A lot of people believe that sports betting is just about knowing sports. That predicting the outcome of a match will be enough to net bettors heaps of winnings.

Those people are wrong.

Yes, forecasting game results and having a feel for a particular sport/league are essential parts of making good sports bets, but they’re not the only components that matter. Understanding the systems that regulate the gambling universe is an equally important requirement for anyone who wants to make money off of sports betting.

Because, in the end it’s not about who wins; it’s about who has the most fun wins against the spread and doesn’t get burned by the odds.

What are sports betting odds?

Most of us learn the answer to “What are odds?” in an elementary school math lesson. But the answer diversifies a bit when the phrase “sports betting” is added as a qualifier.

Sports betting odds provide a numerical representation of how likely a given athletic outcome is to occur. They can be used both in situations where two individuals/teams are competing directly against each other and in those where each participant is competing against a larger field.

They can also be expressed in three distinct ways.

Fractional (aka Traditional or British): These are odds that express probability as ratio. For example, take the odds 5/1. Since the first number in the ratio is greater than the second one, it describes a situation where the result is more unlikely than it is likely. Flip that around to 1/5 and it means that the result is extremely likely to happen. Potential winnings can be determined by expressing one’s bet as an equivalent ratio in which the amount bet is the second number in the ratio. The winnings for a $200 bet at 5/1 odds could be expressed by this equation: 5/1 = x/$200. In this case, solving for x gives you $1,000, which is what the winnings would be.

Decimal (aka European): This type of odds representation provides a single number that conveys how much a winning bettor will walk away with; one that includes the initial betting amount. Decimal odds must be priced higher than 1, since a bet of 1 would imply that the bettor can win nothing at all by being correct. Odds between 1 and 2 (e.g. 1.27, 1.40, 1.96, etc.) are bets for which the bettor would have to bet more than their desired winnings amount in order to receive it (alongside the initial stake). Odds over 2 represent bets where the bettor can be guaranteed of winning at least double what they put down. Someone who bets $200 at 1.25 odds would walk away with $250 total while someone who bet $200 at 2.25 would walk away with $450 total.

Moneyline (aka American): A less formal name for this odds type might be “what you give/get for $100.” That’s because all Moneyline amounts are essentially an expression of what it takes to either win you $100 or build on $100. Odds where the number is negative (e.g. -105, -250, -600, etc.) correspond to bets where you must bet that amount in order to win $100 of new money. Odds where the number is positive (e.g. +110, +230, +480, etc.) correspond to bets where betting $100 would win you exactly that amount. When bets are more or less than $100, winnings amounts adjust proportionally (e.g. a $200 at +110 would bring back $420).

What are the different sports betting options?

Now that you’re familiarized with sports betting odds, let’s delve into the different sports betting options, all of which utilize the odds types discussed above.

Moneyline (aka Straight Up): Not to be confused with the Moneyline odds type, Moneyline bets are bets that only require bettors to pick a winner straight up. To account for the common scenario where there is a glaring lack of hope on one side of the action (e.g. when a powerhouse goes up against the dregs of its competition), Moneyline bets will drastically lower the payout for the favourite. In a competition where both sides are relatively even, the risk/reward balance will be relatively even as well. Though the bets are commonly expressed with Moneyline odds (e.g. Boston Celtics +150 at Toronto Raptors -110), they could just as easily be expressed a different way (e.g. Boston Celtics 2.5 at Toronto Raptors 1.91). Moneyline-style betting can also be used for prop bets, which are more obscure, occasionally goofy bets that are made on specific scenarios taking place within a game.

The Spread: Whereas Moneyline accounts for competitive disparities by changing the payout level, spread betting does it by imposing a calculated margin of victory that must either be exceeded by favourites or defended by underdogs. For example, a dominant New England Patriots team going up against a lowly Cleveland Browns squad may have to clear a 10.5-point spread. This means that oddsmakers have assessed the situation and decided that New England is likely to win by about two scores, but feel that having the demarcation be between a TD/FG margin and something more than that will make the choice most difficult and draw in the most action on both sides (which is how sportsbooks minimize risk). Spread betting is especially popular in sports like football, where lots of scoring takes place, while Moneyline betting makes more sense in hockey, baseball, soccer, and individual sports.

Over/Under (aka Total): An Over/Under bet gives gamblers the opportunity to wager on the cumulative scoring output between two sides, rather than just picking the victor and its margin of victory. This appeals to many bettors, since they may have a better sense about how high-scoring a game will be than they do about its winners and losers. Even if they are confident about it though, they will still have to go up against a consensus reached by oddsmakers, which, like a spread, makes things a lot more difficult to predict accurately. For example, a game between the high-powered Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights could have an over/under mark of 6.5 goals, while one between the scoring-deficient Philadelphia Flyers and Arizona Coyotes might only have a mark of 4.5. Taking the over means that you expect the point total to exceed the mark and taking the under means that you think it will fall short of it.

Futures: Instead of predicting a single match, perhaps you want to predict what will happen over the course of an entire season. If so, then Futures betting is for you. Futures bets can be made on league championships, conference championships, individual awards, season-long over/under win totals, and more. They can also be extremely lucrative when they are made at the right time, since midseason injuries and trades can completely shake up a sport’s competitive outlook and open up the door for a team/competitor with initially steep odds to suddenly have an inside track to winning.

Parlays and Teasers: Why stop with one bet when you can combine multiple bets together? That’s the logic behind parlays and teasers, which offer higher payouts for compounded wagers. Parlays are the more difficult of the two, since they are bets where the bettor must come through exactly as the bets have been laid out. With teasers, gamblers get a bit of a cushion. For example, parlaying Packers (-7.5) over Bears and Bills (-2.5) over Dolphins would mean that there is no margin for error in covering the spreads. By putting them in a teaser, a bettor could adjust the spread by an amount that is being offered, such as six points, and effectively change the bets to Packers (-1.5) over Bears and Bills (+3.5) over Dolphins. This is less lucrative than parlaying and still requires both teams to come through, but is a much safer bet.