Spreads. Moneylines. Totals. Teasers. Parlays. Futures. Props. The language of the sports wager sounds almost mystical. That is, when it doesn’t sound like some kind of Wall Street insider voodoo.
And yet, the language of the sports wager is easy to decipher. You don’t need a betting Rosetta Stone. But in case you think one will help, consider this your Rosetta Stone of sports wagering. Just in time for Super Bowl LVII.
Here, we decipher the various types of sports wagers.
Here’s one of the two basic ways of wagering on the outcome of a game. Sportsbooks will issue a point spread to equal the odds between favorite and underdog. For example, at the time of this writing, the Philadelphia Eagles were 1.5-point favorites at minus-110 to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s Super Bowl. That means the Eagles have to win by two or more points for your bet to pay off. Should Jalen Hurts and Co. do that, you’ll collect $100 plus your $110 wager for every $110 bet.
The flip side of that is betting on the Chiefs. If they lose by a point — or win outright, you win your wager at the same amount: $100 plus your $110 bet.
Here’s the second basic way of wagering on a game’s outcome—and probably the easiest. You simply plunk down money on a team you think will win. Your payoff comes whatever the odds are. The point spread doesn’t factor. For example, the Eagles are -120 and the Chiefs are +106. That means you’d wager $120 to win $100 on the Eagles. Or you’d wager $100 to win $106 on the underdog Chiefs. Both bets return your initial wager, of course.
A plus side next to the moneyline signifies the underdog. A minus sign, the favorite. You have to put up more money on the favorite, thus the moneyline, which serves as an equalizer.
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You’re not sure of the outcome of a game? Bet the total, otherwise known as Over/Under. The book sets a total and you decide if the teams will combine to score over or under that total. Returning to our Super Bowl example, the total at one book is 50.5. An over wager means you think the Eagles and Chiefs will combine to score 51 or more points. Place an under wager and you think the defenses will limit the two to 50 points or fewer.
Most total bets come at minus-110, meaning a winning $110 bet returns $210: your winnings plus your initial bet. At many books, you can also bet first-half or second-half totals.
Here’s where the stakes shoot up—and your odds fall off a cliff. Parlays involve combining two or more bets onto a single ticket. Say you like three hockey teams: the Tampa Bay Lightning (-275), the Pittsburgh Penguins (-115) and the Edmonton Oilers (-160). You could take all three teams individually, but as moderate to prohibitive favorites, you’d be laying a lot of money to win little.
You bundle the three favorites into a three-team parlay. Should all three teams win, you’d collect more than +300 on this particular wager: $314.28 on a $100 bet. Typically, three-team parlays pay around +600. You can add more teams and increase the payout exponentially and some books offer same-game parlays, meaning you can bundle different wagers on the same game into a parlay. For example, you like the Eagles and the Over of 50.5. You can combine those in a single-game parlay.
The catch? All your bets have to win. Our example above means to collect that +600 payout, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Edmonton all must win. Parlays are one of the book’s favorite bets because they’re very difficult to hit.
This isn’t a compliment, although if you hit some of these, your buddies will praise you to the heavens. Prop bets involve wagers on specific game scenarios, such as who will score the first touchdown in a game, score an anytime touchdown, a player’s rushing/passing/receiving yards, if a player will score more than a given amount of points in a basketball game or any conceivable stat.
For the Super Bowl, there are literally thousands of prop bets, ranging from mundane wagers like Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ passing yards (over/under 294.5 yards) to offbeat props like how long Chris Stapleton will take to sing the National Anthem (over/under two minutes).
Find a stat or a player and there’s likely several prop bets at your disposal.
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Teasers are a way to manipulate the odds in your favor. In football, it’s a way to move the point spread past the key numbers of 3 and 7 points.
The most common teaser is a two-team, six-point parlay. You have to pick both games correctly, but you add six points to the point spread. In our Super Bowl example, if you like the Chiefs, buying six points, you’d get 7.5 points. That takes you past the key numbers of 3 and 7 that decide most NFL games. That means if the Chiefs won by less than eight points, you’d win your wager.
Of course, this comes with a catch. You’re buying those points, meaning you get a reduced payout, typically minus-120.
Here’s where you can win a lot if the improbable happens. In a futures bet, you’re wagering on a team to win the Super Bowl, the College Football Playoff, the World Series, the Masters, the NBA Finals, the English Premier League for example. Say you looked at a Super Bowl futures board last August. You’d see the Chiefs were +600 favorites to win the 2023 Super Bowl. The Eagles? You could have had them in August at +2,000.
Books change the odds over time, meaning as a season progresses and teams flesh themselves out, the odds go either up or down.
One of the most notorious futures wagers involved Leicester City to win the 2016 Premier League. After barely dodging relegation the previous season, the Foxes were +50000 longshots to win the EPL. When the improbable became the possible that spring, English betting house Ladbrokes paid out more than $3 million.
Futures bets are a nice way to throw a few dollars on your favorite team. Just know that you’re tying up your money for months while literally anything can happen.
Head to Head
You often see these bets in golf tournaments, where books pair up two players and you pick which one will shoot the lower score in a given round or who will finish higher.
For example, the books may pair Collin Morikawa with Jordan Spieth in the first round of the Masters. You could take one or the other to shoot the lower score in that round, or take one to finish ahead of the other.
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