Ultimate Sports Betting Guide

Learn everything there is to know about sportsbooks and sports betting — especially online sports gambling like Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and other modern sports betting. This guide and our sub-guides discuss sports bet types, understanding sports betting odds, and the future of online sportsbooks and DFS.

Keep reading to learn more about sports betting.

Sports Betting Guide

Sports Betting | Ultimate Guide to Sports Betting | Sportsbooks

Simply put, sports betting involves placing a wager on the outcome of a particular sports event. If you predicted correctly, you win a set amount of money. If not, you lose the money you’d put down. You can place a wide range of different bets, like on a player, on a team, or on a final point spread.

Millions of people bet on sports events every year — in fact, back in 2015, The Daily Mail estimated that the global sports betting market was worth up to $3 trillion.

If you want to be part of that number yourself, here’s your guide to online sports betting. This reference article will look at everything you need to know, including:

  • Why You Should Try It
  • Getting Started
  • Placing Bets
  • Understanding Odds
  • Types of Bets
  • Mistakes To Avoid
  • Common Terms
  • How Sportsbooks Make Their Money
  • The History of Sports Betting
  • Scandals in Sports Betting
  • The Legalities of Sports Betting
  • A Look Ahead

We hope this guide can be your one-stop shop for all your sports-betting information.

Why Sports Betting?

So, why should you bet on sports in the first place? It adds even more of a thrill to the game, obviously. And because it’s easier to look at betting on a game as a form of fun rather than as a lucrative source of income, most sports bettors do it for recreational purposes only. It’s a chance to put their sports knowledge to the test and give the game an extra dose of excitement.

In fact, plenty of these recreational bettors are completely capable of making money off of their betting; they may just not know how to apply their sports knowledge to a betting strategy yet. On the other hand, a good number of people bet on sports with the sole intention of profiting.

Also, the outcomes or sporting events aren’t random, unlike other betting games out there. When we’re betting on the spin of a roulette wheel, we’re honestly just guessing what number will come up and hoping we chose the right one. But with sports, we can use our knowledge of the game itself and the players on each team to make fairly accurate predictions.

So if you’re just getting started in the world of sports betting, here’s how you can get to know the ins and outs before you put any money down.

How To Get Started

If you’re new to sports betting, it might feel like the learning curve is pretty steep. While there are a few moving parts you need to keep track of, it can all be manageable if you sit down for some quick research and follow these basic steps.

Set Your Budget

More than anything else, you need to set a budget that you’ll be able to stick to. Depending on how often you plan on making your bets, this might be a weekly or monthly budget. When you’re a beginner, you’re more than likely going to lose some money, so don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose.

A good, cautionary approach is to place wagers that equal around 2% of your total bankroll. For example, if you have a $250 budget, then you’d bet only $5 per wager.

Choose What To Bet On

It’s best to choose a sport that you already follow because you already know all of the rules and scoring details. If you want to explore more, though, do keep in mind that some sports have more betting opportunities than others, and many sports have seasons and aren’t played year-round. But also, don’t try to bet on too many different sports at once.

Some sports you can bet on include:

  • Basketball
  • Boxing/MMA
  • Football
  • Golf
  • Hockey
  • Horse and greyhound racing
  • Soccer
  • Tennis

Sign Up With a Betting Site

While you might live in a state where bookmaking shops are easy to get ahold of, the most convenient option is to go through an online betting site. These sites require some basic details like your name, address, date of birth, and email address to register.

If you’re new to online sports betting, look for reviews of online sportsbooks and casinos that are easy to use for beginners. Check that the site you want to use has plenty of betting options and solid customer support in case you get stuck. You might also encounter some sites that offer welcome bonuses, which equates to extra money to play with.

You should also think about making accounts on more than just one betting site. You can get multiple welcome bonuses this way, but it also makes it easier for you to compare odds when you want to place your wagers.

Learn About Odds

Odds are what sportsbooks use to calculate the payouts from winning wagers, and they indicate how likely a wager is to win. These can be shown in three different ways:

  • Decimal odds: These odds are simple numbers like 3.50 or 1.265.
  • Moneyline odds: These are numbers with a + or – in front (and are most common in the United States). You’d see odds expressed like +200 or -150.
  • Fractional odds: The odds are shown as fractions like 2/1 or 5/6. (This format is traditionally used in the U.K.)

Read Up On Types of Bets

While there are tons of different wagers you can make on sports, as a beginner you should keep things as straightforward as possible. Mostly focus on these types of bets:

  • Win bet/moneyline bet: You bet whether a team or individual will win a game.
  • Point spread: This is about how many points your chosen team needs to win by.
  • Totals/over-under: You bet on whether the actual score total of a game will be higher or lower than the projections.
  • Futures/outrights: You bet on a team or individual to win an entire tournament or season.

Once you’ve become more familiar with these betting styles and have some experience, you can start looking at the other types of wagers (which we’ll explain later in this piece).

The Where and How of Placing Bets

The most common places to make your bets are with a land-based sportsbook or at online betting sites (often found at online casinos). Other options include using a bookie or just placing simple bets among your friends.

You might be limited by where you live, as only some states in the U.S. have sports betting currently legalized. If you reside in a state that allows sports betting, then you’re good to go. If you don’t, you’ll most likely have to seek out an online sportsbook that’s based overseas.

Let’s briefly take you through the different processes for placing a bet on some sports action. Be aware that no matter which venue you’re using to place your wagers, you do have to pay up front.

Telephone Betting Services

Many bookmakers have the ability for you to set up your bets by phone. You simply call your bookmaker and let them know the details of your wager (which game you’re looking at, which team you’re betting on, etc.). They’ll confirm the odds and then have you pay up front using a debit or credit card.

Bookmaking Shops

If you live in a densely populated city, you probably have access to a physical bookmaking shop. You just get a betting slip and fill it out, take it up to the counter, and give them your cash for the bet. The odds should be on display for easy access, but if they’re not you should get a confirmation from the cashier.

If you win, you have to present your winning betting slip to the cashier for verification. You’ll most likely be paid out in cash.

Casino Sportsbooks

These are similar to bookmaking shops but instead are located inside a physical casino. Pretty much all the big casinos in Las Vegas and other areas have their own sportsbooks. They’ll have big screens showing all kinds of sporting events that you can bet on and watch in real time, as well as screens that display the odds and lines for upcoming sporting events.

Online Bookmakers

These are where you get the most options paired with ease of use. You just need to open an account on the site of your choice and make a deposit. Then, you’re free to place any bet you choose.

Because there are hundreds of bookmakers online, read reviews to find out how well other people like the site’s details such as:

  • Customer service
  • User experience
  • Betting and payment speed
  • Cross-platform accessibility
  • Variety of betting options

Understanding Odds

We briefly mentioned odds earlier, but now it’s time to get into some more detail about how to understand them. This will better help you to choose how you want to set up your bets.

To put it simply, betting odds tell you how likely a sporting outcome is. But they’ll also inform you of how much money you could win.

If the outcome is likely to happen, that means that the odds are low. The lower the odds, the greater your chances of winning will be. The counterpoint to this is that if the odds are low, any winning bets will earn smaller profits.

But this means that the reverse is true: Higher odds mean that the outcome is less likely and it’s harder to win, but you’ll net greater profits if you do win.

Numerical odds represent the ratio between the amount you’ve staked versus how much the bookmaker has staked. If you’re looking at odds that are 3 to 1, that means the bookmaker has staked three times the amount that you have on the outcome.

Betting odds show how likely an event is to happen, all based on probabilities. If we were dealing with a truly randomized game, the probabilities would be simpler to calculate. Rolling a die has only six possible outcomes, so you have a one-in-six chance (or a 16.67% chance) of rolling a 2, no matter what.

Odds can be expressed in three different ways, and you’ll most likely see one or another more often depending on where you live.

Fractional Odds

This format is more popular in the U.K., though the trend is to start including decimal odds now, as well (which are discussed below). Fractional odds tell you how likely it is for a given event to happen.

If you think of fractional odds being presented as A/B, you can use this formula to determine the probability: B / (A+B) x 100 = %

Some example probabilities that were originally expressed as fractionals:

  • 9/1 odds: 1 / (9+1) x 100 = 10% chance
  • 4/1 odds: 1 / (4+1) x 100 = 20% chance
  • 1/4 odds: 4 / (1+4) x 100 = 80% chance

Fractional odds also tell you how much you can win for every unit you stake. For example, if you’re looking at an event with 9/1 odds, you can win 9 units for every 1 unit you stake.

Using the same A/B setup above as inspiration, for every value of B that you bet, you can win back A (plus your returned original stake).

  • 9/1 odds: For every $1 you bet, you can win $9.
  • 4/1 odds: For every $1 you bet, you can win $4.
  • 1/4 odds: For every $4 you bet, you can win $1.

The potential limitation of fractional odds is that they represent only winnings, while decimal odds can represent your winnings or your entire payout (including your original stake) if you win.

Decimal Odds

This approach to displaying odds is common on a lot of betting websites. These numbers show the potential return if your bet is successful, relative to your original stake. It’s easy to calculate the probability of an outcome with decimal odds: (1 / decimal odds) x 100 = %

Some examples probabilities that were originally expressed as decimals:

  • 9.0 odds: (1 / 9) x 100 = 11.11% chance
  • 4.0 odds: (1 / 4) x 100 = 25% chance
  • 2.5 odds: (1 / 2.5) x 100 = 40% chance

And, just like with fractionals, you can use the given numerical odds to calculate your potential winnings. You can use this formula: (odds x stake) – stake = winnings

You would subtract your original stake in this formula because, while your stake will be multiplied by the odds, you don’t count making back your initial bet as part of your actual profits.

Here are some examples, each with a $10 stake:

  • 9.0 odds: (9.0 x $10) – $10 = $80 winnings
  • 4.0 odds: (4.0 x $10) – $10 = $30 winnings
  • 2.5 odds: (2.5 x $10) – $10 = $15 winnings

Of course, if you don’t prefer to subtract your initial stake from the total amount of money you’d get back from the sportsbook, you simply don’t do it. So 9.0 odds then equate to a $90 total payout (9.0 x $10).

This is all why decimal odds are probably the easiest format to understand and have become more and more popular across the world.

Moneyline Odds

This format is most commonly used in the United States, so you might also see this referred to as American odds.

These odds are presented as either positive or negative odds. The odds for underdogs are expressed with a plus (+) sign, which indicates the amount you could win for every $100 you stake. Meanwhile, the odds for favorites (meaning that they’re favored to have the winning outcome) are expressed with a minus (-) sign. This indicates the amount you’d need to stake to win $100.

In both scenarios, you get your initial stake back plus the amount you’ve won.

To use moneyline odds to calculate each team’s probability, you’d use these formulas:

  • Underdog/positive odds: 100 / (positive odds + 100) x 100 = %
  • Favorite/negative odds: negative odds / (negative odds + 100) x 100 = %

Let’s use two basketball teams as an example. Baylor and UConn are facing off in the NCAA Women’s Final Four, and here are the bookmaker’s moneyline odds:

Baylor: +585

UConn: -760

To calculate the probability of the underdog (Baylor) winning, plug in the positive number to the formula: 100 / (585 + 100) x 100 = 14.59% chance

To calculate the probability of the favorite (UConn) winning, plug in the negative number to the formula: 760 / (760 + 100) x 100 = 88.37% chance

Now let’s get into how much this means you’d have to bet and how much you might win.

The bookmaker has set the odds for Baylor at +585, which means they’ve placed the lower probability on Baylor winning the game (just under 15%). You’d need to stake $100 on Baylor to potentially win $585. If Baylor wins in this upset, you’d get your $100 back on top of your $585 winnings, so your total payout would be $685.

But UConn is listed as the favorite here, so they have a higher implied probability of winning the game. If you wanted to bet on them, you’d need to stake $760 in order to win $100. If UConn does win, you’d get your initial stake of $760 back plus your $100 profit, so your total payout would be $860.

What’s the Difference?

Is there a difference between these three ways of expressing odds? Effectively, no. They’re simply three different methods of presenting the same concept and have no ultimate variation in terms of payout sizes.

But now that you know how to calculate probabilities and potential payouts with each of these styles, you can be more informed about how you might want to bet.

Types of Sports Bets

Betting on sports involves more than just knowing the probabilities of who might win and betting on your player or team of choice. Numerous types of sports bets exist, and it would behoove you to know what they are so that you can make the most intelligent wagers.

Win Bets/Straight Bets/Moneyline Wagers

This type of bet goes by several different names, but it’s the most straightforward and the more “traditional” way to bet on sports. You simply back one outcome. If it’s a player-versus-player game like tennis, you’d bet on one of the players to win. If it’s a team-versus-team game like football, you’d bet on one of the teams to win.

Point Spreads

Wagers on point spreads are very popular in the U.S., especially on games like basketball and football. Here, you’re not directly betting on which player or team will win the game — rather, you’re betting on which participant will “cover the spread.”

The spread is a figure set by the sportsbook that serves as a margin of victory. The team you bet on has to “cover” or beat that margin in order for you to win the bet.

The concept is built around the idea that some teams may be unevenly matched. Each team is given a point total that can either be added to or subtracted from the final score.

For each game, the sportsbook will have a favorite listed as having a minus (-) point spread and an underdog as having a plus (+) point spread. The favorite has to win by more than the spread offered by the sportsbook. Meanwhile, the underdog has to either actually win the game or lose by an amount that’s smaller than their offered spread.

Let’s say that the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cincinnati Bengals are playing. Their point spread might look like this:

Eagles: -7.5

Bengals: +7

The minus symbol before the 7.5 indicates that the Eagles are the favorites, while the plus symbol indicates that the Bengals are the underdogs for this matchup.

If you wanted to bet on the Eagles, they would have to win by at least 8 points for you to win. But if you wanted to bet on the Bengals, they would have to either win outright or lose by no fewer than 6 points for you to win. A simple 7-point victory by the Eagles would equal a tie in this spread scenario.

Handicap Bets/Line Bets/Point Bets

Similar to point spread betting, this is another attempt by sportsbooks to make an unevenly matched competition into a more equitable contest. They give a virtual advantage or disadvantage to certain players or teams to even the field. This is expressed as a “handicap” that the stronger player or team has to overcome. You can also think of it as a “head start” for the weaker competitor.

Here’s an example for football:

Cleveland Browns: +4.5 handicap

New Orleans Saints: -4.5 handicap

For this matchup, the sportsbook has made the Saints as the favorite at -4.5. If you bet on the Saints, this means that you subtract 4.5 from their final score. If they still have more points than their opponent after that subtraction, you win the bet.

On the other hand, if you take the handicap bet on the Browns, you’ll need to add 4.5 points to their final score. If that total is higher than what the Saints scored, you win the bet.

Totals/Over-Under Bets

For this type of bet, the bookmaker sets a line for the total number of points to be scored in a game. You then get the option of betting on whether the actual total will be higher or lower than that threshold they’ve set. It doesn’t matter who actually wins in this type of wager.

For football, let’s say the Carolina Panthers are going to play against the Seattle Seahawks. The total is set at 48.5 points. To make your wager, you’d have to choose whether you believe the game’s final score will be over 49 points or under 48 points. Having the half-point in the set total means that there won’t be a draw (also called a push).

In rare cases, bookmakers do predict the total combined score as a whole number. If the total was set at 48 points and the final score is 28-20, the combined score has hit 48 exactly, which results in a push. The sportsbook you had wagered with would refund your bet, no matter whether you chose over or under in this scenario.

It’s trickier to set up because scoring isn’t quite the same as in other major sports, but you can still set up an over-under bet on a sport like boxing. In a matchup between Luis Ortiz and Alexander Flores, you might see an over-under line that the fight will last 9.5 rounds. If you bet on the over, that means that a knockout can’t happen until at least the tenth round for you to win. If you bet on the under, then the knockout has to happen before or by the ninth round for you to win.


In parlays, you make more than one selection as part of a single wager. You can choose two, three, or up to half a dozen or more selections as your bet. Your bets can include point spreads, totals, futures, or other types of wagers, so long as these bets are all on different games.

The parlay bet can be very attractive to gamblers because of its flexibility. You can combine multiple sports into your bet, like football, basketball, and hockey.

Here’s an example payout chart for parlays:

Number of SelectionsPayout

Of course, these types of wagers are extremely difficult to win because you have to predict every single selection correctly — if you get just one wrong, you lose your whole wager. The potential perk is that, if you do win, your payout can be pretty hefty.


This is when you wager on an event or series that will finish in the future, not the day that you place the bet. Bettors can set their wagers on major championships like the NBA Finals or the MLB World Series before the season starts.

While single-game wagers are settled within a day or a week, futures bets allow you to have your money on the line for multiple games without having to research each individual game.

On the other hand, these can be tough to predict so far out. You might have bet on the Dallas Cowboys to win the Super Bowl, so that means they’d need to make the playoffs, get to the big game, and win it all. If they have a poor season and don’t even make it to the playoffs, then you’ve lost your futures bet.

Propositions/Prop Bets/Specials

Prop bets are rather similar to futures, but instead you get to bet on a specific player or event. You could bet on which team will score the first goal, which player on the Buccaneers will score their first touchdown, how many receptions a certain player will get, and more.

You could even get wild with bets like how many times an announcer uses the word “dynasty” or an over-under on whether the national anthem will take two minutes.

If Bets and Reverse Bets

These types of bets are like more advanced parlays. With an if bet, you make selections in a specific order, and the results of your first selection dictate whether any subsequent selections are active. If your first selection loses, then you lose your entire stake.

But if your first selection is correct, then your next selection comes into play. You get paid out your winnings on your first selection, and your initial stake then gets placed on your second selection. This process goes on until one of your selections loses or all selections win.

Basically, it’s an “if-then” scenario. If you’re right in your first round, then you get to keep betting. If you’re wrong, then you lose the wager.

As an example, let’s say that you’ve bet $110 on the Broncos and the Falcons at a standard -110 odds:

  • If the Broncos win, you win $100 and your stake carries over for another $110 on the Falcons.
  • If the Falcons then also win, you win another $100 for a total of $200 in profits (a $310 total payout if you count your original stake).
  • If the Falcons lose, then you lose $10 overall because you won $100 on the Broncos but lost your $110 stake on the Falcons.
  • If the Broncos lose, then you lose your $110 stake and have no bet on the Falcons.

So the difference between a parlay and an if bet is that for a parlay to win, you have to win all of your selections; with an if bet, you can regain some of your money if one or some of your selections win.

Then there are reverse bets, which are basically if bets that work in both directions. Let’s go back to the Broncos and Falcons example from above. You have $110 again to bet, but instead of placing a single if bet, you split the $110 in half and make two $55 if bets. One will have the Broncos first and the Falcons second, and the other will have the Falcons first and the Broncos second.

  • Bet One: $55 on Broncos then Falcons
    • If the Broncos win, you win $50 and then have your original $55 stake carry over to the Falcons.
    • If the Falcons also win, you get another $50 for a total of $100 in profits (a $155 total payout).
    • If the Falcons lose, you lose $5 total.
    • If the Broncos lose, you lose your $55 stake.
  • Bet Two: $55 on Falcons then Broncos
    • If the Falcons win, you win $50 and then have your original $55 stake carry over to the Broncos.
    • If the Broncos also win, you get another $50 for a total of $100 in profits (a $155 total payout).
    • If the Broncos lose, you lose $5 total.
    • If the Falcons lose, you lose your $55 stake.

In this reverse bet scenario, if both the Broncos and the Falcons win their games, then you’ve won both bets and get a tidy $200 profit on a $110 wager that was split in both directions.

Reverse bets don’t change your payouts but simply protect you from losing your entire stake if your first bet loses.

Betting Mistakes To Avoid

Everyone makes mistakes when they’re betting on sports — no one is perfect, especially folks who are new to the process. But there are simple mistakes, and then there are the mistakes you can actively avoid with a little education and patience.

Not Managing Your Bankroll

It’s easy to get carried away if you get lucky on your first sports bet and are riding high. But you absolutely have to manage your bankroll to keep yourself from falling into a hole.

Set a budget for how much you’re willing to spend on gambling. This amount forms your bankroll, so maybe have it in a separate account from your everyday funds. Next, define some rules for yourself on how much you’ll stake on any given wager. You should ultimately bet between only 1% and 5% of your bankroll on any one bet.

Setting Unrealistic Expectations

Honestly, most people who bet on sports end up losing, but the stories out there about some guy who rakes in six figures a year betting on sports lead people to believe that they could easily do it, too.

The fact is that these types of people put in a ton of work to make those types of profits. Winning on that scale requires more than just your generalized sports knowledge. You should focus instead on betting for fun over betting strictly for profits.

Not Learning Basic Strategies

While you should be betting for fun, don’t let that lead you to think that you should overlook strategy. Learn the pros and cons of always betting on only one team, look at weather trends and how they tend to affect outcomes, or try some betting systems to help you if you’re on a streak. But most importantly, don’t go in without some sort of plan of attack.

Placing Too Many Wagers

Don’t bet on every game that comes your way. First off, this prevents you from blowing through your bankroll. But it also teaches you patience and how to be selective. The goal shouldn’t be to place as many wagers as possible but instead to place the best wagers possible.

Betting for the Wrong Reasons

If you feel the need to put some money down on a game just to make it more exciting for you, you’re approaching this all wrong if you’re looking to make any real profits. If you want to actually win something substantial, you have to make your bets based on genuinely good opportunities rather than on emotions.

Sure, you can make plenty of silly bets if you’re just doing it recreationally: betting on your own country’s soccer team because you’re feeling patriotic, placing money down on your favorite player just because you like them, or even betting when you’re drunk. Just always stay within your budget.

Not Looking at the Odds

Comparing the odds, whether they’re presented as decimals or moneyline odds, is highly important to making smart bets. But this dovetails with the above concerns: If you’re betting based on emotions, you won’t be paying attention to the math.

It takes so little time to compare different sportsbooks’ odds, but it can make a big difference in choosing which betting site to go with. Small differences between the bookmakers’ odds can still make a significant shift in how much you can potentially win.

The Vig: How Sportsbooks Make Their Money

While casinos have a house edge when it comes to slot machines and table games, bookmakers charge a fee in order to make their money on each wager made. This commission is often called the “vig,” which is short for the Yiddish term “vigorish,” but it’s also called the “cut,” “juice,” or “take.”

The vig is always included directly in the odds of the sporting event you’re betting on. It could be defined in dollar amounts or as a percentage, and it’s not always a static amount across the board. It’s important to know that you have to pay this commission up front on every bet.

A bookmaker won’t typically try to make the profit on just an individual bet because the risk is too high. So, they’ll set their cut on both sides of the event to ensure that, no matter which way the game goes, they get their commission.

For example, if you’re betting on point spreads and you look to the side of each point spread for individual games, you’ll see a number like -1.10. This means that, for every $110 you bet, you win $100 profit, and that 10% is the juice that the bookmaker takes as profit.

Just like with house edges on casino games, you can do some research to see which sportsbooks have the smallest vigs. This way, more winnings can stay in your pocket with each wager.

Sports Betting vs. Daily Fantasy Sports

The phenomenon of daily fantasy has taken the sports world by storm, and it’s easy to think that it’s the same as regular sports betting. However, they are distinct approaches to the concept of betting on sports with some major differences in how they work.

Generally speaking, traditional sports betting involves wagering on outcomes — you read the odds and choose the outcome you think has the best chance of winning. There’s a wide market in sports betting because you can bet on propositions, point spreads, totals, and more, in addition to being able to bet on popular sports as well as more obscure games like water polo or badminton.

Meanwhile, daily fantasy sports involve drafting a set number of athletes onto a fantasy “team” that you build yourself while staying under a salary cap. With limits like these, you can pick only so many stars. In addition, in contrast to regular fantasy sports, with DFS you can play for just one game rather than having to dedicate yourself to creating a team and managing the roster for an entire season.

For example, you have to draft 10 NFL players onto your team without surpassing a $50,000 salary cap. With the cap, you’re prevented from loading your bench full of only top-notch talent and giving yourself an insane advantage.

You’re also more limited to betting on the most popular sports with the daily fantasy setup, like football or baseball, because you have to build a full team rather than simply bet on whether a team or player will win.

This is part of why daily fantasy is billed as wholly different from sports betting: The companies that run DFS matchups prefer to look at it as a skill-based game rather than true “gambling,” which runs purely on chance. Because of the research and planning involved, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 exempted fantasy sports, which paved the way for daily fantasy sports to be grandfathered through on the same principle.

The Pros of Sports Betting

General sports betting has far more markets than DFS. While not every bookmaker covers every sport, the larger betting sites will have options to bet on just another anything that could draw some betting action.

In that same vein, there are far more in-person and online sportsbooks than there are DFS sites, so you have more options to try your luck.

There also tend to be lower commissions with sports betting. Bookmakers usually take a 10% vig from the losing side in a wager, so if you win about half the time you play and lose the other half of the time, you’ll pay around a 5% vig on average.

The Cons of Sports Betting

It’s honestly hard to beat the oddsmakers in sports betting. They’re highly trained at analyzing matchups and creating sharp lines.

They also tend to limit your bet sizes so they aren’t taking on too much risk. Smaller bookmakers might allow bets up to only $2,000. While industry giants can accept six-figure bets, they’re much more rare.

The Pros of Daily Fantasy Sports

Instead of playing against a sportsbook, you’re playing against other human players. You need to beat them at the game instead of trying to make up for the bookmaker’s odds.

Because DFS isn’t necessarily viewed as gambling, it’s legal to play in more states than sports betting. Some states have even explicitly made daily fantasy a legal practice, so you don’t have to concern yourself as much with the legalities of it all.

The Cons of Daily Fantasy Sports

There are far fewer DFS sites than there are sportsbooks — the DFS landscape is mostly made up of only DraftKings, FanDuel, and Yahoo.

Also, the commissions tend to be higher with DFS. These sites typically charge a 10% vig up front rather than only from the losing side, and they’ll also charge that 10% with every buy-in.

The odds of winning at DFS also tend to be deceptive. Because there aren’t any fixed odds, DFS sites can structure their payouts in a variety of ways. In addition, a 2015 study in Sports Business Journal said that 91% of profits were won by the top 1.3% of players and that 85% of players were losers. Players have used personal algorithms to analyze thousands of statistics and player projections. This goes against the common advertising message that sites like FanDuel promote — that any regular person could win big.

History of Sports Betting

Sports betting dates back thousands of years, when the ancient Greeks began the Olympics (and with that, the earliest records of betting on sports competitions). Of course, the Romans took the Greeks’ idea and ran with it, accepting and even legalizing sports betting. This was especially prevalent when Romans bet on gladiatorial combat.

Centuries later, medieval religious leaders attempted to make laws forbidding sports betting. This forced quite a lot of sports betting underground, though it became quite popular again in England with horse racing. This spread to the U.S. and continued to grow across the world.

In the 1950s, Las Vegas legalized sports betting inside their casinos, opening up the gambling options within the city. This did limit the options for other potential gamblers, though, as they needed to be local to Las Vegas to give it a try.

Today, sports betting is available in more and more states, though just about any jurisdiction in the world offers online bookmakers for sports bets. In fact, the internet was the key factor in the growth of sports betting. Now, people can place bets anytime from anywhere. It’s also now easier to research your odds and the betting lines before plunking down your money.

Major Scandals in Sports Betting

Of course, such a practice is going to invite some disreputable behavior to try to sway an outcome. Sporting events’ results aren’t random like they are in games like slots; the results come from the work of people, who are fallible. Sometimes a player or a team has a bad day and loses the game, and other times those players were bribed to make sure they turn in a favorable result for big-pocketed gamblers.

1919: Chicago White Sox (The Black Sox Scandal)

The baseball world was turned upside down in 1919 when the Chicago White Sox lost the World Series to the lower-ranked Cincinnati Reds. Before the next season began, the public found out that some White Sox players had been bribed to throw the series. Eight players were involved, each getting paid $5,000 or more for their part in the arrangement. They were eventually acquitted of criminal charges but never played professional baseball again.

1950: City College of New York

CCNY’s basketball team was coming off of two major tournament wins in 1950, but an investigation found that the mafia had been paying players to shave points. More than 30 players at seven schools (including CCNY) had participated in the scheme. The scandal ended up decimating the team and killing the school’s affiliation with big-division athletics.

1989: Pete Rose

Rose had been an all-star baseball player and later a successful team manager who’d compiled a 412-373 win/loss record while managing the Cincinnati Reds. By the end of the ‘80s, investigations found that he’d made dozens of bets on baseball games (even betting on his own team) for up to $10,000 each. He was banned from baseball for life and will forever be ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame because of the scandal.

The Legalities of Sports Betting

As you can see, sports betting has had a long and storied history in the U.S., with various attempts over the years to make it wholly illegal to avoid further scandals like the ones above.

Arguments can be made that these efforts came from a moralistic point of view, with vague concerns such as the idea that sports gambling was becoming a “national problem” and worries about the “harm it inflicts.” Rather than citing specific monetary or legal concerns, it appears that the push to ban sports betting came from a desire to protect the “integrity of the game.”


Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992, banning sports betting across the United States (with the exception of Nevada and several other states that were grandfathered through with very specific rules).

By passing a federal law, Congress was heading individual states off at the pass before they could make sports betting legal and create their own sportsbooks. However, despite these legal restrictions, sports betting was still widespread but simply operating underground with no oversight. Professional sports leagues began to publicly acknowledge the failures of PASPA and argue that scandals are more likely to occur in an unmonitored environment.

Murphy v. NCAA

In May 2018, the United States Supreme Court heard the case Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the governor of New Jersey sought to have PASPA overturned. Governor Murphy challenged whether the U.S. federal government has the right to control state-level lawmaking. The argument at hand was basically that the federal government was commandeering, or creating laws that the states would have the responsibility to enforce.

States like New Jersey had also recognized that they were losing potential revenue to the few states that did have sports gambling licenses and to offshore entities.

The Supreme Court struck down PASPA by stating that it was a violation of the 10th Amendment. This opened the door for more states to choose on their own whether or not to legalize sports betting within their jurisdictions.

The Professional Sports Leagues’ Positions

Major American sports leagues used to be more rigid about wanting sports betting to stay out of their games. However, various associations have shifted their perspectives over time. Part of that has had to do with the leagues embracing daily fantasy sports, and other concerns include being able to regulate betting if it’s in the light.

The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have both advocated to embrace sports betting, while Major League Soccer has shared the belief that sports betting could be a pathway to greater popularity.

Meanwhile, the National Football League is no longer completely against legalizing sports betting, but it has taken a while for the commission to warm up to the idea. The organization had long insisted — most likely fueled by the scandals of the past — that allowing any sort of sports betting would welcome corruption.

States That Allow Sports Betting

As of 2020, more than a third of all states in the U.S. have legalized sports betting, and even more are pending legislative approval. Some allow betting both in-person and online while others allow it only in-person.

The states that allow sports betting in-person only are:

  • Delaware
  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • Arkansas
  • New York

The states that allow sports betting in-person and digitally:

  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • West Virginia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Iowa
  • Oregon
  • Indiana
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Colorado

Meanwhile, New Hampshire and Tennessee are the odd ducks, allowing only mobile sports betting for now.

Four more states have passed laws allowing sports betting in some capacity but are still working on implementing the details:

  • Tennessee
  • North Carolina
  • Washington
  • Virginia

Most of the other states have made some moves toward legalization in the future. The only state that most likely won’t ever legalize the practice is Utah because of their anti-gambling stance being written into their state constitution.

A Look Ahead for Sports Betting

The internet is easier to access now than ever before, especially with smartphones being so ubiquitous. This has all continued to fuel the growth of sports betting across the United States. New Jersey and Pennsylvania now have sports betting industries that handle billions of dollars a year. Sports betting is big business, and it only appears to be expanding here in the U.S.

Industry analysts predict that, within a few more years, around 80% of all U.S. states will have some form of state-sanctioned sports betting on offer to their residents. States have become much more aware that sports betting is great at generating tax revenue, and they’ve realized that they’d be foolish not to jump at that opportunity.

Even before COVID-19 shifted the U.S. economy, mobile sports betting was already becoming a major part of the sports betting ecosystem. But states have been feeling the pressure to open up their gaming options, especially via mobile gaming, and the pandemic only hastened that process for many.

Sports betting monitoring firms are also excited about sports betting moving to more mobile platforms because it means less potential for fraud and more transparency through shared betting data. This might even bring back that “integrity” that so many people were concerned with back when Congress passed PASPA.

No matter what, sports betting does not seem to be going anywhere here in the U.S. It’s a robust, growing industry that people are clamoring for.