Understanding Basic Sports Bets: Moneylines, Spreads, Totals

If you’re ready to learn more about online sports betting in Massachusetts, this guide is for you. This page explains the three most popular bet types for any sporting event:

  • Moneylines
  • Point spreads
  • Over/unders

What is a moneyline bet?

If you’re new to sports betting in Massachusetts, the moneyline is probably the most standard of bets.

  • A moneyline bet is simply picking the winner of the game.

It doesn’t matter how many points each team scores; as long as the team you bet on wins, you win.

Each team will have its own odds number. Generally one will be positive and the other negative. A positive number means that the team is the underdog. The actual number signifies what you stand to win on a correct bet of $100.

For example, if the Boston Celtics odds are at +150, a bet of $100 would win $150, with a full payout of $250 (your bet plus the winnings).

A negative number means that the team is the favorite. This number indicates what you would need to bet to win $100. If the Celtics are -120, a bet of $120 would have a potential profit of $100 and a full payout of $220.

Moneyline betting is often the primary type of bet for baseball, soccer and hockey because of their generally low scores. This means that picking the overall winner generally offers bettors more value than the over/under or spread (or puck line/run line, which we go over below).

Moneyline betting example

For the 2019 Super Bowl, the moneyline for the New England Patriots was -133, and the Los Angeles Rams were at +125. To win $100 on New England that year, you’d have had to bet $133.

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What is a point spread bet?

The point spread is a bet on the score differential:

  • A favorite must win by a certain amount of points/goals
  • An underdog must lose by less than a certain amount (or win the game).

Half points in spreads

You’ll often see spreads as a number that includes a half-point (for example, the Patriots as 3.5-point favorites). This is called the “hook.” It is to avoid a push, which means that both sides would get their money back. For example, let’s say the Patriots play the Buffalo Bills and are three-point favorites.

If the Patriots win 27-24, the bet is a push. You would get the amount of your bet back, and while the sportsbook wouldn’t lose money on the bet, it wouldn’t make anything, either.

If the Patriots are 3.5-point favorites and win 27-24, you would lose the bet if you picked New England. Anyone who picked the Bills would win. The hook makes sure that there’s a winner and allows the sportsbook to, in theory, use the losing bets to pay the winners and still make a profit.

Run line and puck line

The NHL and MLB do things differently because hockey and baseball games have much lower scores than other sports.

When you bet on the NHL, the puck line is your version of the spread. The puck line is -1.5 goals for the favorite and +1.5 for the underdog. The favorite has to win by two goals for bets on that team to win, and the underdog can either win by any score or lose by one goal for a bet on that side to win. The run line in baseball betting is pretty much the same, a standard 1.5 runs.

Should you bet the favorite or the underdog against the spread?

There’s no simple answer to this question. Backing the underdog may not get you a larger payout if you’re correct. The standard payout for NFL and NBA spreads is -110 for both teams. If there are 12 games on a given day, you could see anywhere from one to six games with better odds for the underdog, although the difference is often negligible (for example, -105 vs. -115)

However, backing an underdog on the spread gives you a better chance to win than doing so on the moneyline. The dog can still lose and, depending on the point margin, your bet may still win.

Buying points

Some sportsbooks will allow you to buy points to improve the spread for the bet you want to place. You will either pay more for the bet or reduce your payout if you purchase points. Some bettors always buy the hook, while others ignore it completely. It can cost you more to buy the hook than the long-term cost of betting with the hook on a normal line.

Spread betting examples

If we go back to the 2019 Super Bowl odds example, the Patriots were 2.5-point favorites to win over the Rams. The Patriots had to win by three or more for a winning spread bet. Because the Patriots won by 10, you would have won this bet if you chose New England.

What are totals bets?

When you bet on the total, you’re betting whether the total number of points in the game will be over or under a line that the sportsbook sets.

Totals betting extends to proposition bets. For example, you could bet the over/under of how many total strikeouts a pitcher will have in a baseball game or how many rushing yards a running back will have in a football game.

Over/under betting example

Let’s say the Patriots play the New York Jets next season, and the total is 44. If New England wins the game 23-20, you will win if you select the under since the combined score is 43.

Do all sports offer moneylines, point spreads and over/under bets?

Yes, most sports will have moneylines, spreads and totals, although with some variations (like the run line and puck line described above). Soccer moneylines generally are “three-way moneyline” bets given how common ties are.

Moneyline pros and cons

  • It’s basic: You pick which team will win.
  • Bets (usually) won’t push.
  • More profitable odds for underdogs.
  • Less profitable odds for favorites.

Point spread pros and cons

  • Underdogs don’t have to win the game.
  • You may be able to buy points to give yourself a better chance.
  • More complicated than the moneyline.

Over/under pros and cons

  • Easy to understand.
  • A good option if you don’t want to bet on one of the teams to win.
  • Buying/selling points is an option.
  • More variables at play, depending on the sport.

Which sports bet has the best odds?

The most (potentially) profitable sports betting odds for a bettor are usually underdog moneyline bets, but there are exceptions. In hockey and baseball, the spread rarely moves from 1.5. The odds associated with the spread vary, so betting on a favorite at -1.5 carries more potential profit than a moneyline bet.

Is it easier to win on moneyline, spreads or totals?

No bets are easier to win; otherwise, it wouldn’t be called gambling.

Each of these bets takes research and dedication to hit consistently. Moneylines are a great place to start for inexperienced bettors, but they’re not exactly easier since if you bet on heavy favorites, you won’t see much of a return. See our guide on profitable sports betting for more insight.

Which one is the best bet for beginners?

Moneyline bets are often best for new bettors. All you have to do is decide which team you believe will win, and it’s a great way to learn how odds and sports betting work.

That said, all bets are a challenge. NBA and NFL point spreads and totals can be more profitable once you expand your knowledge of the sports betting basics.