Learning how to bet on sports is becoming a necessary skill for most avid sports fans nowadays. When most sports fans turn on their television to watch their favorite teams, there’s a new industry vying for their attention. This sector has exploded since the PAPSA legislation was struck down in 2018, with 38 states having now legalized sports betting.

So, if you’re new to this market and want to know how to bet on sports, you’ve come to the right place! Here, we’ll explain how to bet on sports online, while casting our eyes over the available markets and most popular categories.

What is Sports Betting?

Betting on sports is primarily a fun and social pastime that can enhance any spectator or live viewing experience. Simply put, sports betting enables you to wager on a host of pre-game or in-play outcomes, depending on the discipline, teams, and players in question.

However, it was prohibited in the US at the federal level until May 2018, when the US Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) of 1992. This allowed individual states to create fully regulated and taxed betting markets, with 38 jurisdictions following this course during the last five-and-a-half years.

Is Sports Betting Legal?

Betting on sports has certainly spread like wildfire in the US since May 2018, with the 38 states that have legalized the practice granting licenses to a finite number of applicants. You’ll encounter seemingly endless commercials and sports betting offers from licensed brands in these states, especially ahead of high-profile events such as the Super Bowl!

Even in the 12 states that haven’t formally legalized sports betting, few have passed legislation prohibiting offshore sites. These entities, which include highly reputable brands like BetOnline, are based offshore and licensed by regulators in jurisdictions like Panama and Curacao, making them safe, secure and viable in states like Georgia and Kentucky.

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Most Common Types of Sports Bets

Washington sports betting
washington sports betting

Now that we’ve dealt with the legal complexities of sports betting in the US, it’s time to start exploring the fun side of wagering! Let’s start by looking at the most common and popular sports bets available, each of which strike their own unique balance between risk and reward.


This is the most straightforward way of betting on sports, as it simply requires you to pick the winner in a particular game. If you’re looking to start betting, moneyline wagers are the best sports bets for new bettors, thanks to their very basic premise. Forget point spreads and parlays, simply decide the winner of the game and collect your winnings.

Depending on your preferred sport, the draw may also be a consideration here, although this isn’t the case in basketball, hockey or tennis! The draw is also vanishingly rare in football. In fact, just 29 NFL games have ended in a tie since the introduction of overtime in 1974, so moneyline betting here tends to include just two realistic outcomes.

Conversely 30% of MLS matches were tied in 2023, which makes moneyline betting on soccer games a little more complex. However, you can negate this in some cases by placing a ‘Draw No Bet’ wager, which enables you to bet on a match winner and have your stake refunded if the contest ends in a tie.

Point Spread

The point spread may also be known as ‘handicap’ betting, effectively allowing you to back short-priced favorites to win at enhanced odds.

The points spread describes the expected final score difference between two competing teams. It can be expressed as both a negative (-) or positive number (+), but the former is most widely used to handicap a betting favorite and unlock better value odds. But, determining how many points a team will win by can be tricky business.

When engaging in points spread or over/under betting, you’ll notice that sportsbooks use ‘half points’ (such as 47.5). This ensures that every betting line or market has only two potential outcomes.

For example, while San Francisco is the narrow favorite to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII, you could back the 49ers to win with a -2.5 points spread. This will lengthen the pre-game odds incrementally, while the 49ers will have to win by three or more points for the wager to be successful!

Prop Bet

Prop or ‘proposition’ bets are incredibly popular in sports gambling. This enables you to bet on the occurrence (or non-occurrence) of certain in-game events, most of which won’t be directly related to the final result.

The majority of prop bets revolve around team and player performances, while sports like basketball and American football are packed full of such wagers. In the NBA, for example, you can wager on the number of points, assists, rebounds, blocks, or steals completed by a particular player or the number of three-pointers made during a game.

In the NFL, wagering on passing, receiving, and rushing yards are all popular examples of prop betting. You can even combine two of these prop bets in the same wager, or as part of much broader same-game parlays.


Over/under betting is usually focused on the combined number of points or goals scored in a particular game. Also known as ‘totals’ betting, this requires sportsbooks to set specific totals as individual betting lines, and you’ll have to make a selection based on analysis of the competing teams or players.

Then, you’ll have to predict whether the actual points total in a game will be over or under your chosen threshold. Typically, this market is relatively evenly priced, while it’s a straightforward wager type with just two potential outcomes.

For example, let’s say that the most popular over/under betting line for the total number of points scored in the 2024 Super Bowl is 47.5. If you think the total points tally will be 47 or lower, you’ll bet under this threshold. However, if you predict a higher scoring match, you’ll wager on over at the relevant odds.


Futures may also be known as outright markets, while they’re focused on the eventual winners of a league, tournaments or knockout competition. For example, you can bet on the winners of each conference during the NFL regular season, in addition to the team that will prevail in the subsequent Super Bowl.

Typically, these markets are competitively priced, depending on the number of contenders in a particular field. You can also realize superior value by betting on favorites relatively early, as teams or players that receive significant backing will see their prices shorten noticeably over time.

Live Sports Betting

If you were to delve into sports betting 101, in-play wagering would be widely discussed. This is becoming increasingly popular in the US and similar markets, while it unlocks potentially thousands of wager types and micro bets on sports like football, basketball and baseball.

When you learn how to bet on sports, you’ll certainly have to understand the vagaries of live wagering. This enables you to bet on the action as it unfolds, for example, so it’s recommended that you watch the games that you wager on. This makes it easier to gauge momentum in matches and make informed selections.

Bankroll management is also key when betting in-play. After all, you can place multiple live bets in a short period of time, so it’s important to wager in a disciplined manner and regulate stake amounts as much as possible.

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How to Read Sports Betting Odds

When learning how to bet on sports, you’ll also need to understand how odds are presented and their function. Understanding odds is the difference between bettors who win money and those who lose money. Unsurprisingly, the American odds format is most popular in the US, with this using three-digit numbers complete with either a ‘minus’ or ‘plus’ sign. So, how do you read odds?

The minus sign indicates a betting favorite, while the accompanying number relays how much you’ll have to stake to win $100. Conversely, a plus sign is indicative of a betting underdog, while the associated number tells you how much you’ll win if you wager $100.

Using the aforementioned example of the Super Bowl clash between the 49ers and the Chiefs, if an online sportsbook is offering the Niners moneyline at -125, that means you’ll have to wager $125 to win $100. Conversely, the latter can be backed at around +100, so a stake of $100 will see you bank $100 in profit.

American odds can also be used to reveal the implied probability of a particular outcome occurring. In fact, there are two separate equations for favorites and underdogs, while they read as follows:

  • For Favorites: odds/(odds + 100) x 100
  • For Underdogs: 100/(odds + 100) x 100

If we use the odds referenced above, we can calculate that the 49ers have a 55.55% chance of lifting the Lombardi Trophy. However, the Chiefs’ odds imply a 50.00% probability of a Kansas win, and this knowledge can help you to set the optimal stake amount.

How to Place a Sports Bet

Now that you understand how American odds function and the primary wagering markets available, you’ll want to learn how to place a sports bet! Of course, this depends on how and where you wager, as some states offer retail sports betting which lets you stake money at brick-and-mortar casinos or racetracks.

When betting online, you’ll be able to access a range of US or offshore betting sites (depending on your state). Regardless, it’s important to ensure that your chosen site is reputable and licensed, while it should have verified credentials from a recognizable regulatory authority. Remember, offshore sportsbooks are safe, so long as they’re fully licensed and regulated!

You can then compare sites according to a number of different metrics, from the range of betting markets on offer to the quality of customer support or accepted payment methods. You can also check out our recommended online sportsbooks in more detail!

Sports Betting Payment and Deposit Methods

If you do learn how to bet on sports online, you’ll most likely have access to a broad range of secure and trusted payment methods.

These include both fiat and cryptocurrency options, including Visa debit, Mastercard and Bitcoin, while various ewallets are also accepted at offshore betting sites. Here’s a summary of the most common deposit and withdrawal options and their unique features!

Payment Method About Examples
  • No fees
  • Quick withdrawals (often within 15 minutes)
  • Completely private and anonymous
  • Bitcoin
  • Bitcoin Cash
  • Litecoin
  • Ethereum
  • Tether
  • Ripple
Traditional Payment Methods
  • Trusted and secure
  • Can link to a bank or credit account
  • Highly accessible
  • Debit cards
  • Credit cards
  • Bank transfers
  • Payment vouchers
  • Quick and secure transactions
  • Link several payment cards in a single wallet
  • Withdrawals completed within 24 hours
  • PayPal
  • Skrill
  • Neteller
  • ecoPayz

Our Sports Betting Tips for Beginner Bettors

Learning how to bet on sports is highly recommended. However, you must also understand how to bet smart on sports, as this can translate into superior returns and minimized losses over time. So, here are some expert sports betting tips for beginners!

  • Study the Form: This is fundamental when you learn how to bet on sports, regardless of your chosen discipline or league. In sports like football, it’s also wise to distinguish between home and away form, while analyzing relevant head-to-head results may also be informative.
  • Factor in Home Advantage: Similarly, home-field advantage greatly affects how LasVegas calculates odds and the probability of outcomes. This varies from sport to sport, with 69.1% of MLS matches won by the home side and the NBA teams winning around 62.7% of their home games. So, be sure to factor this into your thinking!
  • Follow Team and Injury News: Injuries and suspensions can also have a huge impact on team sports betting markets, especially moneylines and points spreads. So, be sure to follow the latest news about injured or suspended players, while understanding the impact of load management and rotation in sports like basketball.

Popular Sports to Bet On

An American football resting just over the goal line for a touchdown

When you learn how to bet on sports, you’ll also see that there are multiple disciplines that you can wager on. Some sportsbooks cover more than 30 different sports, although the following are most widely represented in the US market:


Football is one of the most popular sports to bet on in the US. In fact, the iconic Super Bowl is arguably the single biggest wagering event. The 2023 iteration of the NFL’s biggest game saw around 50 million Americans place a bet, with wagers totaling an incredible $16 billion! With the NFL still dominating the airwaves even in the offseason, those numbers are surely bound to trend up in the future.


Baseball is also incredibly popular, with Major League Baseball (MLB) games generating huge sports betting volumes every single season. This sport also unlocks a large number of betting markets and props, many of which are available both pre-game and in-play!


In July 2023, it was revealed that basketball was the most popular sport among US bettors. In fact, 52.7% of respondents to a survey revealed that they preferred to wager on basketball and the NBA, which unlocks significant betting markets and in-game micro bets!


The National Hockey League (NHL) features 32 franchises, 25 from the US and seven from Canada. It’s an incredibly popular and widely bet on competition, while the Stanley Cup (which features four playoff rounds after the regular season) generates particularly high sports betting volumes.

College Football

College football is hugely popular in the US. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) features three competitive divisions and thousands of young players. Bettors can wager on college games at all levels and across several different marketplaces. Many of these players go on to play in the NFL, too. Frankly, college football betting is scouting for NFL betting.


Soccer is now a hugely popular sport in the US. This has been ramped up by the arrival of the legendary Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez at Inter Miami. Americans can also wager on a host of international soccer tournaments. These events include the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Champions League.

College Basketball

The NCAA also oversees three college basketball divisions, both for the men’s and women’s games. The men’s competition features some incredibly well-supported and recognizable teams, including UConn, Purdue, North Carolina and Houston.

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Responsible Sports Gambling Resources

Learning how to bet on sports should be a fun and social pastime. If you find a time when you become concerned with your sports betting, it’s important to seek help. Don’t worry if this is the case. There are plenty of responsible gambling resources and charities to help you regain control of your activity.

We’d definitely recommend that you visit the National Council on Problem Gambling, which combines educational resources with practical help. You can also call ‘1-800-GAMBLER’ to speak to a counselor directly, while your state may also have specific agencies and charities that they work with.

The most important thing is that you remember to reach out for help. Sports betting should never be a source of stress or undue concern!


Where can I bet on sports?

Is sports betting legal in the US?

Which online sportsbooks are good for beginners?

What’s the difference between a moneyline bet and a point spread bet?

How old do you have to be to bet on sports?

Justin Colombo

Justin is an editor based in the United States. With experience in the iGaming and Sports Media industries, with a specific focus on college football, MLB and the growing online sports betting landscape in the US, Justin is excited to bring his talents to ReadWrite. Big Crystal Palace supporter, even bigger New York Mets fan.

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Harmony Evans is an award-winning author of Harlequin Kimani Romance, African-American romance, and so on. Harmony Evans is an award-winning author for Harlequin Kimani Romance, the leading publisher of African-American romance. Her 2nd novel, STEALING KISSES, will be released in November 2013. Harmony is a single mom to a beautiful, too-smart-for-her-own-good daughter, who makes her grateful for life daily. Her hobbies include cooking, baking, knitting, reading, and of course, napping and also review some of the best-selling and popular brands and services in the market and also write comprehensive blogs.


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