How Does Sports Betting Work? Understanding Sports Betting 101


Introduction to Sports Betting 101

Welcome to the first chapter of our beginner’s guide to understanding sports betting, a course designed by the experts at Canada Sports Betting to teach you how betting works. Our goal is to make your gambling journey smart, safe, fun – and maybe even profitable. This comprehensive beginner’s guide to sports betting will provide you with the foundational knowledge to get started. If you’d like to progress through the entire course on sports betting 101, you can access it here at The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Sports Betting.

In this section of the course, we’ll cover some essential topics to lay a foundation to understanding sports betting. No worries if you’re new to this – we’re starting with the basics and working our way into complex topics like odds, betting markets, and strategy. In all, this article covers:

The Basics of Sports Betting 101

So, how does sports betting work? Sports betting is the act of making a guess about the outcome of a sporting event and betting money on it. For a more official definition, sports betting is a form of online or in-person gambling in which people place wagers, or bets, on an outcome in a sporting event. 

Participants (also known as bettors or punters) will try to accurately predict a specific outcome in a sporting event in the hopes that they will correctly guess the result. When a bettor successfully predicts an outcome in a sporting event, they win back their original bet plus extra winnings. The amount a sports bettor wins back is determined by how much they bet in the first place, in addition to the betting odds set by the sportsbook they bet with.

An outcome, usually referred to as a betting market, is anything that could potentially happen during a team draft, sports game, match, championship, or tournament. The most popular and simple form of sports betting is to bet which team will win a game, match, or tournament which is called the moneyline. That said, there are a wide range of popular outcomes for participants to bet on other than which team will win such as: the total points or goals scored (sometimes called the Over/Under), prop bets such as individual player performance, live betting, spread betting, or which colour Gatorade will douse the coach at half-time (yes, really). Because of the diverse range of betting options available, understanding sports betting has become a somewhat complicated feat. At the same time, it’s an incredibly fun and social way for sports fans to get further involved in their favourite leagues, and like anything else, just takes a bit of time and patience.

Can You Make a Lot of Money Betting?

It’s important to note that sports betting is not just about luck; skill and knowledge play a significant role in a bettor’s ability to turn a profit. Generally speaking, there is no “hack” or foolproof way to make a lot of money in sports betting. Rather, successful bettors often analyze team and player statistics, historical performance, and other relevant factors to make informed decisions before they wager any money. 

Successful bettors tend to be avid fans of a few leagues, and use sports betting to test their knowledge of their favourite players, teams, or leagues. This means successful sports bettors typically have deep knowledge of sports betting strategy that allows them to make informed betting decisions, and identify value bets. In addition to strategy, successful bettors abide by responsible gambling practices, in which they only wager money that they can afford to lose within a specified time period.

With that in mind, it’s certainly possible to make a lot of money in sports betting through reasonable time and effort. Strategy and carefully selecting your bets plays a significant role in betting success. Beginners are particularly susceptible to betting mistakes, and therefore new bettors should take the time to learn what they are and avoid them. Like any kind of gambling, it should be treated as a leisure activity – not as a form of income. 

How Does Sports Betting Work?

In sports betting, there are organizations called bookmakers, or sportsbooks, that provide the service of taking bets and paying out winnings. Sportsbooks are also responsible for setting the odds of a certain outcome. Odds are both the probability that an event will occur, and the multiplier to determine potential winnings. The odds at every sportsbook will be similar, but may not be exactly the same. For this reason, bettors should always shop for odds at multiple sportsbooks before betting.

Sports betting works by staking an amount of money of your choosing on the outcome of an event. Each event will have odds that indicate the probability of the event being successful. If your bet is successful, your stake and the odds together will determine how much you win. 

Let’s look at an example of how sports betting works. Say you and your friend are watching a football game. Before the game starts, you make a bet with your friend on which team will win. Let’s say you bet $10 Team A will win, and your friend bets $10 Team B will win. You each put your $10 in a jar. If Team A wins, you get the $20 in the jar. If Team B wins, your friend gets the $20 in the jar. 

In sports betting terms, the $10 represents your stake. The odds in this situation would be +100, or 2.0, or 1/1, depending on the format, all with an implied probability of 50%. We explain how this works in detail in the following sections:

At first, it may be confusing why you each have to stake money and win your own money back. After all, one friend could simply pay the other $10, and the profit would be the same. While you probably trust your football buddies to pay up when it comes due, a sportsbook won’t offer that kind of grace. Instead, when it comes to official gambling, being willing to risk something is an inherent part of how the game works. Gambling requires a guarantee, or a cost involved with playing, before you can potentially reap any rewards.

This is especially true when we introduce odds, risk, and thousands of bettors vying to win at an online book. In these large betting games, such as when betting online, bettors must lay down their dollars ahead of time to ensure everyone is paid out fairly. For betting at this scale to work, there must be a pool of money available to pay out the winners. For sportsbooks, this practice also ensures they can evenly balance bets on both sides of the action, and generate a profit known as The Vigorish.

What Sports Can You Bet On?

Due to the wide accessibility of online sports betting, odds are if it’s a sport, you can probably bet on it. From professional leagues to college sports to the Olympics, sports betting in 2023 boasts a rich roster of available markets for sports bettors around the world. With so many leagues to choose from, sports bettors have access to a steady stream of events and games throughout the year. With that, let’s dive in to some of the most popular sports to bet on in Canada and the United States:


American football, with the National Football League (NFL) at its forefront, is arguably one of the most important leagues in sports culture, attracting a massive fan base across North America. From preseason through to the Super Bowl, sports bettors can place bets on almost any game throughout the season.  Besides the NFL, other popular options for betting include the Canadian Football League (CFL), NCAA (college) Football, and Virtual Football, which all hold their own dedicated followings and betting opportunities. Popular bets in football include choosing the Super Bowl winner, guessing a correct score, or guessing which team will make the playoffs. You can even bet on the NFL Draft.


When it comes to understanding basketball sports betting, there are countless options available. While the National Basketball Association (NBA) dominates the basketball scene, sportsbooks are (unsurprisingly) willing to take your money for any league under the sun. On the most popular end of the spectrum, basketball sports bettors should look to college basketball with the NCAA culminating in March Madness – an awesome event to get in on. Sportsbooks also have options for the WNBA, Olympic Qualification, the FIBA World Cup – even the BIG3. In other words, if there’s a league you’re interested in betting on, you’ll likely find odds available online.


Deeply ingrained in American culture, baseball sports betting for beginners is fairly easy to grasp. Baseball fans have an array of league options available, including the MLB, Minor League Baseball, and college baseball. As football season comes to a close, bettors tend to gravitate to baseball throughout the spring and summer as there are countless events taking place across the country. For fans looking for betting variety (particularly though prop bets), baseball is a great place to get started. Some popular ways to bet on baseball include series winning teams, number of strikes or home runs, and the score at 5 innings.


The National Hockey League (NHL) is a cornerstone of Canadian sports culture. As the unofficial national sport of Canada, sports bettors can tune into excellent resources like The Puck Portfolio to get picks and suggestions before game day. While hockey sports betting primarily focuses on the NHL, hockey fans can also bet on Olympic hockey every four years, the CHL, the Women’s National Hockey League, the American National Hockey League, and various international leagues. Popular hockey bets include which team will make the playoffs, or who will win the Stanley Cup.

Soccer (European Football)

While soccer betting (known as football outside North America) may not have the same historical prominence in Canada and the United States as it does in Europe, its popularity and betting opportunities have been steadily growing over the last few years. Major League Soccer (MLS) and international soccer events like the FIFA World Cup have grown significantly in popularity, and the betting options available have grown with it. Because of its deep history in sports betting, soccer has a huge roster of leagues to bet on, including the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, the Africa Cup of Nations, and so many more. Betting options range from which player will score the most goals, which team will win each match, and who will win a tournament outright.

Auto Racing

Auto racing, including iconic series like NASCAR and Formula 1, has seen a surge in popularity and betting engagement. In particular, Formula 1 soared in betting engagement since the launch of the “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” Netflix series in 2019. Today, auto racing offers a widening array of betting opportunities, from individual races to championship events, altogether making for some seriously action-packed events. Sports bettors can put money on a specific driver winning any number of races or who will win overall. 


Golf is another excellent option for beginner sports bettors, and an incredibly popular event to bet on. Major tournaments like The Masters, the U.S. Open, and The PGA Championship are popular for both avid golf fans and casual bettors, altogether offering a great range of betting options. Some betting options for golf include predicting tournament champions, wagering on individual player performances, or which players will tee off together.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Boxing

Finally, combat sports like MMA and boxing have their own loyal fan bases across North America that have skyrocketed in popularity since betting went online. In particular, UFC Championships and UFC Fight Nights both draw a massive amount of viewers that are keen to bet on their favourites. They’ve since become so popular, you can find fighter odds right on the UFC’s website. Bettors can place bets on the outright winner, type of victory, number of punches landed, and so much more. 

In Conclusion: Understanding Sports Betting

In short, this introduction to how sports betting works sets the stage for understanding sports betting basics, and why it’s so popular today. Sports betting is all about predicting what will happen in sporting events and placing bets based on these predictions. It’s not just about luck – it takes skill and knowledge to be successful. Successful bettors look at team and player stats, past performance, and other important factors to help them make good decisions. It’s important to gamble responsibly and only bet what you can afford to lose, which in turn will make sure you have a safe and enjoyable experience.