Sports Betting Explained

Online sports betting is now available in many states across the United States after the US Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on online sports betting in 2018. This monumental moment in US history opened the door for online sports wagering around the nation.

Of course a sports betting wager is a monetary gamble on the outcome of a result or something happening within a contest or over a longer period. There are however hundreds of bet types out there and many parts of sports betting need learning before you embark on your sports wagering venture. By the end of this guide you will have a good understanding of what sports betting is, the different types of bets available and how to bet on sports: from sign up to bet placement.

What is sports betting? 

A sports bet is quite simply a wager on an outcome within a contest or on something happening over the course of a season or longer. Sports betting will take a little bit of learning as there are many things to understand such as odds, market types and value. 

Probably the easiest example of a sports betting market and best one to introduce you to sports betting is the moneyline bet.

A moneyline bet is quite simply just a bet on the result of a game or contest. It is one of the most popular bet types around the world and will always be one of the first bet options you see when you view a contest/game market page on a sportsbook. It is also known as a WIN bet or 1X2

It’s a great starting point for sports betting beginners as you only have a maximum of three possible outcomes with a moneyline bet: Team A to win, Team B to win or a tie. However, in sports such as football and basketball, ties are so rare that you may see sportsbooks only offer a 2-way moneyline betting market; Team A to win or Team B.

For example this is how a moneyline wager might look on an NFL game between Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys:

Atlanta Falcons +290

Dallas Cowboys -380

You would simply select which team you think would win and if they do, your bet would settle as a winner.

The numbers listed next to the teams with the plus (+) and minus (-) signs are the odds set by the sportsbook on either team winning. Most of the time there will be a favorite and an underdog in the contest, the minus odds (-) represents the favorite and plus odds (+) represents the underdog. 

You can read our detailed guide on American Odds but the simplest way to understand them is that with the favorite with minus odds (-) represents the amount you need to risk to win $100 so using the above example you would need to wager $380 on Dallas Cowboys in order to win $100 profit. The underdog plus odds (+) represents the amount you would win for every $100 wagered, so using the above example a $100 bet on the Atlanta Cowboys would win $290 profit. 

With every bet you win your initial stake/wager amount is always returned plus you will make a profit on top of that as listed in the odds. 

Of course it’s important to understand you don’t have to wager $100, you can bet $1, $5, $10 or whatever you’re comfortable with and the returns will just be adjusted according to your wager amount.  

Popular Sports Bet Types

Below are a handful of the most popular bet types you will see offered at sportsbooks:

Betting Against The Spread 

Betting against the spread is arguably the most popular sports betting type in the United States. It’s more than likely to be the first betting market listed when you click onto a sports game/contest. The spread is similar to that of a handicap bet, whereby the sportsbooks will assess two contesting teams or players and add points on to the underdog of a contest and subtract points to the favorite. The number of points added or subtracted entirely depends on the gap in terms of quality between the favorite and underdog. Find out more about point spread betting here. 


As already touched upon a moneyline bet is simply placing a bet on the outcome of a         game or a contest. It’s one of the most popular bet types around the world, as it’s the easiest to understand and when it comes to a game in popular sports such as football, basketball, hockey and baseball you know there are only a maxim of three potential outcomes. Check out our moneyline bet guide for a detailed explanation and strategy of moneyline betting.

Total Betting

Totals betting also known as over/under betting is a sports betting type whereby the oddsmakers will set a predicted combined points total for a game or contest between two or more teams and bettors simply have to bet on whether they think there will be more points in the game, in which case they would bet OVER, or if they think there will be less points and they would bet UNDER. 

Interval Betting

Interval betting is simply betting on something happening within a period of a game/contest. The most popular interval bets are on halves and quarters, where you bet on something and it has to happen within that interval for your bet to be settled as a winner. You can bet on most of the things you can over the whole course of the contest in interval betting that includes handicaps, totals, race to a certain number of points, first team to register a point etc. Fans enjoy interval betting as you will get much more attractive odds because you have less time to win your bet compared to one placed over the whole course of a contest. 

Futures Bets 

A futures bet is exactly what it sounds like, you are placing a bet on something that is happening or settled in the future. Typical future bets include a team to win their Championship, such as a team to win the Super Bowl, a team to win the NBA, a team to win the MLS etc. Player futures bets are also popular and sports betting fans love to bet on players to win certain individual accolades like the MVP award. 

Prop Bets 

A prop bet is more of a novelty wager and isn’t tied to the outcome of a game or score. A prop bet can be on a game, a player, to the more exotic. An example of a game prop would be 1st Touchdown Yards, a player prop bet could be a certain player to complete QB pass yards as an over/under bet, whereas exotic props could be who will win the coin toss at the Super Bowl?

Live Sports Betting

The most common sports bet will be placed before a game or an event but due to the advances in mobile sports betting technology, live betting or in-play betting has become a very popular feature for sports fans. The main attraction to live betting is that you can place a bet on a game whilst it is taking place. 

Live betting market options continue to grow and you will be able to place bets on all of the most popular pre-match markets during the game as well. Such as: moneyline, betting against the spread, over/under betting, handicaps, as well as plenty of prop bets. 

Fans enjoy live betting as it allows them to place a wager on the back of what they are watching happening within a game, for example perhaps one team is dominating the game and they feel like they will go on to eventually win, or that one player might go onto score the next touchdown in an NFL game or one team to win the next quarter in an NBA game etc. There are hundreds of in-play betting options available and it can make the game you’re watching more exciting knowing that you have a wager on it. 

It’s easy to place a live sports bet. First you want to go onto your preferred sportsbook’s website or app and you should find a link to their live betting list section on their homepage, which will list all of the major live sports events taking place at that particular moment. You then simply find the game you are interested in placing a bet on and click into it and it will show all of the available live betting options for you.

How to bet on sports 

If you’re wondering how to place a bet on sports, you’re not alone, as online legal sports betting in the United States has only been a possibility since 2018 and many states are only just launching online sports betting, whilst others are due to follow suit in the near future. That means there are millions of potential newbies to sports betting that perhaps would like to try their hand at it but also understandably want to learn a bit more about it before risking their own money. That’s where we come in, as we offer guides on all the key details of sports betting.

Firstly you’ll want to gain enough knowledge around sports betting in order for you to feel comfortable and confident about placing your first bet. Check out our sports betting guides to first get yourself learning today.  

When ready to enter the often thrilling world of sports betting, you will want to choose your nominated sportsbook. 

Sportsbooks are all in competition with one another for new sign-ups, so it’s great news for you as you will see some very attractive offers and promos offered to you as a reward for signing up to them. 

We have industry leading detail on sportsbooks in general, and reviews on all of the legal online sports betting operators in the United States on our sportsbook page. Shop around the sportsbooks to find the one that suits you best, whether that’s one that has the best welcome offer, best ongoing reward program, best odds, best variety of markets, best range of sports to bet on etc. Everybody looks for different things when signing up to a sportsbook and one particular sports betting website may offer the package that suits your requirements best. So be sure to have a thorough browse before deciding. 

Once you’ve settled on your sportsbook you will need to sign-up to an account with them. Sportsbooks may vary from one another in terms of their requirements for signing up but generally all will require you to at least provide the following:

  • Full Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Current Address 
  • Email Address 
  • Telephone Number
  • A Payment Method and Billing Details
  • Some Form of Identification (whether that’s at sign up or when looking to withdraw funds)
  • A Username and Password

Signing up for a sportsbook is easy however, and you will be placing your first bet in no time. 

If you sign-up with any of the websites we cover on our sportsbook page, you can join safe in the knowledge that all the sports betting brands we list on this site are fully legal and safe.

Once you’ve completed your sign-up and are fully verified you will be ready to go, and this is where the fun starts. 

From the homepage sportsbooks will have links to all of the major betting sports in the United States in view such as football, basketball, hockey, baseball, soccer. They will be divided up into their leagues with the top leagues most prominent such as the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. You click into the league of your chosen sport and you will find your game in a list in order of date and time.  

You will then be presented with a number of different sports betting markets on your selected game. 

Below is an example of what a sports betting page on Golden State Warriors vs Brooklyn Nets in the NBA looks like on Unibet.


As it’s the most popular betting type in the United States, we’ll cover an example of placing a points spread bet, as chances are you may like to place one yourself in the future. 

You can learn more about betting against the spread in far greater detail here but just to give a quick introduction, the point spread is created by subtracting points from the favorite of the contest (Who the sportsbook thinks is the stronger team) and adding points to the underdog of the game (Who the sportsbook thinks is the weaker team). We can see that Brooklyn Nets are the favorite as they have been assigned -2.5 on the spread, meaning if you select that betting option they start the contest 2.5 points down. The Golden State Warriors have been deemed to be the underdog of the game and have been assigned +2.5, meaning anyone who bets on that side of the spread starts 2.5 points ahead before anything has even happened. 

I think that the Brooklyn Nets are far superior to the Golden State Warriors on current form and will easily win by a margin greater than 2.5 points, so I place a bet on that side of the spread.

This is how it would look on Unibet:

You can see I have selected the “BKN Nets -2.5” option, which has now highlighted it in yellow. This has prompted my betslip to appear in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

As we look closer at my bet slip we can see that it has correctly added my choice of bet (BKN Nets -2.5) and now it is up to me to enter my stake amount. 

As I’m new to sports betting and just want to try it out for now, I opt to stake a small amount of $5. 

This is how my bet slip now looks with my $5 stake entered:

You can see that it has calculated my return amount of $9.45, which is how much I stand to win if my bet settles as a winner. Sportsbooks always return your stake amount to you as part of the payout. So in this example we have made $4.45 profit and have had our $5 stake returned to the total of $9.45. 

You can learn more about American odds and visit our bet calculator tool to work out your potential returns before placing your bets. 

So we’d now click place bet and the wager will be placed assuming you have the stake amount covered in your balance.

It’s worth remembering that as a newcomer to a sportsbook you will often have welcome offers and promos to take advantage of, so you may wish to use your free bet balance to try out some bets, if you have qualified. 

With our $5 bet now placed, we’d now wait for the game to begin, watch the action unfold and keep everything crossed that the Brooklyn Nets beat the Golden State Warriors by a margin greater than 2.5 points. If they do, we’ll walk away with $9.95. If they fail to win by 2.5 points or more, our bet will settle as a loser and we will unfortunately have lost our stake amount of $5. 

Sports Betting Explained FAQs

Yes online sports betting has been legal in certain US states since 2018 when the US Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on online sports betting and several states now offer a form of viable online or mobile sports betting.
Currently New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Illinois, Colorado, Indiana, West Virginia, Iowa, Delaware, Rhode Island, Oregon and Nevada all offer some forms of online sports betting or mobile sports betting. The list of states looking to offer legal sports betting continues to grow however and more are sure to follow in the months ahead.
It entirely depends on the sportsbook you sign up to, you want to ensure they are an established sports betting brand with all the necessary licenses and are regulated by a third party. The good news is that all of the sportsbooks we cover and review are safe and legal, so you can join the world of sports betting without any concerns around safety.
It all depends on which state you are located in, assuming you are in a legal online sports betting state, you can find all of the sportsbooks that operate in your state on our sportsbook state page. The online sports betting industry in the US is growing rapidly and many new sportsbooks are launching.
In theory yes, but you can also lose money betting on sports. So you need to be sensible when it comes to sports betting and ensure you set a staking limit you are comfortable with and utilise bank management well. However, all that being said it’s a possibility to run a profitable sports betting account.

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