Sports Betting 101: Getting Started


If you live in a state with legalized online sports betting, no doubt you’ve heard and seen a steady flow of advertisements introducing any one of the top betting sites where you can now place wagers on sporting events. Featured within these ads are a variety of welcome offers – promotions designed to entice you to sign up, deposit, and start betting.

These bonuses can be confusing to an inexperienced sports bettor, especially if the details of the promotions are squeezed into the last five seconds of a TV spot or a live read on sports talk radio.

At PlayPicks, we’re to help. With our years of sports betting knowledge, PlayPicks is your trusted guide to provide you with step-by-step directions on how you can take advantage of sportsbook offers.

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What is a sportsbook bonus?

From the prospective bettor’s point of view, the signup process is perhaps the best part of the sports betting journey outside of, you know, winning bets. This is because some of the best promotional offers are extended to new players.

Since the Supreme Court allowed states to offer legal sports betting in 2018, almost two dozen companies have launched online sportsbooks. Mobile sports betting in the US is indeed a growing and very competitive market in most states where it’s allowed. New Jersey, for example, has nearly 20 online sportsbooks operating in the state, which means plenty of options for bettors.

This leads to online sportsbooks being very aggressive when it comes to offering sign-up bonuses to acquire new customers. Sportsbooks offer retention bonuses as well to reward existing players for their loyalty, but these are typically less valuable than signup bonuses. Rest assured we will cover these too.

One critical item to understand is that sportsbooks rarely, if ever, offer bonuses that are direct cash payments into your account which can then be wagered or withdrawn immediately. A bonus is typically awarded as a credit to your account value.

There are multiple types of bonuses that may be offered depending on the operator, and each has conditions attached to redemption, which we will explain in detail.

Types of sports betting welcome bonuses

There are three main characteristics included in most welcome offers that bettors receive when signing up for a new online sportsbook. This triumvirate includes site credit/bonus bets, bonus bets (yes, those are two different things), and deposit matches.

Some welcome offers will include just one, while others will have elements of both. The individual characteristics of the bonus will depend on the operator, and each has its own terms and conditions attached for the contents of the offer.

From the operator perspective, sportsbooks want you to use its product as soon as possible, but also to remain loyal. Some will allow you to bet even before depositing funds into your account in the form of awarding a bonus bet after the initial sign up. Others will offer site credit on deposit so you have more to bet with right off the bat.

Below, we’ll explain all of them in detail and let you know how to get the most out of each one, depending on your preferences.

What Is A No Deposit Bonus/Bonus Bet?

A no deposit bonus is exactly what it sounds like: a bonus without having to invest. It is usually awarded in the form of site credit or a bonus bet, so it is oftentimes promoted as the latter.

The point is, if it is awarded upon signup without any money going in, it’s a no deposit bonus. These offers are very common in new markets and the amount can be pretty enticing but in established states, they can be more rare to find and capped at around $50.

Most commonly, these no-deposit bonuses are offered in the form of a $50 bonus bet as part of a welcome offer that may also include a deposit match, which has been the case at DraftKings in the past.

What Is A Bonus Bet?

One of the most popular welcome offers circulated around the industry, a bonus bet focuses on your first wager. After you sign up and make a qualifying deposit, the sportsbook will cover your first bet in the event it loses.

Place a bet and win it, congratulations. Place a bet and lose? The incoming reimbursement is credit in site funds or bonus bets, and it matches your initial bet up to a certain amount. It’s worth noting that most initial bonus bets are quite large (up to $1,000 or more), and it entices players to take a big swing on their very first bet with the site.

What Is A Deposit Match Bonus?

The first-time deposit bonus is the most broadly used promotional vehicle to attract and capture new sportsbook customers. In fact, you should always be checking out these offers before getting to the point of signing up for an account.

With a deposit match, the sportsbook will match your deposit in cash, site credit, or bonus bets. In many cases, you’ll get a 100 percent match, which essentially doubles the amount you have to wager with right off the bat.

Deposit bonuses are capped at a certain amount, but there is still some potential to set yourself up for huge profits. For example, Caesars Sportsbook has offered a $1,500 deposit match for new players, which is no small bonus since it can turn into $3,000 in betting funds if you max out the deal.

Be sure to check terms and conditions before signing up, as each sportsbook awards its welcome bonus differently. You may receive site credit or bonus bets (FanDuel & Caesars), or be awarded the bonus based on your betting activity (DraftKings), or some other way.

One critical item to understand is that sportsbooks rarely, if ever, offer bonuses that are direct cash payments into your account which can then be wagered or withdrawn immediately. There will be some kind of wagering requirement attached, though it is usually a feasible request that a consistent bettor can easily overcome.

Sportsbook Bonuses & Promotions For Existing Players

While tons of attention goes toward attracting new players, sportsbooks also know that if it wants customers to remain loyal, there must be some amenities for existing players. There are a couple of ways that a sportsbook will try to reward its customer base including the following:

Refer-A-Friend Bonus

There’s no more powerful endorsement for a product than a good word of mouth, and sportsbooks are no exception. A sportsbook will reward you for recommending friends to sign up with a referral link that is provided for you. This can result in both you and your friend receiving bonuses in the range of $50 or $100

Reload Bonus

A reload bonus is essentially a deposit match offer for new players. Sportsbooks will occasionally open up a window of a few days where bettors can receive a deposit match up to a certain amount, usually capped at $50 or $100. While not all matches will be 100 percent, many of them are and it winds up being essentially free currency to bet with.

Popular Types of Sports Bets


Betting moneylines involves simply picking the winner of the game, regardless of victory margin, and these are perfect for novices or anyone looking to uncomplicate things.

Favorites have a negative symbol next to their moneyline and underdogs have a positive sign. Because favorites are the team seen by oddsmakers as more likely to win, bettors must risk more if betting on them. Below is an example:

  • Los Angeles Rams -200
  • San Francisco 49ers +160

Doing the math based on the number 100 and adjusting for your exact wager amount is the easiest way to calculate potential wins and losses. From there, it’s easy to adjust for whatever amount you bet. 

For favorites, the moneyline is the amount you must risk for every $100 in profit. In this case, you’d have to bet $200 for every $100 on the Rams. With underdogs, the moneyline represents what you can win with a $100 bet, so taking the 49ers at +160 means you can win $160. 

Point Spreads

Point spreads represent a projected margin of victory for favorites (as well as a projected losing margin for underdogs). Not all teams are equal, and this is how oddsmakers account for it. Spread betting means betting against the number and guessing how much a given team will win or lose by. An example would be:

  • Milwaukee Bucks -8 (-110)
  • Los Angeles Lakers +8 (-110)

For a favorite to ‘cover’ the number, the winning margin must be higher than the spread. For example, the Bucks are eight-point favorites and would cover the spread with a win by nine or more. On the other side, the underdog Lakers can lose by seven points or fewer if they don’t win and still cover the spread.

With a standard -110 line attached to both sides, bettors would have to risk $110 to win $100 no matter their bet. While oddsmakers set many spreads at -110, these lines can range anywhere from -125 to +100 before it shifts by a half-point. 

If the favorite wins by a margin that matches the point spread, the bet is a push and your original stake will be returned to your account.

Total Bets

Popularized as over/under bets, totals wagers involve deciding whether the combined score of both teams will go over or under a predetermined point total set by oddsmakers. It’s pretty self-explanatory and another great way for novices to get started with betting. 

  • Yankees-Red Sox Over 9.5 Runs (-115)
  • Yankees Red Sox Under 9.5 Runs (-105)

In this situation, a combined 10 runs or more cashes an over ticket while nine or fewer runs would be a win for the under. Similar to point spreads, most totals will have juice around -110 but can range from +100 to -125. In boxing or MMA, totals refer to the length of the match in rounds. In tennis, it can be the total number of games or sets played.

Parlay Bets

Parlays are wagers that combine multiple selections (at least two) into the same bet in exchange for enhanced odds and a larger potential payout. People love betting parlays because of the potential to earn a huge reward with a small risk. You’ll commonly see bettors link a half-dozen teams into one bet hoping for a huge hit.

The odds swell with each added selection and the longer the odds, the bigger the impact on the overall payout. The exact amount the line changes will vary depending on the number of teams and the odds for each selection.

While parlays can be exciting, it’s worth noting that these are notoriously difficult wagers to win because there is no margin for error. You can’t go 2-for-3 or 6-for-7 and still win, as all your selections have to be right to win a parlay. One loss spoils the party.

A safer, albeit less exciting way to bet parlays is to keep them limited to just two or three teams, and don’t feel compelled to always go for broke with a huge payout.

Futures Bets

Futures are wagers that will be settled at some point down the road. Depending on what you’re bet is, this could mean waiting days, weeks, or months.

Many bettors enjoy futures because they have the potential to be lucrative. The odds are much longer than typical moneylines, spreads, and totals, so the payouts have the potential to be much larger. These markets can also provide a rooting interest over a long period of time.

In team sports, the most common choices include but are not limited to the following:

  • Division Winner
  • Conference Winner
  • Championship Winner
  • Over/Under Wins
  • Will Team X Reach Playoffs (Yes/No)

Many of the above markets will remain open throughout the season with live odds, though some might be removed depending on the sportsbook. There are also futures options for sports with other formats such as golf, tennis, and soccer.

Prop Betting

A prop bet (also referred to as a proposition bet) is essentially any wager that isn’t a conventional moneyline, spread, or total. Props are oftentimes not directly related to the outcome of an event, although some prop markets can be tied to the final score.

Props are popular in multiple sports including football and basketball, and they’re a huge fan favorite during most standalone primetime games, particularly in the NFL.

The majority of props are broken down into the following categories: game, team, and player props. The most common examples of props are markets covering individual team and player stats, but it can go much deeper than that and get much more specific.

When betting props, shopping around multiple sportsbooks is key. There is tons of variance, both in the prop number itself and the prices that are attached to them.

Live Betting

Live betting refers to wagering on games that are currently in progress. As the action takes place, sportsbooks will update the lines. Bettors can use live odds as a way to hedge or middle a current bet, or they can be used to gain value compared to the pregame line. We’d recommend only live betting on games you are currently watching so you don’t go into it blind.

Sports Betting FAQ

What is a point spread?
A point spread is a handicap applied to a favorite. The team most likely to win lays points, while an underdog gains points. The point spread hopes to find the most likely number that a favorite is predicted to win by in a team sport. Point spreads are often found in American football and basketball. Alternative lines in hockey and baseball use point spreads on 1.5.

What is a pleaser?
A pleaser is a reverse teaser. This involves a player giving points away from the published line. That number is typically seven. Pleaser cards are often even where ties lose so books will try to place the lines on important numbers. Pleasers are normally available only in American football. Sportsbooks will try to place teaser lines on important numbers like 3, 7, 10 and 14. Ties lose in a pleaser.

Can I bet on a game that is in progress?
Many online sportsbooks accept bets on games that are in progress. This is called in-play. Most in-play bets are only accepted when a game is on commercial break. Bettors making these wagers should note that television feeds often run behind the actual event.

What is vigorish?
Vigorish, often referred to simply as vig or juice, is the price a sportsbook charges for accepting a bet.

What sports can you bet on?
If the sport exists, you can probably find a sportsbook that will take action on it. In Nevada, it may be difficult to find lines on sports outside of the US that are relatively niche.

How old do I have to be to bet sports online?
Nevada, and all regulated US markets require players to be at least 21 years of age.

Can I bet on sports on Android?
Android functionality is available on apps in both Nevada and New Jersey. Golden Nugget New Jersey’s sportsbook app is exclusive to Android at this time.

Can I bet on sports on an iPhone?
Many sportsbook apps in Nevada and New Jersey offer iOS compatibility.

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