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With sports betting being increasingly legalized and more access to watching sporting events than ever, many people are choosing to take their knowledge of the game and put it to the test by betting on events.

However, sports betting is not as simple as “bet $100 on the team you think is going to win and win $100 if they win”. It can be complicated to get started with sports betting. This article will explain the most common basic forms of sports betting, how to calculate payouts, which states are legal, and where you can try it out.

Understanding The Numbers

If you’ve ever looked at sportsbooks or seen advertisements for sports betting, you’ve probably seen things like (-200) or (+110) or (-2000). These numbers represent the bet required to win $100 on top of getting your money back. If a bet is labeled at -200, this means you need to bet $200 in order to win $100. If a bet is labeled +200, this means you need to bet $50 to win $100.

Favorites are represented by negative numbers while underdogs are represented by positive numbers. Sports betting uses these numbers because they provide incentives for individuals to bet on both favorites and underdogs. Underdogs will pay out more than favorites since underdogs are less likely to win.

Many books change the odds based on the number of people betting on a particular team. For instance, if most people begin betting on the favorite, the payout for the underdog may increase, while the payout for the favorite may decrease. However, whenever you make your bet, the odds of your payout will remain the same as they were when you made the bet.

A basic equation you can use to figure out potential winnings on a favorite bet is as follows (ignoring positives and negatives): 

If the line is -500 and you want to bet $100, the win would result in (100x100)/500= $20 of profit.

For the underdog, the equation is:

If the line is +300 and you want to bet $200, the win would result in (200x300)/100= $600 of profit

While these numbers can be intimidating at first, most people get used to them quickly, and calculating the potential winnings becomes much simpler to do. 

Money Line

The money line is the simplest form of sports betting. The money line simply bets on who will win the game. As discussed previously, underdogs payout more than favorites since underdogs are less likely to win. An example of what a money line could look like is:

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So if you bet $300 on the favorite and they win the game, you will win $100. 


The spread is likely the most popular form of sports betting. The spread accounts for differences in the strengths of the teams by allowing betters to bet on the gap of the score, rather than betting on the outcome. For example, if the favorites are slightly favored to the underdog, the spread may be:

If you bet the favorite, you need them to win by 4 or more points. If you bet the underdog, you need them to win or to lose by less than 4 points. Therefore, if you bet the underdog and they lose by only 2 points, they will have “covered the spread”, and you have won the bet. 


The over/under bet ignores winners, losers, and the spread. Instead, it is a bet on how high scoring the game will be. The over/under is a bet on whether the total score of both teams will be more than or less than a certain amount. For instance, an over/under bet on an event may be 199.5.

An example may look like this:

The payouts for choosing the “over” or the “under” are the same, which would result in a payout of $210 with a net profit of $100 for the winner when betting $110.

Locations And Legality

While the legalization of sports betting for all 50 states is rapidly approaching, there are currently less than 20 states with it fully legalized. These states include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming, and DC. Most states require individuals to be 21 years or older to participate in sports betting. It is the responsibility of all players to check, know, and follow local laws when participating in sports betting.

Where To Bet

Sports Illustrated offers a straightforward and complete sportsbook, with many different betting options for more than 10 different sports.

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