Totals Betting Explained

Totals bets are the most common sports wager that most people don’t know. The primary reason for their secrecy is due to the fact that most know them by another name.

However, for new Colorado sports bettors, totals bets will be an integral part of their lives. So, here is a handy guide to explain all the ins and outs of totals betting.

How Totals or the Over / Under Betting Works

Most people have never heard of totals bets because they are often known by a different name. However, if you mention the “over/under,” many will immediately understand the type of bet you mean.

In these types of wagers, a sportsbook establishes a number as its estimate of the total number of points two teams will score in a match. This estimate, rather than the entire bet itself, is the actual over/under.

What players are betting on is whether the actual total points scored will be higher or lower than the estimate. Those who bet it will be higher are said to have wagered or taken “the over,” while those who bet on a lower amount will have wagered or taken “the under.”

The over/under itself usually ends in a 0.5 decimal. The decimal figure allows the sportsbook to avoid ties because the actual score is guaranteed to be higher or lower.

How Payouts on Totals Work

In terms of payouts, totals are quite similar in structure to point spreads. Players are hoping to get paid on a 1:1 basis, but they must also pay a premium to the sportsbook for the privilege.

This premium is known as vigorish, or “the vig.” It, along with the bet amount, are denoted by the negative three-digit number that accompanies the over/under in bet listings.

So, a winning totals bet will always realize profits slightly less than equal to the bet amount. Generally speaking, the vig is 10% on top of the wager.

Therefore, the three-digit number next to the bet option is usually -110 or something similar.

However, if all that information doesn’t make sense, read on. We have several real-world examples to help illustrate.

Real Examples of Totals Bets

Sometimes, it’s easier to see how wagers work with examples. So, here are a few samples of actual bets that were, at one time, offered on DraftKings Sportsbook.

Game: Arizona Coyotes vs. Montreal Canadiens (NHL)

Over 5.5: -110

Under 5.5: -110

Comment: Here was an example of a pretty typical totals bet. Bettors had to decide if the two teams would combine for less than or equal to 5 goals, or greater than or equal to 6 goals.

Sample Payouts

Because the vig was equivalent, the payouts were the same for either side of the wager. So, no matter which side bettors took, here are what payouts would look like for some common bet sizes:

  • $100: $90.91 profit, $190.91 total
  • $110: $100 profit, $210 total
  • $50: $45.45 profit, $95.45 profit
  • $5: $4.55 profit, $9.55 total

Game: Brooklyn Nets vs. Indiana Pacers (NBA)

Over 217: -112

Under 217: -109

Comment: There were a couple of interesting things going on in this bet. First of all, the over/under was not a decimal, which means that ties and pushes on bets were possible.

The vig on this game was also not the standard 10%. In fact, “over” bettors had to pay an extra 2% for the privilege, while “under” bettors got a 1% discount.

Changing vigs occur because a sportsbook is trying to incentivize action on one side of the bet. For the oddsmakers, the ideal scenario is to have equivalent betting pools on each side so that the book can collect profit with no risk.

The increased betting on the “over” is likely due to the fact that a typical Pacers game would see both teams score 217.2 points, and a typical Nets game would feature 222.3 combined points. So, it seemed more likely to go over the mark, and bettors had noticed.

Sample payouts

  • $100 on over: $89.29 profit, $189.29 total
  • $100 on under: $91.74 profit, $191.74 total
  • $112 on over: $100 profit, $212 total
  • $112 on under: $102.75 profit, $214.75 total
  • $109 on over: $97.32 profit, $206.32 total
  • $109 on under: $100 profit, $209 total
  • $50 on over: $44.64 profit, 94.64 total
  • $50 on under: $45.87, profit, $95.87 total

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Other Notes on Totals Bets

The totals bet is the only “mainstream” type of wagering that does not pertain directly to the outcome of the game, since it does not matter which team does all the scoring. Any other type of bet that occurs on events ancillary to the outcome of the game is classified as a proposition wager.

The totals bet, or its more common “over/under” sobriquet, is also used as a casual way to describe how often something might occur in an upcoming event. Friends might mention the over/under for the number of times that a person says a particular word in a speech, or how much time might pass before a certain topic arises.

Of course, most people usually don’t actually bet on these types of propositions. However, you never know when there might be money on the line.