A Complete Guide to the Types of Sports Bets

Sergio Zammit
Last updated: | 12 min read

Most people think of sports betting as wagering on the outcome of a game in any number of sports: soccer, football, basketball, and even tennis. While this is true, sports bets can involve more than just who wins or loses. You can wager on the point difference between two teams, the total combined points in a game, or an individual player’s performance in a match.

We cover the names of different types of sports bets and how betting varies by sport and league. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced sports bettor, our guide can help you understand a variety of sports betting markets.

Introduction to Sports Betting in the US

Sports betting is available at establishments known as sportsbooks, which operate both online and as brick-and-mortar betting houses. In the United States, sportsbook revenue totaled $7.5 billion in 2022. This marked an increase of 75% over 2021 as more states legalize sports betting.

Before 2018, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) effectively banned sports betting nationwide except in a few states (including Nevada). That year, however, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of New Jersey’s efforts to legalize sports gambling in the state. In making the decision, the court struck down PASPA and changed the sports betting landscape across the country.

As of September 2023, 38 states plus Washington, DC had legalized sports betting in one form or another.

Types of Sports Bets

The types of sports betting that you will find at sportsbooks in the United States include the following:

Moneyline Bets

One of the simplest types of wagers, moneyline bets let you put money on the team you think will win. If the team you picked wins, you win. It’s that simple. The amount you win depends on what the odds were at the moment you placed the bet.

In moneyline odds, a minus sign (-) shows the favored team or player, and a plus sign (+) shows the underdog. The numbers that come afterward represent the amount you stand to win when betting on the underdog, or how much you would need to stake on the favorite to win $100.

For example, you may see tennis moneyline odds like this:

  • Novak Djokovic: -250
  • Daniil Medvedev: +190

These odds mean that you need to wager $250 on Djokovic for each $100 you stand to win. If you bet on the underdog Medvedev, you stand to win $190 for each $100 you stake.

Point Spread Bets

Another popular type of sports bet, point spreads allow you to wager on the difference in the final score between two teams. This can help even out the betting odds between the favorite and the underdog.

Just like with moneyline bets, a minus sign indicates the team predicted to win, and a plus sign indicates the underdog. The number that comes next is the number of points the oddsmaker expects the team to win or lose by.

For example, you may see points spread bets that look like this:

  • Detroit Lions: -5.0 (-110)
  • Denver Broncos: +5.0 (-110)

The number in parentheses shows the moneyline odds, indicating that you stand to win $100 (plus the stake) for every $110 you wager.

Over/Under (Totals) Bets

You may have heard of an over/under bet, which is another name for totals bets. Totals allow wagers on the combined number of points scored by two teams in a game. To win a totals bet, you must correctly choose whether you think the combined game score will be over or under the predicted total.

For example, oddsmakers may set the run total for a baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies at 9. If the final score is Diamondbacks 5 and Colorado Rockies 1, the total is 6. Therefore, the winning wager for that game is “under,” since 6 is less than 9.

Parlays

With parlay betting, you combine multiple bets into one. This increases the odds and provides potentially bigger payouts than making wagers on each of the games individually.

Why do parlays offer the chance for big payouts? Because you have to win every single wager in the parlay ticket.

For example, you may see a parlay that looks like this:

  1. Texas Rangers Moneyline (-200)
  2. Miami Heat Moneyline (-170)
  3. New York Mets +2 (+125)

This parlay ticket combines three bets into a single wager with odds of 436. If you put $100 on this parlay and win, you would win $436.04.

Teasers

Like parlays, teasers involve more than one wager. Unlike parlays, however, teasers are only for point spreads and have the same payouts as regular bets.

Teasers allow you to change the point spread by a set amount in your favor in exchange for a parlay with reduced odds. For example, if the point spread for an NFL game is +4, you can add a 6-point teaser, making it +10.

Middle Bets

Also called middling, middle bets are gambling strategies in which you wager on both sides of the game at different lines. This way, you may win both bets or one bet, but you won’t lose both.

Proposition Bets (Props)

Unlike the bets we’ve discussed so far, props do not depend on the outcome of a game or match. Instead, they relate to an individual player’s or team’s performance that isn’t necessarily associated with the final score.

Sample prop bets include wagers on a basketball team reaching 20 points first, a baseball player hitting a home run, or a football quarterback throwing a certain number of passing yards.

Futures

Rather than focusing on this week’s game, futures allow you to wager on the outcome of a season, tournament, or competition. Like props, futures may involve individual players or teams.

The most common futures wager is probably betting on a team to win the Super Bowl, but it can also involve things like who will win the MVP award, what a player’s batting average will be at the end of the season, or which team will win the league championship. As you can imagine, the further a team or player is from achieving the goal, the better the odds.

Live Betting

With live betting, you can wager on a game even after it has started. Live betting increases the action as the odds change constantly throughout the match. You can even wager on specific things that happen moment-to-moment, such as who will win the next set in a tennis match.

Points Betting

Points betting is a unique type of wager available on a single app called PointsBet. In this high-risk, high-reward kind of sports betting, the margin by which you win or lose determines how much money you win or lose. This puts it in contrast to a typical point spread wager, where you win the same amount no matter how much your team covers the spread by.

Betting on Different Sports

In addition to different bet types, sports betting involves different types of sports. The following are popular sports to wager on in the United States.

NFL

The national betting sport of choice, the NFL is a popular league for wagers of all sorts. The most frequent bets include point spreads, point totals, and moneylines.

Some NFL bettors will also take advantage of teasers. If you can move a line by just a few points, you can bring the threshold to within a single touchdown or field goal.

Thanks to fantasy football leagues, player prop bets are also popular in the NFL. You can wager on an array of individual player stats, such as running yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, passing yards, and touchdowns thrown.

NBA

The second-most popular betting league in the country, the NBA also generates sports wagers of all kinds. Some of the more common betting types in professional basketball are point spreads and totals, two outcomes frequently decided in the last few minutes of a game. Moneylines are popular as well, especially for games expected to be close.

Some people also enjoy NBA player props. However, others exercise caution since NBA player performance may vary significantly from one game to the next, especially in low-scoring matchups or blowouts where a key player may sit out the fourth quarter.

MLB

In baseball, even an inferior team can keep the score close on any given day. Because a significant number of baseball games hinge on just a run or two, the odds are often fairly even in the MLB. This makes moneyline wagers the league’s most popular type.

While point spreads do exist (called a run line in baseball), oddsmakers usually set them low, at 1 or 2.5 runs.

Thanks to long, slow-moving games that happen just about every day of the week, many baseball fans enjoy live betting. These types of sports bets can increase interest while watching, as well as allow you to capitalize on pitching and lineup changes during play.

NHL

With low-scoring games, hockey is a popular sport for moneyline betting. Many people also enjoy props, live bets, and spreads (called the puck line in hockey). Wagering on total goals in NHL games is popular as well, but you may want to consider “under” as often as “over” since these tend to be low-scoring games.

Golf

When it comes to golf, it’s all about the individual players. Moneylines, point spreads, and totals take a back seat to player props and short-term futures.

In other words, golf bettors wager on such events as a player winning a tournament or placing in the top 10. Another popular option is the head-to-head bet, where you can gamble on who will win (or finish better) between two players.

Tennis

In tennis, most wagers are moneylines on a single player (or doubles pair). Futures, such as who will win a tournament, are also popular.

Tennis matches generate plenty of live betting opportunities as well, where the odds may fluctuate significantly depending on who wins the first set or appears to be struggling with an injury.

MMA/UFC

Mixed martial arts leagues like the UFC make for plentiful opportunities for prop betting. For example, you can wager on the method of victory (knockout, TKO, decision, etc). However, the most popular MMA betting types are moneylines and wagers on the total number of rounds.

Boxing

Like its fellow combat sport MMA, boxing tends to favor moneyline bets. Other common wagers include the winning method and the number of rounds a match lasts. Because boxing competitions tend to go longer than MMA fights, however, you may have more chances to wager on the round in which the fight will end or what kind of victory will end the match.

Soccer

Like hockey, soccer tends to have low-scoring but fast-moving games. Unlike in the NHL, however, soccer often ends in a tie. This means that two-way moneylines (that is, a winner and a loser) decrease the opportunities to win because the game could end up with a tie score. A popular alternative is a three-way moneyline, where you can wager on either team as well as the chance of a tie.

Other Types of Sports Bets

Other kinds of sports bets you may see at sportsbooks include the following:

Teasers and Pleasers

Teasers allow you to shift game spreads in your favor to place parlays at lower odds. Pleasers, on the other hand, allow you to manipulate the spreads in the sportsbook’s favor to place parlays at higher odds.

Full Cover Bets

Similar to parlays, full cover bets deal with multiple wagers. Unlike parlays, however, they cover every possible outcome. Because not every selection (or “leg” of a wager) has to win, it reduces the odds significantly.

If Bets and Reverse Bets

“If” bets are a sequence of wagers, similar to parlays, that only continues if you win the previous selection. “Reverse” bets cover every possible outcome of a combined bet, similar to full cover parlays, but they only continue if you win the prior selection in the series.

Differences in Betting on College Sports vs. Professional Sports

In many ways, gambling on college sports is similar to professional sports. However, differences in schedules, regulations, and the nature of the players change some aspects of betting.

For example, in college football and the NFL, popular betting types include point spreads, totals, and moneylines. Due to the age and maturity level of college students, however, performance may vary substantially from one game to the next. This makes player props a riskier option in collegiate leagues than in the NFL.

College teams also often have more uneven game matchups and less consistency over the years than professional leagues. Collegiate games can have point spreads that are virtually unheard of in the NFL. Furthermore, if a college team has a large number of seniors, they may lose a significant chunk of their players to graduation all at once. That’s not even taking into account players who transfer, quit, lose academic eligibility, or leave for the NFL.

International Sports Betting Options in the US Market

Sports bettors may choose offshore sportsbooks, which sometimes offer more options or a better value. In addition to finding wagers on traditional US leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB, you may see international soccer, rugby, and cricket leagues. US bettors may also find niche sports from nations like Australia, Canada, and Europe, such as squash, badminton, handball, floorball, and futsal.

What’s the Best Type of Sports Bet?

Traditional wagers like moneylines, point spreads, and totals are common betting options in many leagues, like the NBA and NFL. To boost the action and entertainment factor, people may choose to engage in player props or live-action betting.

Now that you know the answer to the question, “What are the different types of sports bets?” and how they work in different leagues, you can choose the best one for your preferences, budget, and acceptable risk level.

FAQ

What is the most popular type of bet?

While the most popular bet types depend on the sport, the most common options overall include moneyline bets, spreads, and totals.

What is considered a good sports bet?

Statistics suggest that a point total bet on college football offers the highest potential return on investment (ROI), with NFL bets a close second. On the flip side, baseball offers the lowest potential value across all bet types. In the end, good sports bets depend not only on the odds but also on how much you know about the sport.

What type of bets are there for football?

Football offers opportunities for nearly all types of sports bets, including props, teasers, parlays, middles, and futures. However, the most popular football wagers are point spreads, point totals, and moneyline bets.