A Beginner’s Guide To Sports Betting Vocab

Pennsylvania passed a bill legalizing sports betting inside its borders in October 2017. That law set up the possibility for sports betting should there be a change in federal law.

That change came about in May 2018 when the Supreme Court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was unconstitutional. With PASPA no longer enforceable, Pennsylvania sports betting was on its way.

After a lengthy process of developing regulations, handing out licenses, and vetting operators, Pennsylvania took its first bet on Nov. 17 at Hollywood Casino Sportsbook. Since then, several retail sportsbooks opened their doors.

Then, in May, PA online betting apps started to roll out. By football season, you can expect nearly a dozen brick and mortar sportsbooks as well as nearly half a dozen online betting options.

Betting on games at a sportsbook, online or off, can be as simple as picking winners. But with point spreads, money lines, parlays, and futures bets all available, it can also seem very complicated.

So without further delay, here’s a primer on sports betting.

Where you can bet in Pennsylvania

There are currently eight operational retail sportsbooks in PA. Betting apps are just a couple of weeks away.

Basic bets

Let’s toss out a topical example. If you think the Golden State Warriors can beat the Houston Rockets in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals, you should be able to place a bet on it. Basic bets available at sportsbooks are the ones where you simply pick the winner. Bettors face money line odds or a point spread that must be covered by your pick.


The moneyline represents the odds on a particular team or athlete to win. The moneyline itself represents how much you need to bet to win $100 on the favorite or underdog.

When you’re looking at the favorite, the moneyline is represented by a negative number. For example, on a -110 moneyline, you would need to bet $110 to win $100, plus your initial bet back.

For underdogs, the moneyline is represented by a positive number. A +150 means you would win $150 (plus your initial bet back) if you bet $100 on a winning underdog.

You may see a point spread number around for the game, but it will have no effect on moneyline bets.

Point spread

The point spread is simply the number of points the favorite in a particular game is expected to win by. The favorite must win by more than the point spread for bets on that team to win. Bets on the underdog pay off when the underdog wins the game outright or if the favorite wins by fewer points than the established spread.

Points spreads are established by sportsbooks themselves. Thus, they can vary from book to book. They are based on matchups, location of the game, historical data, and a variety of other factors.

The point spread on a Philadelphia Eagles versus New England Patriots NFL game could be 3.5 points, with the Patriots favored. That would mean the Patriots would need to win by more than 3.5 points to cover the spread.

Covering the spread

Let’s say the final score of the game was 17-10 for New England. In this case, the Patriots cover, and all point spread bets on the Patriots come out winners.

However, if the final score of the game was 17-16 for the Pats, they favorite failed to cover. In this case, only point spread bets on the Eagles would pay. If the favorites don’t cover, all bets on the underdog pay off.

The easiest way to check point spread winners is to add the point spread number to the underdog’s score and see who would have won the game with that handicap in place. If the favorite is still ahead straight up, they cover the spread. If not, the underdog takes the day.

A point spread bet is considered a push when the final differential lands right on the point spread number. In this case, both sides get their bets back.

Advanced bets

Most sportsbooks offer more than just the basic bets. They’ll give gamblers the opportunity to cash in on parlays with long odds, various propositions, or long-term futures.


A parlay bet simply combines more than one wager. If you can pick one winner, maybe you can pick three or more, string them together in a parlay and get paid big time because of how difficult that is to do.

All the bets in a grouping have to win for the parlay to pay. It’s a tough proposition, but it pays. In fact, the more wins you can string together in a parlay, the better it will pay. But don’t be fooled by the allure of a big payday. The reason large parlays come with huge payouts is that they are so hard to win.

Proposition bets

Proposition bets, also referred to as props, are often exotic. They’ll have little or no effect on the outcome of a game.

In a proposition bet, a gambler will bet on something to either happen or not happen. Examples include who will win the coin toss before a game, or which team or player will score first. Most sportsbooks will offer props on all sorts of things, particularly for big games like the NFL’s Super Bowl.

Props bets can be fun, unique, and usually offer similar odds to flipping a coin.


The over/under is essentially a prop on how many total points will be scored in a particular game. Like the point spread, a line is set by bookmakers for the combined points by both teams. Gamblers can then bet on whether the total will be over or under that preset line.

For example, the over/under on our hypothetical Eagles-Patriots rematch might be 45. Should the final score of the game turn out to be 25-24, the total score would be 49. In this case, all bets on the over would pay. If the final score was 24-20, the total score would be 44, and all bets on the under would pay.

Futures bets

Futures are bets of the long-term variety. They often relate to a full-season performance. A common futures bets in the NFL is what team will win the Super Bowl before the start of the season.

Because of the unpredictability of most sports over the length of an entire season, futures bets usually pay pretty big. Of course, the odds will be better on teams that haven’t had much success recently than those coming off a championship.

Understanding the language

Now that you’ve got an understanding of the basic bets and a few more advanced wagers, it’s important to understand a little of the language sports gamblers and sportsbooks use regularly. Here’s a breakdown of some common terms.

Closing line

Point spreads (or “lines”) move before games begin based on various information including weather, injuries, and how much money is being bet on each side. The closing line is the final betting line. It can refer to the final money line, point spread, or over/under set right before a game begins.


When a favorite in a particular game wins by more points than the set spread, that favorite is said to have “covered” the spread.


The favorite in any particular game is the team or individual most likely to win. Sportsbooks expect this team to win, and they’ll be the one giving away points in the spread or odds on the money line. If they are a big favorite, they are referred to as a “lock.”


Handle is the total amount of money a sportsbook takes in. It’s the total amount of money being wagered. It can be a rather big number. However, a sportsbook’s revenue represents only a small percentage of the total handle.


A sharp is someone considered to be a winning professional sports bettor. Sharps always seem to be on the right side. They often have inside information and bet wisely. In other words, they’re “sharper” than the average Joe.


Square is a term used to describe casual and less serious gamblers. They often follow public sentiment when betting and let emotions affect their wagering. Unlike sharps, squares usually have very little in the way of inside information. They bet with their heart instead of their head.


A tout is an individual or organization giving away or selling picks on various games.


An underdog in a particular game is the team or individual sportsbooks expect to lose. These are the teams getting points in the spread and odds on the money line. If they have very little chance of winning, the underdog is usually referred to as a “longshot.” However, in sports, anything can happen. Locks sometimes lose and longshots win.


The vigorish is more commonly known as “the vig” or “the juice.” It is the commission a sportsbook takes on bets and where they derive revenue.

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