Online sports betting is a considerable branch of the real money gaming industry, rivaled only by online casinos and internet poker in terms of popularity and reach. There are two reasons so many people are drawn to this form of gambling: it’s entirely skill-based, and it allows one to interact with their favorite sports in a meaningful way.
The online gambling world is full of incredible success stories, tempting fans with the prospect of turning a hobby into a career. Whether you’re looking to bet for fun or planning to go pro someday, our guide will provide you with plenty of useful information to help you begin your online sports betting journey.
Picking the right betting platform
The global online sports betting market is widely considered to be oversaturated, so finding a suitable platform shouldn’t be an issue regardless of your location. Once you determine which operator offers their services in your jurisdiction, your first step should be to verify their trustworthiness.
The easiest way to determine a sportsbook’s legitimacy is by ensuring it holds the right paperwork and licenses. International platforms are usually licensed in Gibraltar, Malta, the Isle of Man, and other tax havens. The market is so competitive that being burdened with higher taxes makes it impossible for a company to meet industry standards concerning promotions and odds. If your country has strict anti-gambling regulations that restrict you to a fenced local market, your safest bet is to stick to platforms licensed by the regulatory body appointed by your government.
Certain countries, such as the United States or Australia, prohibit online sportsbooks from operating in their jurisdiction but do not punish gamblers for joining offshore sites. This kind of policy restricts bettors’ access to verified platforms, forcing them to use sportsbooks that are less heavily regulated. To make matters worse, this lack of oversight isn’t always the operators’ fault. For example, Bovada, a well-regarded US-facing platform, used to hold a license issued by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission but had to relinquish it in 2016 due to mounting government pressure. All in all, if you must join a “rogue” offshore sportsbook, you should stick exclusively to operators with a perfect track record – our list of recommended sportsbooks is an excellent starting point.
Welcome promotions offered by online sportsbooks can be grouped into two categories: matched deposit bonuses and free bets. These promotions aren’t as generous as their poker and casino counterparts, but they allow you to get some additional bang for your buck.
As the name implies, the size of a matched bonus is directly tied to the size of your first real money deposit. A 100% bonus will match your payment dollar for dollar, while a 50% bonus will allow you to claim one dollar for every two dollars transferred to the site. Bonuses of this type are capped at $100-$250 and come with a rollover requirement. A 5x rollover is relatively standard and means you won’t be allowed to withdraw your money or any generated winnings until you wager through your deposit at least five times. This requirement must usually be met in seven to 30 days, depending on the offer terms and conditions.
Free bets usually offer less value than match bonuses. A typical offer of this sort allows you to claim between $20 and $50 as soon as you wager through your deposit at least once. When you unlock your free bet, you might be required to stake it a few times before qualifying for a cashout. Unfortunately, many sportsbooks attempt to steer their customers towards their least profitable markets by introducing additional odds-related requirements. For example, BetVictor’s free bet terms and conditions include a provision stating that you have to place at least one bet using your deposit with odds of at least 2.00. Always read the fine print and try to opt for offers that give you maximum freedom of choice.
How sports betting works
The most fundamental skill that every bettor has to learn is reading straight bet odds correctly. This isn’t as simple as it sounds seeing as these odds can be expressed using three completely different formats.
Fractional odds (popular in the United Kingdom and Ireland):
Fractional odds express the relation between your potential winnings and your stake. For example, a 4/1 notation means that if you bet $1, you stand to win $4. Note that the first number refers to a net total payout and does not take your stake into account.
Consequently, if you hit the bet above, you will receive $5 ($4 winnings + $1 stake).
Decimal odds (popular in Continental Europe, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand):
Unlike fractional odds, decimal odds express the total payout with the gambler’s stake already factored in. Thus, the 4/1 fractional odds discussed above would be quoted as 5.00. It’s worth noting that 1/1 odds may be confusing in this format as they are quoted as 2.00.
Moneyline odds (popular in the United States):
Moneyline odds are frequently referred to as American odds. They relate to a straight-up outcome of the contest and can be quoted as a positive or negative figure. A positive figure informs you that you stand to win the quoted amount if you bet $100. For example, a +400 notation means you can win $400 if you put $100 at risk and is equivalent to a 4/1 in fractional odds and 5.00 in decimal odds. Conversely, a negative figure indicates that you need to wager the quoted amount to win $100. Thus, a -400 notation means you have to risk $400 to get a shot at winning $100. Even odds can be expressed as both -100 and +100.
Many sportsbooks allow their customers to switch between these formats at will. However, in some cases, you may be forced to use a specific notation, so make sure to familiarize yourself with all three.
Once you have a solid understanding of how odds are represented, your next step is to learn how all the popular sports betting wagers work.
Straight bets: a straight bet requires you to predict in advance which team or player will win the contest in question. In baseball, you bet on the outright winner, while in basketball or football, you usually bet against the spread. The point spread is designed to generate more action by adding points to the underdog’s score and subtracting points from the favorite’s score. The money line odds with a point spread look like this:
Team A +4.5 (-110)
Team B -4.5 (-110)
This notation indicates that Team A is the underdog, and if you bet on it, 4.5 points will be added to its score to resolve this wager. Even if Team B wins 20-16, you will still receive a payout, because 20 < 16 + 4.5. Conversely, if you put your money on Team B, your bet will lose even though your team won on the field.
Totals: when you wager on totals, your goal is to predict whether the number of points scored by both teams will be higher or lower than the posted total. Bets of this kind are also known as over/under bets. Please note that in some sports, such as basketball or football, the odds are customarily fixed at -110, and oddsmakers post a new total for every game. In baseball, the opposite is true – the odds change, while the total is fixed.
Parlays: a parlay is a group of straight bets or totals combined into a single wager. The parlay wins only if you hit all individual sections. If any of the wagers lose, you lose the entire parlay. In the event of a push or cancellation, the parlay is downgraded to a smaller number of teams. Two-team parlays that include a selection resulting in a push or cancellation are reduced to standard straight bets. Two-team parlays usually pay 2.64/1, and three-team parlays pay 6/1. Adding more teams to the parlay gives you a shot at winning an even larger payout at the cost of a substantial increase in variance. Parlays are also known as accumulators and combo bets.
Teasers: just like a parlay, a teaser is a single wager composed of multiple point spread bets and totals. Teasers are easier to hit than parlays as the point line is moved in your favor by the number of points. For example, a 6-point teaser will move a -6.5 line to -0.5. Just like in a parlay, you need to hit all aspects of a teaser to win. Teaser payouts depend on the number of selected teams and the total of points awarded to each team.
If-bets: if-bets consist of multiple straight bets connected by if-clauses. The wager advances to the next selection only if the previous selection complies with the condition presented by the if-clause. If this condition isn’t met, the remaining selections have no action. Please note that if-bets are different from parlays in that the bettor collects on all winning selections even if one of the later picks loses.
Asian handicaps: Asian handicaps are popular among soccer bettors because they protect them from losing a wager placed on a specific team in case of a draw, which is a frequent outcome in this sport. An Asian handicap operates just like a standard point spread bet, but the bet is guaranteed to never result in a draw. Even if the handicaps are rounded to whole numbers and the score points to a draw, the wager results in a push, which means that the bettor will have his stake returned in full.
Futures: as the name implies, betting on futures involves predicting the outcome of significant sporting events. Typical future wagers include betting on the winner of the World Cup before the final tournament takes off or betting on the winner of the upcoming Super Bowl season.
Props: the term “props” stands for “proposition bets.” It’s a broad category that covers all kinds of sport-specific side bets. A prop bet might require the bettor to predict outcomes such as: the number of goals scored by a star player during a soccer match, which team scores first in a basketball match, or even the makeup of the flop in professional poker.
How to turn a profit betting on traditional sports
The odds offered by online bookmakers are always lower than the true odds determined by their experts – this is necessary for sportsbooks to run a profitable business. This means you won’t get a chance to place any “fair” bets unless the oddsmakers make a mistake, which doesn’t happen very often.
Fortunately, this doesn’t mean all bettors are doomed to fail in the long run. If your research is spot on and you consistently go for high-value wagers, you might be able to turn this gambling form into a steady source of income. Achieving this goal requires a lot of work, but if you’re passionate about the game you’re planning to bet on and don’t mind following a few simple rules, your results are bound to gradually improve over time.
Know the game inside-out
This might sound obvious, but you should be intimately familiar with the rules and intricacies of any sport you want to bet on. If you lack in-depth game knowledge, you won’t be able to research the teams before their games, reducing your chances of making the right predictions and spotting EV-positive betting opportunities. Once you know all the ropes, your next objective is to learn how your sport works from a betting perspective. Feel free to skip irrelevant information at this stage. For example, if you want to wager on football, don’t bother with reading about outright winner bets – most sites will require you to bet against the spread anyway.
Compare the odds
If you’re serious about maximizing your long-term profits, consider joining more than one sportsbook. This will allow you to compare the odds across multiple platforms, guaranteeing you the best deal every time. Another benefit of assuming this approach is getting to play considerably more value bets. This should improve your overall consistency and decrease bankroll swings as the sheer volume of EV-positive wagers will likely outweigh the impact of unavoidable bad beats. Even if the differences in price seem negligible, you should always pick better odds – even the most inconspicuous advantages compound over time. The same holds true for consistently choosing worse odds – the adverse effects of making EV-negative decisions will quickly stack and take a toll on your betting funds.
Never skip your homework
Always do your research before placing a bet. Pay close attention to both teams’ recent performances, roster changes, individual players’ form, coaching, training-related news, and any other relevant information you can collect. Once you turn inspecting both teams before the game into a habit, start broadening your horizons. Read sports betting-related blogs, books, and expert analyses to refine your own research procedures. Remember – patience, consistency, and realistic expectations are key to success. Your goal should be to continually improve as a bettor; not to turn into a sports betting superstar overnight.
Focus on value bets
Turning a profit on sports betting is more complicated than picking the winning team most of the time. If that was the case, everyone would bet on the favorite every single time, and sportsbooks would go bankrupt. The truth is that such strategies are rendered completely ineffective by point spreads and creative oddsmaking. If you want to be a winning bettor, focus on finding bets where the odds seem not to represent the expected outcome of the match. Such bets are referred to as value bets because they provide you with the most bang for your buck. Value bets are EV-positive, so if you place them consistently, you’re guaranteed to come out ahead in the long run regardless of your bad beats.
Avoid inherently risky bets
If you’re new to sports betting, focus on straight bets. Targeting straight bets will allow you to become better at locating value bets and performing unbiased research before each game. Once you begin turning profit on a regular basis, you can attempt tackling more exotic bets.
When it comes to parlays, many experts believe that even veteran sports bettors should avoid them. Theoretically speaking, if your prediction rate is high enough, parlay bets have a higher expected value than straight bets. However, this comes at the cost of increased variance. One thing is certain: if your prediction rate is average or worse, parlays are a surefire way to quickly donate your entire bankroll to your sportsbook operator.
Play the long game
Always try to focus on the bigger picture; don’t fixate on bets that didn’t go well. No bettor is capable of winning every single time. Unpredictable things can happen in competitive sports, and you have zero control over it. You do, however, have complete control over the wagers you place and the research you do.
Treat bad beats as a natural component of the sports betting experience and try to be as constructive as possible. The key to becoming a successful bettor is long-term performance; not short-term results. Remember that if you’re betting against the spread, improving your rate of correct predictions by one or two percent can sometimes turn you from a losing punter into a winning one.
Sports betting glossary
- Bad beat: a bet that loses unexpectedly.
- Buck, dollar: $100.
- Chalk player: a bettor who always bets on the favorite.
- Dime: $1,000.
- Exotic bet: any wager that’s not a straight bet or a parlay.
- Expected value: the abstract mathematical value of a bet, often abbreviated as EV. When the potential payout on a specific bet is higher than the risk involved, such a bet is considered EV-positive (EV+). Conversely, if the potential payout is lower than the risk involved, the bet is considered EV-negative (EV-). The goal of profit-oriented bettors is to place as many EV+ bets as possible while avoiding EV- bets.
- Favorite, chalk: the athlete or team expected to win a specific sports game.
- Fifty cents: $50.
- Futures: betting on the outcome of a significant event that takes place in the future. For example, betting on the winner of the World Cup before the final tournament takes off.
- Juice, vigorish, vig: the commission the bookmaker earns.
- Moneyline: a straight wager with no point spread.
- Nickel: $500.
- Parlay, combo bet, accumulator: a multi-selection bet that wins only if all its aspects win.
- Point spread: the handicap given to the underdog by the sportsbook to generate more action.
- Price: another term for odds or spread.
- Prop bet: a unique side bet that’s usually specific to a particular sport.
- Runline: a spread used instead of the money line in baseball.
- Straight bet: a bet placed on a single athlete or sports team.
- Teaser: a multi-selection bet in which the line is adjusted in favor of the player. A teaser wins only if all of its aspects win.
- Totals bet, over/under bet: a bet that requires the bettor to predict whether both teams’ combined score will be higher or lower than the total provided by the oddsmakers.
- Underdog: the team perceived to be more likely to lose.
Sports betting FAQ
Q: Can you turn online sports betting into a steady source of income?
A: Yes, it’s possible to become a successful bettor, but most people underestimate the effort required to do so. Your research has to be spot on, you need to be systematic, and you can’t allow your emotions to influence your decisions. All in all, it’s a very time-consuming endeavor with no guarantee of success.
If you’re ambitious enough to attempt to make a living betting on sports, keep in mind that the sheer amount of work necessary to achieve this can overwhelm even the most dedicated of fans.
With that in mind, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard early on. Do your best to hit your bets and enjoy yourself – you will get better at making the right decisions over time. Take advantage of free bets and bonuses while you learn, and stick to bets with the lowest variance. This way, you’ll naturally arrive at the betting style that’s most fitting for your temperament and predispositions, while reducing your chances of going bankrupt in the process.
Q: Is it possible to wager on events that have already started?
A: Yes, most high-profile sportsbooks give you the option to engage in live in-play betting. The odds and available wagers will be adjusted in real time to match the situation on the field. Keep in mind that most oddsmakers prefer to err on the side of caution in live betting scenarios, so don’t expect the odds to be anywhere as good as before the game. All in all, live betting is a great way to spice up an important match that you’re going to watch on TV, but it isn’t particularly useful to profit-oriented bettors.
Q: Do online bookmakers offer more betting options than just traditional sports?
A: Yes. The largest online bookmakers allow you to bet on poker, esports, political elections, and even celebrity-related scandals and contests. The specifics vary from platform to platform, so it’s always a good idea to do some scouting in advance if you’re interested in wagers of this sort.
Q: What bets should I focus on if I’m new to sports betting?
A: If you’re new to sports betting, you should focus exclusively on straight bets. Your goal should be to improve your analytical skills. If you’re interested in optimizing your profits, you should shop around for the best lines right from the get-go to turn it into a habit. Once you become an expert on your sport of choice, you can decide whether you want to move on to exotic bets. Many successful punters stick exclusively to picking the outright winner, so don’t feel pressured to abandon this betting method if it works for you.
Q: What is the truth about parlays? Should I even bother with them?
A: The expected value of parlay bets depends on the quality of your research as well as your prediction skills. Assuming you’re capable of predicting the winner of a close match with a 50% accuracy, placing parlay bets would have a negative impact on your long-term profitability. In such a scenario, betting the standard -110 line would result in an expected loss of 4.55%, while betting a two-team parlay would result in a projected loss of 10%. Your expected loss would grow as you added more teams to your parlay, so you shouldn’t place any parlay bets at all.
On the other hand, if you’re an exceptionally skilled bettor and can predict the outcome of such a match with a 55% accuracy, placing a parlay wager instead of betting a -110 line would be an EV-positive decision because the expected profit would be higher. The catch here is that parlay wagers come with significantly higher variance than straight bets.
Even with a 55% correct prediction rate, your success rate would be 30.25% for two-team parlays and 16.64% for three-team parlays. As you increase the number of teams or lower the prediction rate, things start looking even worse. Consequently, many experienced bettors avoid chasing large parlays even if they theoretically have the skills to turn it into an EV-positive activity.
Q: How do I deposit money with an online sportsbook?
A: Legitimate online sportsbooks usually support a wide range of deposit methods, but their availability will depend on your area of residence. In most jurisdictions, your options will include Visa/MasterCard, two or three e-wallet solutions, and a few favorite local payment processing services.
If you live in the United States, your options will be limited by strict federal-level anti-gambling regulations. Even worse, you’ll have to deal with high rejection rates for Visa/MasterCard payments, as American financial institutions aren’t allowed to transfer money to offshore sportsbooks. If your payment gets blocked, you won’t face any legal consequences, but picking a reliable method right from the get-go can save you some time.
Q: If I win some money, how will the online sportsbook pay me?
A: In most cases, you should expect a significant overlap between the available deposit and withdrawal methods. The availability of specific options may depend on your betting history. This is especially true for e-wallets – most sportsbooks will allow you to cash out via Neteller or Skrill only if you’ve used that service to fund your account in the past.
If you’re planning to bet a lot of money, you should pay attention to your operator’s betting limits. If you exceed them, you will be paid in several weekly or monthly installments. This issue can sometimes be avoided by ordering a check by courier.
Q: What about cryptocurrencies? Can I use Bitcoin to fund my betting account?
A: This depends on your area of residence. US-based players have access to just two legitimate sportsbooks, BetOnline and Bovada, but both options support cryptocurrency payments. Europe-based players, on the other hand, have access to many excellent sites, but only a handful of them support BitCoin payments.
History of sports betting
Sports betting is as old as spectator sports. Ever since ancient times, people have had a hard time remaining indifferent to the outcome when watching competing athletes. This gave rise to individual-level betting among audience members.
Professional betting services as we know them today emerged in 19th century England and were initially restricted to horse races. This new form of gambling quickly spread across the continent and beyond, to America and Australia. In the second half of the 20th century, professional bookmakers began accepting bets on other sports, expanding this already profitable market.
However, the real revolution came with the advent of the internet, when well-regarded land-based bookmakers such as Ladbrokes started to offer their services online. As new, internet-oriented sportsbook operators joined in on the fun, the market expanded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Nowadays, it is widely considered to be oversaturated, as major bookmakers are locked in fierce competition, resulting in a remarkable service quality.