Sports Bets Explained

There are quite a few different kinds of sports bets. They can also be confusing. One reason for confusion is that different sportsbooks might use different terminology for the same bet. Another, more common reason for confusion is how the odds or the betting line is listed in the sportsbook. The last reason for confusion might be because the odds or the line change as the sportsbook sees how the public is betting.

The sportsbooks’ profit comes from a straight commission on each winning bet so they try to keep the odds or the online sports betting line as close to even as possible.

Each sport lends itself to some bets well and poorly to other bets.

Here are the major bets you’ll see at Intertops and other sportsbooks.



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Win or Moneyline

This is by far the most straightforward sports bet of all. It asks the simplest of questions: Who will win the game? In this bet, you have the least chance of winning by betting on the underdog. The exception is when the underdog is very close in skill with the team favored to win.

The win bet is relatively easy to analyze beforehand in sports like basketball and American football. It is the most difficult to analyze before a game in baseball. The nature of baseball is that the better team wins no more than 60% of its games and some top teams win as few as 55% of their games. In basketball and American football, teams might win 80% of their games. So, in baseball, you can place a win bet and receive fairly good odds while in basketball or football, the odds will be very daunting. In those sports we recommend betting on the spread or on the over/under bets, explained below.


The reason this bet works so well in American football is because teams score so many points. The lesser of two teams may lose the game but if they play just well enough on offense or defense they will “cover the spread” and if you bet on the underdog to do so, you’ll win that bet even though the team lost the game.

The spread is a very difficult bet to win in soccer, ice hockey, or baseball because teams so often win or lose by a single point, goal, or run but is an excellent betting vehicle in basketball and American football.


This bet is on the expected accumulation of points in a game. Let’s say you want to bet on a game in basketball. You might bet on the spread where the winning team might win by ten or more points but you might also want to bet on the cumulative point total. In basketball, it may come down to how well the teams will play in the fourth quarter. If they play poor defense because the game is out of reach for one team, the over bet will likely win. If the game is closely fought, defense becomes paramount towards the end of the game and the under might win.

Soccer, ice hockey, and baseball are the worst sports to bet either on the spread or the over/under. Regarding the spread, these sports are well-known for games decided by one point. If you bet against the ephemeral spread, you might win the bet but the payout will be very meager as the sportsbook makes the odds reflective of the likely outcome.

All spread bets on favorites lose in one point games because the spread has to be at least two to win. These sports are also difficult for over/under bets because so many games end up 1-0 or 2-1. You can bet the under and win but as in the spread bet, the sportsbook has set the odds to such a degree that you win very little for the size of your bet. In soccer, a 0-0 tie is not at all uncommon and in those cases the over bet loses dramatically.

Proposition Bets

These are not bets about the outcome of the game; they are about the outcome of possibly the next few seconds or minutes of a game. There are an infinite number of proposition bets you could make. No sportsbook could possibly offer all of them.

A few examples of proposition bets are:

  • Will either team score in the fiftieth minute? You can substitute any minute for the fiftieth. Clearly, there are innumerable such bets.
  • Will LeBron James score a triple double?
  • Will the batsman swing at the next pitch?

Sportsbooks may offer a few proposition bets. These are fun to make but are very difficult to win with any regularity.

Futures Bets

These are better called purely long range prediction bets. Who will win the cricket test match; who will win the World Cup; who will be nominated by the political parties in the next election; who will win the tennis, golf, or chess tournament?

The odds on these bets may be very long. They are very speculative bets indeed. Some bettors like them simply because of the odds, but the longer the odds the less likely the bet will win.


There are various types of parlays but the principle is the same in all of them: you win by winning a combination of bets, by choosing a string of winners. The more bets you need to win, the higher the payout. In some countries there is a football parlay involving as many as 15 matches. Whoever wins this bet, wins millions of dollars.

Smaller parlays may involve two or three games. Large parlays are similar in nature and payout size to lotteries. The payouts are higher, commensurate with the risk, and skill in predicting the outcomes.

How the Bets are Listed

Now, we must explain the esoteric language of bets. Let’s say you want to bet on a soccer game. The sportsbook list the odds as possibly +120 on the underdog and -140 on the favorite. If you place $100 on the underdog and your bet wins, you win $120. You have to risk $140 on the favorite to have a chance to win $100.

In bets like spread and over/under there are two numbers. The first is the anticipated spread or accumulation of points and the second is the actual betting line. The principle is the same as described above.

In a spread bet, the underdog gets + a given number of points and the favorite gets – points. The two points are not the same; the sportsbooks profit from the difference in the two spreads.

The differences reflect the desire of the sportsbook to get the same amount bet on both possible outcomes. Then, the sportsbook profits on its commission and has to pay out almost the same as it took in besides the commission.

It’s a bit counterintuitive at first to think that the “minus” is the line on the favorite and the “plus” is the line on the underdog. But, with experience, you will become more comfortable with all of these terms.

Take it Slowly

For that reason and because there are far more sports and games that sportsbooks accept bets on, we always say that especially newer sports bettors should go slow at first.

It takes time to spread one’s wings and become expert enough in the many sports to make calculated and reasoned bets on more than one of them.