According to historians, the first bets were placed way back in the Paleolithic age. While we might enjoy a flutter on the horses or big game today, back then it was dice games and lottery draws that drew the attention of punters. The first ‘official’ bets weren’t accepted by bookmakers in the UK until the 1960s, but it’s believed that people have been betting since the 1600s. In those days, it was one person wagering money or goods with another in a classic ‘gentleman’s pact’.

If you have an interest in how sports betting works or in placing your first bet, you’ll be in good company: it’s estimated that 1.6 billion people worldwide would class themselves as regular punters. Before diving in headfirst, however, it really does pay to learn the basics – how to bet, where to bet and what to bet on. Here’s a handy betting guide for beginners.

How Does Sports Betting Work?

Much has changed in the betting industry, yet the primary rules of engagement remain the same to this day. You are betting on something occurring – whether it’s Liverpool winning a football game, Novak Djokovic lifting the Wimbledon trophy or Tom Brady being crowned NFL MVP. The list is almost endless in sports betting.

There has to be somebody to facilitate the bet, who will offer you odds accordingly. This is, in the vast majority of cases, the bookmaker. The crux of how to bet on sports is to win more bets than you lose, but the secret sauce is to identify opportunities where you believe the outcome of a sporting event has a higher probability of happening than the odds supplied by the bookmaker.

This bet guide explores a key topic that often separates success from failure in betting – implied probability.

Betting Odds Explained

Depending on where you are located in the world, betting odds are displayed in three different ways: fractional (the UK and Ireland), decimal (Europe) and the plus/minus system deployed in North America.

No matter how the odds look on the page, they always represent the same thing – the chance that the bookmaker believes that the outcome in question has of happening (not accounting for their overround, but that’s a more complex topic for another day).

The fractions and decimals can be changed into a percentage number to offer you a better insight into the odds – their implied probability. Here’s an example: imagine, for some bizarre reason, that a bookmaker is offering odds on the outcome of a toss of a coin. It’s a fair coin, and so there are two potential results with an equal chance: heads or tails.

In a ‘fair’ betting market, the odds would be even money, because both heads and tails have the same chance of being spun:

Fractional Odds Decimal Odds Implied Probability
Heads 1/1 2.00 50%
Tails 1/1 2.00 50%

In this scenario, neither the player nor the bookmaker is likely to profit in the long-term, unless either embarked on an unlikely winning/losing streak of bets.

Bookmakers, like any business, are out to make a profit, and so they skew their odds to ensure that happens. So, they might price the coin toss market as:

  • Heads – 10/11 or 1.91
  • Tails – 10/11 or 1.91

Now, the bookie knows they will make a long-term profit if there is the same number of bets on heads as there are on tails. So, how can you beat the bookies? The key weapon of how to bet online successfully is identifying where their odds are ‘wrong’, for example, where the actual probability of something happening is greater than the implied chance of the bookmakers’ pricing.

Betting Markets Explained

The great thing about sports betting is that there are literally thousands of options available to you every day.

Drill down into the most popular sports like football, tennis and basketball and you will see dozens of different betting markets available and that’s across the diverse range of competitions and events within those sports, too.

One of the common myths amongst newcomers to sports betting is that you can only bet on who you think will win a match. This is certainly not the case. There are lots of different markets you can explore. In football, alone, there’s:

  • First Goalscorer
  • Anytime Goalscorer
  • Correct Score
  • Half Time/Full Time
  • Handicaps
  • Over/Under Goals
  • Both Teams to Score
  • Total Corners
  • Total Cards

These options are only scratching the surface!

How to Place a Bet

There are two choices when it comes to placing a bet: head to your local betting shop, or visit the website/download the app of your preferred bookmaker.

Sticking to the latter in this online betting guide, it is quick and easy to place your first bet. After registering for an account and making your first deposit, you can then explore the various options available.

Browse through the sports until you find your favourite, and navigate through to the competition, match and market that you want to bet on. Now, you’ll see all of the options available – as we showed you above in our football example, and when you have found your desired selection click on the odds on-screen.

This will add your choice to the bet slip, and now all you have to do is decide upon your stake size. Enter that into the box, double-check the amount, and when happy click the ‘place bet’ button.

The Best Sports to Bet On

The question ‘which is the best sport to bet on?’ comes with a pretty generic answer – it depends.

It is recommended that you stick to the sports that you are knowledgeable about, drill down deeper and focus solely on the leagues and tournaments you know the best.

You may be able to source reliable sports betting tips, but as we’ve learned the secret to success is knowing when the bookmakers have priced their markets wrong – that’s where your own insight into the sport comes in such handy.

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