The Basics of Sports Betting

I realized that while I assume some of the deep dives I’ve done around the intricacies of sports betting might have been valuable, I forgot that maybe some of you don’t even know the basics. As such, I figured this would be a good time for us to all pause and do a little review around some terminology you might hear in a sports book or in a conversation around sports betting.

Types of Bets to Place


The most fundamental, basic bet you could ever make is utilizing the spread. The spread is the number of points Vegas has set down that differentiates the two teams playing. If you play “the spread,” on the perceived better team, you’re required to win by more than this number of points; if you play “the spread” on the perceived worse team, you’re required to lose by fewer than the number of points.

Money Line

Money line bets refer to bets in which the sports bettor is betting on an outright winner. No margin of victory required. Rarely do bettors place these bets as a single play because the ROI is low.

Over/Under (Game Total)

The other fundamental, basic bet you could ever make is focused on the Over/Under. This can also be referred to as the game total. The Over/Under is a fixed number in which Vegas believes is about the total number of points the two teams combined will score. It’s relatively straight forward, but nonetheless, if you bet on the over, you’re predicting the two teams combined will score more points than the game total; if you bet on the under, you’re predicting the two teams combined score will be fewer than the game total.

Teasers and Parlays

You can read all about these here.


While any bet is technically a bet on the future, in this context, a future bet refers to a season long bet. This includes season win totals, divisional titles, conference titles, championships, MVP voting, etc.

Sports Betting Terms

If you’re interested in diving deep into sports betting, I highly recommend you pick up some literature, pick out a handful of blogs (obviously including ours), or at the ver least following some professional bettors on Twitter. I also know that sometimes they speak in a language difficult to understand, so I’m going to point a few out so you can feel like you’re a part of the conversation.


The Favorite refers to the perceived better team more likely to win. They will have a (-) next to their number indicating they have to win by more than those points for you to win your bet.

The Underdog refers to the perceived worse team less likely to win. They will have a (+) next to their number indicating they have to lose by fewer than those points for you to win your bet.

A couple of tangential terms are “laying points” or “taking the points“. The former indicates the bettor is betting on the Favorite; the latter indicates the bettor is betting on the Underdog.


The “juice” is the term bettors use to talk about the return they’ll receive on a particular bet. The (-) and (+) system is also used, and the best way to think about it is how much you would have to bet to receive $100. The plays Vegas puts up are usually placed with a (-110) attached, which means you have to place $110 in order to win $100.

*This is why sports bettors rarely play money lines because the juice is incredibly unfavorable.*

Buying/Selling Points

If a bettor is “buying points” it means they are giving up a certain amount in their expected return for a more favorable number to increase their chance of winning.

Example: Bettor sees Patriots -7.5 (-110)

In this case, the bettor would win $100 for placing a $110 bet on the Patriots. However, the bettor would rather only lay 7 points as he/she would be worried about the Patriots only winning by a touchdown, in which case their bet would lose. So now:

Bettor places bet on Patriots -7(-120)

Now the bettor must place $120 to win the same $100. This is referred to as “buying points” because they have to offer more money for a better number.

Rarely do betters “sell points” as no one likes to place themselves in a worse position to win. However, a bettor might do so if he/she feels incredibly confident in their bet and wants a higher return.

A Spot

Many times, you might hear a sports bettor say they like or don’t like a team because of “the spot”. We here at Journey Power Index will always encourage to focus first and foremost on the numbers. Numbers are objective facts that should be your first consideration; numbers can contradict public perception or give you insight on the trajectory of a game. But on top of the numbers, we also encourage you to place those numbers in context – key injuries, weather, specific matchups, etc. A spot is the exact opposite of this process.

A spot is an entirely contextual game in which bettors will forgo any numbers and focus entirely on the game in a vacuum. Bettors might focus on such things as long travel times (i.e. West Coast teams traveling to the Eastern time zone) or they might focus on teams coming off a buy against an opponent on short rest. Maybe the game is a “look ahead game” for the Favorite, and so the bettor takes a shot on the Underdog catching them off guard.

Essentially, whenever you hear a bettor state “I like this team in this spot.” or “I don’t like this team in this spot.” it’s a good indication they most likely going off a gut feeling utilizing preexisting or institutional knowledge and aren’t considering statistics to drive their decisions.

There are probably a few I’m missing, and if anything is confusing, feel free to reach out!

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