sports betting app facilitate the action. 


Bet365 is available in New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado and Virginia.  A big draw for those that can use Bet365 is its transparent welcome bonus that is smaller than major sportsbooks, but far easier to actually collect the bonus on. 

The bonus only requires new players to deposit at least $10 into their account within 30 days of registering and claim the promo that week. Afterwards, placing bets on any wager that will settle within 30 days at minimum odds of -500. Once your first wager settles, you'll be awarded $200 in credits.


PointsBet is available in 14 states. It carries a welcome promo of up to $50 returned on each of your first 5 fixed-odds bets if they lose. No promo is required. PointsBet features a mobile sports betting app available to IOS and Android phones. Most major sports are covered by the sportsbook.

Strategies for Successful Sports Betting 

Aside from managing your bankroll, there are other strategies that can improve your winning chances when wagering on sportsbooks. 

Do your Research 

As with other forms of gambling, it is important to do your research before you wager on any team. With proper research, you'll find the strengths and weaknesses of the team along with other vital information. This can help steer you toward the most profitable wager. 

Don’t Wager with Emotions 

Some bettors are invested in a specific team and wager on them even when their research says otherwise. This is because they are betting based on emotions, and this is not a great strategy if you want to be a winning bettor. Instead, keep your feelings aside and wager on teams that have a better chance of winning based on your research. 

Approach Sports Betting Like a Business 

To be a successful sports bettor, you must treat it like a business. This means creating a budget, keeping proper records of your results, and making profitable decisions. If you do this, your chances of winning will be significantly higher than bettors treating it as a hobby. 

Successful Bankroll Management

A sports bankroll is the total number of personal funds available for betting. The two options available for growing sports bankrolls are successful sports betting and transferring currently available money.

How does bankroll management help in an endeavor where you literally need to spend money to make money? Cold streaks happen. When thick ice creates thin sports betting bankrolls, bettors dip into personal funds to reenter the game. Consequently, irresponsible betting amounts damage personal finances for real expenditures. Financial stress trickles into personal relationships and even overall mental health as well making proper bankroll management important to sports betting success and survival. 

How much should you bet? The general answer is “never more than you can afford to lose.” The specific number depends on your risk tolerance. 

A simple strategy to start implementing bankroll management without worrying about creating magic numbers is called flat betting.  Flat betting wagers no more than 5 percent of the bankroll per play. Conventional wisdom dictates 3 percent is a happy medium. Every play bets the same amount, no matter how confident the bettor is about winning.

For example, those starting with a $100 deposit should bet $3 per bet. This simple, steady strategy mitigates the huge losses many sports betting thrillseekers crash on

Daily Fantasy Sports – Is it a Great Alternative?

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While you won’t find Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) options on most sports betting sites, it is still an extremely popular form of gambling. Players select a fantasy lineup of real players, then compete with other users by entering a tournament that determines the winner using accumulated statistics. 

DFS contests can last a day or week and are great for players who want to have fun using strategy. Top sites like FanDuel and DraftKings are known for their massive DFS offerings. 

If you prefer competing against other players instead of the house, then DFS is a great choice.

Decimal Odds

Decimal odds are shown as a single number, which is the amount a winning bet would collect on a $100 bet. If the odds are listed as 8, a winning bet would receive $700 profit and the original $100 bet.

Fractional / UK Odds

Fractional odds are most often used in the United Kingdom. They are simple to calculate because they are in fractional form. The denominator is the amount bet and the numerator is the amount that can be won.

Implied Probability

Implied probability suggests the likelihood of a particular outcome actually happening. It is calculated by dividing 1 by the decimal odds, and this is more frequently used in worldwide soccer matches.

Betting Tools

Some of the most important tools include the money line, odds converter, ROI calculator, and parlay odds

Sports bettors can compare moneyline odds at a number of sportsbooks and then make a bet at the facility that gives them the most favorable odds. An odds converter will allow the bettor to easily see what a fractional or decimal bet will pay. A Return on Investment calculator will show how much has been wagered and how much has been returned based on wins and losses. Bettors, who are interested in parlay betting can shop around and find the parlay that offers the best return.


What Is A Moneyline Bet?

A moneyline bet is made on the winner or loser of a particular game. This bet is offered for either the favorite or the underdog. A bet on the favorite risks a greater amount that can be won, while the underdog returns a greater amount than was originally wagered.

What Is A Point Spread?

A point spread is a difference between the two sides in a particular game, most frequently football or basketball. If the Bengals are  6 ½-point favorites over the Steelers, the Bengals must win by 7 or more to win a bet on the point spread. The Steelers need to keep the margin to 6 or less, or win the game to have a successful point spread bet

What Is A Favorite?

The favorite is the team that is giving points to the opponent, usually noted by a minus sign (-) on the betting interface. A favorite must win the game by more points than it is giving to its opponents to be successful. 

What Is An Underdog?

The underdog is the team that is getting points from the opponent, usually noted by a plus-sign (+) on the betting interface. An underdog wins the bet when it keeps the margin to less than the point spread offered or wins the game outright.

What Does Over/Under Mean?

Over/Under refers to the total number of points, runs, or goals scored in a particular game. If the total of a particular football game is 49 points and the bet is over, the two teams must combine for 50 or more points to win the bet.

Where Can I Place A Bet?

Sports bettors can legally place a bet on a wide variety of sports books by registering and placing their money into a betting account. Here is a selection of legal sports books.

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