Sports bets can be classified in many different ways. The most common type of wager is the “straight bet,” choosing a single team or individual to win an event in which only two are competing. Straight bets are typically settled as a clear winner and a clear loser, although some sports, such as football, allow for draws, too. The winners of straight bets are paid at a fixed amount, determined at the time the bet is made, less a small commission for the bookmaker, which is known as the margin, vigorish, or juice.
Straight bets may be made as soon as the odds are announced by the bookmaker, typically not more than a week or a few days prior to the match-up taking place. That is because all significant factors need to be taken into account in setting the “opening line,” which means the initial odds for which the market is offered.
Similar to straight bets, wagers that are placed well in advance of an event are called “ante post” bets. These include bets on which team or individual will win a tournament involving numerous competitors or who will prevail as champions of a certain league, division, or conference. Ante post bets are often made at long odds because the field of competitors is so broad, just like in horse racing, from which the term has been borrowed. In the United States, these wagers are called “futures.”
Another common bet is known as the “over/under.” This is a wager on whether the final score of a game will be greater (over) or less that (under) a proposed total. Such bets are typically paid out at “even money,” which is 1-to-1 odds less the bookmaker’s margin. In case of a draw, when the result is exactly the same as the total predicted, the bet is returned as “no winner” or a “push.”
One very popular form of sports wagering is “spread betting.” It is like giving a handicap to the underdog in a match-up so that the competitors are more evenly matched. The favourite has to “give points” while the underdog “takes points.” In order to win the wager, the side selected must “cover the spread.” In the United States, this is known as betting ATS—“against the spread.”
Straight bets that do not use a spread are commonly referred to as “money line” bets. When fractions are used to describe the odds, such as 9/5 or 4/5, the team or individual with the lower value is the favourite. In the U.K., fractions are common for money line bets, but in continental Europe decimal equivalents are used. In the United States, a plus/minus three-digit number (+120 or -135) is employed, with the negative number indicating the favourite.
Apart from picking winners, bettors have the opportunity to make “exotic bets.” This phrase refers to a broad range of wagers on actions taking place within a game or contest that may or may not be connected to the overall outcome. For example, first goalscorer or number of yellow cards would be exotic bets. In the U.S., these are called “propositions.”
Betting on just one market is known as a “single bet.” Single bets can be combined in what is called an “accumulator.” Examples are “doubles” with two single bets combined, “trebles” with three connected wagers, and so on. In order to win an accumulator, all of the single bets must win. If any of them lose, they all lose. The risk is higher, but so are the payouts. A successful treble may pay three times more than three single bets taken individually. In the U.S., this is called a “parlay” bet.