Sports Betting For Dummies
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Sports betting can be an incredibly fun hobby. But if you’re doing it to make money, you need to understand that most people who gamble on sporting events end up losing money. That’s how sports books and casinos stay in business after all. But if you learn a little about how bookmakers and betting markets work, develop a strategy, and apply a fair amount of know-how, you can go from being a money-losing dabbler to a knowledgeable gambler who stands a good chance of winning in the long run.

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How to Place Your First Sports Bet

If you’ve never bet on a sporting event, it’s fun and it’s easier than ever to do. If you live in a state with legalized brick-and-mortar sports books, it’s as simple as walking up to the betting counter and placing a bet. If your state hasn’t legalized sports betting businesses, you’ll need to open an account with an online bookmaker.

Some states that have legalized sports betting allow their sports books to offer an online betting app as well. Just know that you won’t be able to place an online bet unless you are physically in the state where that bookmaker is based. If your local bookmaker doesn’t have an online option, or if your state hasn’t legalized domestic sports betting, there are dozens of international bookmakers that are happy to take online bets from American customers.

Don’t worry, your sense of mild trepidation is perfectly normal, but many offshore bookmakers and casinos are reliable and reputable and have been serving American customers for years. Online resources like and can help you identify the best online bookmaker for you. These sites have comprehensive reviews of online bookmakers along with the latest deposit bonus codes. If you just want to get started, three of the most popular and reputable sites that take bets from the United States are Bovada, 5Dimes, and Betonline.

An online betting account is akin to a brokerage account (but way more fun). Once you supply the basic information and establish login credentials, the next step is funding your account so you can place bets against your balance.

Your Online Betting Account

An online betting account is akin to a brokerage account (but way more fun). You sign up, put money in, use your account to execute transactions, and (hopefully) take money out.

After you supply the basic information and establish login credentials, the next step is funding your account so you can place bets against your balance. There are lots of options for depositing money, but the most common and convenient way is with a major credit card or Bitcoin. Be aware there’s usually an extra financial hop between the bookmaker and the U.S. bank that issued your credit card, so you might not recognize the company name associated with the credit card transaction. You’ll also see a service charge for making a deposit with a credit card. Many bookmakers will pass that charge on to you but give you an equivalent account credit.

If you were looking for an excuse to explore crypto-currency, Bitcoin transactions have some major advantages. Bookmakers won’t charge a fee, the maximum deposit amounts are much higher, and there’s often generous deposit bonuses available if you operate with Bitcoin.

Bookmaker bonuses

To tempt customers to join and deposit ever more money, online bookmakers offer an array of enticements by way of keying in bonus codes into the registration and/or deposit forms. Most popular are the bonuses that act as an additional credit toward your account balance, or in some cases, you get access to reduced-vig bets. (The vig is the bookmaker’s fee charged on every bet.) Some bookmakers offer cash-back promotions based on how much you play and how much you lose.

Bonus cash added to your account is yours to bet but not yours to withdraw until you’ve gambled with it a pre-defined number of times. The requirement to cycle your bonus money is known as a rollover requirement, and it’s usually notated as a “25x rollover,” meaning you’d need to place 25 bets with that money before you’d be allowed to withdraw it.

Bonuses are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they’re used by unscrupulous offshore bookmakers to entice players to take a risk on a place with a worse reputation. On the other hand, offshore bookmakers are in gold-rush mode when it comes to the newly accessible U.S. market. The primacy of customer acquisition means they’re sometimes willing to go to great lengths to get new signups, and astute bettors are the beneficiaries.

Withdrawing money

When you bet with a brick-and-mortar bookmaker, you trade a winning bet ticket in for the proceeds, paid with cash, which is counted out and placed into your hand. The rhythm of betting online is very different. When you place a bet, your balance drops, when you win a bet your balance rises. You’ll hopefully bet for a long period of time before you need to reload your account. And if you win? How do you turn your account balance into cold, hard cash?

Your account balance is like having a store credit with a specialty shop. As long as you stay interested in what that shop is selling, store credit is great. But when you’re ready to go to a different store, you need to be able to convert that store credit into cash. That’s where account withdrawals come into play. From the bookmaker’s perspective, withdrawals are bad. They want to give you the impression that withdrawals are as important to them as they are to you, but the reality is that they are hoping you bet a lot, lose a lot, and reload your account often. Once you get established with one or more online bookmakers, you’ll notice a wide variation in how effectively and quickly they process withdrawals.

Unlike deposits, withdrawals are rarely automated or immediate. It’s your money (not counting any bonus cash that hasn’t met rollover requirements), but to get at it, you have to fill out a form that goes into a queue for processing. Bookmakers’ processing cycles can vary, but most of the big ones commit to processing a payout request within a few business days. Once in process, they’ll check that your balance is adequate to cover the payout amount plus any fees, and they make sure your account is in good standing and doesn’t show any fraudulent activity. Most online shops offer multiple payout options: wire transfers, check by mail or courier, or Bitcoin. Because these bookmakers are offshore, it can take several weeks for a check to arrive by regular mail.

The more often you need to make withdrawals, and the faster you want the money in your hand, the more fees get attached to your payout.

Withdrawals are a critical function of an online sports book. If you decide to deposit with a less well-known betting outfit, do a test run with a small piece of your overall bankroll. Make a few bets and then request a partial withdrawal. (You should get one for free once per month or so.) Watch carefully how it goes. How long did you have to wait before your request was processed? Did they process the first request or did it mysteriously get lost in the mail? Did they meet the payout timeframe that they commit to on their website or mobile app? If a call to customer service is required, are they friendly and helpful? If you start running into roadblocks between you and your money, it might be time to consider another shop. If you’re able to deposit, bet, and withdraw easily, you just might have found a keeper.

Is Online Sports Betting Legal for Americans?

Let’s talk about sports betting and the law. For starters, you should understand that state and federal laws pertaining to sports betting are made up of many overlapping and interwoven statutes that only obliquely reference individual bettors. The purpose of the laws is to limit or regulate two main activities that have potential for abuse:

  • Booking (taking) bets for profit
  • Facilitating financial transactions connected to gambling.

The first activity affects you if you’re a bookmaker or if you run a for-profit business that is closely connected to gambling. The second affects you if you’re a bank. Anti-gambling laws were written with these activities in mind because controlling them means limiting potential for corruption and hampering the ability of criminal enterprises to use gaming as a way to launder money. What the laws were not written to do was to punish individuals for placing bets, nor are they used that way today.

In fact, there are no federal laws prohibiting an individual from placing a bet, and the Justice Department has shown no interest in stretching the existing mosaic of laws to prosecute casual bettors. And while every state has anti-gambling laws (mostly written before the Hoover Administration), only a few have been updated to specifically prohibit placing bets on the internet.

Focusing on just those states that have laws available to prosecutors to pursue individual gamblers, there is virtually zero history or intent to do so, and they aren’t afraid to admit it. Washington’s law is one of the harshest, as it makes casual betting a felony. But state officials in Olympia have said outright they have neither the resources nor the inclination to chase people placing bets for fun in the privacy of their home. Legal experts have also expressed concern that even if state prosecutors could convince a jury to convict an individual bettor, it would likely run into First Amendment problems on appeal.

In fact, over the last 50 years, you could count prosecutions of individual bettors on one hand. And, in every case I could find, the prosecutions were motivated by something other than betting (Think: Al Capone getting charged with tax evasion). Some experts argue that any effort to prosecute individual bettors would equally expose millions of fantasy football participants to legal jeopardy. After all, by the letter of the law, sports betting puts gamblers in just as much legal peril as a fantasy football league does. Even if the fantasy league organizer is distributing 100 percent of the entry fees to the winners, the individual participants are doing something that matches many states’ definition of gambling: You’re risking money on an event whose outcome you have no control over.

If you’re the type who is tempted to turn yourself in at the nearest police station for driving a few miles over the speed limit, maybe sports betting isn’t for you. But provided you’re betting at recreational amounts, and as long as you’re not booking bets yourself, and if you can be trusted to not commit tax fraud or embezzlement in connection with your sports betting hobby, all evidence and probability says you should be in the clear.

And now for the obligatory disclaimer: This article is just an opinion and shouldn’t be considered legal advice. Consult an attorney in your state for actual legal advice.

Sports Betting Odds

Every sports bet you make has a set of odds that get locked in at the time the bookmaker accepts your bet. The odds concept is very simple: It’s the ratio of the amount of money you get paid relative to the amount of money you risk. Unfortunately, odds notation is more confusing than necessary for two reasons. One, because different parts of the world describe odds differently, and two, American bookmakers have standardized on moneyline odds, which are the hardest to get the hang of.

  • Fractional odds give you a simple ratio of reward to risk in a positive fraction reduced to the lowest number possible. A 6/2 bet would be reduced to 3/1. So, a winning 3/1 (pronounced “three to one”) bet means you profit $3 for every $1 you risk. If you see fractional odds of less than one, it means the bet will net you less than $1 per dollar risked. So, a 2/5 bet means you profit 40 cents for every $1 you risk.

Fractional odds are occasionally listed as non-integers. So, a bookmaker might list a bet at 3.5/1 odds instead of 7/1, but, if you remember your fractions, they mean the same thing.

  • Moneyline odds describe the ratio of risk and reward in terms of the number 100. It’s usually described as “in terms of $100,” but don’t be misled, as no sportsbook has a $100 minimum bet or requires betting in increments of $100.

When you bet on a favorite (any bet where you profit less than you risk), the moneyline always has a minus sign, and the number indicates the amount of dollars you’d have to risk to win $100. So, if you place a $10 bet at -200 odds, being on the winning side means you get your $10 back plus $5 in profits.

When you bet on an underdog (a bet where you profit the same or more than you risk), the number either starts a plus sign (or sometimes no sign), and is the amount you’d profit if you bet $100. So if you bet $10 on a +150 bet, you’d get your $10 wager back plus profits of $15.

If you’re looking for the best trains, cathedrals, and betting odds, look no further than our old-world pals. European Odds give you a simple number that represents the total amount the bookmaker owes you when your bet wins, including profits plus your original wager. So, a 3/1 fractional bet is listed as 4.00 European odds. A winning $10 bet at 4.00 odds means the bookmaker owes you $40 (your $10 wager plus $30 in profits). European odds for favorite bets are listed as numbers less than 2.00. European odds are super helpful when calculating odds on multi-event bets like parlays.

Fractional Odds Moneyline Odds European Odds Total Payout on a $10 Bet
1/4 -400 1.25 $12.50
4/5 -125 1.80 $18
10/11 -110 1.91 19.09
1/1 +100 (not -100!) 2.00 $20
3/2 +150 2.50 $25
10/1 +1,000 20.00 $20


About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Kevin Blackwood is a highly successful blackjack and poker player. He has written for several gaming magazines and is the author of four gambling books.

Swain Scheps is a games enthusiast, numbers guru, sports betting expert and the author of Business Intelligence For Dummies and Sports Betting For Dummies.

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