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Legal sportsbooks are available online in 22 states and DC (as well as some territories, such as Puerto Rico), as of the end of July 2021. Ten states have legalized sports betting, but have not yet introduced their own markets, and three states have legislation currently being discussed. For those states that have already launched their markets and have their online sportsbooks in place, competition has been fierce as operators continue fighting for market share.

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Legal Online Sportsbooks in the US

This competition means that bettors in legal states have plenty of options to explore. It isn’t difficult for new bettors to get started, as states have typically made the registration process simple and painless. Most offer online registrations and online sportsbook betting, while a small handful require in-person registration, typically at a land-based casino or sportsbook, and restrict wagers to those physical facilities.

How Legal Online Sportsbooks Arrived

It wasn’t until 2018 that states were able to start offering legalized sports betting. That came following a landmark Supreme Court decision in May of that year to reverse the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). That reversal gave the states the right to introduce sports betting legalization, and the industry has continued to grow ever since. By the end of that year, several states already had their markets established and more have been added in each subsequent year. In the coming months and years, additional states will follow and introduce their own markets.

Currently, it is estimated that over half the US population has access to legal sports betting and that, by 2024, the figure could be over 75%. The combined market is now worth more than $50 billion in gross revenue, well on its way to becoming a major source of income and employment for states across the country. In order to get started with sports betting, it’s important to understand the basics of how the activity works.

Types of Online Sportsbooks Wagers

Straight Bets

Point Spread

Betting the spread, or betting ATS (against the spread), is the most common wager in American online sportsbooks.  It is a handicap that requires the team that is favored to win by a certain number of points instead of just winning the game outright. On the flip side, betting the underdog affords them the luxury of losing by a predetermined number of points.

For example, in a NFL spreads bet, a game between the Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts has a point spread of 5.5.  The Panthers are favored, while the Colts enter the game as betting underdogs. In this case, the Panthers would have to win by six or more points for the bet to pay out, while the Colts would have to lose by five or less.

Point spread wagering remains the same whether you are betting full games, halves or quarters. Typically, the spread wager is -110, requiring bettors to wager $11 for every $10 they hope to win. This is not always the case, of course, as a team may be listed as -3 (-120). This allows anyone betting the underdog to avoid any vig (the fee charged by a bookmaker).

It’s also worth noting that not all sports refer to this as point spread betting. Baseball, for example, refers to it as the run line while it is called the puck line in hockey.


A moneyline favorite will be preceded by a minus sign before the odds, while an underdog will have a plus sign. For example, take the same game as above between the Panthers and Colts. If you were betting the moneyline, your odds would look more like this:

Carolina Panthers -200 vs Indianapolis Colts +170.

This means that the bettor must wager $200 for every $100 he hopes to win on the Panthers and a $100 wager on the Colts would win $170.

Some sports, like hockey, baseball, soccer, tennis and golf, will often only have moneyline sportsbook betting at times.


Betting on totals refers to making predictions on the number of points scored by both teams combined. These are often referred to as Over/Under, or O/U bets. One thing that makes betting totals easy is that the odds are almost always -110, especially for football, basketball and baseball.  Hockey totals tend to be a bit more volatile and the odds might not be the same.

Exotic Wagers at Sportsbooks


Parlay betting is the most common form of exotic wagers and should be a part of any gambler’s sports betting repertoire. These bets always include at least two or more outcomes which the bettor will tie together. This means that all legs of the parlay must-win for the ticket to payout. If a game is canceled, the bet will generally pay out, but at a slightly smaller amount.

Parlays can be made on two games in the same sport, games taking place over the course of a weekend, or even mixing leagues, depending on what options the bookmaker has available. Online sportsbooks like parlays because they are attractive to bettors and difficult to win at a high rate. Casual bettors love them because of the opportunity for huge payouts, while the pros tend to stay away due to the long odds.


Teasers are similar to parlays in that they involve a number of different outcomes. The wager differs in that the bettors receive extra points on each leg of the teasers. For example, an NFL teaser might be for six points. This turns a one-point underdog into a nine-point team and affects each game of the parlay.

Teasers pay out less than parlays due to the adjusted spreads, but they are also easier to win at a high rate. A push just negates that game and odds will adjust accordingly.


Pleasers are just reverse teasers. While teasers add points to help the players winning percentage, pleasers take them away to maximize profits. Pleasers usually require bettors to give up between 6 and 15 points on a football game and can be a gamechanger if you’re brave and a little lucky. Pleasers require multiple unlikely outcomes and ties often lose the whole bet. But when they do hit, it can be a season-changing payout for winners.

Daily Fantasy Sports

Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) is a new take on the old model of fantasy sports. It has been around for over a decade, but many were unaware of it until the explosion of legalized online sportsbooks nationwide in 2018. DFS has become a huge option for those fantasy enthusiasts who want a bit more excitement. Players now don’t have to wait a whole season to cash in on their talents. Now, they may do it multiple times a day.

DFS works the same as traditional fantasy sports, except that bettors can pick a new team every day as opposed to every season. Additionally, Alabama, Idaho and Hawaii don’t have DFS for various other reasons. The states which allow DFS will continue to shift, so be sure to keep an eye on SportsIntel for constant updates.

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