Understanding Moneyline Betting and its Strategies
With the proliferation of online betting, everyone from professional gamblers to complete newbies are diving into the world of online sports betting, but some of the terms and phrases can be complicated. What is a spread? What does over/under really mean? And, what is a moneyline?
Betting against the spread means you are betting on how much a certain team is going to win or lose by. Betting on the over/under means you are betting on how many points (or runs or goals) are going to be scored in one particular game. But, betting on the moneyline is the most simple of all, it simply means you are going to bet on which team is going to win, or lose, a game.
While spread odds are popular for betting on football or basketball, moneyline odds are more popular for lower scoring sports, particularly baseball and soccer. In a lower scoring sport, it is not especially interesting, or even relevant, to predict how much a team will win by. In soccer, a team can dominate a match and win 1-0. In baseball, spread betting involves an incredibly complicated series of fractions that is not accessible to even some of its most diehard fans. So, bettors frequently prefer betting on who will win, rather than by how much, and that’s where moneyline betting becomes your best bet.
What is moneyline betting?
Even if you are not acquainted with the term, you are familiar with the concept of moneyline betting. In its most basic form, moneyline betting means you are betting on someone to win, or someone to lose. If your friend says “I’ll give you three to one odds on ten dollars that you won’t get a grade of 90 or above on the next math test” that is a moneyline bet. One person is taking one side, his friend is taking the other, and there is a price, but no point spread.
To explain moneyline odds, let’s use an example from a randomly selected football game. The Green Bay Packers against the Chicago Bears. The Packers, one of the best teams in the NFL, are significantly better than the Chicago Bears, who are slightly below average.
If you wanted to bet on the spread odds for this match, Green Bay is a 7.5 point favorite. If you wanted to bet the over/under, the expected number of points is 45. But, suppose you had a feeling that not only is Chicago not going to lose this game by eight points or more, you actually think they have a legitimate chance to win. In this scenario, you should be placing a bet on the moneyline odds. A spread bet on that match will approximately double your money, minus a small percentage. But if you are betting on Chicago to win, they are as much as a +340 underdog, meaning for every dollar you bet, you would stand to win 3.4 times that amount, if the Bears were to win the game outright.
Who are the favorites and the underdogs in moneyline betting?
When it comes to moneyline betting, sometimes, to a beginner, a number like -2000 or +250 can seem intimidating or complex, but understanding moneyline odds is actually incredibly simple: The minus (-) sign refers to the favorite, while the plus sign (+) is referencing the underdog. The dollar amount next to those signs is always based on a $100 bet, even if you are actually betting far less than $100.
Let’s use a Michigan-Bowling Green basketball game as an example.
Michigan is considered to be a much better team and is playing the game at home. It would be an incredibly big upset for them to lose, so Michigan is a -1800 favorite, while Bowling Green +980 underdog. What does that mean? If you were to place a bet on Michigan to win, the minus sign means that you would need to bet $1800 to win one hundred dollars in profit. Essentially, you are betting $18 to win each dollar because they are a massive favorite. However, if you want to bet on Bowling Green to win, the plus sign indicates that for every $100 you bet, you would win $980 in profit. Again, the minus sign is for the favorite, the plus sign is for the underdog.
How are moneyline odds calculated?
The odds we have been discussing so far have been American moneyline odds. However, you may also encounter slightly different types of odds, like decimal odds or fractional odds. These are all terms that ultimately explain the same thing differently. But, in order to understand the difference, let’s learn about converting American odds to decimal odds and fractional odds.
Let’s take a college football game between Florida and Kentucky as an example. Florida is a -2000 favorite, while Kentucky is a +1000 underdog.
In converting moneyline odds for underdogs, you ignore the plus symbol and divide the number by 100, then add 1. So, in the case of Kentucky at +1000, you divide the 1000 by 100, to make 10, and then add the 1 to make 11. In decimal odds, you would see Kentucky listed at 11.00. In fractional odds, that would make Kentucky an 11/1 bet, meaning for every dollar you bet you would stand to win eleven dollars (ten in profit). This implies that their chance of winning, or implied odds, are approximately 9 percent.
To convert the moneyline odds of a favorite, you ignore the minus symbol and divide 100 by that number, then add one, so in the case of Florida at -2000, you would see the 100 divided by 2000, which equals 0.05, and you add one to make 1.05 in decimal odds. In fractional odds, Florida would be listed at 1/20. That would mean that for every dollar you bet on Florida, you would stand to win five cents in profit.
What are the most common strategies for a moneyline bettor?
There are many different strategies associated with helping you win moneyline bets. Here, we will go through five of them starting from the easiest and working our way to more complicated: Betting small on big underdogs, finding value in the favorites, focusing on profits as opposed to wins, finding value odds, and betting futures.Strategy 1. Make small bets on big underdogs
The make small bets on big underdogs strategy is pretty simple; find underdogs who you think have a puncher’s chance of winning, and place relatively small bets on them. For instance, take an Oregon vs. Oregon St. game as an example. Oregon is a 13.5 point favorite over their rivals. If you like Oregon St., then betting them against the spread would only yield a -110 moneyline. However, if you think that Oregon St. has a legitimate chance to win, betting them on the moneyline would yield as large as a +380 payout. Instead of a $100 bet paying out $90 in profit, you would stand to win $380 if the underdog prevails.
Of course, the issue here is that large underdogs lose far more often than they win. So, what you might want to do here is place a series of bets on underdogs whose chances you like. Suppose, you made three bets on +380 favorites, like Oregon St. To use a round number let’s say you bet $50 on each game. You have bet a total of $150. If you win just one of the three +380 bets, you will end up with $240, a profit of 60%. If you win two of the three bets, you will more than triple your investment.Strategy 2. Find the value in the favorites
Another moneyline betting strategy is finding value favorites. How do you find the value in a favorite? By betting a favorite on the moneyline, you are guaranteed to be looking at a smaller profit. Any number higher than -100 means you are wagering more than you can potentially win. Even a relatively small betting favorite, like a -110 fave, means you are risking $110 to win $100. But not all favorites are created equally. Many times you want to place a bet on a favorite, but the spread is just too high. Just because you think a team is going to win, doesn’t mean you are certain they will win by 11 points.
For example, the Browns play the Jaguars and are favored by 6.5 points. You think that the Browns are significantly better than the Jaguars, but they are prone to winning close games, so the spread doesn’t interest you. However you can find a moneyline of -215 for Cleveland to win outright. You are risking $2.15 for every dollar you bet on the Browns, but they don’t need to cover a spread and you are fairly confident they will win the game outright.Strategy 3. It’s all about the profits, not the wins
Many times professional bettors brag about their winning records. Of course, everyone wants to win more than they lose, but the only thing that matters with moneyline bets is winning more than you lose. By nature, someone who frequently bets on underdogs will have a better record than someone who bets on favorites, but they might see less overall profit.
For example, Penn State plays Drexel in college basketball and Penn State is a serious favorite. Drexel is +900 against the moneyline, while Penn State is a -1430 favorite. Of course, Penn State is, hypothetically, going to win this matchup far more often than they will lose. But if one person always bets the Penn State moneyline and another bets the Drexel moneyline, then the person who bet the underdog would only need it to win once out of every nine times to come out ahead of the Penn State bettor. That bettor might be 1-8, but he’d be beating the 8-1 bettor in profits. It feels nice to win, but it’s far more important to be profitable.Strategy 4. Find moneyline odds that seem a little “odd”
When you are considering betting on a game, before you even check out the line, write down your guess of what you think the line will be. Then go check the lines and do this for as many games as possible. Guess all of the NFL lines on Sunday for the following week, for example. Generally, a savvy bettor will be in the ballpark, no pun intended, on many of these guesses. But, if you find one or two games that stand out to you, those are the games you should be focusing on.
For example, the Chargers are playing the Bills, and the best moneyline available is +210 for the Chargers when you assumed it would only be -180. So, you would stand to make $2.10 profit for every dollar you put on the Chargers. In this case, betting on the Chargers on the spread at +5.5 would only yield -110, so you are more than doubling your money by betting on the Chargers with the moneyline. Instead of profiting about $90 on a $100 bet you would make $210 in profit.Strategy 5. There’s money in betting the futures
Futures moneyline betting can be both more fun than betting individual games and more profitable. What are futures? Instead of betting a team to win tomorrow’s game, you are picking which team will win their division at the end of the season, or betting on which player will win MVP of the upcoming season.
The highest number you can generally get on any team on an NFL Sunday is +350. But if you wanted to place a bet on the Super Bowl winner during the regular season, +350 will usually be the odds of the favorite. Would you rather get your money in on, say, the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs to win the Super Bowl? Or would you rather your +350 bet be on a road underdog playing a much better team, say, the Chicago Bears playing at the Green Bay Packers?
The numbers for futures bets go much higher, also. A 6-4 team on the cusp of the playoff race on Thanksgiving weekend might yield +8000 odds to win the Super Bowl, essentially an 80-1 payout. The potential winnings are far greater to root for a good, but undervalued, team to win it all than they are if you win a bet on the biggest underdog of the year, in a single game.
What factors should moneyline bettors be aware of?
The best bettor is an informed bettor, no one who just guesses or plays hunches will ever be successful in the long term. The key to long-term success is to know the most important factors that go into analyzing and comparing the odds, and to use those when you are making betting decisions. Such key factors include picking a side in a game with no clear favorite, comparing odds between different sportsbooks, taking advantage of home field advantage, following line movements, being up to date on team news, and following trends in order to better pick futures. Here are the seven most important things you need to know:1. Pick a side in games with no clear favorite
A game has no clear favorite when a spread, particularly in football or basketball, is in the range of pick ‘em or one point, you can frequently find underdog moneyline odds for either team if you look everywhere. Essentially, you are picking the winner of the game, with the chance to essentially double your money if you win.
Let’s use a Louisville-Boston College football game as an example. The oddsmakers have determined that these teams are essentially even and you can actually find multiple lines where each team is favored. If you like the Louisville side of this matchup, you can pick them to win for as low as -105, essentially the lowest odds you can get for a favorite. You are getting 95% of your initial investment in profit if you win this bet. However, if you like the Boston College side, you can get them for as low as -102. Neither team has traditional favorite odds, but with the moneyline close to -100, you are just picking the winner of a very close matchup.2. Compare the bettings odds between different sites
One of the great things about betting on sports these days is that there are dozens of options to place your bets. This means that if you are willing to do the research, you can compare and contrast the moneyline odds on the same games and find some incredible values.
This works for almost every game, but let’s use a randomly selected football game as an example, a college game between TCU and Kansas. In every sports book Kansas is a major underdog, but you can get four different numbers at different sites. One site has Kansas as a +880 underdog, another has them at +1000, a third lists them at +1100, but you can even find them as high as +1300. By finding the best number available, you can often increase your profits by double-digit amounts.3. Take advantage of home field advantage
For a plethora of different reasons, home field advantage is going away in most sports. What used to be a daunting task, going into a rival’s stadium and winning is becoming easier and easier across the globe. There are a number of factors to take into play here. Which teams still have a home field advantage statistically?
In the NBA, the Denver Nuggets have historically had the largest advantage because teams struggle with the mile-high altitude on short turnaround. But the Denver Broncos do not get the same advantage in the NFL, because teams arrive earlier in the week to grow accustomed to the altitude. A team with a more raucous fanbase like the Seattle Seahawks may have a distinct advantage, while a team in a more transient area, like Arizona, might see more road fans of, say, the Steelers, at a Cardinals game than there are Cardinals fans.
Traditionally, a home game is worth 3 points in football and about 2 in basketball but those numbers keep shrinking in most places every year, and you need to know where and when it’s still a factor.4. Pay close attention to line movements
Many times before a game, a moneyline moves in one direction or another. It’s not just important to know how the line moved, you need to determine why the line moved. Is all the smart Vegas money being bet on one particular team? Do the experts know a player is injured before the general public did?
Why do betting lines move? A moneyline will generally move because too many people are betting on one side of a matchup. Suppose UConn is a +240 underdog against Duke, and many people are betting UConn because they have upset Duke at long odds in the past. Books will frequently change the lines to entice bettors to take the other team. So the UConn line might go down to +210, while Duke will become a smaller favorite to try and attract betting on that side.
One piece of advice is to place bets as early as possible, so you can get in before the public money. However, if you are the type of bettor who tends to go in the opposite direction of the general public, it might be wise to wait until they move the line, so you can place a bet at the new, improved odds.5. Follow every team like they’re your favorite team, or find someone who does
Imagine that you are a huge New York Mets fan. You know everything about the team, you can name the 25 man roster, you know the minor league prospects inside and out, and you know all of the manager’s tendencies. So, you might know that on Thursday afternoons the team likes to sit a certain player, if they played a game the previous night. When that information gets out nationally, a team’s odds will go up. But, if you already knew that, you have the chance to bet against them before the news has been confirmed. You simply have access to more information than someone who doesn’t follow the ins and outs of that team.
To be an expert moneyline gambler you need to have that level of information about every team you intend to gamble on. If the Panthers are a +210 underdog, and Christian McCaffrey, their star player, is questionable to play, and the multiple beat writers you follow on social media strongly imply he will sit out the game, then you know to wait until he is ruled out so you can bet on the Panthers at a higher number, say +240, later in the week.6. Know which teams actually want to win
This advice sounds counterintuitive but actually makes sense. You can bet the same amount on a preseason NBA game than you can on the Super Bowl. In both cases, your bets might be worth equal amounts, but while the teams in the Super Bowl are trying their best, a team in a meaningless game might be trying out new plays, or determining who will make their roster. It can be very frustrating to risk your hard earned money on a team that isn’t trying to win a game, so you need to factor in who is trying.
Every college football fan knows the perils of betting on the minor bowl games. It can be very difficult to know which teams are trying and which have one foot in the offseason. Perhaps, a coach has moved on and the favorite has an interim head coach. Read media quotes to see how seriously the players and coaches are taking the game, and research each team’s record in recent bowl games. If you research carefully, you might bet on a team giving it their best effort, against a team mailing in their final game.7. Try to predict the future(s)
As we’ve discussed, one of the most fun, and lucrative forms of moneyline betting is by betting on futures. The beauty of futures is that so many factors can change a line, and if you can anticipate them you can make +1000 bets, that have the same chances of winning as a +250 bet.
Suppose the MLB offseason is scheduled to start and the Atlanta Braves are +1000 to win the next season’s World Series. However, there is chatter that the Braves are in the market for two of the top free agents on the market. The Braves are being valued at +1000 based on who is on their current roster. So, if you are supposing that they will sign at least one of those players, you can lock in the value at +1000 before they sign one of those top free agents and the number drops to +900 or +800. If you can accurately pick where players will sign in the future, particularly with NBA betting where one elite player can turn an also-ran into a title contender, you can buy tons of value, simply by being ahead of the curve.
Time to place your bet
Ultimately, betting on the moneyline is simply betting on which side will win. So, what is the best sport to begin betting the moneyline on? While moneyline betting is a valuable option in every sport, not all sports are created equally when it comes to the moneyline. For instance, while betting on the spread is a viable option in football or basketball, it is far less popular in baseball or soccer.
In baseball, there is a tremendous variance of scores, a pitcher can have a bad day, a team can have a miserable inning in the field, perhaps a team down 10-1 takes out their starters in the sixth inning. While even the greatest baseball teams will lose by huge margins multiple times per season, a great football team will rarely get routed. So, with baseball, and with soccer, simply because of how low scoring the game is, moneyline betting is truly the best bet.
However, in basketball or football, you can compare and contrast dozens of different spreads and moneylines and find the moneyline that works for you.
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