Sports Betting Explained

Sports betting is exciting and complex in equal measures. Welcome to class…

Our goal at OddsCritic is to help you understand it better, so you can enjoy it more. We figure that if you understand it and enjoy it, you’ll probably win more too.

We’ll give you all the information and intel you need to take on the online bookmakers, and beat them. It’s no easy task – a little bit like an epic struggle between a lion and a crocodile – but it’s a fight you can win.

When the Supreme Court struck down PASPA in May 2018 it ushered in a brave new world in the U.S. – legalized sports betting (outside of Nevada) was finally on the horizon.

Since then around 20 states have rolled out legalized sports betting, with more to come. Many of them with mobile options which mean you can bet on the move. A game changer.

We’ll tell you where you can bet, how you can bet, and what you can bet on. We’ll also give you every possible edge we can find. The education starts here. There is plenty to learn.

Sports betting FAQ

How can I bet online on sports?

All major sportsbook brands have mobile apps which you can download to your phone. You then register for an account, deposit funds and choose your bets. 

Is online betting safe?

Yes, online betting is very safe – as long as you bet with licensed sportsbooks. They operate with sophisticated encryption and geo-targeting to make sure you bet legally and safely.

Which states have legal sports betting?

A ton of states have already opened up, including: Arkansas; Colorado; Delaware; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Michigan; Mississippi; Montana; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; Tennessee; Virginia; West Virginia.

The situation is changing all the time – check our guides to state betting laws for the latest.

Are offshore sportsbooks legal?

Offshore sportsbooks do not operate legally in the U.S. – they do not have a license to operate in any state. You have no consumer protection if you bet with them, so our advice is don’t.

What is the legal age for sports betting?

In most states the legal age for sports betting is 21. There are a few notable exceptions where it’s 18. Check out our betting laws guides to find out the deal in your state.

How do sports betting odds work?

  • American odds have a – or + figure before each value.
  •  A – means it is likely the favourite, + is the underdog.
  • A – figure is how much you’ll need to bet to win $100.
  • A  + figure is how much you will win if you bet $100.

We’ve also put together a more detailed guide to how odds work – including American, decimal and fractional odds.

What are the best online sportsbooks?

Our online bookmaker guides give you all the detail on all the big brands. We also tell you which states they are operating in. Trust is important, so check out our guides.

What sports can I bet on?

You can bet on all major sports – including NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and much much more . Check out our sportsbook guides to find out what is on offer.

Can I bet on college sports?

Yes you can, but again there are some catches. Some states prohibit betting on local schools and games played in the state. Check out our betting laws guides to find out what the deal is.

How do I get the best sports betting odds?

To shop for the best value you need access to the stores. Sign up with as many online sportsbooks as you legally can. Then you will have access to a wide range of odds.

How can I make money through sports betting?

The eternal question. Shop around for the best odds, take all those lovely sign-up offers, study the odds and the stats and do not bet more than you can afford.

Sports betting terms

American odds: Like we said, each bet option has a + or – value. The value tells you how much you’ll win if your bet hits.

Example: Dallas is playing New England in the NFL, Dallas is -180, New England is +260

  • If you bet Dallas and it wins, you make $80 for every $100 you bet
  • If you bet New England and it wins, you make $260 for every $100 you bet

Cash Out: This is often available in-play, while your pick or bet is in progress. Maybe you look like winning right now, but you don’t like your chances of keeping it that way. If so you can cash out. You likely will will win less than if your bet goes the distance, but it can be a nice ‘play it safe’ strategy.

Decimal odds: This is a different way of displaying odds. A couple of examples:

  • If a team is 4.50, you will return $450 for every $100 you bet (your payout includes your stake)
  • If a team is 1.50 you will return $150 for every $100 you bet (again including your stake)

Dog: A shorter term for underdog.

Favorite: The team or selection which the online sportsbook expects to win, as shown by the odds. In American odds the favorite will normally have a – value.

Futures: Speculative, but fun and with the potential to hit big. You bet way in advance on something happening – maybe the Super Bowl or World Series a year out. Often the odds are pretty tasty, but you have to wait for your payoff. Better interest rates than banks though.

Fractional odds: Normally used in Europe, showing the odds in fractional form. Example:

  • If a team is 2/1, you will win $200 for every $100 you bet
  • If a team is 5/1, you will win $500 for every $100 you bet

Handle: This is the total amount bet at a sportsbook or in a state or on an event. Before taxes and payouts.

Hedge: Reducing your risk. You might bet big on something, but then have another bet on another option in the same event to lessen the chance of losing it all.

In-play betting: Terrific fun and growing fast in the U.S. – live betting means you can wager on a game while it’s actually happening. The odds change in real time as teams score and time runs off the clock.

Lock: A heavy favorite or selection which is confidently expected to win.

Moneyline: The simplest form of bet in the U.S. sports betting market. You bet on a team or an option just to win the game. Nothing more, nothing less.

Opening line: The starting odds or betting line for any event or matchup. For example, the opening line for an NFL line might be released the Monday before a game. That line can then change throughout the week. For example if a star player is injured and their status is uncertain.

Over/under: This is a bet offered on the total number of points in a football game for example. If the line for a game is 49.5 for example, you bet either over or under that. All you need to worry about is the final score.

Parlay: One of the types of bets which is the most fun, hard to hit but with big upside if you do. You combine multiple selections into a single bet and the odds multiple with each winning selection. So you could do an eight-team NFL parlay on a Sunday. If all eight win, you strike it rich.

The downwide – it’s hard to hit on one bet, let alone multiple…

Point spread: Betting on an event where a spread is involved (the amount one team is favored by). The underdog gets a start, the favorite is given a handicap. Your bet has to cover the spread for you to win. 

Example: The Bucs are playing the Chiefs. Kansas City is a 3.5 favorite or -3.5.

  • You bet KC, they must win by 4 or more points to cover the spread.
  • You bet Tampa, they must at worst lose by 3 points to cover.

Promo code: What online bookmakers often give you to claim a signup bonus they are promoting to new customers.

Props: Great way to add interest to watching a game. Props (proposition bets) are special bets which can be on just about anything – apart from the result of the game. 

  • It could be how many yards a QB will pass for
  • It could be which round a boxing match finishes in
  • It could be the result of the coin toss in the Super Bowl

There are endless options – check out the various sportsbooks for what is on offer.

Public betting: A really useful guide to where the money is going on a game or event. Sportsbooks make public the amount of bets on a team, or the amount of money bet. 

Round robin: A really exotic way to bet. Multiple parlays at the same time.

Straight up: A different term for the money line. Odds on a team to win, nothing more.

Signup bonus offer: Sportsbooks now offer terrific bonuses to get you to register for accounts and bet with them. These can be up to $1000 in bets if you shop around for the best deals.

Take the points: Betting the underdog on the point spread. A sportsbook offers your bet a start and you take it.

Underdog: The team or selection which an online sportsbook expects to lose. As shown by the odds. Normally has a + value in American odds.