New to sports betting? Geoff Ulrich provides definitions for commonly used sports betting terms to help you get started.

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Action is a term used to indicate that you have money or some kind of monetary interest riding on a game, or in the case of player props, a specific player's performance. 

Example: “I have action on the Chiefs.”

The moniker of action (as opposed to just saying I have money riding on this game) is used by bettors to indicate that the act of betting has given the outcome of the game in question a bigger meaning. It has, so to speak, “created action”.

No action (sportsbooks) 

Sportsbooks will at times use the term action in reference to bets that have a stipulation whereby they can become void or cancelled under certain circumstances. “No Action” clauses exist in certain sports like baseball, where a sportsbook can cancel or void a bet if the starting pitcher changes prior to the first pitch being thrown.

Against the spread (ATS)

An against the spread bet is an indication that the bet you have made is one that is using the artificial spread provided by the sportsbooks to handicap the game. 

Bettors who are making an ATS bet are no longer betting on a team to win but instead betting on them to cover (or defeat) the handicap instead. Betting against the spread is an alternative option to betting on the moneyline, where you are wagering simply on which player or team will win straight up without any handicap or spread involved. 

Example: “He made an against the spread bet and took the Giants at +3.5.”

This ATS bet would win even if the Giants lose as long as the point differential at the end of the game is 3.5 points or less. For example, a final score of Giants 21, Eagles 24 would pay out a Giants +3.5 ATS bet.


Arbitrage is an economic term that involves the act of buying and then selling an item to profit off slight differences in prices among different marketplaces. In sports betting, arbitrage refers to the act of placing two bets at the exact same time to take advantage of differences in marketplace odds.

To make an arbitrage wager, a bettor needs to place two wagers. The initial bet is placed on a certain side of a specific game, match, or player prop, and a second bet would then be placed on the opposite side of the same wager.

Most arbitrage wagers involve using multiple sportsbooks. This is so you can take advantage of different odds set by the various sportsbooks for the same sporting events. The arbitrage is found in the different odds associated with the same game or sides among different sportsbooks.

Example: “He took advantage of the arbitrage that existed on BetMGM and DraftKings in the Mets/Yankees game.”

Asian handicap betting

Asian handicap betting refers to a unique betting line which allows bettors to split their bet over two different spread numbers. The bet is named as such due to its popularity in Asia.

Asian handicap lines are seen very often in sports like soccer and hockey. In soccer, if a team is favored by a goal, the Asian handicap line will often be set at (-0.5, -1). If you bet an Asian handicap line with a (-0.5, -1.0) spread, then half of your bet would be placed on each spread.

Example: In the scenario described above, if the team in question wins by one goal, they will cover half the first part of the bet which is set at a 0.5 spread. The second half of the bet, which is set at -1.0, will be graded as a tie or push.

Bankroll management 

Bankroll management refers to the process of managing and protecting your capital (a.k.a. your bankroll) in sports betting.  Managing your wagering limits (unit sizing), line shopping, and being conscious of how much risk you allocate to a single bet or game are all important for proper bankroll management.

Betting line

The term betting line refers to the odds, totals, or spreads that a sportsbook has listed for a wager. The betting line for any specific wager can take many different forms given the number of different bets that are available on any given slate, but every betting line will have odds for both sides of the bet.

Over/under betting lines will include a total for the bettor to place a wager against. Spread bets will have a spread, allocated to both sides of a game, that must be covered for either side to win.

Example: “The betting line for the game was set at Chiefs -3.5 at -110 odds or Giants +3.5 at -110 odds.”

Back door cover

A back door cover is a term that refers to games where meaningless, late-game scoring works to move the final score back in favor of the underdog and for them to then cover the spread. In a back door cover scenario, the underdog team will cover but still lose the game.

Example: “The last-minute TD didn’t change the result of the game, but it did allow the Browns to complete the back door cover on the +3.5 spread.”


If a team “covers”, it means that they have beaten the spread. It can also be used to indicate that you need a team to beat the spread in an upcoming matchup.  Saying that you “just need a team to cover” indicates that you have made an against the spread wager on a specific event or team. Saying that a team covered indicates that they were successful and that you won you ATS bet.

Examples: “The Giants lost the game but covered” or “I need the Giants to cover today.”

Key numbers

Key numbers is an against the spread term that refers to popular winning margins in American football (and sometimes other sports). Since there are limited ways to score in the NFL and college football, games tend to end with specific winning margins more often than not, with seven and three being the most common winning margins.

When betting against the spread in football, it’s often important to keep these benchmarks in mind, as certain lines will become more attractive based on how they correlate with key numbers. 

Key numbers are also an important part of betting teasers. When you move spread lines in a six-point teaser to correlate with certain key numbers, that is often referred to as a “Wong teaser”. This is based on the work of Stanford Wong, who introduced the principle of key numbers back in 2011.


Pick'em refers to a circumstance that occurs when both teams are determined by the odds to be equally as likely to win a given game.

When the odds reach pick'em status, there will be no handicap or spread associated with the bet, as neither team is favored. A true pick'em will also have equal moneyline odds on both sides (e.g., -110/-110). In this scenario, outside of using alternate lines, any bettor making a wager on a game that is at pick'em status would essentially be making a straight up moneyline bet.


The moneyline references the odds that a bettor would use to wager on the outcome of the match.

A moneyline bet is the most straightforward bet you can make on a sportsbook. In a moneyline bet, you are picking who you think will win a specific matchup. The moneyline then becomes the odds associated with that outcome.

Examples: “The moneyline odds for Florida tonight was set at +100” or “Florida failed to cover, but since they won the game, they were a winner on the moneyline.”


The spread is a term used in sports betting that refers to artificial handicaps made by sportsbooks in an attempt to even out a matchup between opponents. The spread is essentially oddsmakers giving bettors an estimate of what they think the margin of victory or defeat will be in a game.

Example: “The Giants are underdogs this Sunday and have a spread of +3.5, and the Chiefs are the favorites in that game with a -3.5 spread."


The over/under is a total set by sportsbooks which indicates the total number of points expected to be scored in a game. Wagering on an over/under is essentially betting on whether the total score for both teams will be over or under the total at the end of the game.

An over/under can change based on the amount of money and bets coming in on either side. A flood of bets on the under will often cause the total to move lower, while a high volume of bets on the over will often cause the total to rise.

Example: “The over/under on the Chiefs-Giants game tomorrow opened at 53.0 but has since risen to 54.5 points.”


A parlay is a wager that combines two or more bets into a single bet at bigger odds. Parlays can be made by combining almost any two wagers, but the wagers usually cannot be from the same game or event. Parlays must consist of at least two bets but can involve a nearly unlimited number of legs.

As parlays grow in size, the payouts will become greater, but your odds of hitting the parlay bet will also diminish drastically. Online parlay calculators can be useful tools in helping to determine the payouts associated with your parlay and the implied probability of winning your bet.

Same game parlay

same game parlay is a parlay bet that includes multiple legs from the same game. This is in contrast to a regular parlay outlined above that has multiple legs from different sporting events. Same game parlays are a newer phenomenon which have risen in popularity alongside the legalization of online sports betting in the United States.

Same game parlays have an advantage in some respects over regular parlays, as they allow bettors to build a correlated wager within a single game. Correlating events means that if any one of your picks were to occur, then then it would also increase the probability of the other events in your parlay happening as well.


teaser refers to a bet where sports bettors agree to move the line on multiple against the spread wagers, combining those bets into a single parlay bet. Teaser bets give sports bettors the ability to move the line on a spread bet but at the cost of smaller payouts and with the agreement that their bet must include multiple legs. A teaser is essentially an exchange of points for volume.

Teaser bets are mostly an NFL phenomenon. Understanding the concept of key numbers in NFL spread betting can increase your chances of being a successful teaser bettor.

Buying points

Buying points in sports betting refers to against the spread bets where the bettor improves the rate of the spread in return for worse odds on the payout. When you buy points on an against the spread bet, you are improving your chances of covering the spread but at the cost of lessoning your payout should your bet win.

Example: “I bought points and moved the spread on the Chiefs from -3.5 to -2.5.”

Round robin

round robin bet is when you create multiple parlays from a series of selections on a sportsbook. The bet gets its name from the round-robin tournament format featured in events like the World Cup and WGC Match Play. In those events, every team is initially placed inside a starting group and then forced to play each team exactly once. 

In a round robin bet, you are creating your own group and system of matchups, except with bets instead of teams. Round robins need to include at least three bets, but depending on what sportsbook you are using, a round robin can include a near limitless number of legs.

In a round robin bet, if one of your selections loses, not all of your bets will necessarily lose. That’s because a round robin is made up of multiple parlay bets, and not every selection will be involved in every parlay. In this way, round robin bets provide a little extra security than a traditional parlay but require larger investments, as you are essentially making multiple parlay bets at the same time in a round robin.


The total is a number set by the sportsbook which indicates the combined number of points they expect to be scored by both teams in a specific game. This number allows bettors to take a side (over/under) and wager against the total.

Example: “The total in the Giants-Chiefs game this Sunday is set at 54.5 points.”


The favorite is the side of a moneyline bet that is favored by the sportsbook to win the match. The favorite is referred to as such because they are seen as the side more likely to win.

As a result, the favorite’s line will have negative odds (-) attached to it, and thus indicate their status as favorite. These negative odds will always have a worse payout than the positive odds that you will see associated with an underdog.

Trey Lance

September 18, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) during the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In an against the spread bet, the favorite will always be the side that is asked to cover additional points. The negative sign (-) is again used to indicate which side is the favorite in an against the spread bet.

Example: “The 49ers are the favorite and are -3.5 ATS” or “The 49ers are favored to win the game at -150 on the moneyline.”


The underdog is the side of the bet that is considered less likely to win. As a result, the underdog will almost always have a line that is represented by positive odds (+). These positive odds will payout better than the negative odds line that is associated with the favorite. 

In an against the spread bet, the underdog will always be the side that is given points (also indicated with a + sign) as opposed to the favorite, which is always asked to cover an additional number of points in an ATS bet. 

Example: “The Giants are the underdogs with a +3.5 spread.”


A futures bet is a wager that is placed on an event with a starting date at some point in the near or distant future, hence the name.

Futures bets can be made on a variety of different events and outcomes, but they are most commonly made on an outcome or award that will be determined after the end of an entire season of a given sport.

Patrick Mahomes

Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, US; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) against the Philadelphia Eagles during Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Some examples of futures bets in the NFL include betting on a team's win total for the coming season, whether or not a team will make the playoffs, which team will win the Super Bowl, and season-long awards like MVP, Rookie of the Year, or Coach of the Year.

Example: “He placed a futures bet on Patrick Mahomes to win MVP back in May.”

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Hedging is the act of securing insurance and mitigating risk on your initial bet. Another way to look at it is that hedging allows a bettor to ensure profit or reduce risk but at the cost of reducing the potential profit you would have received from you initial bet if you did not hedge. When you hedge, you are purposely deciding to reduce total potential profit to secure better odds at lesser profit.

Hedging often involves placing a bet on the other side of the bet from your initial wager. Normally, this extra bet would occur when the odds in a game, match, or tournament have shifted on the opposite side of your initial bet, which then allows you to bet them at a better price than they were prior. 

With many online sportsbooks now offering cash out options, bettors can also choose to hedge on some of their initial investment by cashing out some or all of their profit before the actual event ends.


The term chalk is used in betting and daily fantasy circles to refer to a popular pick or side. In betting, the term is used when one side of a game of the tends to get an overwhelming amount of the bets or action.

Example: “The Chiefs moneyline was a chalk bet last week, as more money was bet on them than any other team in the league."

Closing line value

Closing line value, often referred to as CLV, is when you are able to bet a side at better odds than they were available at directly prior to the game or match starting (a.k.a. the closing odds). Achieving closing line value can be an important part of being a profitable sports bettor by essentially paying a better price than the majority of bettors in the long run to generate more profit and more often.

You can calculate the extent of the closing line value you achieved by comparing the initial odds and implied probabilities compared to the actual closing line odds just prior to the start of the game or match.

Each-way bet

Each-way bets are a type of wager that can be found in lots of larger field sporting events like NASCAR, horse racing, and golf. Whereas a regular outright win bet in golf is just one bet with the payout completely dependent on whether or not the golfer wins the event, an each-way bet consists of two-bets: a win bet and a place bet.

In an each-way bet, you can lose the outright portion of your bet but still get paid on the placing portion of your bet. For example, in a PGA golf tournament each-way bet, you can get paid out for the placement portion of the bet even if your golfer doesn't win as long as he or she finishes within the placement requirements. Each-ways will often have vastly different placement requirements and odds depending on the sport for which they're being offered.


dead-heat refers to when players or participants in a larger field event tie with each other. When this occurs, the dead-heat rules will then be applied to determine payouts for that bet. Dead-heats occur a lot in golf, a sport where you can bet on where a golfer will place at the end of a round or event. 

A normal dead-heat rule would see you split your bet depending on two factors: the number of golfers that your player has tied with and the stipulations that applied to your initial bet in regards to placing.

For example, if you place a top-10 bet on a specific golfer, he could finish ninth but tie with two other people. Since those three players occupy the ninth, 10th, and 11th places in the standings, and there are only 10 official spots in the top 10, your bet would grade out with two-thirds of its original payout. If your golfer had tied with three other golfers, your bet would then grade out with half its its original payout. 

Expected value

Expected value refers to the expected average profit or loss to be gained from a bet, which can be expressed in both positive and negative terms. 

A positive expected value bet is often referred to as a +EV bet. When you make a +EV bet, it's expected for that bet to be profitable in the long run. In essence, if you were to place the same bet every day over a large sample, eventually you would profit.

A negative EV bet is just the opposite. It's a bet that would be expected to lose money over the long term.

Example: “Even though the Chiefs lost, his moneyline bet was +EV.”

Prop bet

Prop betting is the act of betting on an event that takes place inside of or during a game or sporting event. Prop bets involve betting on events that take place inside the game but will differ from traditional point spread and total bets that deal only with the final outcome.

In even more simplistic terms, prop bets work by asking us simple over/under and yes/no questions related to a player or team’s performance. For example, an anytime TD scorer prop is one of the most popular forms of football prop betting and involves answering a very simple question: will a specific player score a TD in a specific game?

LeBron James

May 22, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) shoots the ball against the Denver Nuggets during the first quarter in game four of the Western Conference Finals for the 2023 NBA playoffs at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Player props work very similarly to game totals in that you are betting on either side of a projected total. Player totals are related to specific statistical categories and ask bettors to determine whether or not a player will go over that number in a specific stat.

For example, Lebron James could have his three-point prop bet set at 1.5 for his game against Cleveland, and he would need to make two or more three-point shots for the over to hit on that particular prop bet.

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A bet is labeled a push when the outcome results in neither side of the bet being labeled a winner. Pushes are most often seen in spread and total betting when the number lands directly on the over/under or spread. Bets that result in a push see the bet refunded to the bettor with no profit or loss associated. 

Example: “His $10 ATS bet on Giants +3 pushed since they lost 20-17.”

Line movement

Line movement refers to a change in odds, point spreads, or totals from the time of release up until the start of the game. Line movement occurs when a large portion of the bets or action comes in on one specific side of an event. Tracking line movement can give you an idea of how certain subsets of bettors are placing their wagers.

Live betting 

Live betting, also known as in-play or in-game betting, refers to the act of placing a bet while an event is already in progress. While live betting has been around for over a decade, its prominence in the sports betting industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 10 or so years due to the recent advancement of online betting technology.

Now that online sportsbooks all have advanced technology and algorithms that can respond to changing action in seconds, bettors can pretty much place a bet on a game at almost any point from start to finish.

Since live betting odds can move quickly, live betting does require an element of speed and fast decision-making. Depending on how the game or match is going, live betting can also be used as a method to hedge against an already made pre-event bet.

Matchup betting 

Matchup betting is the act of betting on a side in an artificially made matchup by a sportsbook or betting provider. Matchups take two different people from the same sporting event and put them up against each other in a specific category. 

Matchup betting is most popular in sports like MMA, golf, and NASCAR.

Implied probability 

Implied probability refers to the chance a team has of winning an event or match. This probability in betting is determined through calculation and expressed by the sportsbooks through the odds applied to each team in a game or match.

Implied probability is important to understand, as it can be used, among other things, to determine what kind of success rate you need to be profitable long-term.

Reverse line movement

Reverse line movement is a phenomenon that occurs when a majority of the bets being made come in on one side of a game or match, but the line still adjusts towards the team who is receiving the lesser amount of the bets.

When this occurs, it's often a sign that large bets and/or bets made by sharp bettors who have winning track records or are respected by sportsbooks are betting on the side with less total money being bet or fewer total bets. Sportsbooks will often recognize this kind of action and then adjust their own lines to reflect the opinions and wagering of that respected group.


The term “steam” refers to when heavy wagering on one side of an event causes lines to move in drastic fashion. Oftentimes when sharp or professional bettors bet a large sum of money on a line, the line shifts and in turn attracts more casual or smaller bettors as well, which then in turn causes the line to “pick up even more steam”, or shift in even more drastic fashion. 

Alternate line

An alternate line is a line that differs from the main spread or total being offered by a sportsbooks. If a spread for a game is set at a specific number, an alternate spread would just be any spread that was available to bet on that is different than that main spread. 

Alternate spreads also come with different odds associated with them. Whereas most regular spreads have odds close to -110, alternate lines will grow in size and disparity to the main odds as the spreads or totals get further and further away in numerical value from the main spread or total.

Example: “While the main spread was set at Chiefs -3.5 (-110), he decided to bet the alternate spread of -6.5 (+250).”


The hook in sports betting refers to one half-point (0.5). It is commonly a term used in spread betting, especially for NFL games, where spreads are often expressed in half-point values (e.g. -7.5, +6.5, etc.). 

The hook is a sometimes a critical portion of betting ATS or totals, as lines with a hook cannot push. Buying a hook in an ATS bet can sometimes be beneficial if it pushes your spread over a key number (e.g., from +3.0 to +3.5).


The goal of most sportsbooks is to have even action on both sides of a game so that they can profit regardless of the outcome. They profit because of the vigorish, or “vig”, that they charge for bettors to place a wager. “Juice” is simply a slang term synonymous with “vig”.

The juice is the built-in cost that the sportsbooks place into a betting line. On a spread bet, the juice is indicated by the fact that both teams are available at negative odds (usually -110), instead of even or pick’em odds (+100).

While betting odds of even (+100) would allow bettors to profit $100 off a $100 wager, the juice built into the -110 odds means bettors must wager $110 in order to get back $100 in profit. 

You can also use an implied probability calculator to calculate vig or juice on betting lines.


In sports betting, the handle refers to the total amount wagered on a match. Whereas the total bets track the number of bets made, the handle is tracked to determine how much total money was placed on a specific game or side.

While the team who receives the most bets will often also receive the bigger portion of the overall handle, that isn't always the case. Larger bets made on one side can shift the total handle dramatically in favor of one side while still keeping the number of overall bets made on that same side relatively low.

Sharp money

A “sharp” in sports betting is someone who is an experienced, respected, and successful sports bettor.

Sharp money is simply the tracking of bets that come from this person or this kind of person. Tracking sharp money is often a practice used by many smaller or more novice bettors so that they can follow along and ensure they are on the same side as these experienced bettors.

Public money

In betting, the public is often used as a general term to indicate the majority of bettors who are not professionals or who don't have a track record of winning. The vast majority of bettors and bets are considered to be public.

Public money is simply the tracking of bets made by this group of people. Since the public is perceived as being wrong more than right, tracking where this group of bettors are placing their wagers and then fading that side is often seen as a good strategy. This is also where the term “fade the public” is derived.

Bad beat

A bad beat is a term to express an unlucky loser. Bad beats occur when a team or side loses in an abnormal and often unlucky fashion.

There is no official measurement to determine what is or isn’t considered a bad beat, but most bettors will tell you that when one of their bets loses, a bad beat has occurred.

For example, betting on a heavy NFL favorite like the Chiefs to cover a -2.5 spread could result in a bad beat if Mahomes were to be injured pre-game, which then results in Kansas City not covering or losing outright.


The odds in a game are what the sportsbooks use to express the probability of each side winning a specific matchup. When a sportsbook assigns odds to each side in a game, it allows bettors to wager on the outcome of a match or event at those probabilities and prices. 

Understanding the concept of implied probability is an important part of understanding how odds work. 


In betting, a unit refers to a portion of your bankroll that you plan to allocate towards a specific bet. When you use units to measure your results, you must assign each unit a monetary value. This size is often determined by the size of your total bankroll.

Setting a unit size also allows a bettor to calculate how much they are up or down based off the value of their unit size. If a bettor general bets in units of $100, then he or she would be up five units if up $500. Managing your unit sizes and wagering sizes is key to bankroll management.

Ladder bet

ladder betting strategy is a method of sports betting that takes advantage of the alternative lines offered by a sportsbook to create a system of higher payouts. In a ladder bet, instead of just making a single bet on a side or a specific outcome, you can bet that side in multiple ways across multiple different outcomes as well as on lines that get progressively bigger in odds as they go up.

A ladder bet involves making multiple bets, but it differs from a parlay bet in that a ladder bet is only for one single event. Here's an example of a spread-based ladder that expresses confidence in the Giants for a given game:

  • Giants +7.5 at -110 (0.5 units) = $50 to win $45
  • Giants +3.5 at +150 (0.25 units) $25 to win $37.50
  • Giants Moneyline at +200 (0.15 units) $15 to win $30
  • Giants -2.5 at +350 (0.1 units)  = $10 to win $35

Line shopping

Line shopping is when bettors actively look for a better potential return on their investment by comparing betting lines across different sportsbooks. Shopping for lines involves comparing the offerings across a variety of different bookmakers and betting sites and then wagering on the most favorable odds available.

Line shopping is important because every small tick up or down in the odds impacts your overall return on investment (ROI). 

For example, the Chiefs moneyline could be a heavy favorite for a particular game, but some sportsbooks might have the moneyline set at -250 compared to others at -300. In that scenario, a savvy bettor would shop around and bet at the book with a -250 moneyline to make more profit in the event of a Chiefs win.

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Sports Betting Glossary
Geoff Ulrich
Geoff Ulrich
Geoff Ulrich is a writer and content provider who works in the daily fantasy and gambling space for DraftKings and other operators. He loves the quest of finding the next batch of underrated breakout players for his season long and best ball teams and then proudly watching them become mainstream stars. An inquisitive person by nature, you can often find him on twitter (@thefantasygrind) tilting his latest bet or going over his favorite plays for the upcoming NFL or Golf slate.