Gambling Classroom

The Basics: Money Lines, Spreads, and Totals

If you’re reading this, you are probably a sports gambling beginner. Luckily, this article is made just for you. Money Lines, spreads, and totals are are the backbones of how gamblers bet on sports and are the three most common bet types. These are all very simple topics and will be essential for you to understand. The photo below shows all three of the topics that we will be discussing. The photo shows an NBA matchup and the lines that Fanduel is offering. This is generally how how all sports books will display lines. The first column on the far left is the spread. The middle column is the money line, and the total is on the far right column. Let’s get into what each one means.

What is a Money Line?

There is a lot of parity in sports. Not every game is an even match up. Sometimes David is playing against Goliath. Due to this, bookmakers do not allow you to just bet a team to win, and win the exact amount that you risk. This is where money lines come in to play.

If you bet the money line in a sports matchup, you are simply betting who you think will win the game. Money lines will always be shown in hundreds or thousands, and will either be positive or negative. If a team has a negative money line, that means that team is the favorite. If a team has a positive money line, that means that teams is the underdog. These are 2 important rules to remember.

Now let’s get into how these work money wise. Money Lines are often discussed in terms of risking a certain amount to win $100. If a team is a favorite, then you have to multiply however much you want to win by 1/100 of the money line. This will tell you how much you should bet. In the picture above, the Bulls are a -200 favorite. If you plan to bet the Bulls and want to win $100, you would have to risk $200. If a team is a -2000 favorite, you would have to risk $2000 to win $100. That doesn’t mean you have to bet to win $100. If a team is -200, and you want to win $20, then you would have to risk $40.

With that being said, sometimes David beats Goliath. If a team is an underdog, then you divide how much u want to win by 1/100 of the money line to determine the amount you should bet. So, if a team is a +168 underdog like shown in the picture above, then you would have to risk $60 to win $100 (100 divided by 1.68). If a team is +1000, and you want to win $50 from the bet, then you would have to risk $5 to win $50. If you would like to look at it a different way, you can also multiply however much you want to risk by 1/100 of the money line to figure out how much you win. So, if a line is +300, and you want to bet $10, then you would win $30.

Money Lines can be great to bet for games that are relatively evenly matched. In college sports, a lot of the bigger Division 1 schools will play some of the smaller Division 1 teams early in the year. Alabama, who is a perennial top College Football powerhouse, would be a very large favorite against a smaller Division 1 school. Let’s say that the Money line is approximately -7000. This means you would have to risk $7000 to win $100. Although Alabama is very likely to win, the every day person is not willing to risk that large of an amount to win only $100. Games like these are what make spreads essential.

What is a Spread?

Sports Gambling spreads are the backbone of how sports gambling works. A lot of beginners seem to get hung up on the concept, but it actually is quite simple. Think of it as a way of Vegas leveling the playing field. Vegas sets spreads to basically say who they think is going to win the game and by how many points.

When it comes to spreads, similarly to money lines, they will be displayed two ways: As either a positive or a negative. A negative means that team is the favorite. A positive number means that team is the underdog. This will be very important to remember. The spread will always be the same number, just opposites.

Example:  Favorite -3
                Underdog +3

If a team is a favorite, that means that a team has to win by more than that number. If a team is an underdog, that means the team can’t lose by more than that number. If the game ends at the exact spread, then that is considered a push and you do not win or lose and you get your money back. It is very common to see a spread have what gamblers call “the hook”. This is when a spread isn’t on a whole number. Vegas sets lines in increments of 0.5. For example, you may see a line set at -3.5. This means the push is taken out of the question. If the favorite wins by 1-3, or loses outright, then that bet loses and the underdog was the winning bet. If they win by 4 or more, then that bet wins.

In the above example, the Bulls are -4.5. This means that for the Bulls to be the winning bet, the Bulls have to win by at least 5. In order for the Nuggets to win in the above example, they cannot lose by more than 4.

Another important concept to understand is what is called “juice”. All spreads have juice. Typically, spreads have juice of -110. This means that you have to bet 1.1 times what you want to win. So, if you wanted to win $100 from the bet, you would have to risk $110. This is how Vegas always keeps their edge. Spreads arn’t always -110, though. They typically range from -100 to -120. If a spread is -120, that means you would have to bet $120 to win $100. Or, $12 to win $10. If a bet is -100, that is consider “even”. That means that if you bet $100, you win $100.

Exercise: Determine who wins the bet and how much a better would have to risk to win $10:

Line: Favorite -10.5 (-110)
          Underdog +10.5 (-110)
Final Score: Favorite: 40
                      Underdog: 30

Answer: The underdog wins the bet. The better would have to risk $11 to win $10.

Spreads are a very important concept in Sports Gambling. Now that you have mastered spreads, you are ready to learn what totals are and how to bet them.

What are Totals?

In every game, Vegas will also offer a total. The total is quite simply how many points Vegas thinks will be scored in the game. You will have the option of betting over, or under. If you bet the over, you are betting that more points will be scored than the total that Vegas set. If you bet the under, you are betting that there will be less points scored than the total that Vegas set.

In the original example, the total was set at 214. This means that Vegas expects the total points between the Bulls and Nuggets to be 214. If you bet the over, you are betting that the two teams will combine for more than 214 points. If you bet the under, you are betting that the two teams will combine for less than 214 points. If the final score ends at exactly 214, then both bets push.

Exercise: The Lakers are playing the Knicks in the NBA. You think it’s going to be a high scoring game, so you bet the over. Based on Vegas’s line and final score below, did you win the bet? How much would you risk to win $100?

Total: 216.5 (-120)
Final Score: Lakers 115
Knicks 110

Answer: Yes, the over hit and you won the bet. You would’ve had to risk $120 to win $100.

Team Totals

Vegas will also always offer team totals with a full game total. This is basically just betting on how many points one of the teams will score. If you think one team will score a lot of points, but are unsure if the other team will score much, betting the over on just that team’s total would be a good option.

Totals are a very simple concept. If you can’t decide on who to bet for the spread, but think you have a read on how many total points will be scored, betting the total is a great alternative.

You are quickly becoming a gambling pro but still have much to learn. You now know all the basics behind each of the 3 most common bet types. Continue on to Lesson 3 to learn about what Parlays are and how they work.

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