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How Does Sports Betting Work?

How Does Sports Betting Work? | Tipico
How Does Sports Betting Work? | Tipico
Danny Scaramella - Tipico
Published: 2022-01-19

For a long time, it was illegal to bet on sports in most of the U.S., but times are changing—and so are the laws in many states. As of 2018, the Supreme Court lifted a federal ban on sports betting which has paved the way for many states to legalize it. The days of having to go to Vegas to place a bet are long gone. Sportsbook Colorado is now legal and live as a result of this law change along with sports betting Ohio and many more states to follow.

In other words, sports betting is booming. That means a lot of new bettors and one prevailing question: How does sports betting work?

From defining betting terms to explaining how the sports betting odds work, this guide will give you all the basics you’ll need to start placing informed wagers on your favorite sports.

What Is Sports Betting?

Let’s start with the absolute basics—defining sports betting. Put simply, this is placing a bet by staking money on the outcome of a certain sporting event. If you win your bet, you win money. If you lose your bet, you lose your stake.

It gets a lot more complicated the deeper you go, but no matter how complex the bet, it’s all about risking some money to win more.

Which Sports Can You Bet On?

If a sport exists, you can be assured there’s some level of sports betting on it. The most popular sports in America are:

  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Baseball
  • Soccer
  • Hockey

Unsurprisingly, these are also the most popular sports to bet on. However, you can bet on anything from the Super Bowl to competitive tag competitions as long as you can find someone to place the bet.


One of the main barriers to entry when it comes to the world of sports betting is knowing what the heck everyone is saying. Like the sports themselves, sports betting has its own lingo, and knowing the terminology will help you discuss strategies and place bets. Some of the terms you should know include:

  • Action – This simply refers to any betting. Since sports betting used to be illegal, people wouldn’t necessarily say they were looking to make bets. Looking for “some action” was the (slightly) more subtle way to express your desire, and people still use the term today.
  • Vig – “The house always wins.” Maybe you’ve heard that before, and you wonder why that’s true. One main reason is the vig (sometimes also called juice). This is the fee that the bookie takes to ensure their profit. This can be a straight percentage, but more often, the vig is worked into the odds.
  • Odds – Speaking of sports betting odds, what are they? The most basic definition is that the odds are how much a sports bet will pay based on its likelihood of winning. Say you have $100 to bet, and the odds strongly favor the winner. If you bet on the winner and win, your payout will be lower than it would be if you had bet on the underdog and won.
  • Handicapping – This is the act of figuring out the odds.
  • Sportsbook – Often referred to simply as “the book,” this is any place where bets are taken. If you’re placing a sports bet with an individual, they are called a “bookie.”
  • Spread – So, how does a point spread work? The spread is the number of points “given” to one team to even the odds. For instance, if you’re betting on a football game with a spread of four, the team that’s favored to win has to win by four or more points for your bet to win. If they only win by two, but you bet the spread, you lose.

Types of Bets

Whenever money is involved, you know things are going to get complicated (just look at the stock market). Sports betting is no different, but a sports bettor can find their advantage in those complexities.

Understanding the types of sports bets available to you is a key factor to crafting a sports betting strategy. They include:

  • Moneyline – This is a straight bet where you’re betting on which team will win the game. However, the amount you win will still be affected by the fractional odds. If a team has a positive (+) Moneyline number, it means they are underdogs, and your $100 bet will pay out that amount. If a team has a negative (-) Moneyline, they’re the favorites, and that’s the amount you have to bet to make $100.
    • Let’s look at an example: The Bengals (+250) are playing the Steelers (-180). If you bet $100 on the Bengals and they win, you win $250. If you bet $180 on the Steelers and they win, you win $100. This is because the oddsmakers think the Steelers are more likely to win the game.
  • Point Spread – We touched on this in definitions, but in a spread, you bet the same amount to win the same amount, but the favorite has to win by a certain amount of points for you to win your spread bet. You can also win by betting on the underdog even if they lose (as long as it’s for less than the amount of the spread).
    • Example: The Steelers are favored, and the spread is 6 points. If you bet the Steelers and they only win by 4, you lose. Conversely, if you bet the Bengals and they lose by 4, you win.
  • Futures – These are bets you place on future events. With a future bet, you might place a bet on who will win the Superbowl during week 1 of the season. The odds will adjust as the season progresses, but your odds are locked in when you bet, so the earlier you bet the more you’re likely to make if your bet wins (because the likelihood of it winning is lower than it would be later in the season).
  • Over/Unders – No idea who’s going to win a certain game? No problem. Over/unders aren’t about picking winners. Instead, oddsmakers will set a number of points they think will be scored during a game, and you can bet on whether the game will go over or under that number.
  • Parlays and Teasers – These are two different but similar bet types where you make multiple bets. They all have to hit for you to win. The difference is that in a parlay, you do this to maximize your winnings, whereas a teaser is used to change the odds to be more favorable.
  • Props – Will the coin toss be heads or tails? How long will the National Anthem last at the Super Bowl? Who will score the first touchdown? If you want to bet on events related to sports without actually betting on outcomes, props are for you. Different books will have different props available depending on the event.

How Do You Win?

There’s no surefire way to win at sports betting. The truth is that the odds are set to favor the books, not you. Nonetheless, there are some basic strategies you can follow to maximize your winnings and your overall fun:

  • Only bet what you can afford to lose – This is lesson number one. Never bet money that you truly need, or the fun of sports betting will be replaced by stress and anxiety.
  • Don’t chase – Sports are unpredictable. That’s why we love them. That unpredictability can lead to a lot of frustration, though. There’s no feeling quite like a bad bet where you thought you were about to win money only to see yourself lose it in the last seconds. But it happens. Take a deep breath and move on. If you start making more bets to make up for a bad loss, you may find yourself in a deep hole.
  • Research – If you just want to put down a few bucks to have a rooting interest, great. But if you want to win regularly, it’ll help to know about the sport you’re betting on. The more you know, the smarter the bets you’re able to place.
  • Find value – Oddsmakers are good at what they do, but they aren’t perfect. Especially early in seasons (or in more niche sports), they’re liable to make errors and set odds that are a bit off. Spotting these errors and betting for value can help you beat the house and turn a profit.
  • Have fun – This may be the toughest tip of all, but it’s worth remembering. Sports betting can make sports more exciting and win you some money, but above all, it should be fun. Once you start losing that sense of fun, it might be time to take a break

Sports Betting with Tipico

Now that you know how sports betting works and how to read sports betting lines, you’re probably wondering how you can get in on the fun.

Look no further. Tipico is the online sportsbook for all your online sports betting needs. We provide betting on all the biggest sports with fast speeds and easy deposits. Plus, you can bet the way you like with live bets, multi-sport parlays, player props, and more.

So if you’re looking for an online sportsbook to place your bets, join Tipico today. We even have a welcome offer of a risk-free bet of up to $750. What have you got to lose?

Business Insider. 42 states have or are moving towards legalizing sports betting – here are the states where sports betting is legal.
Gallup. Sports.
How Stuff Works. How Sports Betting Works.
Gambling News. How Does Sports Betting Work?
Investopedia. How Do Odds Work in Betting?


Your real-money wager is in safe hands with Tipico, a global sports betting leader. Bet with the best, because you deserve a better mobile sportsbook.
How Does Sports Betting Work? | Tipico


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