You can’t gamble without bets, and sports betting is one of the most popular forms of gambling on the planet. However, that does not make it extremely simple, and it is easy to get overwhelmed when you are first starting out. How does sports betting work, and what do new gamblers need to know?

What are bets?

Bets are essentially a sum of money that you have placed on a particular outcome. This could be anything from one team winning or losing a game to a specific player scoring a certain number of goals or points: if there is a chance that something will or won’t happen, then there will often be a way to bet on it. Depending on the sport, there might be other ways you can bet, such as betting on who will win the entire World Cup if you are a football fan.  

When you place bets, you are putting that money up as a wager. In most cases, losing the bet means that you lose the money, and winning it means that you get at least 100% of it back on top of what you originally paid. The exact amount you get is based on the odds you are playing under.

What are the odds?

The odds reflect the chances of a certain outcome happening and usually come from personal experience or data collected by whoever is setting the bet. For example, a team that consistently wins will usually have around 2:1 odds, whereas one that rarely wins could have odds as high as 10:1 (or even higher) to compensate. The higher the first number, the lower the chance of that outcome happening.

These odds also change your payout if you manage to win since they explain the relative winnings you will get for what you bet. The first number is the amount you will win if you bet the second number, meaning that in 2:1 odds, you will get $2 for every $1 you place as a bet. This means that higher numbers are less likely to happen but can pay out a lot more money if the risk actually goes in your favor.

What are picks?

When most people ask, “how does sports betting work?” they are wondering how picks work. Picks usually appear as short phrases like ‘Team A -110’. These numbers are another way of showing odds: the minus means that the team is favored to win that particular game, and the -110 shows the amount you will have to bet (plus the bookie’s cut of the money: around $10, in this case).

Not everybody likes to use picks as a reference, but they can be useful for comparing multiple teams at once. In general, they are very similar to odds but working on a slightly different scale, but you can sometimes use either and get the same result.

What else should I know?

You really do not need all that much to start betting, but some terms can help if you want to make sure that you are putting your money in the right places. Some of these include:

  • Spread (or margin): when a bet’s winning criteria is based on a team winning or losing by a certain amount of points, that is called a margin or spread. If your team wins by one point, but the spread dictated three points, you still technically lost.
  • Push: when a team’s points match the spread exactly. This usually leads to both sides being refunded, although every bookie will handle this differently. Some bookmakers will set the spread at half-points to prevent pushes from happening at all.
  • Pick’em: when two teams are an equal match and have similar or identical chances to win. In these cases, odds might also be balanced.
  • Bankroll: how much money you have set aside to bet with. Managing your bankroll can often mean avoiding multiple risky bets in a row, although some people decide that they would rather take that chance anyway.

Handicapper: a person who looks at data from relevant sporting events to get an idea of how both sides will perform, then sets odds or recommends picks. Some handicappers make a living by offering a professional handicapping service, complete with custom algorithms that can turn any sports data into a fairly accurate prediction of how the game should go.