How Do Betting Spreads Work?

Understanding sports betting

Curious about sports betting and how it works? You can find sports betting explained in gritty detail in our guide right here at Betting.net. Climb aboard and get comfortable as we take you on a tour of everything you need to know to get started!

From the different bet types you need to be aware of, to the odds formats and how the bookmakers work – you’ll find it all below. By reading our guide from start to absolute finish, you can go from zero to hero in the world of online sports wagering just like that.

Sports betting explained – key points

  • There are different types of sports bets that need to be understood
  • Knowing your sports is key and gives you a head start
  • Three different odds formats to be understood
  • Live and pre-match betting options
  • Regulations depend on your jurisdiction

Understanding sports betting – the basics

The concept of sports betting in its simplest form is quite easy to grasp. Essentially, it is the act of placing money on a particular outcome with the possibility of winning more money than you staked should your predicted outcome come to pass. The implied probability of the outcome happening is reflected in the odds and therefore so is how much you stand to win.

For example, let’s imagine a crazy world where Floyd Mayweather is fighting Steve Carrell. You’re going to stand to win a lot more money if you back Steve Carell than if you back Floyd – but the chances of Floyd winning are much, much higher. As you’ll find out in our guide to sports betting for beginners, the key to sports betting is all about finding value mixed with a realistic chance of your bet coming to pass.

Understanding sports betting – lines and odds

In order to get the best understanding of sports betting, there are two main concepts that you first need to familiarize yourself with. Namely, these are betting lines and odds. The betting lines consist of the betting markets and the odds and show you who the favorite and the underdog is for the fixture.

The odds themselves provide you with a numerical display that tells you the implied probability of an outcome happening and helps you easily calculate how much you stand to win with your bet.

Confused? Not to worry, we’ve explained everything in ease to understand detail in our betting guide below!

Sports betting lines explained

The first concept that you need to get your head around when it comes to understanding sports betting, are the lines and the betting markets. In their most basic form, sports betting lines are used by the bookmaker to show you the favorite and the underdog for a particular fixture. They go deeper than that by showing you the implied probability of each team winning and how much you stand to win should you back either side.

It’s for the latter part of a betting line that the odds come into play, but we’ll explain more about them in detail a little bit later on. To start out, let’s give you a simple example of a betting line:

Sports betting line – example

Manchester City vs Burnley

  • Manchester City – 300
  • Burnley +250

In the above example you can see that Burnley are the underdogs and Manchester City are the favorites. The odds also tell you that Manchester City are such heavy favorites that there would be little value in backing them.

This is why you get more complex betting lines to add value to bets where the favorites are so far ahead – such as handicap bets and over under markets – we’ll go into these in a little bit more detail for you now.

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Sports betting explained – markets

Straight bet

The above sports betting line gives you an example of a straight bet, or a “moneyline bet”. If you’re completely new to sports betting as a concept, then this is the easiest form of bet to understand. With a straight bet, you back one team or player to win, and if they win your bet pays out – simple.

In the example above, you will have noticed that the favorite-underdog balance was a little off, which is why there are many other different types of betting markets that can give you a variety of gamblers. Some examples of these follow on below.

Parlay bet

A parlay bet, sometimes known as a combo or accumulator, is a bet that involves the combining of two or more wagers. For a parlay bet to win, all of the outcomes will need to happen. This of course, makes the chances of the bet slimmer, but it also increases the odds and therefore the potential payout.

Parlay bets can be a useful way to add value to otherwise pointless bets on one-sided fixtures such as the one above. Betting on Manchester City in the above example wouldn’t yield much of a return, but if you used that fixture in combination with a number of others on a parlay bet, the value would be increased.

Futures bets

Futures bets, sometimes referred to as outrights, involve playing the longer game. Instead of betting on the outcome of a single game or fixture with futures bets you pick the winner of a league or competition at the start. An example of a futures bet would be backing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl in September. The further away in the future the event is, the higher your odds are going to be.

Handicap betting

Handicap betting is a way of giving the underdog an advantage in one-sided fixtures – and it also adds more potential value to your bet. Handicap bets can come in the form of fixed odds bets and spread betting. For more information, you can find everything about sports betting spreads explained here.

If we use the Manchester City vs Burnley example once more, we can take a look at how handicap betting works: 

  • Manchester City (-1)
  • Burnley (+1)

What the sportsbook has done here is even up the stakes in an otherwise one sided game. Now, Manchester City effectively have to score one goal to get to zero. This means that if you were betting on Manchester City with this handicap, they would need to beat Burnley by two goals for the bet to pay out. The probability of this actually happening is lower, but your odds are longer and your potential winnings are therefore much higher.

Over/under bets

When it comes to understanding sports betting, most people tend to think of putting money on winners and losers. However there are other factors that can be determined throughout any game. over/under betting gives you the opportunity to bet on such factors.

With over/under betting lines, the sportsbook will give you the proposed number for a statistic at the end of the game – usually total points/goal scored. You can either bet on the total being either over or under that amount.

For example, if we use Manchester City vs Burnley once more, you could bet on the total number of goals scored being either over or under 2.5. 

Sports betting odds explained

So above you have sports betting explained in terms of betting lines and the most common markets that we see. There are multiple different betting markets that we haven’t mentioned, however those mentioned above are the most common.

What’s also important is understanding betting odds, including how they world and how to read them. There are three different odds formats most commonly used in the gambling world today – moneyline, decimal and fractional. We’ve explained each for you below.

Sports betting explained – moneyline odds

Moneyline odds is the most commonly used format in the US and is therefore often referred to as “American odds” outside of the States. We’ll therefore explain the moneyline odds format in a little bit more detail here and just touch upon the other two.

Understanding moneyline odds and reading them is pretty easy as the format was specifically created for gambling and sports wagering. The two key factors here are positive and negative numbers.

Positive number odds

Where positive number odds are concerned, the number represents the amount of profit your bet would stand to win with a $100 dollar stake. With positive number odds, the amount you stand to win is higher, but the probability is lower (always below 50%). As a result, you’ll generally find that underdogs are being offered at positive odds more than the favorites.

If we use our Manchester City vs Burnley example again from the top of the page, you may remember that Burnley were being offered at odds of +250. This simply means that if you backed Burnley to win that game with a $100 stake, your potential profit would be $250. If the bet did actually come up, your total payout would be $350 – your $100 stake returned, plus your $250 winnings.

Negative number odds

Negative number odds are the opposite way around to positive numbers – well, sort of. With negative number odds, the numerical figure shows the amount that you would have to stake in order to win a $100 profit. Negative number odds therefore have lower potential payouts but a higher implied probability of coming to pass (at least 50%). You’ll therefore usually find that strong favorites in a fixture are being offered at negative odds.

Going back once again to our treasured example, Manchester City are being offered at odds of -300. This means that you would need to put up a stake of $300 in order to win a $100 profit. Your total payout would be $400, with your $300 stake, being joined by your $100 profit.

Sports betting explained – decimal and fractional odds

The other two most commonly used formats across the world, other than moneyline, are decimal and fractional. Decimal odds are most commonly used in Australia, New Zealand and mainland Europe, while fractional odds are more common in the UK and Ireland.

Decimal odds are super-simple to understand, with the outcomes being displayed as a ratio – e.g 2.1. To calculate your total winnings with decimal odds, simply multiply your stake by the odds amount – $100 x 2.1 = $210.

Fractional odds are similar to decimal odds, only the two outcomes are displayed as a fraction – e.g 2/1. To calculate your potential winnings from fractional odds, multiple your stake by the top number, then divide it by the bottom. For example – $100 x 2 = $200 x 1 = $200.

Now that we’ve almost come to the end of our guide to understanding sports betting, it’s time for us to let you know about some of the other awesome betting guides available here at Betting.net. In this guide, we’ve merely given you sports betting explained in its most essential form. The next logical step is to learn how to manage bankroll betting.

Conclusion – understanding sports betting

The basic concept of what sports betting consists of is easy to understand. As a new potential sports bettor, the important aspects that you want to take away from this guided tour are the different types of betting lines, the markets and how to read moneyline odds and the other formats. If you’re now going on to place your first ever sports bet, just remember our key piece of advice – stick to sports you know!

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Sports betting explained FAQ

🤓 How do you read sports betting lines?

That depends on the format that is being used on the sports betting site you are using. There are three commonly used formats of odds in different regions of the world. You can find a full guide to betting odds here.

Sheesh, what a question – there are simply too many to name across the world today. That’s why here at betting.net we’ve ranked the best ones in every single region of the world today.

Sports betting odds calculator is big business that operators invest a lot of money into. Take a look behind the scenes with us to find out more here at betting.net.

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