How to Bet on Sports – The Different Types of Wagers
There are many questions that we hear time and time again from people who are new to sports betting. There are also several that we regularly hear from those who already have plenty of betting experience. Some questions we even hear from both beginners and seasoned bettors. One of the most common of those is “What are the best types of wagers to place?”
This is not an easy question for us to answer. It’s impossible, in fact. In a broad sense, no type of wager is definitively “better” than any other. It depends on the individual who’s placing the wager, the sport they’re betting on, and the circumstances. Each type of wager has its merits in the right situation.
Experienced bettors should know this, but beginners obviously don’t. In fact, most beginners often find the wide range of wagers they place quite confusing. This is understandable, but we do recommend that beginners learn all about the different types of wagers as soon as they can. Although some types of wagers are more complex than others, none of them are really that difficult to understand. Not when they’re explained properly, anyway, which is exactly what we’ve done on this page.
Below, we’ve provided easy-to-understand explanations for each of the main types of wagers, along with some examples. We strongly suggest taking the time to read through this whole page, as you really should know how to use each different type. You’ll probably want to stick with the simple wager types to start with, but there might be occasions when you want to use the more advanced ones. You don’t want to miss out on potentially profitable opportunities just because you don’t how a particular wager works.
Before we start, please be aware that some wagers are referred to differently in different parts of the world. To make things even more complicated, in some cases, the same terminology can have different meanings depending on where you live. Some types of wagers also work slightly different from one region to the next and from one sport to the next.
We’ve tried to make things as clear as we possibly can in this article, but there is potential for a little confusion. Please make sure that you NEVER place a wager unless you’re entirely sure how it works. Most bookmakers or sports betting sites will explain things to you if you need clarification, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Here’s a list of all the types of wager covered on this page. If you’d like to jump straight to a specific type, just click on the relevant link.
Looking to Bet On Your Favorite Sport? We've got you covered!
Here we breakdown some of our most popular betting articles for you to take a look through and our different betting site suggestions based on specific needs and wants of our bettors. If you're just looking for the best online sportsbook to get started with, take a look at our recommendation below.
Sports betting doesn’t come any simpler than the win bet, or moneyline wager. Both these terms refer to the exact same type of wager. Win bet is used almost universally, while moneyline wager is used in the United States and a few other regions. The term “straight bet” is also used in some regions for this type of wager, but in the US, a straight bet refers to point spread wagers (which we will cover shortly).
A win bet is one of the most popular wagers that can be placed, partially because it’s so easy to understand and partially because it’s considered the “traditional” way to bet on several sports. This wager can be used in virtually every sport we can bet on, and it involves simply picking who is going to win a game, match, or other event.
Let’s look at some examples of this type of wager for a few different sports.
We’ll start with tennis. The betting here is very simple, as there are just two options. You back one player to win. Here’s how a typical market for this wager would look using odds expressed in the decimal format.
Marin Cilic vs. Dominic Thiem
We can see that the odds for each player to win are quite similar here. This tells us that the bookmakers are expecting a close match. A wager of $100 on Cilic would return $180 (including stake) if he won, while a wager of $100 on Thiem would return $200 if he won.
This example is for a basketball game. The two teams are not so evenly matched here, so there’s a bigger difference in the odds.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
The Cavaliers are the significant underdog here, hence the higher odds. A wager of $100 on them would return a total of $360 if they won the game. A wager of $100 on the Warriors would return just $133 if they took the victory.
Although we’ve used decimal odds again for this example, most American bookmakers and betting sites would use moneyline odds (also known as American odds). The Cavaliers would be +260 and the Warriors -300. The same potential payouts apply — it’s just a different way of expressing the odds. You can read more about odds and their different formats in our other article that explains how betting odds work.
For this example, we’ll use a soccer game. In soccer and some other sports, a tie is possible. A win bet or moneyline wager here is said to be on the “win-draw-win” market. You can put your money on either of the two teams to win, or you can back the draw.
A $100 wager on Chelsea would return $240 in total if they won. A $100 wager on the draw would return $330 if the game was tied. A $100 wager on Liverpool would return $300 if they won the game.
Point spread wagers are extremely popular in the United States, especially for football. They’re also commonly placed on basketball games, and they can be used for a wide range of other sports, too. As we stated earlier, a point spread wager can be referred to as a straight bet in the US. Point spreads are used outside the US as well, as this wager is essentially a universal one.
The concept here is different from the win bet, as you’re not betting directly on which participant will win a game or match. Instead, you’re betting on which participant will “cover the spread.” The spread is created by a bookmaker who makes the participants equal favorites for the purposes of the betting. A favorite is effectively “deducted” points, and an underdog is effectively “given” points. The size of the spread determines how many points are awarded and deducted.
When you back a favorite on the point spread, you’re backing them to win by a margin that’s greater than the size of the spread. When you back an underdog, you’re backing them to either win or lose by a margin that’s less than the size of the spread.
This might sound a little complicated, but in practice, the point spread is a very straightforward way to bet. We’ll show you some examples to demonstrate this.
The Denver Broncos are about to play the Baltimore Ravens in a football game. A bookmaker is offering the following market for the point spread.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos
The spread here is eight points. We can tell this from the +8 and the -8 next to the two teams. The +8 for the Ravens means that they’re being given eight points for the purposes of the betting, so they’re the underdog. The Broncos are the favorites, and being deducted eight points.
The -110 next to each team are the odds, in American format. The decimal equivalent of -110 is 1.9091. You’ll notice that the odds for both teams are exactly the same, which is often the case for point spreads. Remember, the whole idea of the point spread is to essentially make the two teams equal favorites from a betting perspective. In theory, each team should have roughly the same chance of covering the spread.
If the odds were “fair,” they’d be even money (+100 in American format or 2.00 in decimal format), but the bookmakers have to factor in their profit margin. This is known as the vig, the juice, or the overround. You can read more about how bookmakers factor a profit margin into the odds they set in our article explaining what a bookmaker does.
If you backed the Ravens here, you’d win your wager if the Ravens either won the game outright or lost by LESS than eight points. You’d lose your wager if the Ravens lost by more than eight points. If the Ravens lost by exactly eight points, your wager would be a push. This means you’d get your stake back.
If you backed the Broncos, you’d win your wager if the Broncos won by MORE than eight points. You’d lose your wager if the Broncos lost the game, or won by less than eight points. Again, a win of exactly of eight points would result in a push.
We’ll use football again here. This point spread market is for an upcoming game between the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers.
New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers
There are a couple of things to note here. First, the spread includes a half point at 5.5. This is quite common with point spreads, as it removes the possibility of a push.
Obviously, a team can’t win by exactly five and a half points, so a wager here will always win or lose. The Giants would have to lose by less than six points to cover, and the Packers would have to win by at least six points to cover.
The other thing to note is that the odds are NOT the same in this example. This is also quite common. There isn’t a huge difference, but the odds on the Packers are slightly lower than the odds on the Giants.
This suggests that the Packers are considered slightly more likely to cover the spread than the Giants are.
Handicap betting is used in many parts of the world, and for several sports. It’s very similar to point spread betting. Points (or goals) are still awarded and deducted from teams for the purposes of the betting, but the aim is not specifically to make the participants equal favorites. Instead, it’s really just about presenting different options. Handicap betting effectively gives you the opportunity to improve your chances of winning, but reduce the odds or to improve the odds, but reduce your chances of winning.
Let’s take a look at an upcoming soccer game to illustrate exactly how handicap betting works. This game is between Burnley and Southampton, and the standard win-draw-win market is as follows:
The bookmaker offering this market is offering the following handicaps for Southampton.
Southampton +1: 1.30
Southampton -1: 4.33
Southampton -2: 11.00
Backing Southampton +1 means that Southampton would be awarded an extra goal for the purposes of the betting. The odds are obviously lower than backing Southampton on the standard win draw market, as there’s a better chance of them winning with this “extra goal.”
Backing Southampton -1 means that they’d be deducted a goal, and backing Southampton -2 means that they’d be deducted two goals. The odds for these two wagers are higher than backing Southampton on the standard win draw market, as there’s a smaller chance of them winning with goals being deducted.
The bookmaker is also offering similar markets for the draw and for Burnley. They are as follows:
Burnley -1: 8.50
Burnley +1: 1.67
Burnley +2: 1.18
Draw -1: 4.80
Draw +1: 3.75
Draw +2: 6.00
The same principle applies to all of these options. Backing Burnley -1 means that Burnley would be deducted a goal for the purposes of the betting. Backing Burnley +1 means that they’d be deducted a goal, and so on.
Totals and over-unders are two different terms for the same wager. Some regions only use one term of the other, but in most parts of the world, the two terms are interchangeable. This type of wager is extremely popular, extremely straightforward, and available on a wide range of sports.
The idea here is that a bookmaker sets a line for the total number of points, goals, or runs to be scored in a game. They then give you the option of betting on whether the actual total will be higher or lower than the line they’ve set. Betting on higher is referred to as backing the over, while betting on lower is referred to as backing the under.
For some sports, the bookmaker will set the line at what they estimate the total is likely to be. This is similar to the point spread wager in that they’re effectively creating 50/50 proposition, so the odds for the over will typically be the same as the odds for the under. They’ll at least be very close, as each one is theoretically as likely as the other.
For other sports, the bookmaker will set several different lines. The odds for the over and the under on these are often quite different, as one outcome may be much more likely than the other.
Here are some examples to illustrate how this type of wager works.
This example is for football. Totals are very popular football wagers in the United States, and most bookmakers and betting sites offer them for every single NFL and college football game. They will typically set the line at the number of points they expect to be scored, thus creating a 50/50 proposition. The line below is for a game between the Miami Dolphins and the Seattle Seahawks.
Miami Dolphins vs. Seattle Seahawks
You’ll notice the half point here. This means there can’t be a push. If you back the over, you need 45 points or more to be scored for you to win. If you back the under, you need 44 points or less to be scored for you to win. Football totals lines don’t always have half points, though, so a push IS possible sometimes.
England is playing Australia in cricket in a test match. A bookmaker has set the line for the total number of runs to be scored at 780. The market looks like this:
England vs. Australia
As you can see, the odds are different here. The odds on the over are slightly lower at 1.80, suggesting that over 780 runs is a little more likely than under 780 runs.
Sunderland is playing Stoke City in a soccer game. A bookmaker is offering the following betting options for the total number of goals scored.
It’s common for bookmakers to offer this many options for soccer games. They’ll also usually offer separate markets for the total number of goals scored by each individual team. They almost always use half goals in the lines, so a push is rarely a possible outcome.
Prop bets (short for proposition bet) and specials are again two different terms used to describe the same type of wager. This particular type of wager is generally considered to be a wager that’s placed more for a bit of fun than anything else, and many experts advise that serious bettors should leave them well alone. We don’t believe this is good advice. A lot of props involve little more than guesswork, but some of them can present good opportunities for making informed decisions about which way to bet.
Broadly speaking, props or specials are wagers on specific aspects of a sports event that do not necessarily have a direct effect on the final outcome of that event. A prime example is a wager on which team will score first in a game.
We’ve provided some more examples below. Some of these are available on a range of sports, while some are only available for specific sports. Please be aware that these examples only represent a VERY small selection. There are all kinds of different props that bookmakers and betting sites offer. Just one single game of football might have upwards of one hundred props available.
Future and outrights are the same thing. Either of these terms can be used to describe wagers on the winner of a specific tournament, league, or competition in advance of the relevant event starting. This is also known as ante-post betting.
Here are some examples of futures and outrights.
Backing a football team to win the Super Bowl at the start of the regular season.
Backing a golfer to win the U.S. Masters before it starts.
Backing a soccer team to win the English Premier League at the beginning of the season.
Backing a tennis player to win the French Open before it starts.
Parlays, or accumulators, are what we call multiples. They involve making more than one selection as a part of a single wager. For example, if you wanted to back five football teams to each win their next game, you’d include all five teams in an accumulator or parlay.
Wagers of this type are hard to win, as you have to get EVERY selection correct. If just one single selection is wrong, the whole wager is a loser. The upside is that the returns can be very attractive when you do win.
Payouts for parlays and accumulators are calculated using one of two methods. The first is commonly used in the United States, especially for parlays involving selections on point spreads and totals lines. Payouts are at a fixed level based on the number of selections made. The odds of each individual selection are, therefore, effectively irrelevant.
The fixed payouts vary at different bookmakers and betting sites. The following table shows the payouts offered by one of our preferred US sports betting sites. The payout is expressed as a multiple of the stake and does NOT include the initial stake. That’s returned in addition to these payouts.
Number of Selections
For the second method, the odds for each individual selection are multiplied together. The total payout from each selection is effectively rolled over to the next selection if it’s successful. With this method, the overall payout can be enormous.
Especially if several selections are included and/or any of the selections are at high odds.
Below is a guide to betting on parlays to help you to better understand:
Progressive parlays are a specific type of parlay that come with a slightly lower risk. Whereas standard parlays lose if one selection is incorrect, progressive parlays offer a little more flexibility. They still return a payout if a just one selection is incorrect. Depending on the total number of selections made, they can return a payout even if two or three selections are incorrect.
The downside here is that the payout is less, even if you do end up getting all your selections correct. If you get any of your selections wrong, the payout is further reduced. The below table shows the progressive parlay payouts at another one of our preferred betting sites. Please note that a progressive parlay must include at least four selections, whereas a standard parlay only requires at least two.
Full Cover Bets
Full cover bets are used primarily in the United Kingdom. They’re also known as combination bets or permutation bets. Like parlays and accumulators, they’re multiples that involve making more than one selection. However, they don’t just combine all the selections into one single wager. A full cover bet is basically a series of wagers that covers ALL selections in EVERY POSSIBLE combination.
For example, let’s say you made two selections. There are three possible combinations of wager on these. They are as follows:
A single wager on selection 1.
A single wager on selection 2.
An accumulator on selections 1 and 2.
A full cover bet would basically place each of these three combinations at once. Each combination would still effectively be a standalone wager, though, and not reliant on the other wagers. If “selection 1” proved to be correct but “selection 2” was incorrect, your single wager on “selection 1” would still generate a return. Your single wager on “selection 2” and the accumulator would both lose, though.
The number of combinations grows exponentially as the number of selections increases. With three selections, the following combinations would be included in a full cover bet:
A single wager on selection 1
A single wager on selection 2
A single wager on selection 3
An accumulator on selections 1 and 2
An accumulator on selections 2 and 3
An accumulator on selections 1 and 3
An accumulator on selection 1, 2, and 3
A full cover bet covering three selections is known as a patent. There are also specific names for full cover bets covering four, five, and six selections. We’ve listed these below, along with details of the combinations they cover.
Lucky 15 (covering four selections)
Six two-selection accumulators
Four three-selection accumulators
One four-selection accumulator
Lucky 31 (covers five selections)
Ten two-selection accumulators
Ten three-selection accumulators
Five four-selection accumulator
One five-selection accumulator
Lucky 63 (covers six selections)
Fifteen two-selection accumulators
Twenty three-selection accumulators
Fifteen four-selection accumulators
Six five-selection accumulators
One six-selection accumulator
Bookmakers also offer full cover bets that don’t include all the relevant single wagers. Again, these have specific names. Here’s the full list:
Trixie (covering three selections)
Yankee (covering four selections)
Canadian or Super Yankee (covering five selections)
Heinz (covering six selections)
Super Heinz (covering seven selections)
Goliath (eight selections)
When placing a full cover bet, each individual wager is usually placed at the same stake. So, if you did a £1 Lucky 15, for example, the total stake would be £15. This is because a Lucky 15 is made of up fifteen individual wagers. A £1 Lucky 31 would cost you £31, and so on.
Teasers and Pleasers
Teasers and pleasers are wagers that can be placed on football and basketball. These wagers are popular in the US, and they are widely available within the region. In most regions outside of the US, however, they’re virtually unheard of.
Each of these wagers is a type of parlay. They both involve making multiple selections as part of a single wager, and all selections have to be either point spreads or totals. These wagers each have a unique feature that sets them apart from traditional parlays, though.
With teasers, the point spreads or totals are moved IN OUR FAVOR
With pleasers, the point spreads or totals are moved AGAINST OUR FAVOR
What this basically means is that teasers are easier to get right, and pleasers are harder to get right. Let’s look at an example of each one to explain them further.
Let’s say that you’ve selected three football teams to include in a teaser. The spread for each one is as follows.
New England -4
You decide to do a six-point teaser, which means the spreads will each move six points in your favor. For the purposes of this wager, they’ll now be as follows:
New England +2
So, whereas you previously needed Washington to lose by less than three points, you now only need to lose by less than nine points. You’d have previously needed New England to win by more than four points, but now they can lose by a point. Cleveland can now lose by up to sixteen points, instead of up to ten.
Clearly there’s a big advantage in placing teasers, but this is reflected in the odds. The potential payout for a $100 three-team, six-point teaser is typically $150 (plus initial stake). The same stake on a traditional three-team parlay would typically offer potential winnings of $600.
Pleasers are basically the opposite of teasers. So, if you chose the same three teams as above and put them in a six-point pleaser, the spread for each selection would be moved six points AGAINST you. They’d now be as follows:
New England -10
You’d need each team to beat the original spread by a significant margin to win this pleaser. It’s difficult to get ONE selection right with the spread against you to this degree, never mind three.
But this fact is also reflected in the odds. A $100 three-team, six-point pleaser would typically offer a potential payout of $2,500 (plus initial stake). So, although pleasers are extremely hard to get right, the rewards are certainly attractive.
If bets and reverse bets are also wagers that are most commonly used in the United States. They’re considered by many to be very complicated wagers, but we don’t think that they’re especially difficult to understand. They’re basically just slightly more advanced types of parlay.
An if bet involves making selections in a specific order. The result of the first selection dictates whether or not any subsequent selection(s) are active. If your first selection is wrong, then your stake is lost, and the entire wager is finished. But if your first selection is correct, then the next selection comes into play. You’re paid out the winnings from your first selection, and your initial stake is placed on the second selection. This process repeats until a selection loses or all selections are completed.
You pick the following three football teams to cover the spread in their upcoming games:
To keep the math simple for this example, we’ll say that the odds for each selection are +100 and you place an initial stake of $100.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to cover, you’d lose your initial stake, and the wager would be over. If the Steelers did cover, you’d be paid out your $100 winnings, and your initial stake would then be placed on the Titans. If they then failed to cover, the wager would be over at this point. You’d lose your initial stake, but you’d keep the $100 winnings from the Steelers covering. If the Titans did cover, you’d be paid another $100 in winnings, and your initial stake would then roll over to the Raiders.
If the Raiders then failed to cover, you’d lose your initial stake. But you’d be in profit because you’d have the $100 in winnings from the Steelers covering and the $100 in winnings from the Titans covering. If the Raiders did cover, you’d get another $100 in winnings for a total of $300.
Please note that although you have to make your selections in a specific order, this order doesn’t have to match the actual order the games are played in. You can choose any order you want, and your wager will be settled accordingly when all the games are completed.
The reverse bet is a wager that basically combines multiple if bets covering your selections in every possible order. So, if you made a reverse bet on the same three selections as above, you’d end up with six if bets running in each of the following orders:
Steelers, then Titans, then Raiders.
Steelers, then Raiders, then Titans.
Titans, then Steelers, then Raiders.
Titans, then Raiders, then Steelers.
Raiders, then Steelers, then Titans.
Raiders, then Titans, then Steelers.
Please note that your initial stake is multiplied by the number of possible orders. So, if you placed a $100 three-selection reverse bet, your total stake would be $600. You’d basically be placing six separate if bets in the orders shown above.
This can obviously be an expensive way to bet, but the advantage with a reverse bet is that you’re guaranteed a return if just one of your selections is correct. Each selection is the first selection twice, so you’re going to get $200 back with just one correct selection. With two correct selections, you’d get $600 back. With three correct selections, you’d get $1,800 back PLUS your initial $600.
Other Types of Wagers
We’ve covered a lot of different types of wagers here, and these are the ones that you REALLY need to know about. However, we haven’t even come close to covering every single type of sports wager in existence. There are a lot more, most of which are specific to one or more individual sports. It’s not remotely realistic to cover all of them here, but here are just a few examples.
This brilliantly named wager is a type of parlay. It’s specific to baseball and hockey, and it involves picking the over/under for the totals lines in all games played on any given day.
This baseball wager is essentially a point spread. The spread is always 1.5 runs, though, so it’s not necessarily a 50/50 proposition.
This wager is ice hockey’s equivalent of the run line. Again, it’s basically just a point spread that is always set at 1.5 points.
Especially popular in soccer, this wager involves predicting the exact score that a game ends up with. It’s a hard wager to get right, but the potential payouts can be very attractive.
If you visit our main sports betting guide, you’ll see that it features a number of sports-specific betting guides. Each one of these contains information on ALL the types wagers that are available for the relevant sport. They’re well worth checking out if you’d like to learn more about the different types of wagers beyond the most common ones we’ve outlined here.
You might also be interested to learn about in-play betting, or live betting. This form of betting allows you to place wagers on sports events AFTER the action has started. This is obviously very different from traditional betting, where you can only place wagers prior to events starting.
Live betting is an extremely popular way to bet on sports these days because it opens up a wide range of additional types of wagers. You can learn more about these types of wagers in our guide to live betting.