Sports Betting 101

We’re all going to be home for a little while so let’s have some fun, shall we? Sports betting, when done responsibly, can be a ton of fun. There’s a particular feeling when your favorite team is playing – now imagine having that feeling with any game you want. That’s what it feels like when you have some skin in the game. 

Before you get started, you need to know the basics. 

1. Favorites vs. Underdogs

Every game has a team expected to win, and a team expected to lose. The odds makers at any given sports book will make this determination. The favorite is the team expected to win and will get a minus sign next to its odds, while the underdog is expected to lose and gets a plus sign. If the game is a toss-up, books will open it as a “pick” or “pick’em.” The number next to the plus or minus sign is the amount of points by which that team is expected to win or lose.

Of course, you have favorite teams, but limiting your betting to wagers that favor them can prove disastrous. Betting is all about the cold, hard numbers. Keep that in mind to ensure you’re betting with your head and not your heart. Feel free to bet your favorites, from time to time, but be smart about it.

2. Spreads

There are two different ways to bet on a favorite or an underdog – spreads and moneylines. Let’s talk about spreads first.

Spreads are a bet on the margin of victory. A favorite “gives” points, while an underdog “gets” points. For example, the first game of the football season is the Chiefs vs Texans, and the Chiefs are 9.5 point favorites. 

If you bet on the Chiefs, they need to win the game by 10 points or more for you to win your bet. If they win by 10 points or more, you “cover.” If the Chiefs win by 9 points or fewer (or lose the game straight-up), you lose your bet.

On the flip side, if you bet on the Texans “plus the points” (+9.5), you need the Texans to either win the game lose by 9 points or fewer for you to win (or cover) your bet.

If you bet on a team and they win/lose by exactly the amount of the spread , that is called a “push,” which is an outcome where you get back the money you originally bet.

3. Moneylines

What if you just want to bet on a team to win or lose the game, regardless of the spread? In this instance you could do a moneyline bet. Favorites are given a “minus” designation, such as -200, which means you have to risk $200 to win $100. If the favorite wins, you get $100, but if the favorite loses, you’re out $200. Because favorites are expected to win, you assume more risk when betting on them which is why you have to bet more to win less. 

Underdogs are given a “plus” designation, such as +200, which means if you bet $100 on them and they win the game, you get $200. If they lose the game, you lose only the $100 that you risked. Because underdogs are expected to lose, there is more of a reward when betting on them so you win more than you bet.

Moneylines are classic risk/reward tradeoffs. Higher risk means higher rewards, and vice versa.

4. Over/Unders (Totals)

In addition to setting odds (spreads and moneylines) for favorites and underdogs, oddsmakers will also set a total number of points scored in a game by both teams combined. This is called the total or over/under.

Bettors can then wager on whether or not the game will go Over or Under the total.

For example, the first game of this basketball season is the Jazz vs Pelicans and the over/under is 218.5. You can bet that the game will go over or under this total. If you bet the over and the total points are 219 or higher, you win the bet. If the total points are 218 or fewer, you lose.

5. What is the -110 number listed next to my bet? 

Oddsmakers make money by putting a “tax” on every bet, which is typically called the “juice,” “takeout” or “vig” (short for “vigorish”). This is basically the commission you have to pay to the sportsbook for them to take on your bet. In theory, they set the odds to collect even money on both sides of the bet so they make their money on this fee. 

Say the Bills are -6 (-110) – that means if you want to bet on the Bills as the favorite, you need to risk $110 to win $100.

6. How to Place a Bet

Online sports betting is legalized state-by-state. To see if sports betting is legal in your state, check out this handy-dandy tracker from The Action Network. Some of the biggest states that have legalized include New Jersey, West Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania. Others (Michigan, Tennessee) are coming soon. Rumor has it that many states are planning to legalize faster than expected to make up for their shortfall of tax revenue from small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

To place a bet with our friends at Bet MGM, simply click one of the odds on our live odds page

7. How Much to Bet


While it sounds like common sense, we all know how easy it can be to get swept up in the heat of the moment. Be sure you know your limits and don’t exceed them. Some reputable sites, like BetMGM will even help you do so, with the options to set—and easily decrease—spending limits, temporarily suspend your account, and even limit the time you spend on the website. They also make it harder to increase those limits once you’ve set them. Final note: all good gamblers know to quit while you’re ahead.


Pretty self-explanatory, right? Experts agree that chasing your losses in an attempt to recover is a sure-fire way to end up in serious trouble. Try to think of each bet as separate from the last one and the next one.

8. Lines Move in Real Time

Know that lines shift constantly due to random new information, betting action, weather, you name it. Don’t fall into the trap of believing they indicate outcomes. Books want as many people betting on both sides as possible, and lines are all about encouraging that tension.

9. Make the  Most of Rewards and Bonuses

Most online betting sites are always on the hunt for new customers, and many offer special sign-up bonuses you can tap into to extend your bets and help defray your losses. Don’t shy away from enrolling in loyalty programs, as these sites often reward repeat customers with special offers.

10. Be Safe

As in any gold rush-type scenario, con artists abound, just waiting to prey on newbies. In the sports betting world, these guys are called “scamdicappers,” and they’re often found on Instagram. Be smart and avoid them with a few simple tips. Watch out for accounts with no verifiable win/loss records, an obsession with showing their high-roller lifestyle, and promises of “guaranteed wins.” A lack of user comments or reviews is also a big red flag.