Here is a great tip: When you simply want to bet on one player or team to win a game then you are betting the money line. If the team you bet on wins the game, then you win your bet. This happens regardless of how many points separate the winner from the loser. Since one team is almost always considered the favorite, the odds are adjusted to reflect this. You don’t win as much by betting on the favorite because the bookmakers expect them to win. Here’s an example of money line odds on an NBA game between the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks where Boston is the favorite;
What do these numbers mean? Well, a ‘minus’ in front of the money line indicates that this team is the favorite, while a ‘plus’ sign indicates the underdog. If you wanted to bet on the favored Boston Celtics, you would have to bet $330 for the chance to win only $100. If you wanted to bet on the underdog Atlanta Hawks however, you would only need to risk $100 for the chance to win $400.
Betting the money line is a great way to win a lot of money if you have a strong instinct that the underdog team is going to win the game. In one 2008 NBA playoff game the Celtics did in fact play the Hawks, and in one game of that series the money line on the Hawks was (+4000). If you had bet $100 on the Hawks that day and they had won the game, you would have made $4000!
In the famous Super Bowl upset of February 2008, the New England Patriots were expected to defeat the New York Giants by a wide margin. The money line on the Giants was about (+330) that day. But the underdog Giants beat the undefeated Patriots. If you had bet $100 on the Giants in that game you would have gotten your $100 back plus you would have been paid an additional $330 in winnings!
There are instances though where neither team is the favorite. In these cases the moneyline would be about (-110) for both teams, meaning you would risk $110 for the chance to win $100. Risking $110 to win $100 is the standard bet for almost every sportsbook when two players or teams are evenly matched and neither is the favorite. You might be wondering why you aren’t allowed to just bet $100 for the chance to win $100 in an evenly matched contest. For an explanation of why the books require that you risk $110 to win $100, see the section titled How do Sportsbooks Work.
Now it so happens that risking $110 to win $100 is also the standard for point spread bets. The reason for that is very simple. It’s because with a point spread, extra points are given to the underdog in order to make the game once again more or less evenly matched. Take a look at the section on The Point Spread for more on this subject.