How to Wager on NBA Basketball

NBA Betting: How to Bet on NBA Basketball

For the outsider looking in, NBA basketball wagering might seem complicated. You have all these weird numbers and it can look a little foreign to some. Rest assured, however, as we will help explain how it works in the simplest terms possible. It’s one of those things that once you learn, you’ll wonder why you didn’t learn it before. It’s really easy.

The most common basketball wager is a straight bet against the spread. You pick a team in a game and are given a point-spread. The point-spread is a built-in handicap. In every game, there is a favorite and an underdog. (Sometimes the game is even, in which you will see “PK” or “Pick’em”, which means there is no spread. The winner only needs to win by one point to “cover”.) Sometimes, it’s slight and other times it’s more extreme, but every game has this dynamic.

The team that is favored has to relinquish a certain number of points. The underdog, the team less likely to win the game, receives extra points. The idea is that the point-spread makes it an even contest, with one team giving points and the other team receiving them in an effort to make it a fair bet on either side. After all, you need to give a reason for bettors to take what appears to be a far inferior team. With the right amount of points in their favor, they will select these lesser teams.

The point-spread is listed, with each team either having a plus-sign or a minus-sign. Let’s look at an example.

Golden State Warriors +5

Portland Trailblazers -5

You see Golden State is (+5) while Portland is (-5). The minus-sign always indicates the favored team. The plus-sign tells you who the underdog is. So Golden State is the underdog and Portland is the favorite. The point-spread is always the same on either side. One team is + that number, while the other is – that figure.

Portland is -5 and Golden State is +5. If Portland wins by 5 points, it is a wash (tie/push) for both bets, as the bet amount is returned. For Portland to be the winning side, they must win by at least 6 points. For Golden State to win, they can either win the game outright or lose by less than 5 points.

Let’s look at another example.

Sacramento Kings +12.5

Miami Heat -12.5

In the above scenario, Miami is a 12.5-point favorite, with Sacramento a 12.5-point underdog. On a spread with a half-point, there can be no pushes, no ties. Someone has to win. For a wager to be a winner on Miami, they must win the game by at least 13 points. For Sacramento to represent a winning bet, they can either win the game outright or lose by up to 12 points.

Another consideration is the dynamic that governs these bets, which is the money line. All NBA basketball wagers against the point-spread have a “vig”–a pre-determined amount you must pay for the privilege of betting. When making straight basketball bets, you will generally be laying -110. That means you must wager $110 for every $100 you hope to win.

If you want to win $10 on a basketball wager, you must risk $11. If you want to win $30, you must wager $33. If you want to win $50, you must wager $55. One interesting tidbit is that you can catch a break on the “vig” with various sportbooks, who will offer you a lower rate. Rather than betting at -110, you can find NBA betting on a -105 money line, which might seem like only a small amount of relief, but can save you a lot of money over the course of a long NBA season.

There are a multitude of other available NBA wagers. Understanding the most of basic of bets will have you better-prepared to later consider some of the more complicated wagers you can make when betting basketball.

There are two considerations when making straight basketball wagers against the point-spread. The first is the point-spread. Try to get to an automatic level when reading basketball odds. You know every team with a plus-sign is an underdog, while a team with the minus-sign is a favorite. Now it’s time to bet and that happens on the money line, which is usually -110, meaning you have to wager $110 for every $100 you want to win, though you can often do better than -110 if you find the right book.

See, it’s not that difficult, is it?

Now that we’ve explained straight bets (aka: sides), we move on to some other types of basketball wagers.

Note: We explain these bets individually with more depth in other articles, but here are some brief overviews of the other bets on the table:

Money Line Wagers: In these bets, we throw out the point-spread. This is all about who wins the game. Rather than a point-spread, you receive a set of odds reflected on the money line. Here is an example:

Houston Rockets +210

Los Angeles Lakers -270

Just like with point-spreads, the minus-sign indicates the favorite, with the plus-sign indicating an underdog. The Lakers at -270 means you must wager $270 for every $100 you hope to win. The Rockets at +210 means you win $210 for every $100 you wager. For either side of the bet to win, the team must simply win the game. Points aren’t an issue. For many, this is an attractive form of NBA betting, being that you are betting on the precise thing the teams are trying to accomplish. Teams are trying to win games, not win or lose them by a certain amount.

First Half Wagers: This takes place just like a normal straight wager on a game, but only the first half is in play. Each team gets a point-spread and the halftime score is what we use to determine whether the wager was a winner or loser.

Halftime Wagering: Just like first-half wagering, but the action is on the second-half of the game. Only the scoring in the 3rd and 4th quarters goes toward determining the outcome of this wager. This bet also works on a point-spread.

Totals: This is bet that concerns only the final score of the game, with the winner and loser being irrelevant factors. A number, or total, is set for the game–and you merely choose whether the score will go “under” or “over” that number. If a bettor has the “over” for a game set at 183 and the final score is 97-87, he wins his wager.

Parlays: This is a wager where you put multiple teams on the same bet. All of the teams (a minimum of two) must cover the spread for you to win the parlay. Generally, a two-team parlay pays 2.6-to 1. If you bet $100 on a two-team parlay and both teams “cover,” you win $260. A three-team parlay pays 6-to-1. A 4-team parlay pays 10-to-1. A 5-teamer pays 25-to-one and the potential payout gets even bigger after that. You can also parlay your money line bets, which will adjust the odds according to the odds of the various teams.

Teasers: Teasers are like parlays. You pick multiple games and are forced to win all of them in order to win the bet. The twist with teasers is that you are given extra points on top of the normal point-spread. The most common hoops teasers are of the 4, 4.5, and 5-point variety. So if the normal point-spread is Oklahoma City -9 and Denver -3, you could make a 4.5-point teaser and it would now be Oklahoma City -4.5 and Denver +1.5.

You didn’t think the privilege of getting points was free, did you? It certainly is not, as the extra cushion will cost you somewhat dearly. A two-team 4.5-point teaser only returns 11-10. In other words, whereas a $100 two-team parlay would win $260, a $100 two-team teaser would only return $110.

Prop Bets: In short, prop bets are events within an event. The event is the game itself. Within the game are different things you can bet. There will be totals for how many points certain players will score where you can choose “over” or “under.” There will be match-ups, where you pick which of two players will score the most points. Things of that nature.

Futures Wagers: As the name suggests, these are wagers placed on events that lie ahead in the future. A popular futures wager is to select which team will win the NBA title. Recently, the amount of futures wagers has increased, with bets now available on which team will win their conference or even their division. In addition, there are bets focusing on individual player performance, like which player will win the scoring title, for example.

Now that you know how to bet on hoops, the next step is finding a reputable sportsbook that is easy to fund your wagering account, that offers a generous welcome bonus and that pays winnings quickly upon request. The best online sports betting site for new players is Bovada. They accept credit cards, offer a generous 50% bonus on your first deposit where you can receive up to $250 FREE and offer fast payouts. If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a line at and one of our staff will be happy to help you.