Important Beginner Sports Betting Questions Answered

Blue Question Mark Bubble With an NFL and Sportsbook Background

Sports betting is a big part of the gambling industry – bigger than most people realize. And I think everyone has placed a friendly wager on a Sunday NFL game here or there with a buddy. That’s not really the kind of sports betting this list of questions and answers covers, though.

This post is aimed at gamblers who want to take their sports betting to the next level. They want to bet regularly with a bookmaker of some kind – be it a local bookie, an online sportsbook, or a Vegas casino’s bookmaker department.

There’s more to betting on sports with a bookmaker than you might think.

The answers to these seven questions make for a good introduction to the subject for sports betting beginners.

How Do Sports Bets Work?

The basics of sports betting aren’t hard to understand. You wager that something will happen during a sporting event – usually whether a team will win or not – and if you win, you get paid off. If you lose, then the money you risked is lost to the other party.

That sounds simple enough, but it gets a lot more complicated than that.

Gambling with a friend on the outcome of the Cowboys game is usually simple enough. You take the team that isn’t the Cowboys, and he takes the Cowboys. When the Cowboys lose, you get your friend’s $100 bet. If the Cowboys win, your friend gets your $100.

Betting with a bookmaker is more involved than betting against a friend. It usually involves some consideration of the odds of which team is going to win. This is reflected in the amount you risk versus the amount you wager. These are called “sports betting odds.”

As you might imagine, some teams, like the New England Patriots, are usually likelier to win than other teams, like the Cleveland Browns.

If you take the favorite to win, you’ll usually risk more money to win less. If you have to risk $200 to win $100, you’re betting on the favorite.

On the other hand, if you’re betting on the underdog, you might only have to risk $100 to win $200.

Those are just arbitrary examples.

NFL Seahawks Player Catching a Pass

In other cases, you might be betting against a point spread. This is really common when betting on football.

The point spread is the number of points the favorite is expected to win by. To win a bet against the spread, the underdog can lose, but as long as they lose by less than the point spread, you still win your bet. If you bet on the favorite, you don’t win any money unless the favorite wins by more than the point spread.

If the point spread has been set correctly, you should have a roughly 50% probability of winning your bet either way.

Those are the basics of how sports betting works.

How Do Sports Betting Odds Work?

In gambling, “odds” refers to two separate things:

  1. The probability that something will happen
  2. The payoff of a bet compared to the amount risked

When you’re talking about how sports betting odds work, you’re concerned with both. Most of the time, bettors are looking at how much a bet pays off compared to the amount of money they’ve risked.

Smarter sports bettor want to know how the payoff odds compare to the odds of winning or losing, too. They want to find profitable situations.

One of the most common types of odds are moneyline odds (or “American odds”). American odds show how much money you will win or lose in increments of $100.

When you’re betting on an underdog with American odds, the odds are listed behind the (+) sign. For example, if a bet offers (+200) odds, you win $200 when you risk $100.

When you’re betting on the favorite with American odds, the odds are listed behind the – sign. For example, if a bet offers (-150) odds, you risk $150 to win $100.

NCAA Basketball Razorbacks

Fractional odds, on the other hand, show how much you’ll get paid out when you win but including your stake.

For example, if you see odds of 1/3, you’ll get a payout of $1 for betting $3. You’ll get $4 back from the book if you win.

Here’s another example:

You might see odds of 11/8, which means that you’ll get paid $11 when risking $8, so you’ll get back $19 from the book upon winning.

Finally, you’ll often see decimal odds – especially at foreign sportsbooks. Decimal odds, obviously, are expressed as a decimal instead of a fraction. They also show you how much you’ll win including your original stake.

You just multiply your stake by the decimal odds to get the amount you win.

For example, if the odds are 6.5 and you bet $100, you’ll win $650 if your bet wins.

What Do Odds of (+200) Mean?

I covered this in the last point, but it seems to be the most common way of asking about American odds.

What do odds of (+200) mean? First of all, it means you’re betting on the underdog. You know that because of the (+) sign in front of the odds.

And, you can tell by the way it’s formatted that this is an expression of American odds. So, you know it’s based on a $100 bet.

Since it says (+200), you know that risking $100 results in winning $200 profit when you win.

If it said (-200), you’d be risking $200 to win $100 – that would be the case if you’re betting on the favorite.

What Do the (+) and the (–) Mean in Sports Betting?

When you’re talking about or writing about odds, the (+) means you’re betting on the underdog. And the (–) means you’re betting on the favorite.

This also holds true when you’re looking at the point spread for a match-up. The (+) means that the underdog gets to add that number to their final score for purposes of determining the winner of the bet.

The (–) means that the winner must subtract that number from their final score for purposes of determining the winner of the bet.

Let’s assume you’re betting on the Atlanta Falcons (+4.5) to beat the Cowboys (-4.5).

Then assume that the Cowboys win with a final score of 40 to 39.

You get to add 4.5 points to the Falcons’ score of 39 and see if they would still have won. Since 39 + 4.5 = 43.5, a bet on the Falcons wins.

Can You Really Make Money Betting on Sports?

Sure, you can really make money betting on sports. You can make money getting lucky in the short run, but you can also really make money betting on sports in the long run by finding mistakes in the odds from the bookmakers.

The trick is finding lines that aren’t priced accordingly.

At a standard sportsbook, with a point spread bet, you must risk $110 to win $100. If the line is correct, you’ll have a 50% probability of winning regardless of which team you bet on.

The point spread isn’t always correct. Sometimes the market forces a move with the line in ways that provide profitable opportunities for the sharp sports bettor.

To profit in the long run in sports betting, you basically need to be able to win 53% of the time or more. That’s barely above break-even. Every percentage point above 53% brings you that much closer to a higher return on investment.

And even the best sports bettors in the world aren’t winning more than 60% of the time.

When you see tout services bragging about being right 75% or 80% of the time, remember that this is unlikely in the extreme.

Do You Have to Pay Taxes on Sports Betting Winnings?

Yes, in the United States, you must pay income tax on any income you have. In the case of sports betting, you’re allowed to deduct your losses before calculating how much tax you owe.

This is true of all kinds of gambling in the United States.

Also, the IRS doesn’t care if you’re dealing with an illegal bookie – as long as you’re paying taxes on your income.

How Do You Bet on Sports in Las Vegas?

To bet on sports in Las Vegas, visit a casino with a sportsbook. Look for the brightly lit board that lists the bets that are available. It won’t be hard to find.

You’ll see columns showing the odds for each match, and each possible bet will have a number associated with it. When you want to place your bet, you’ll take cash to the betting window. There, you’ll tell the ticket writer which bet you want to place (that 3-digit number from the betting board) and how much you want to wager.

Las Vegas Sportsbook

The ticket writer will give you a ticket in exchange for your cash.

If you win your bet, you cash the ticket in. You’ll get your stake back along with your winnings. Don’t lose your ticket. It’s worth money.

That’s really all there is to it. If you understand how the betting odds work, you’re well on your way.


Betting on sports is tricky for beginners who’ve never done anything but bet with other fans sitting on barstools at your local tavern.

Learning the answers to the seven questions in this post will give you a good head-start to learning how to bet on sports.

The best thing to do is to get started with small wagers.

We learn by doing.