Understanding Totals in Sports Betting

Bookmaker at a racecourse signaling in tick-tack with arms aloft
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Many sports bettors believe betting on overs/unders is easier than trying to predict the winner of a game and bookmakers tend to agree with that fact by placing smaller betting limits on overs/unders than they do when betting a team, either against the point spread or on the money line.

Overs/unders, more commonly referred to as totals, are a type of betting opportunity offered to gamblers where they may bet that the final score of a game is over the bookmaker's posted total or it goes under the number.

The winner of a totals bet is determined by adding the final score of both teams. It's that simple.

Imagine the New York Jets are playing the Miami Dolphins and the posted total is 40. If you bet over on the game, you win your bet if the two teams combine for more than 40 points. If the Dolphins win 24-17, for example, you have made a winning bet. If the Dolphins were to win 24-14, you would lose the over bet, as the final combined score was just 38. If the final score added up to 40, the bet would be considered a push, or a tie, and your money is returned to you.

Football and Basketball Totals

When betting on football and basketball totals, the bettor risks $11 to win $10, just as they do when making a bet against the point spread. If the bookmaker can get an equal amount of money wagered on the over and the under, he is guaranteed to make money no matter what the final score is.

Most NFL football totals will range between 32 and 52, with an average number right around 41 points.

If two high scoring teams with poor defenses are playing each other, the total may be posted higher.On rare occasions, two sound defensive teams playing in poor, cold weather, may see the total dip below 32, but this doesn't happen too often.

College football totals may be even higher, as some teams have great offenses and equally poor defenses.

College football totals have been known to reach into the 70-point range.

When a bookmaker accepts a maximum bet on a football total, they will typically adjust the line by .5 points in an effort to attract money bet the other way, although this is at the discretion of the individual bookmaker. They may move the line a full point or they may not move it at all.

Basketball totals work in exactly the same manner as football totals, where the bettor risks $11 to win $10. Naturally, the over/under numbers are much higher, as many more points will be scored in a basketball game, as opposed to a football game, and totals can range from 120, for a low scoring NCAA team, well into the 200s for an NBA game.

When bookmakers accept a maximum wager on a basketball total they will typically respond by adjusting the line 1.5 points in an effort to attract people to be the other way. Example: If the posted total on the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets is 190 and a bettor places a $500 wager on the over, which happens to be the maximum bet allowed at a particular sportsbook. The sportsbook would then raise the total to 191.5 in an attempt to get people to wager money on the under.

Baseball and Hockey Totals

Baseball and hockey totals wagers use the same principal as football and basketball overs/unders, where the bookmaker posts a number and you can bet either over that total or under the total, but there is one essential difference and that rests in the amount of money a bettor must risk​ in order to win $100.

Because scoring in baseball and hockey is so much lower than in football or basketball, the bookmakers are reluctant to change the number of a total and instead will adjust the odds. Example: If the over/under number on the Dodgers and the Giants is 9 and a bettor places a $500 wager on the over, the bookmaker is unlikely to raise the total to 9.5. Instead, he will make bettors who wish to wager over 9 risk $120 to win $100, which is written as -120. Those wishing to bet the under would then be able to wager at even money or +100, as totals nearly always use a difference of .2, commonly called "20 cents."

If people continue to bet the over, the bookmaker will continue to adjust the odds upward and eventually bettors may have to risk $145 to win $100, or -145. In this case, an under bettor would risk $100 to win $125.

The bookmaker will generally raise the odds up to -145 before raising the total to the next number, which in this case would be 9.5.

Betting overs/unders is another way to add some excitement to a game and many times will offer more betting value than trying to pick the winner. Many serious bettors concentrate on totals, believing they are easier to win than picking which team is going to cover the spread. Now that you understand overs/unders, you're closer to experiencing the "total" sports betting adventure.