How to bet in a Sportsbook

How to make a bet in a sportsbook

Now that there is momentum for legalizing sports wagering it is time to get in on the action. Maybe you have bet online with an offshore bookie or you went to your local sports bar for a little informal wagering but now you want to go to a real sportsbook and make a bet. I will layout the basics from reading a betting line to what you should say to the sportsbook writer. I will also touch on some advanced wagering terms. To get a little deeper in depth on a particular sport I have set up individual betting guides to get you started.

First Legal Bet?

The first time I walked into a sportsbook in Las Vegas I was just 8 years old so for me walking into a sportsbook is second nature. I should say that you should not do what my grandfather did and take your 8 year old to a sportsbook. He quickly learned that is not allowed and security had him take me to the cafe and eat while he made his bets. However, I returned as soon as I was legal and made sports betting my occupation as an adult.

As a casual sports fan you are most likely a little familiar with the concept of sports betting, but when you walk into a sportsbook for the first time and see a lot of TV’s and an enormous electronic board filled with all kinds of numbers it is easy not to know what to do next. All you want to do is put down a $100 on the New York Yankees but how do I do it? You could ask one of those fat guys yelling at the TV or you can read on and walk in with some confidence.

See our How to Bet Guides for each sport

What are those numbers on the screen?

103 New York Giants -7.5 (-110)  -400,  43.5 o(-110)
104 New York Jets       7.5 (110)     375,  43.5 u(-110)

Walk into a sportsbook or look on your phone and you will see something similar to this.

Rotation Number: The 103 & 104 are the rotation number and are used for a quick reference for the sportsbook writer to know which team to enter into the computer. It might not seem necessary but with hundreds of games on the board everyday it is impossible for the sportsbook writer to know which number to enter into the computer by just giving him the name of the team.

Team Names: Usually next to the rotation number and is how most people look up betting lines. Just look for the team name and to the right of it will be the game betting lines and to the left will be the rotation number.

Betting Lines: The next number up is 7.5. For football this will mean 7.5 points. If a minus sign is in front of the number then that team is favored and is giving the points while no minus sign (they never use a + sign) means the team is the underdog and getting points.

Money Lines: The next number up is the moneyline odds. If you are betting on a team to just win or lose this is the odds on your bet. For the favored Giants you will have to bet four dollars to win one dollar.

Totals Line: The totals or over/under line is the same for both teams and the over or under will usually have a o or u in front of the number. In this case the over is listed with a  o(-110).

Why the (-110)?

This is how the sportsbooks make money. The usual difference is 10 percent, meaning for every $10 you hope to win, you must wager $11. One guy bets $110 to win $100 on the Giants -7.5 while another guy bets $110 to win $100 on the Jets +7.5. The Giants win the game by a 31 – 20 score. Since they won by 11 points the guy who bet on the Giants will cash his ticket for a total of $210. The $110 he bet plus the $100 win. The guy who bet on the Jets just lost $110. That means the sportsbook paid out $100 and took in $110. That $10 is the operating revenue for the sportsbook and is called the “juice” or the “vig.”

On money line bets the “vig” comes from the difference in odds on both teams. The Giants were -400 and the Jets were +375. The “vig” would be the 25 difference between the two odds.

Knowing the basic bets

No matter the sport, there are basic types of bets. They sometimes go by different names depending on the sport, but they’re pretty much the same thing.

Sides Bets

This is the point spread bet that most people wager on. In football it is given as a number such at the New York Jets -7 points. In basketball the spread can be the Golden State Warriors -14 vs the New Jersey Nets. For this basketball betting line the New Jersey Nets would be +14 points. The number in this type of bet is the points given to the underdog and taken away from the favorite. The negative number is for the favorite and positive for the underdog.

For instance, if the New York Jets is listed at -7 and you bet on them, that means it’s not enough for them simply to win the game. They must win by more than 7 points for your wager to be a winner. Even if they win the game, but only by 6 points, your bet would be a loser. Note that if they won by exactly 7 points you wouldn’t lose. But you wouldn’t win, either. That’s called a Push and you simply get your money back.

In baseball the side is often called a “Run Line” and in hockey a “Puck Line.” In both of these bets the standard line is -1 1/2 runs or goals. For an MLB game if you bet on the Yankees run line (-1.5) then they would have to win by at least 2 runs to win your bet. On the other side of this bet is the chance to take a dog and get 1.5 runs. Of course your odds or return on your bet will be reduced by doing this but we go deeper into that in our Baseball Betting Guide.

Total Bets

This is the bet most folks know as the Over/Under. Bookmakers estimate the total number of points, runs or goals both teams will score combined.  The bet is on will the total be either higher or lower than their estimate. The total line is usually set as a half point to prevent ties. In an NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins the total is set at 43.5 points. If the two teams combine for 44 or more points you win but, if they combine for 43 or fewer points you lose.

Moneyline Bet

This is the simplest bet of all. You simply wager on one team to beat the other. You don’t care about margin of victory, you don’t care how many total points are scored, all you care about is which team wins. This is how sports wagering began. Just pick the winner and cash your ticket. Why not just stick to this type of betting? The odds. If one team is perceived to be better then they will have reduced odds. Lets say the Giants are 7 point favorites over the Eagles. This means that if you bet on the Giants they would have to win by 8 points or more for you to win your bet. Why not just take the Giants on the money line? Because the sportsbook would offer a reduced payout on betting on a favorite. In this case, the Giants would also be -500 on the moneyline. This means for a $100 bet you would only win $20 plus get your $100 back. Not the kind of action most gamblers want. That is one reason you will see a lot of sports bettors who make money line bets will often parlay them.

What is a parlay?

A parlay is when you tie multiple selections into one bet. Why make a parlay bet? A bigger return than making straight bets. Lets take a look at the difference between a three team parlay bet and three straight bets:

Dallas Cowboys -4.5 (-110)
New York Giants -2.5 (-110)
New England Patriots +7.5 (-110)

With this three game parlay, every single selection that you added to it has to win for you to win your parlay. If any of these games lost, then you lose your entire parlay.

If you straight bet each of these games with $110 then each win would return $100. Get all three right and you win $300. A good day. However, if you bet just $100 on all three in a parlay and you get all three right then you win $600. This is why parlay betting is so popular. You can win a lot of money fast. The downside of parlay betting? What if you can two out of the three games right? On straight bets you would have won $200 on your winning bets and lost $110 on your losing bet which would mean a profit of $90 dollars for the day. If you get two out of three right on a parlay bet you lose it all. Most parlay betting is done with parlay cards that have fixed odds if you win.



How to place your bet

Now it’s time to make a bet. You have walked into the book and you know who you want to bet on and how much to bet. The next step is to find your team on the betting board and look up the rotation number. You will need that because you don’t want to waste your time standing at the betting window while you and the sportsbook writer try and find the number. The best thing to do is write the number down on paper. In fact, go to the betting sheets with all of the betting numbers on it and grab one and use it as scratch paper for your betting. 

What is the sportsbook writer expecting from you? The first thing he wants to know is if it is a straight bet or a parlay bet. This is because straight bets and parlay bets are on different screens on his computer and he has to enter your bet on the right screen. If it is a parlay bet and you do not tell him he will have to start over when you give him the second team. What else does he want to know? That rotation number and the amount you want to bet. Thats about it. He really doesn’t care if your a fan or if you are certain who will win. All he wants to do is take your bet and move the line.

When you bet just say something like, “straight bet on 104 for $110”. That is it, you are done. Well maybe. If you want a free drink this is the time to ask for a “drink toke”. You may not get one depending on the sportsbook rules on comps but this is the time to ask.

Intermediate Sports Betting

Teaser Bet

Sometimes it’s hard to make a decision when you’re handicapping a game. The odds makers make a tough line and it’s challenging to pick a side. However, did you know that you can move those lines? Teasers and pleasers give you the opportunity to shift the betting odds. A teaser bet adds points to your bet. You would be “teasing” the betting line. They are more common in NFL betting. An example would be to have a game with the Giants -7.5 points. If you do not want to give that many points you can tease it down. A four point teaser would have the Giants -3.5, a six point teaser would have the Giants -1.5 points and a 7 point teaser would have the Giants at -.5. So, why not tease every game? Two reasons. The first is reduced odds. The more points you want the lower your return on you winning bet. The second? Teasers are for parlays so you will need at least 2 teams to bet on before you can make a teaser bet.

Pleaser Bet

What is the other side of a teaser bet? The pleaser. With a pleaser, you’re giving points. The upside is your getting better odds. The downside of course is that you are less likely to win. In the above scenario on a 6 point pleaser bet you would be taking the New York Giants and giving 13.5 points. This is the bet to make if you really like one team to win big.

Alternate Lines: Spreads, Runlines, Pucklines

The majority of sports bettors stick to the basics; over under bets, moneylines and, point spreads. However, there is a market for those who are more advanced at sports betting. Think of alternative lines as one team teaser or pleaser. In an NFL game with the New York Giants as a -7.5 point favorite you will have alternative lines such as the Giants -3.5 at (-250) and the Giants -.5 at (-500). At the same time if you like the Giants to win big then you will also have alternative lines such as the Giants -10.5 at (+175) and -13.5 at (+400).  I like alternative line betting as part of my overall betting strategy. The down side of using alternative lines? This option isn’t always available in sportsbooks. I know that may seem strange but in many ways Las Vegas is behind the offshore sportsbook in betting options. I expect alternative lines to become more prevalent as more offshore sportsbooks get involved in sports betting in the US. For betting strategy in using alternative lines see each individual sports betting guide.


Middling involves getting two good numbers. Lets say the NYJ opened at plus 4.5 points and they have moved to plus 2.5 points. To middle this bet a gambler would bet on the Jets plus 4.5 points and the bet against them at 2.5 points. That would mean you win both bets if the number lands on 3 or 4 points. What makes this bet really profitable is that you will win at least one of your bets because you are getting more points than you are giving. These type of opportunities are not as uncommon as you might expect. They are rare on NFL games but on college sports there can be a lot of line movement. Even more likely though is getting different lines at different casinos. Always shop lines at different sportsbooks. Not just for a chance to middle but also to make sure you get the best odds on your bet.

Hedging Your Bets Mean

Hedging is quite similar to middling. The difference is that a hedge is on a bet that is in action. Lets say you took a three team NFL parlay and the first two games have covered and now all you are waiting on is the third game but it will not be played until tonight. You could just let it ride or you can hedge it. An example would be if you bet $100 on the Jets, Giants and the last game is the Patriots -10.5 points vs the Dolphins. A three team parlay would win $600 and add to that you would get your $100 bet back so you will either get $700 or $0 if you do nothing. A common hedge bet would be to take the Dolphins +10.5 points against the Patriots. If you place a $110 straight bet on the Dolphins to win your $100 then you have “hedged” your bet. The two outcomes available are the Patriots cover and you cash the $700. This would give you a $490 win for the day ($700 win -$100 original bet -$110 bet on Dolphins) or you would finish even for the day ($100 parlay bet is a loss but the $110 do win a $100 on Dolphins). As you become more advanced in sports wagering you will find good opportunities to hedge your bets in live or “in play” wagering. This is a bet that is made after the game starts. Until recently this was something that Las Vegas did not have but it has been part of offshore wagering for more than a decade.

Round Robin Bets

A round robin bet is a short hand way of doing several parlay bets. If you like four teams and want to bet on all four that is easy. But, what if you want to take all the different three team combinations? You could stand at the sportsbook and read each three team parlay off one at a time. Of course the sportsbook writer and everyone in line behind you would be a little pissed at wasting everyone’s time. An example: you like the Redskins, Giants, Eagles and 49ers. To take every three team combination all you need to do is tell the sportsbook writer, “4 team round robin on the three leg”. Then just read off the four teams you want on the parlay. The first number you give him is the total number of teams and the second is the type of combination you want. If you wanted to make a bet with just two team parlays then it would be ” on the two leg”. I use round robins when I have a lot of teams I am going to bet on. There are times I like 7 or 8 teams and while I will be making straight bets with most of my money I do like to take a little action on round robins. When I like 7 teams I will take round robins on the 3 and 4 legs.

Why Is Line Shopping So Important?

When I first moved to Las Vegas I didn’t do much line shopping. I just went to my favorite sportsbook made my bets and then sat down to drink and make some money. It didn’t take long for me to lose a couple of close games and then see that I could have won or pushed if I had just gone across the street and made some of my bets. At first it seemed like a little bit of a waste of time to run all over Las Vegas making one bet at one casino and another at another casino. However, it took just one bet to change my outlook on line shopping. It was an NFL 6 team parlay and Harrah’s had the game with the favorite -3.5 and everyone else had gone to -4 or -4.5. I made my way to Harrah’s and made my bet. The bet came in on 4 points and I won my 6 team parlay (along with several round robin bets). It was my biggest win I had ever had up until that time and really helped out my bankroll. Just by crossing the street I won money. Today, all you have to do is a little line shopping online.

Have At Least Three Books & Bet Online

It does little good to see a betting line you want to hammer online if you do not have an account there. Yes, you may have time to open an account but then again maybe you won’t. Take the time to open at least three online accounts so you can quickly move to make your bet before an advantageous line changes. Even if you are going to be sitting in one sportsbook you can still take advantage of other sportsbooks betting lines without ever getting up. I advise everyone who is serious about sports betting to open several accounts and then just pick the best sportsbook for viewing the games.

For advanced betting information and strategies see our betting guides for individual sports.