If you’re new to sports betting, the terminology alone can become overwhelming in a hurry. We want to make that process as easy for you as possible. This article explains several popular betting options, followed by a glossary with dozens of sports betting terms.
Types of Bets
Betting Against the Spread
Betting against the spread involves picking the favorite or underdog in a contest. In the picture above, the Jets are +5.5-point home underdogs while the Ravens are -5.5-point road favorites. If you bet on the Ravens against the spread, they have to win by six or more points. If you bet on the Jets against the spread here, they can lose by up to five points, and you will still win your bet.
The -110 number next to both spread options is the juice or vig (vigorish). This is the fee the sportsbook takes for a given bet. Juice with a negative number like -110 means you’d have to bet that amount to win $100; in this instance, you’d need to bet $110 to win $100. If you bet $100 on a winning option with -110 juice, that would net you $90.91 in profit plus the $100 you initially bet for a total of $190.91. If you were to make a bet on an option with +110 juice, a $100 bet would net you $110 in profit plus the return of your $100 wager, for a total of $210.
Betting the Over-Under
Another option for betting on an individual game is betting the over-under on the total points scored in the contest. In the Jets vs. Ravens example from above, the game total is 45.5 points. Betting the over here means that if the game ends in 46 or more total points, you win; if it ends in anything less, you lose. If you want to bet the under, you’re betting on the total points scored to be 45 or fewer.
Betting the Money Line
A money line bet is a bet on one side of a contest to win. You do not have to worry about the point spread when making a money line bet. However, the favorite will have a worse payout than the underdog in these instances. In the Jets vs. Ravens example from above, the Ravens’ money line is -250 while the Jets’ is +200.
From the Ravens’ side with -250 juice, you would need to bet $250 to win $100 in profit. If you were to bet $100 on Baltimore’s money line in this scenario, you would win $40 in profit, plus the return of your original $100 wager for $140 in total. For the Jets’ side at +200, if you made a $100 bet on New York’s money line, you would net $200 in profit if the Jets win. Conversely, a Jets’ win would return your $100 wager plus $200 in profit for a total of $300.
A futures bet involves a wager on a future event that won’t conclude for weeks, if not months. Some examples of futures bets made before the season starts include a bet on a team to win the Super Bowl or a bet on a player to win the MVP award. Many of these bets can also be made during the season. Keep in mind that futures bets are very difficult to win; countless events can significantly affect the performance of a player or team throughout an entire season.
Proposition (Prop) Betting
Prop bets involve specific outcomes within specific games. For instance, prop bets in the Super Bowl range from the number of passes a quarterback will throw in the contest to which team will score the first touchdown to the color of the Gatorade that will be poured on the winning coach. Regular season prop offerings are more football-focused than Super Bowl prop offerings. For example, if Justin Jefferson’s opening day yardage prop was 90 yards receiving and you decided to take the under with a $100 bet at +110 juice, you would lose your $100 if Jefferson has more than 90 yards receiving in the contest. If Jefferson goes under that total, you would get your $100 back plus the $110 profit for a total of $210 for winning this prop.
A parlay is a wager where two or more bets are tied together to increase the total payout where you need to win each “leg” of the parlay to win. While parlays pay out more than straight bets when they win, you’re also going to win them far less frequently. For instance, let’s say you take the Jets as 5.5-point underdogs and parlay it with the over in this contest of 45.5 points for $100. Both legs of the parlay have -110 juice. If both legs of this parlay win, you would get your $100 wager back, plus $177.41 in profit for a total of $277.41. Two-leg parlays generally pay in the 2.6:1 odds range, so this payout aligns with that expectation. The number of legs in a parlay and the juice of each leg will determine your parlay payout.
Teasers are similar to a parlay in that you tie two or more bets together. But instead of getting a greater payout, you get a cushion in each leg of a teaser. For instance, a standard two-team teaser gives you +6 points to either the spread or game total for each option you pick. When using the Jets vs. Ravens example from above, if you were going to tease the Ravens -5.5 and the over of 45.5 points, the Ravens line would be adjusted from -5.5 to +0.5, and the over that you’d need to beat would be adjusted from 45.5 down to 39.5 points.
In this scenario, the Ravens would need to win the game by one point or more, and the game total would have to be 40 or more points for you to win your teaser. Another popular teaser is the three-team option, which traditionally gives +10 points to the spread or total in each leg of the teaser. Many sportsbooks offer several teaser options, and the juice is often higher on teasers than most other bets. Ultimately, if you are betting a teaser, you are doing so for the cushion you are getting on the points spread and/or the game total.
Glossary for Betting Terminology
Action: Any kind of bet or wager.
Against the Spread (ATS): Making a bet against the points spread where you are either taking the favorite (laying points) or taking the underdog (taking points). Sometimes, a game will be a pick’em, where neither team is the favorite, and there is no point spread.
Backdoor Cover: When a late score doesn’t impact the final result of a game but does impact the winning side of a spread bet.
Bad Beat: When a bet looks like a winner, but a low-probability outcome turns into a losing wager.
Bankroll: The total amount of money you have to bet with.
Bankroll Management: The practice of managing your bankroll in smart, structured ways.
Book: Short for sportsbook.
Buying Points: Paying a fee to adjust a line. For instance, if you want to bet on a -3.5 point favorite, you may have the option to buy the half point (the hook) to make it a -3 point favorite.
Chalk: The favorite and/or popular play.
Closing Line: The final odds before a game starts.
Confidence Pools: A variant of a winner pool where you still pick the winner of each game in the pool. However, you order those selections, so each has a different value.
Contrarian: Betting against consensus and/or public ticket volume.
Cover: A bet wins when the spread is covered. For example, if a team is a 3-point favorite and wins by four points, they cover.
Dog: The underdog in any given contest.
Draw: Another word for a push. For example, if a team is a 3-point favorite and they win by three, bets on both the favorite and the underdog in that contest end in a draw, meaning there is no winner. In these instances, the bets on both sides are refunded.
Edge: Having an advantage on a bet. An example of having an edge on a bet would be if injury news breaks on a starting quarterback that casts doubt on their ability to play. The edge would be getting a bet in on said quarterback’s opponent before the sportsbook either adjusts the line or outright pulls the game off the board due to the injury.
Even Money: Odds that return the same amount of money with no vig, which would look like +100 juice (vig).
Expected Value (+EV, -EV): A term also used in statistics and finance. In the sports betting world, expected value refers to the calculation of finding the margin between a bettor’s expectations on a wager versus the offerings of a sportsbook. A positive margin is a +EV bet; a negative margin is a -EV bet. The idea here is that if you could make the same +EV bet on the same event if it were played an infinite number of times, that bet would be profitable in that scenario long-term because it would win more often than it would lose.
For example, using the Jets vs. Ravens game from above, let’s say you built a model that projected the Ravens as 7-point favorites in that contest. According to your model, betting on Baltimore as a -5.5-point favorite would be a +EV bet because it would win more often than it would lose. Conversely, that would also mean your model projects the Jets as a +7 underdog. Being able to bet on the Jets as +5.5-point underdogs would be a -EV bet, according to your model that says the Jets should be a +7-point underdog.
Favorite: The side of a contest favored to win. Favorites are priced with a negative number, such as -3 against the spread or -250 on the money line.
Field: In some prop or futures bets, a field bet is an accumulation of all of the unlisted options for that given bet. For example, let’s say Buffalo starts the season 10-0, making them the standalone favorite to finish the year as the AFC’s top seed. In that scenario, a sportsbook may offer a Buffalo versus the field bet to finish the year as the top seed in the conference. The field in this instance would be the rest of the teams in the AFC that aren’t the Buffalo Bills. A field bet in this scenario would be betting on the rest of the AFC.
Future: Bets that are made weeks in advance of a future event. Examples of futures bets are betting on who will win their division or the Super Bowl before the season starts.
Handle: The amount of money a sportsbook takes on a given event.
Handicapping: The process of predicting outcomes of teams and players in sports.
Hedging: Placing a bet on the other side of your original bet to mitigate loss or guarantee a profit. For example, let’s say I play a $100, five-leg opening day parlay that will pay around $2,200 if it wins. Let’s also say that I win the first four legs of this parlay, where the final leg is on the Dallas Cowboys as 2-point home underdogs against the Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football at +100 juice (even money). Since I won the first four legs of this parlay, I might consider hedging my original bet by placing a $1,000 bet on Tampa Bay as -2-point road favorites in this contest. This would guarantee a profit regardless of which team covers on Sunday Night Football.
Hook: The extra half-point on spread or totals bets. A line with a hook means that one side will win, and there will be no push. On opening day, the Washington Commanders are currently -3.5-point home favorites against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The half-point in that line is the hook.
Juice: A sportsbooks fee or cut for a given bet, also called the vig or vigorish. When the juice is a negative number, that is the amount you would need to bet to achieve a $100 profit (if the bet wins). So, if a bet has -300 juice, you would have to bet $300 in order to make a $100 profit if the bet wins. When there is positive juice, that number represents the profit you’d get back on a $100 bet if the said bet wins. For example, a $100 bet with +500 juice would net you $500 in profit if it wins (plus the return of your $100 bet, for a $600 total).
Key Numbers: In spread betting, key numbers are the most common margins that games end in. In the NFL, three and seven points are the two primary key numbers. Six, ten, and fourteen are the other five most common winning margins in the sport.
Laying the Points: When you bet on a favorite, you lay the points.
Limit: The maximum amount a sportsbook allows for a wager.
Line: Odds listed by an oddsmakers.
Line Shopping: The process of checking lines/prices at multiple sportsbooks to make the “best” bet. For example, if the Packers are +1000 to win the Super Bowl at sportsbook A yet they are +1200 to win the Super Bowl at sportsbook B, you take the +1200 option at sportsbook B since you’ll be getting a higher payout for the same event to happen.
Live Betting: Wagers that are offered on a contest after the contest has started. Live betting odds are recalibrated after every play (though not always changed after every play).
Long Shot: A large underdog.
Middle: Betting on the other side of your original position because there is a chance you can win both bets if you land in the middle of your two wagers. For example, let’s say you bet on the Chiefs as a 3-point home favorite early in the week. A few days later, the quarterback of the Chiefs’ opponent is ruled out for the contest, which now makes the Chiefs a 10-point favorite. If you then bet on the Chiefs’ opponent as a +10-point underdog in that contest, you’d win both bets (middle) if the Chiefs won this game between four and nine points.
Money-line Bet: A bet made on who will win a contest outright. There is no point spread in money line bets.
Oddsmaker: A person or group that sets lines and prices. Can also be called a bookmaker or linesmaker.
Off the Board: An event where no bets are being accepted. This usually happens due to some form of uncertainty, often injury or weather. For example, the Browns’ win total has been off the board at most sportsbooks this offseason due to the Deshaun Watson uncertainty.
Over: Taking the over means you are betting on more points being scored than the game total.
Parlay: A type of wager where two or more bets are tied together to increase the total payout. But every leg must hit for the bet to win. Each bet within a parlay can be referred to as a “leg” in said parlay.
Pick’Em: Games where neither team is favored, and the spread is effectively zero.
Point Spread: The margin that a favorite is expected to win by.
Prop Bets: Betting options related to a single game that can involve things like who scores first, how many sacks a particular team will have, how many receptions a wide receiver will have, and so on. Prop options expand dramatically for the Super Bowl, where you can bet on things like the length of the national anthem.
Push: Another word for a draw. For example, if a team is a 3-point favorite and wins by three, bets on the favorite and the underdog in that contest push. In these instances, there is no winner, and the bets on both sides are refunded.
Return on Investment (ROI): The amount of profit you make on a bet or a series of bets.
Reverse-Line Movement: When the line moves opposite to current betting percentages. For example, the Chargers are currently 4-point home favorites against the rival Raiders on opening day. Let’s say the Saturday before the game, betting percentages are 65% greater or more on the Raiders as +4-point underdogs; however, the line moves to Chargers -6. Under the conditions where consensus is substantially on the Raiders, that shift to Chargers -6 would be an example of reverse-line movement.
Second-Half Bet: Bets that are entirely focused on second-half performance of a given game.
Sharp: A professional sports bettor.
Straight Bet: An individual spread or money line bet.
Steam: When odds change because significant money is placed on one side of a bet.
Survivor Pool: Each week, you pick the winner of one game. However, you can’t use that team for the rest of the season. Sometimes these contests are called knockout pools.
Tail: To follow someone else’s bet (by making the same bet as them).
Taking the Points: When you bet on an underdog, you take the points.
Teaser: A bet where two or more bets are tied together; instead of getting a better payout, the bettor gets more points added to their spread or total options. The amount of points added is dictated by the number of legs in the teaser. If you wanted to play a three-team teaser on opening day with the Lions as +3.5-point home dogs, the Steelers as +6-point road dogs, and the Panthers as +1.5-point home dogs, you’d get +10 points for each leg of that teaser. This would change your bet to Lions +13.5, Steelers +16, and Panthers +10.5.
Totals: The line for the total amount of points expected to be scored in a game.
Under: Taking the under means you are betting on fewer points being scored than the game total.
Unit: A unit is generally 1% of your starting bankroll. So, if you start with a bankroll of $1,000, a single unit would be $10.
Vigorish: A sportsbooks’ fee or cut for a given bet, also called the vig or juice. When there is positive vigorish, that number represents the profit on a $100 bet if said bet wins. For example, a $100 bet with +500 vigorish would net you $500 in profit if it wins. So, if a bet has -300 vigorish, you would have to bet $300 to make a $100 profit.
Wager: Any kind of bet.
Win Totals: Before the season, sportsbooks set each team at a specific number of games they are expected to win; a win totals bet is a wager on either the over or under of that number.