Betting Lines Explained

Looking to take a dive into the sports betting world? Confused by all the terminology and slang used? Don’t fear – it’s a lot simpler than it looks!

With huge betting events such as the NBA finals, Stanley Cup, and the Super Bowl bringing in and paying out millions of dollars, it’s important to have your facts straight before being tempted on game day!

With markets catering for a wide range of sports fans, you’re sure to find a bet that takes your fancy – the key is always to capitalize on where the value lies.

What is a Betting Line?

A betting line is a form of betting whereby the bookmaker handicaps a team/player to effectively make the contest 50/50. This handicap is set by creating a margin (line) between the two teams, in a contest where there are only two outcomes possible.

An Example of How Betting Lines Work

If the bookmaker believes that the Cleveland Cavaliers are a 20-point better team than the Washington Wizards, the bookmaker can handicap the Cavaliers by 20 points.

This then creates our line bet. The options would be either backing the Cavaliers to win by more than 20 points, or the Wizards to get within 20 points. Both outcomes of this bet will be of equal odds, roughly $1.90.

A true example of this is as follows. In a game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Charlotte Hornets, the handicaps imposed on the teams are as follows:

Nets + 7.5
Hornets – 7.5

This line has now evened the playing field in the contest meaning both teams now have an equal chance to win with the handicaps imposed. Backing either of these teams would offer odds of $1.90 or (10/11) in fractional odds.

What is a Money Line Bet?

A moneyline bet is a lot simpler. When you bet on a moneyline you are effectively betting on the team/player to win the contest outright – without a handicap imposed.

However, due to the unbalanced nature of sport, the odds will have to reflect the favorites and underdogs.

Moneyline Bets Live

You will immediately be drawn to backing the favorite in the contest, however the rewards for backing this team will be significantly less than the underdog. The bigger the favorite, the less the payout will be!

This is where finding VALUE comes into play. If you have a hunch, a premonition, a belief that the underdog is going to win, backing them will prove lucrative to a degree dependent on what price the bookmaker assigned them. The bigger the underdog, the more the payout will be!

Here is a perfect example of a moneyline bet using the Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor boxing match from 2017:

Floyd Mayweather  - 500
Conor McGregor + 400

Here, you are just backing who you think will win the fight.


At -500, Mayweather is the overwhelming favorite with his odds reflecting it. In this scenario, you would need to stake $500 on Mayweather in order to win $100.


However if you fancied McGregor to upset the odds and win the fight, a $100 bet on the Irishman would return $400, at a huge profit.

When They’re Good to Place

Knowing when a bet is good to place is all about finding value in the market. It isn’t simply a case of betting on who you think is going to win a contest, more whether you think the price/odds of that team/player is representative of what is likely to play out.

Reverting back to the Mayweather vs McGregor example gives us a perfect perspective on value. This was the miss-match of all miss-matches, however, some diehard MMA and Irish fans were convinced that McGregor would pull off an upset in his boxing debut – against arguably one of the greatest boxers of all time. Here we find value in backing Mayweather in a near certainty of a contest.

Sure, staking $500 to return $100 sounds like a huge risk, but in reality the odds should have been closer to -1100 for Mayweather to win that bout when assessing the form (and lack of) of both fighters.

With so many fans backing McGregor to win, the disparity between the odds of each fighter shrunk with the Irishman starting out in June at +700, compared to the +400 he entered the ring at. This shows us also that timing of the bets is crucial – often backing a popular underdog early will give you better odds than waiting until the day of the event.

Of course, you can stake what you like: i.e. you can stake $50 to return $10 on Mayweather – you are not confined to $100 bets, this is just used for easier comparison across markets.


Seeing that a tied match is a real rarity in the NFL, Team A vs. Team B betting allows for a whole scope of betting markets. Let’s take an example of an NFL contest between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins and what the betting markets are likely to look like:

Team Line Betting Moneyline Total
New York Giants +8 +180 40
Miami Dolphins -8 -200

In this NFL example above, we have three types of bet that we can focus our attention on. We can bet on the following:

Line Betting A price of $1.90 (an $11 stake will return $10 - $21 in total), for the Dolphins to win by at least 9 points.
Moneyline Betting Placing a bet of $200 to receive $100 on a Dolphins win.
Total Betting Betting that there will be over or under 40 points scored in the match, with an equal price of $1.90 for either outcome (an $11 stake will return $10 - $21 in total).

NB: if the Dolphins won by 8 points then all bets would be refunded.


With the back-and-fourth nature of basketball, handicaps are hard for the bookmaker to get right considering the amount of points scored in a game. Let’s look at a possible example from the NBA in a game between the Brooklyn Nets and the L.A Clippers.

Team Line Betting Moneyline Total
Brooklyn Nets +3.5 +160 215.5
L.A Clippers -3.5 -180

In this NBA example above, we have three types of bet that we can focus our attention on. We can bet on the following:

Line Betting A price of $1.90 (an $11 stake will return $10 - $21 in total), for the Clippers to win by at least 3.5 points.
Moneyline Betting Placing a bet of $180 to receive $100 on a Clippers win.
Total Betting Betting that there will be over or under 215.5 points scored in the match, with an equal price of $1.90 for either outcome (an $11 stake will return $10 - $21 in total).

NB: in this example, the line betting and total betting is cast at a decimal (e.g. 3.5) this means there is zero chance that the line can be split and that a refund is required.

Parlay betting

Parlay betting is also popular in basketball where you bet on a combination of teams in order to get the biggest returns for your stake. In this case you could back four different teams across four different matches all to win their line bet – with substantial odds reflecting this risk. The higher the risk – the bigger the reward!


The markets in a hockey match are identical to those of basketball and football, however, there is an important distinction to make in terms of the added chance of overtime. Due to this possibility in hockey, bookmakers will over a totals market (as discussed previously), which includes overtime.

Team Line Betting Moneyline Total
Dallas Stars +4.5 +135 51/2
Toronto Maple Leafs -4.5 -150

If you are convinced that the match is going to be a close affair, backing the ‘overs’ goal total could lead itself to be profitable with the extra time being played.:


Baseball offers similar markets to the ones listed previously, however, the noticeable difference is the inclusion of a pitcher pre-game. Odds are heavily determined on the starting pitcher, so if a late change is made to the pitcher then your bet will be refunded.

Team Line Betting Moneyline Total
Boston Red Sox -6 -140 N/A
New York Mets +6 +120

You will often be given the option to select whether your bet requires both, or either pitcher to start the game – with odds heavily changing if a late change is made.

Land-Based Betting

Betting is popular all over the States with many forms taking differing priorities. With Nevada seen as the hub of casino betting, many flock to Las Vegas to experience the live-action thrill of entering a casino and betting on the hundreds of different games and machines that there is to offer. As well as casino and sports betting, lotteries, racetracks, and para-mutual betting (where groups of individuals combine in a pool to place a bet together) can be found.

Vegas Betting

Caesars Palace, Mandalay Bay, and the MGM Grand all hold special places in the hearts of avid gamblers in Las Vegas. They offer you the chance to watch the sport you're betting on, meaning a much more exciting experience.

Vegas caters for the experienced and the novices, with handy guides available for those who simply wish to dabble in the phenomenon.

Nevada’s sports betting is worth $3 billion each year, with around $2.85 billion returned to customers in the form of winning bets.

New Jersey Betting

New Jersey is the new kid on the block of betting and is challenging Nevada’s monopoly over sports betting. With few restrictions in place, casino gambling, horse racing, the New Jersey Lottery, track betting, and amusement games have become a bedrock of society. With online gambling also flourishing, tax revenue in the state is profiting heavily.

Ready to Start Betting?

However, there are always a few tips to keep in mind once you have started playing:

  • NEVER stake more than you can afford to lose
  • Slow and steady; make small bets to start off with
  • Don’t get sucked in by big odds and the ‘glory shot’
  • Always consider the underdog
  • Quit while you’re ahead

Take a look at our top rated sports betting sites to start placing real money bets today.