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DunkOrThree > Betting Guide > Moneyline Betting Guide: Mastering the Basics of Moneyline Wagers

Moneyline Betting Guide: Mastering the Basics of Moneyline Wagers

Publish Date:20.02.2024
Fact checked by: Emily Carter

The moneyline is the easiest bet that you can place on virtually any sport. When related to  a team sport like basketball, moneyline betting explained in simple terms means picking the team you think will win and backing them.

Naturally, as basketball fans, our focus is on the NBA, but the moneyline also works for the NFL, MLB, NHL, and most other sports. Below, I have expanded on the basic moneyline concept, by covering key aspects including the favorite, underdog, and how the odds work.

What is moneyline in betting?

A moneyline wager is the most straightforward two-outcome bet that you can find. Your aim is to pick the winner of a game – such as the Mavericks to beat the Wizards.

Nothing else matters to you other than which team wins or loses. Unlike basketball spread betting, there is no handicap or other factors that you need to consider.

For the NBA and most other moneylines, you will have two teams, and therefore two outcomes. The favorite is the team that has the highest probability of winning and therefore the shortest odds. Meanwhile, the underdog is the team with the lowest win probability, but longer odds.

Here are some terms that you will need to know to fully understand the moneyline betting explained examples that I’ll show you a little later in this guide.

  • Favorite – The team deemed most likely to win the game.
  • Underdog – The team considered least likely to win.
  • Vig/juice – The amount the sportsbook adds to the odds to ensure profit (a form of commission)
  • Implied probability – The likelihood of each outcome happening shown as a percentage.

Pros and cons of moneyline bets

Advantages
  • Easy to understand
  • Just pick a team to win
  • Two or three outcomes
  • Available for most sports
Disadvantages
  • Not worthwhile in unbalanced matches

Moneyline bets explained: How to read the odds

The moneyline odds are calculated based on each team’s implied probability of winning the match. In all US online sportsbooks, they will be displayed in American format, which involves plus and minus numbers.

  • Plus odds are usually applied to the underdog and show how much profit you would win with a $100 stake.
  • Minus odds show you how much you would need to bet to win a $100 profit – more often than not, the favorite will have minus odds.

Example:

New York Knicks-180
Houston Rockets+150

In this NBA example, you can see that the Knicks are -180 favorites, so you would need to wager $180 to win a $100 profit. The Rockets are +150 underdogs, so a $100 stake would win you a $150 profit.

Of course, most of us don’t have $100 spare to place on a single bet. So here are both sides of moneyline betting explained using $10 wagers:

$10 moneyline bet on the favorite:

OddsImplied probabilityBetPotential profit
-11052.38%$10$9.09
-20066.67%$10$5.00
-40080%$10$2.50

$10 moneyline bet on the underdog:

OddsImplied probabilityBetPotential profit
-11047.62%$10$11.00
-20033.33%$10$20.00
-40020%$10$40.00

What is a pick ‘em?

A pick ‘em is an evenly matched contest, where there is a 50% chance of each team winning. However, because the sportsbooks add the “vig”, pick ‘ems will usually be set at odds of between -110 and +105.

How do moneyline bets work with a tie? Three-way outcomes

In sports where a tie is a common result, such as soccer, the potential for a draw outcome is added to make a three-way moneyline like this:

Manchester City-180
Tie/Draw+370
Liverpool+425

How to bet the moneyline

In contrast to my basketball predictions for under-over today, the outcome of the game is all that matters when you bet the moneyline. In simple terms, this means that you have to pick the correct team to win and nothing more.

How to win on moneyline betting explained:

Sometimes there is a balancing act involved. For instance, the potential payout for the underdog will always look more appealing, but you have to remember that the implied probability is much lower.

By the same token, often you will find that a heavy favorite is offered at such a short price it’s hardly worth your while. Here’s an example:

Dallas Mavericks-950
Washington Wizards+625

Here the Mavericks’ price is so short that a moneyline bet is not really worthwhile. Meanwhile, a bet on the Wizards would potentially make a massive profit, but the chances of the Wizards being victorious are so slim that they come close to zero.

What sports use moneyline betting?

Moneyline betting works for most sports, but it is particularly popular for the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. It is also popular among soccer fans, but if you ask me the three-way outcomes, with the tie included, make it harder to predict.

How do moneyline bets work in basketball?

There’s good news for all us basketball fans though, as it’s one of the best moneyline sports. A tied game is impossible, thanks to NBA rules, giving you a simple two-way outcome to make things easy.

In cases where the game is one-sided, such as in the Mavericks vs Wizards example I used above, you can always look at the points spread or over/under market instead.

Moneyline betting parlays

One issue that you might have when backing a favorite, is that the odds are short leaving you a low potential profit. In such cases, you can combine two or more moneylines into a parlay. For more information on how this works, I have explained parlay betting in another of my Dunkor Three guides.

How do moneyline bets work to make sportsbooks money?

Earlier, you may remember that I mentioned the “vig”, which is essentially a commission added by a sportsbook to help protect their profits. Here’s a visual representation of how this works using an earlier example:

TeamsOddsImplied probability
New York Knicks-18064.29%
Houston Rockets+15040.00%

If you add the implied probability of the two outcomes together (64.29% + 40.00%), you get 104.29%. Subtract 100% from that and you are left with 4.29%, which is the “vig” or the sportsbook’s commission/profit margin.

Why do moneyline odds change?

In the lead-up to a game, the moneyline odds can move quite substantially from the opening price. There are several potential reasons that the odds can move, such as:

  • Betting activity
  • Injuries to key players
  • Lineup changes
  • Dressing room bust-ups

What is moneyline in betting – Conclusion

In summary, the moneyline is your bread-and-butter straight bet – just pick a team to win the match. Of course, for reasons that I explained above, a moneyline bet may not be worthwhile or easy to call. In such circumstances, I recommend looking towards parlays, totals or the points spread instead.

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Moneyline betting explained FAQ

❓ What does moneyline mean in betting?

The moneyline is a straight bet on a team to win. In most cases, there are two outcomes – the underdog or favorite to win. However, in some sports, like soccer, the tie introduces a third outcome.

💸 How does moneyline betting work?

A moneyline bet will pay out if you bet on the correct team to win outright. For example, if you bet $100 on the Chicago Bulls to win as a -110 favorite, you would get a $190.90 total payout if they won (your $100 stake back + $90.90 profit).

💰 Is a moneyline bet better than the spread?

The answer to this depends on the odds on offer. If you had an uneven contest, with a heavy favorite, then the spread would be better, but in a more balanced contest, the moneyline would be the better option. Head to Dunkorthree and read my guide titled sports betting bonus types explained, where you’ll find more details and examples. 

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