Basic Sports Betting For Beginners

As we gain experience in the game of life, it’s pretty common to have the following thought pop up: If I only knew then what I know now, I could have retired by now. After some time spent with online sports betting, such a thought may cross your mind as well.

It’s pretty tough to substitute for experience in any endeavor, but it’s possible to cut down the learning curve to something more manageable. That’s what we aim to do right with this handy guide.

By the time you are through, you’ll have some actionable tips to implement right away, as well as a clearer picture of how this whole sports betting thing works. For starters, let’s take a look at the top spots here in Michigan to place your bets.

How to bet on sports

In its simplest form, betting on sports revolves around money being placed at stake in a bid to earn even more. However, there’s much more to the strategy than simply doing your best to figure out which side will win.

The overall sports betting menu is vast. There are several different markets you can consider wagering on, as well as a slew of bet types to ponder within each one.

On the markets side, there are plenty of casual handicappers who stick with the most popular games and events on the docket. There are also experienced bettors who may specialize in one or more sports, and plenty of other ways to go about it between the two extremes.

For the wagering part of the equation, you can also keep it simple and just stick to things like winners or totals, but there’s also plenty to be said for digging deeper and exploring all of the options available. There’s also the matter of the odds attached to each item on the wagering menu. You can glean a good deal of info just by understanding what the odds are telling you, and that’s not as difficult as it may seem at first glance.

If we can put all three of these pieces together — markets, wagers and odds — then we have an excellent foundation in place to expand our sports betting knowledge. Let’s walk through all three parts in full detail, starting with the markets.   

What are the best sports to bet on?

There’s no set answer to this question as it comes down to what you are most comfortable with. When starting out, it makes sense to begin with the sports you have the best understanding of. You can always branch out into other areas as your skills develop.

As you would expect, the most popular sports attract the largest amount of betting action. Here are the sports that fall within that category.

The NFL is the most popular overall, but plenty of attention is given to all of the other sports on the list. Additionally, there will be big spikes at certain times of the year, such as March Madness for college basketball or the Daytona 500 for NASCAR.

The menu doesn’t end there. There’s a whole host of other sports to choose from, several of which are considered to be of the niche variety. Here’s what else you’ll find at online and mobile sportsbooks.

  • Australian Rules Football
  • Billiards, pool and snooker
  • Boxing
  • Cricket
  • Cycling
  • Darts
  • Formula One
  • International team sports
  • MMA
  • Motor sports
  • Olympic sports
  • Rugby
  • Table tennis

At certain times, sports in this category will attract a great deal of attention, such as for a big boxing match or for an important international competition. During normal times, the betting action is much smaller in comparison to the bigger sports. 

Sports betting wager types

Just like there’s a large amount of markets to consider, there are also a wide range of bet types you’ll have to choose from. These range from simple ones, such as who will win, to complex wagers that include multiple outcomes, and numerous points in between.

Let’s start by taking a look at the most basic offerings for team-based sports. For all of the games on the docket, you’ll see three bet types listed in the sportsbook lobby with odds attached. Here’s how they work.


For moneyline bets, all you need to do is choose which side you like to win. Sportsbooks post odds for both sides with negative for underdogs and positive for favorites. These give you a sense of the general expectation for the contest.

  • Minnesota Twins +140
  • Detroit Tigers -120

Point spread

The spread is a number attached to the game by oddsmakers which is akin to an estimated margin of victory. To cover, the favorite has to win by more than the spread. The underdog covers by winning outright or keeping the game closer than that.

  • Utah Jazz +2.5 (-110)
  • Detroit Pistons -2.5 (-110)


A totals bet revolves around the combined points scored in the contest by the two teams.

The book sets a benchmark number and odds, and bettors then get to choose between the Over or Under.

  • Over 51.5 (-110)
  • Under 51.5 (-110)

You’ll find these bet types for all of the major team sports, albeit with some slight variations. Moneyline is generally the same concept for all, while totals will vary from small to large amounts depending on the sport.

The point spread is most commonly used for football and basketball. MLB uses what’s known as a run line, while it’s a puck line for NHL. In both cases, the number is usually set at 1.5. Soccer also uses a spread that can vary from 0.5 goals and up.

Beyond the basic bets, there are a number of other options to explore. Many of them can be found by clicking on the ‘more wagers’ link in the individual game listings, while others will have their own dedicated links. Here’s a look at some of the other most popular ways to bet.

Prop bets

A prop bet is essentially a side wager on something that might happen during the course of a contest. There are generally a wide range of bets to choose from, any of which can be based on a scenario involving a player, team, or the game as a whole.

  • Who will have more rushing yards in the game: Ezekiel Elliott or Derrick Henry?
  • Who will hold the lead heading into period three: Penguins or Capitals?
  • How many total points and rebounds will Anthony Davis have: Over/Under 30.5?

Live betting

These are bets you can place after a game has already started. Odds and opportunities are offered in real time, so it’s a fast-moving market. Types of in-play bets will vary based on what’s going on, but here are some examples.

  • Who will hold the lead after five innings: Red Sox or Rays?
  • What will be the outcome of the Vikings next drive: TD/FG/TO/Punt/Downs/Stop?
  • Who will score more points in the first half: LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard?

Parlay bets

A parlay is a wager in which you are including two or more outcomes on a single betting slip. For each choice you add to the ticket, the potential return rises. However, parlays also become that much more difficult with each selection added, and total odds will vary based on the lines for each selection. For an example, you could include three moneyline picks on a single ticket.

  • Lions over Bears
  • Eagles over Redskins
  • Saints over Falcons

Futures betting

The futures market lets you make your picks on the outcome of events down the road, naturally with the potential to earn a return for your efforts. There are a lot of different opportunities to consider, but the most popular events will attract the most action.

  • Winner of next Super Bowl
  • Winner of college football’s Heisman Trophy
  • Lions regular-season win total

The bet types we have gone through will give you more than enough to begin with, but there are other wagers you can consider down the road as your skills continue to develop.

Included on that list is a round robin, which is similar to a parlay in nature, and a teaser bet, which allows bettors to move the spread on a series of games. 

Understanding sports betting odds

One of the most important steps you can take as you begin sports betting is taking the time to understand the odds released by sportsbooks and what they are telling you.

The odds tell us the likelihood of an outcome occurring. It also points us toward how much we can potentially make for correct wagers. For an easy way to figure it out, use an online wagering calculator or plug in a fictitious bet on the sportsbook of your choice.

On the latter, plug in the denomination you expect to bet, and the potential return will be displayed. 

For a basic odds listing on a team-based sport, we can glean all sorts of information in an instant.

  • Moneyline: Tells us which side is expected to win, and we can also gauge how big of a favorite they are.
  • Point spread: An estimate of the difference between the two teams that also points to an estimated margin of victory.
  • Totals: A benchmark of the total number of points that will be scored in the contest by the two sides. 

If we go deeper and explore the prop bets for the games, we can see estimates and likelihoods of certain achievements by teams and players, as well as other potential events.

When we look at the odds for the individual sports, we can quickly gauge which athletes are favored to win the event, which ones could be in line to place highly, and those who the oddsmakers aren’t giving much of a shot.

Add it all up, and the odds board is essentially a free research tool you can use to make better decisions. Sportsbooks have a wealth of data at their disposal when setting lines, so there is absolutely a method to their madness.

That doesn’t mean they’re always right of course, but the lines do indicate solid probabilities for what’s to come, so be sure to use what you learn to your advantage.

One final note on odds: Take the time to study any movements from the initial release of odds until the time the games are played. This can point out to you which way the money has been flowing, which is valuable insight that can also be used to your advantage.

Also, remember that odds and lines are not always created equal at every sportsbook. You can shop around to find the best sportsbook prices at any time. What may seem like small differences can absolutely add up over the long run.

Can you make money with sports betting?

For a short answer, yes. However, it’s not as simple as just placing bets and hoping for the best. Sure, there’s such a thing as beginner’s luck and big wins that can bolster your bottom line, but sustained success takes some doing.

Using point spread betting as an example, handicappers who are consistently wagering at odds of -110 need to win about 52.5 percent of their bets to break even. That’ll cover the vig, as in the amount charged by sportsbooks to facilitate the wager.

To make a profit, the winning percentage needs to go up from there. For round numbers, a seasoned NFL handicapper would be really pleased with winning 56 percent of their bets over the course of a season, while hitting 60 percent would be exceptional.

Naturally, that also depends on the amount of your bankroll and other factors, but these numbers help to place in perspective what it takes to profit consistently. 

To improve your chances of success, take the time to learn all that you can about handicapping with a goal of developing a system you can call your own. Additionally, implement a budget and stick to it, executing discipline with your wagering choices every step of the way.

Sports betting is an enjoyable pastime that can also be potentially rewarding. It can take some time to get your skills up to the level of winning consistently, but those who are dedicated to making it happen can absolutely do so.

Michigan sports championship teams

Folks here in Michigan are rather fortunate as there are plenty of teams to root for in all of the major sports, each of which has had a decent amount of success through the years. Here’s a quick look at the championship seasons for each of them.

  • Detroit Lions: NFL Championship – 1935, 1952, 1953, 1957
  • Detroit Pistons: NBA Champions – 1989, 1990, 2004
  • Detroit Tigers: World Series winner – 1935, 1945, 1968, 1984
  • Detroit Red Wings: Stanley Cup winner – 1936, 1937, 1943, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008
  • Michigan Wolverines: NCAAF National Tiles – 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1918, 1923, 1932, 1933, 1947, 1948, 1997. NCAAB National Titles – 1989
  • Michigan State Spartans: NCAAF National Tiles – 1951, 1952, 1955, 1957, 1965, 1966. NCAAB National Titles – 1979, 2000