Sports Bet Types Explained

As the legal sports betting industry continues to grow, those new to the game are realizing there’s a lot more to it than just picking winners. Even those who have some experience may not be taking full advantage of all of the choices out there.

In this guide, we’re going to walk through everything you need to know about the various types of bets. From the way the simplest items on the menu work to how you can bet live as the action plays out in real time, it’s all here. 

We’ll also take a look at some strategy tips you can add to your arsenal right away, as well as some various ways you can potentially enhance your overall returns. Let’s begin by taking a look at how sports betting actually works

How sports betting works

Overall, sports betting is pretty simple at its core, but there are also lots of complexities and moving pieces to consider. On the simple side, bettors place their wagers on what they think will happen. If they’re correct, they make a profit. If not, they lose their money.

The complex side comes from a number of different areas, but one of the biggest facets of that is the sheer amount of choices to consider. You can bet on virtually every sport you can think of, and there’s a whole host of bet types to consider for each.

To make sense of it all, it’s helpful to begin with the basics and work out from there. Let’s do just that as we explore the most common ways to get in the game. 

Different ways to bet on sports

When you log in and take a look at an online or mobile sportsbook lobby, the default listing is generally the most popular events on the docket. This can include team sports such as the NFL or NBA, or individual events such as a golf tournament or UFC fight card.

For starters, we’ll stick to the team sports. Each game that’s on the docket will have a series of odds attached. As an example, here’s what a listing might look like for a game featuring a pair of NFC North rivals.

  • Minnesota Vikings -140 -2.5 (-110) 49.5 (-110)
  • Detroit Lions +120 +2.5 (-110) 49.5 (-110)

The three sets of numbers attached are for three different types of sports bets: moneyline, point spread and totals. Here’s how they work.


The moneyline bet is a simple bet in which you are simply choosing the side you think will win. Moneyline odds are presented as negative for favorites and positive for underdogs. When the two numbers are close, you can interpret that as a tight game. Here’s an example of NFL moneyline odds that were posted at a sportsbook:

  • Minnesota Vikings -140
  • Detroit Lions +120

Point spread

The spread is a number designated by oddsmakers which represents the projected difference between the two sides. You can wager on the favorite minus the points or the underdog plus the points. It can help to think of the number as an estimated margin. For example, NFL point spread odds may appear as follows:

  • Minnesota Vikings -2.5 (-110)
  • Detroit Lions +2.5 (-110)


This wager type is based on the total combined points scored by the two sides in the contest. Oddsmakers set an estimated number and bettors then decide if they think the total will be Over or Under that amount.

  • Over 49.5 (-110)
  • Under 49.5 (-110)

We’ve used an NFL game for example purposes, but these types of sports bets work the same for other sports such as NBA, college basketball and college football.

MLB, NHL and soccer work in similar fashion, but the difference comes in the spread. While the number will vary in football and basketball, it’s typically a set number for the other sports, such as 1.5 for NHL and MLB betting band 0.5 for soccer.

The moneyline concept is the same across the board. In all of the aforementioned sports, you’re making your choice from the favorite and underdog. Sometimes the odds will be quite far apart, other times in the middle, and at times in a very tight range.

Totals are also a point of variance for the sports. For football, it’s a double-digit number ranging from the 30s to 60+. In basketball, the total is triple-digits, while it’s single for the other sports. 

These types of wagers can also be applied to other sports. For example, a UFC fight will have moneyline odds, while the spread is used for sets and games in tennis matches.

Live betting on sports

One of the biggest innovations at online and mobile sportsbooks in recent years has been the advent of live betting. These are wagers you can place after the action has already gotten underway. The markets are in real time, so odds and offerings move quickly.

There’s usually a dedicated section for live betting at sportsbooks, but you can also search by sport to see current and upcoming opportunities. Since the markets move so fast, a mobile app is the best way to take advantage of all that live betting has to offer.

The opportunities are going to vary based on what’s happening on the field of play, and the same applies to the odds.

For a quick example, you might see new moneyline odds offered for a game which breaks differently from how the initial lines suggested.

Here are some examples of the types of wagering offerings you might come across

  • What will be the outcome of the Lions next drive: TD/FG/TO/Stop/Downs/Punt?
  • Which team will score three runs first: Tigers or Twins?
  • How many points will James Harden have at the half: Over/Under 16.5?
  • What will Tiger Woods card on the next hole: Eagle/Birdie/Par/Bogey?
  • What will happen on Red Wings power play: PPG/PK?

Live betting affords you the opportunity to hedge your initial bets on games and events, and it also opens the door to additional wagering opportunities as the contest plays out.

Discipline is important for in-play betting, as it can be quite easy to get caught up in the excitement and wind up going over budget. It’s a good idea to enter live betting with clear goals and specific dollar amounts in mind, and to be selective on the opportunities you choose to wager on. 

Sports betting props

If you click on the “more wagers” link from the individual event listings in most mobile apps, the doors will open to a whole new realm of betting opportunities. The majority of them will be prop bets, which are other wagers you can place on the event at hand.

A prop revolves around a circumstance or set of circumstances that is specific to the contest. You might find prop bet action that revolve around player accomplishments, others from a team perspective, and some focused on the event as a whole.

Regardless of which category they fall into, props generally appear in one of two ways: bets that revolve around a couple of choices, or others that have multiple selections to consider.

Let’s walk through an example of both kinds.

For the former, let’s say it’s a prop based on what a player may do during a game, such as total passing yards for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The oddsmakers will set a benchmark number, and you’ll make your choice from there.

  • Over 270.5 (-105)
  • Under 270.5 (+115)

As you can see, this is just like what you would find for a totals bet. For other props of this nature, the listing will look like what you would see for a standard moneyline, such as:

  • Who will score more points in the game: Connor McDavid (-120) or Auston Matthews (+105)?

When it’s a prop that has multiple selections attached, you’ll see a range of odds for all possible outcomes. As an example, this is what it might look like for the high scorer in an NBA game.

  • Blake Griffin +120
  • Jayson Tatum +125
  • Kemba Walker +135
  • Derrick Rose +145

And so on for each of the players expected to suit up in the contest.

Props allow you to get even more betting action on games you were already focused on. In addition, props make for a great starting point in sports betting for those with fantasy sports experience.

Futures betting on sports

You can also take more of a long-range view with sports betting, and that’s thanks to the futures market. Futures are bets you can place on something that will happen down the road.

There are numerous opportunities to consider across the sports landscape. In general, the more popular the sport, the more futures markets there are.

For the team sports, here are some of the types of futures you’ll have to consider.

  • League champion
  • Conference and Division winners
  • Teams to make playoffs
  • Regular-season win totals
  • Individual player award winners

Futures can also be found for the individual sports. In this area, the most popular sports markets are for the winners of the major tournaments and events.

The futures market remains active year-round. You can place your bets soon after odds are released and hold your tickets, or take a more active approach and regularly hunt for appealing opportunities.

Other types of bets you can place

As mentioned, the menu of choices is quite considerable at sportsbooks. All of the types of bets we’ve covered attract a good deal of betting action, but there are others which could be worthy of your time as well. Here’s a peek at a few more you can consider.

  • Parlay betting: A parlay is a bet in which you place multiple outcomes on a single slip. They’re high-risk, high-reward wagers. The more choices you add, the greater the potential return, but the risk rises with each new addition.    
  • Teaser betting: A teaser is a bet in which you can move the point spread on two or more games more to your liking. The sportsbook will adjust the odds accordingly based on how far you adjust it. 
  • Round robin betting: A round robin is similar to a parlay, but with a twist. You can include a number of different outcomes on the same slip, such as two-team combinations from a total of six games. 

Sports betting strategy tips

When starting out with sports betting, it’s normal to feel a bit overwhelmed. Relax, you’ll get up to speed before you know it. If you dedicate yourself to learning what you can and allocate time for research, the learning curve will go by quickly.

As you work through the process, you’ll come across many tips and tidbits to keep in mind. Here are three key ones which can make a world of difference on your journey.

1. Know your strengths and weaknesses

You’ll know some of these off of the top of your head, such as which sports you are most familiar with and those you know nothing about. As you continue, you’ll gain a sense of what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, you might find success with point spreads while failing to make heads or tails on totals. Don’t be afraid to spend your time on what works as opposed to banging your head against the wall with things that don’t.

2. Have a game plan

This can also be a work in progress, but you should know what you are looking to achieve every step of the way. Is your plan to stay casual and just focus on the biggest games and events? Do you have designs on improving your skills and adding volume as they do? There’s no right or wrong answer as it all comes down to what works for you. If you know what you’re shooting for, the ride will be a lot smoother.

3. Stick to a budget

Only bet what you are comfortable with at all times. There are simply no guarantees when it comes to betting on sports, no matter how sound of a strategy you may have or the strength of the advice you’re receiving. Approach sports betting with an initial bank roll in mind and allocate it accordingly by wager. If you find success, you can always increase your level of play down the road.

What sports are best for betting in Michigan?

Michigan is a sports-friendly state in which all of the major pieces of the puzzle are represented. As such, the best sports to bet on are the ones you enjoy the most. Naturally, starting with the home team can be a great spot for those new to the game.

  • NFL: Detroit Lions
  • NBA: Detroit Pistons
  • MLB: Detroit Tigers
  • NHL: Detroit Red Wings
  • College: Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans and numerous smaller programs

You have a fantastic starting point for the major team sports, and you can branch out into whatever else you’re into. The world of sports betting is filled with choices, so there’s a great chance you’ll find something that works best for you.