Totals betting | What are totals and how should you go about betting on them?
If you’ve ever looked through a sportsbook’s bet catalog, you’ll likely have seen options for moneyline bets, spread bets and totals bets. Betting on the Totals are just as straightforward as your average moneyline though, so you should have no trouble placing bets so long as you can get a handle on the basics.
If you’re looking to understand totals betting strategy, a good place to start would be to take a look at what makes totals different from your regular moneyline.
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What are totals bets?
If you’ve seen a totals bet before, you’ll know what one looks like. As an example:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Kansas City Chiefs (Over/Under 40.5)
Those numbers you’re looking at aren’t odds, they’re descriptions of the total. Basically, the sportsbook and its team of analysts have found that the game between the Chiefs and the Buccaneers is likely to feature around 40 points scored, and so they’re fielding a bet for that outcome.
It doesn’t matter that Kansas City is more likely to win, what matters is the overall goals scored by both teams combined. This is why totals bets are also called over under bets, you’re betting on the total being above or below a fixed amount. So, in this case, if the final scoreline read:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21 – 16 Kansas City Chiefs
This would constitute a loss for people betting on the over, and a win for bettors on the under. If either the Chiefs or the Buccaneers had scored a total of four more points between them, the outcome would’ve been reversed.
Note that a bet on totals isn’t exactly a bet for either side, or how one side measures up against the other; you’re attempting to predict the flow of the overall contest. If you’re betting on a match between two teams that both feature injuries in their main defensive lines, chances are you’re going to see more offensive successes, and therefore a higher score overall. This is why keeping an eye on team form and composition is key to over under betting strategy.
Football fans will note that there’s no such thing as a half point in the sport. The extra 0.5 added or subtracted from the total in this case becomes the “hook”, ensuring that a result is obtained in any event, as the total has to be in whole numbers. This is a means for sportsbooks to ensure that bets don’t “push” (we’ll explain what this means later on).
Let’s move on to the next stage of understanding a totals bet; knowing how to read and understand the odds.
Totals odds are read just the same as the odds for moneyline bets, though there are a few differences in how the odds can change. First off let’s understand the odds themselves through our previous example:
Over 40.5 (-110) – (-110) Under 40.5
A standard totals bet has odds of (-110) either way. This means that bettors must bet 110 dollars to potentially win an extra 100 dollars.
That extra $10 is critical, as, in an ideal scenario for bookkeepers in which bets on both sides are equal, the sportsbook makes 10 dollars on every other bet placed, regardless of who it was placed for.
That extra 10 is what’s known in totals betting circles as the vig or the juice. It’s the cut the house gets to keep for each wager that’s placed.
That’s one of the critical factors in understanding totals betting strategy, i.e. knowing the casino needs both sides to receive equal bets. This is why you might see totals odds shift as you get closer to game time and more bets come in.
Let’s say that, for example, people overwhelmingly bet in favor of the over in our hypothetical scenario. To generate more bets for the under, the bookie might just shift the odds to (-120) for the over and (-105) for the under, thereby making the Chiefs’ bet less competitive. If this doesn’t level the playing field, the bookkeeper may even shift the total itself to 41 or 41.5 points.
That’s not to say that totals odds can only be affected by your bookie trying to ensure their bottom line. The total can shift due to any number of fixture related factors, such as transfers or injuries. As these influence a team’s performance within a game, these changes can be considered to represent that impact on the betting catalogue.
Totals bets are applied to a number of games and formats, including cricket, football, hockey, and soccer. The totals offered are different depending on whether it’s a low or high scoring sport, but the basics stay the same. Sports like soccer and baseball that may even see no runs or goals scored in a game feature fixed totals across more fixtures (for example, a standard soccer totals bet is for over or under 2.5 goals), though this isn’t set in stone.
Totals betting FAQ
Are totals bets good?
Like most other bets, totals have a built-in house-edge (that extra $10 in our example that the house would get on a bet placed either way). However, as this edge is usually fixed, more seasoned gamblers can learn to play this advantage depending on the fixture. All-in-all, while totals bets do come with a bit more of a learning curve than simple moneyline bets, there’s no reason this should deter gamblers. Totals are still a great way to make a pretty penny, and you can enjoy a matchup without having to worry about who wins or loses.
What does it mean when a bet ‘pushes’?
We talked about the hook and how it helps ensure there is a definitive winner for either kind of bet. Not all bets have a hook though, and if you’re looking at a bet with whole numbers, this is likely such a bet. In the case of a 40-point total, for example, if the final scoreline for our fixture read “Buccaneers 14 – 26 Chiefs”, this would result in a tied bet, and a refund for all bettors.
What can change the overall total?
The total can shift due to any number of fixture related factors, such as transfers or injuries. It may also shift due to one-sided bettor interest, so that the sportsbook can encourage bettors to go the other way.