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Online Sports Betting Guide For Beginners

An easy to understand betting guide to help you understand sports betting, suitable for beginners through to experts.
Mon, September 18, 9:22 AM EDT | 5 min read

Betting on sports is a great way to make watching games more exciting and engaging, it can also be a great intellectual challenge as you try to weigh up all the factors that go into influencing the outcome of a game.

If you've never bet on sports before, it can seem a little daunting at first. Especially since there are lots of new words and odd-sounding phrases that get batted around all the time, such as "totals" or "against the spread".

But fear not! These are all really easy to understand and to help you, we've created this handy guide to sports betting that will give you everything you needed to get started.

If you're a sports betting novice, you'll also want to check out our free bets section to find all the bonuses that are currently offered by sportsbooks.

Understanding The Terminology

Seasoned bettors can seem like they're talking a whole different language, but you can quickly pick up this lingo too. Here are some of the most important terms that'll give you a much better understanding of how sports betting works.

Favorite and Underdog

In almost all games, there will be one team that sportsbooks believe has an advantage over the other, meaning they are more likely to win the game. They distinguish between the two teams by calling one the "favorite" and the other the "underdog".

It's usually easy to see which team is which based on their odds. But more on that later.

On the rare occasions that two teams are considered equal contenders, the bet is referred to as a "pick" or a "pick'em" instead.

Betting Against the Spread

Bets against the spread, which are sometimes also known as points spread bets, are the most popular form of bet in most US sports.

They were created because sportsbooks want to try and even out the number of bets they take on each team. Since most people wouldn't want to bet on a team that's likely to lose, the "spread" evens the odds by making it possible to bet on an underdog and win, even if the team itself loses.

The bookie will assign a number to each game, this is known as the point spread and is shown next to both teams. The favorite will have a - before the spread, while the underdog will have a +.

For a bet on the favorite to pay out, the team needs to win the game by more than the point spread. However, a bet on the underdog will win if they win the game or lose by less than the point spread.


Moneylines are the easiest bet to understand. You pick a team you think will win, if they do, your bet pays out. If they don't, then you lose the bet.

Moneylines are a popular type of wager for sports betting beginners as they're simple. However, point spread bets are more popular in football and basketball because they can offer better value.

With moneylines, sportsbooks denote the favorite by putting a - before the odds, while the underdog has a +.

Over/Under Bet

An over/under bet (also known as a totals bet) is different from spreads and moneylines because you don't have to predict the winner of the game. Instead, all you're concerned about is how many points will be scored in the game overall.

The online sports betting site will give you a total score and two options "o" (over) or "u" (under). If you think the two teams combined will score more than that number of points, you bet on "o". If you have a hunch that the score will be below that number, you bet on "u". If you predict right, you win.


While most bets are placed on the outcome of a game, a futures bet focuses on the outcome of a championship, conference, or division. For example, you can bet on the team you think will win the Super Bowl before the NFL season has even kicked off. The name "futures" comes from the fact that the event can take place way into the future.

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How to read betting odds

Now you understand the difference between the different types of bet, the next step in our guide to sports betting is to examine how betting odds work.

Here in the US, we use "American odds", however, you can also usually switch to fractional or decimal odds by changing the settings of your online sports betting account.

American odds are displayed as three or four digits with a + or - symbol before them. The smaller the number, the more likely that outcome is believed to be. For example, if one team has odds of -100 and another has odds of +200, the team with -200 odds is deemed more likely to win.

But with a higher chance of winning comes a smaller payout. A $100 bet on odds of -200 would yield $50 (plus your $100 stake), while a $100 bet on odds of +200 would see you receive $200 (plus your $100 stake).

Picks & Parlays

At OddsChecker, our picks and parlays section contains useful insight to help you make more informed betting decisions. Here's how they work.


Our team of professional sports handicappers analyzes tons of data ahead of each game, helping them to spot trends and gain a better understanding of both teams so that they can make their predictions or "picks".

These picks are available for free in our picks and parlays section, along with the recent performance of the handicapper that made it so you can choose whether to follow their suggestions.


Parlays are a type of bet that combines several individual wagers together. While you could simply place a bet on each game individually, a parlay offers the prospect of a significantly higher payout because each wager is linked.

This means that all wagers need to win for a parlay to payout, so if you place a seven-game parlay and the first six bets win, you won't receive a penny if your final game loses.

If you'd like to bet on parlays, our picks and parlays section includes specially selected parlays from our professional handicappers.

Parlay Odds Calculator

Most sportsbooks let you create your own parlays in just a few clicks. As you do, you'll notice that the odds change substantially as you add more wagers. This is because the odds of each individual bet are multiplied together.

This can become a bit tricky as you add more wagers, so we've created a parlay calculator that does all the heavy lifting for you. Just enter the odds of each bet and the amount of your staking and the calculator will do the rest.

Where can I bet legally in the US

Betting in the US varies from state to state as each locale sets its own laws. Online sports betting first became legal in some states in 2018 and now more than a dozen have joined the list.

Currently, all of these states have legalized online sports betting.

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington DC
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

You don't need to live in these states, you just have to be physically present there when you're placing your bet. This means any American citizen that's traveling through or visiting one of the states in the list above can legally bet on sports.

More states are expected to join the list in the near future, so be sure to check back to see whether your state has legalized online sports betting yet.


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