If you’re interested in a foray into the world of sports betting, one of the first steps is to understand moneyline betting. This is the most basic form of sports betting and the easiest for newcomers to understand.
Of course, understanding moneyline betting and making winning bets are two different things. But once you get a feel for moneyline betting, you’ll be able to branch out into other forms of sports betting.
What is a moneyline bet?
A moneyline bet is putting money on a specific team to win a game. There’s nothing more to it than that. If the team you pick wins the game, you win the bet.
This form of betting takes point spreads, the over/under and any other derivative of betting out of the equation. It requires no level of expertise of betting knowledge to make a moneyline bet. All that’s necessary is to pick one of the teams involved in a particular game to win.
In theory, it’s no different from flipping a coin and guessing heads or tails. Of course, choosing what games to bet on using the moneyline is a different story. Making smart moneyline picks that give you the best chance of winning the games you bet on requires a little more know-how.
How moneyline betting works
The most important thing to remember in moneyline betting is that not all moneylines are created equal. In almost every game, the two teams playing will have a different moneyline. This number lets you know what team the oddsmakers view as the favorite.
In all cases, the team that’s favored will have the lower number while the underdog will have a higher number. In fact, it’s common for the favorite to have a negative moneyline while the underdog has a positive number.
For example, for a college basketball game between Duke and UNC Greensboro, Duke will be the obvious favorite. It might have a moneyline of -300, while UNC Greensboro may have a moneyline of +300. Most moneylines don’t have this kind of symmetry between the favorite and underdog, but it can help you to understand while you’re learning how to bet.
When the moneyline is a negative number, it represents how much you need to bet to make $100. In this case, you would have to wager $300 on Duke winning to earn $100 with a Duke win.
If Duke were to lose the game, you would lose that $300. If you only wanted to wager $150 on Duke winning the game, you would only win $50 if the Blue Devils were victorious.
Meanwhile, when the moneyline is a positive number, that’s how much money you would make if you were to bet $100. In this example, if you bet $100 on UNC Greensboro to upset Duke, you would earn $300 if UNC Greensboro were to win the game.
That’s $300 on top of the $100 you would get back from your initial bet, meaning you would win $300 in profit.
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that moneylines for games that people expect to be more competitive are usually a lot more balanced than the example we used.
Unless there’s an obvious mismatch, moneylines are usually between -200 and +200. It’s also possible that both teams involved will have a positive number, although when this is the case, both numbers are usually close to 100.
How bookmakers profit from moneyline bets
As you can probably guess, bookmakers wouldn’t take moneyline bets on sporting events if they didn’t make money from them. Bookmakers can ensure profits over the long haul because they maintain control over the moneylines.
When they set the moneyline for two teams that are playing each other, they always include a profit margin. That’s why you’ll rarely see symmetry in moneylines like our example above.
Bookmakers establish moneylines in a way that takes into account the implied probability of each possible outcome. If we return to the example above, let’s change Duke’s moneyline to -450 based on an implied probability of 95% that they’ll win the game.
At the same time, let’s change the UNC Greensboro moneyline to +250 based on an implied probability of 8% that they’ll win the game. If you do the math, the implied probability added up to 103%. That means that bookmakers have skewed the odds in a way that favors them.
It’s also important for bettors to understand that there are two ways that bookmakers can set odds for a game, proportional or disproportional. If the odds are proportional, then the bookmaker could count on a profit if two people were to place the same monetary bet on two opposing teams.
However, American bookmakers usually prefer disproportional odds in which they skew the moneyline one way or another to get more people to bet the way they want them to, which is usually toward the side with the bigger payout.
In our example, they would incentivize bets on UNC Greensboro because its implied probability is so low. At the same time, they might also change the moneyline on Duke so that the potential payout is not worth the money a bettor would have to risk.
To put it another way, bookmakers are crafty in the way they go about things. They aren’t coming up with moneylines at random. There is a considerable amount of thought behind them to help ensure that bookmakers make a profit on as many games as possible.
Sometimes, bookmakers create moneylines to push bettors toward one team or another. This might seem like a risk on their part. But keep in mind that bookmakers understand probability better than most bettors, so these are calculated risks.
Also, bettors of all experience levels should never forget that the bookmakers are the ones pulling the strings and setting the lines, and they always do so in a way that will favor themselves in the long run.
Moneyline vs. point spread
Moneyline bets often go hand-in-hand with bets based on a point spread. While these two types of sports betting are similar in the sense that point spread bets also have a moneyline, there are fundamental differences between the two.
For starters, moneyline bets are more common in sports where scoring tends to be minimal, specifically baseball, soccer and hockey. For most games in these sports, point spreads would be 0.5 or 1.5 runs or goals, and only on rare occasions would the point spread be any bigger than that.
Of course, most bookmakers offer point spreads in those sports, but moneyline betting is more common. For sports like football and basketball, betting against the spread is more common. However, it’s still possible to make a moneyline bet on these sports.
As mentioned at the beginning, moneyline betting is simply picking the winner of a game. Point spread betting is different because the favorite has to win by a certain amount of points for you to win the bet.
If we use the example from before, Duke might be a 15.5-point favorite to beat UNC Greensboro. If you bet on Duke against the spread, the Blue Devils need to win by at least 16 points for you to win the bet.
Meanwhile, if you were to bet on UNC Greensboro against the spread, even if UNC Greensboro loses, you can still win your bet if the margin of victory is 15 points or fewer.
When you read a point spread matchup, the team with a negative number will be the favorite, just like the favorite on a moneyline bet likely has a negative number. In our example, the matchup will look like Duke (-15.5) vs. UNC Greensboro (+15.5).
You should also be aware that betting on a game against the spread will also involve a moneyline. However, these moneylines are often the same or at least closer together than a straight-up moneyline bet.
In most cases, the moneyline when betting against the spread is -110 for both teams, meaning if you bet $100, you’ll earn around $91 in profit.
In games where both teams have a moneyline of -110, bookmakers can count on a profit if they receive an equal number of bets on both teams. With this in mind, bookmakers sometimes manipulate the spread in a way they hope will lead to near-even betting on both sides.
In our example, if a vast majority of bettors are taking Duke -15.5, bookmakers might increase the spread to 16.5 or 17.5 points to entice more people to bet on UNC Greensboro and even out the betting.
How odds work in sports betting
Since it’s impossible to expect the world to be simple, there are three different methods for viewing sports betting odds. For most American sports, you’ll see a moneyline.
As we’ve explained, the moneyline is based on how much you’ll win if you bet $100. For a moneyline of +200, a bet of $100 will give you a profit of $200 if you win, while a moneyline of -200 will require a bet of $200 to win $100 in profit.
In the United Kingdom, it’s common to see betting odds as fractions. This method is also common in horse racing, where you might have a horse favored with 2/1 odds, while a long shot might have 50/1 odds.
If you can handle a little math, it’s relatively easy to figure out your potential winnings. You take the money you wager and then multiply it by the fraction.
For example, if a horse or team has 5/2 odds to win and you bet $50, you multiply 50 by five and then divide by two, which comes out to $125 in profit. Just for fun, let’s look at a team that’s a heavy favorite at 13/20 odds. In this case, a $50 bet would earn a profit of $32.50 on top of your $50 coming back.
Finally, betting odds sometimes appear as decimals. This type of displaying odds is most common in Europe, Canada and Australia. It also might be the easiest to figure out.
You simply multiple your wager by the decimal, and you’ll get your potential winnings. If a team has a decimal of 2.25 and you wager $50, a winning bet will pay out $112.50. However, that amount includes your initial $50 bet, meaning your profit will be $62.50
How are moneyline odds calculated?
Moneylines in sports betting are calculated by bookmakers who evaluate the likely outcome of a sporting event and assign a probability to every possible outcome.
In a way, their jobs are similar to insurance adjustors in the sense that they consider the risk involved in creating moneylines. After all, bookmakers don’t want to lose money any more than insurance companies.
In theory, bookmakers set moneylines in a way that will promote an even amount of betting on both sides. They examine both teams in a way similar to the way fans, analysts and bettors do, although usually with a more meticulous approach.
Next, they decide what team is the betting favorite and what team is the underdog and then adjust the moneyline accordingly. However, analyzing the two teams isn’t all that goes into setting a moneyline.
Bookmakers also take into consideration how bettors will respond to a particular line and if they will feel comfortable risking money on a particular team based on the moneyline.
If one team is receiving a significant amount of the betting, it’s an indication that the bookmaker has to adjust the moneyline so that bettors will also risk their money on the other team. Of course, as we mentioned earlier, bookmakers aren’t always trying to create proportional betting.
Bookmakers typically view themselves as being smarter than the betting public, which sometimes leads them to think that they can skew the moneyline in a way that will maximize their profits.
On the surface, it might seem like calculating moneylines is simple, but there is a lot that goes into it. The bookmaker needs to have a strong understanding of the particular sport in addition to probability and risk-assessment skills.
For most sports, bettors will understand the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams involved and make an educated guess on the result. However, oddsmakers take more than that into account when calculating moneylines, which is why bookmakers often have the advantage in the long run.
Are moneyline bets sucker bets?
Admittedly, the process of calculating moneyline bets can be a little confusing. You also can’t lose sight of the fact that the bookmakers that are choosing the odds for a particular game tend to have the advantage.
After all, this is their livelihood, and they’re trying to make as much money as possible. However, it’d be wrong to think of moneyline bets as sucker bets.
By definition, a sucker bet is when the potential return on a bet doesn’t match up with the odds of that result taking place. At times, you will see this with moneyline bets. You will also see it sometimes with point spread bets.
However, that doesn’t mean that all moneyline bets are sucker bets. It’s just a matter of picking and choosing what moneylines are worthwhile and what moneylines are fit for a sucker.
With moneyline bets, what you see is what you get. You can tell based on the moneyline of a game what team is the favorite and what team is the underdog. You can calculate how much money you stand to gain from betting a particular way.
Much like oddsmakers have taken probability and risk into account when deciding on the moneyline of the two teams, bettors like you have the power to perform your own risk assessment. You can decide if the moneyline on a game makes it a sucker bet. Remember, you don’t decide the odds of a game, but you can decide whether or not you bet on that game.