Totals Betting Explained – What is a Totals Bet?

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Betting on the total, also referred to as the over/under, is one of the most popular types of betting. Totals bets are right up there with point spreads and moneylines, and it is common to parlay them together with other wagers as a means of upping the ante.

A totals bet is straightforward, perhaps the most basic type of bet in all of gambling. Instead of wagering on one or the other team to win or cover a spread, you simply bet on the over/under on how many points will score in the game overall.

Markets including totals bet.

How Does Totals Betting Work?

When betting on the total, also known as the over/under, you will see a number to tell you where the total is set. For a common example, let’s take an NFL game where the total is 48.5. Here you would need at least 49 total points to score for the over to win, while 48 or fewer means the game goes under, and an under bet prevails.

It is largely that simple, although you will sometimes see a total with no decimal, like 48. In this case, it would be possible for exactly 48 points to score. Were that to happen, bets on both the under and over “push,” meaning you receive your money back on either bet.

It is essential to remember that it does not matter which team scores the points, it is the overall points scored in the game. In the above example, say it is the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders can score 27 while the Broncos score 20, and the game goes under. If the Raiders score 34 and the Broncos score 21, the game goes over.

The same would be true if the scores were the opposite and the Broncos win the game. All that matters is the total points by whichever team they may be scored. This makes total points betting straightforward and not reliant on who wins or loses, just the overall scoring that occurs.

How Are Totals Betting Odds Calculated?

Of course, as with all betting, the best online sportsbooks must set odds on totals bets to make a profit. In principle, the total should initially be set close to what the sportsbook believes is the most likely final score of the game. If even money was offered on your wager (bet $100, win $100), the sportsbook would not make a profit if both sides win approximately half the time.

For this reason, you will generally see totals with odds set close to -110, although some sports have more differing odds. This means that you must bet $110 to win $100. Yet, you will sometimes see odds that are slightly lower or higher, particularly in live betting markets.

This is how the sportsbook guarantees profit since it sets odds with the goal of garnering 50/50 action on both sides of the total. Assuming the bets come in close to this, a profit will be made regardless of the outcome.

While often the betting odds will be set close to -110 on either side (with some variations based on the sport), it is helpful to keep an eye on totals with differing odds from side to side. This can be a means of finding some value when betting on totals.

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Placing a Totals Bet

When you want to wager on totals, you might wonder exactly how to place your bet at a leading offshore online sportsbook properly. See below for a step-by-step guide to placing a totals bet.

  1. First, register (if you haven’t already) and sign in to your sportsbook of choice.

BetOnline sign up screen.

2. Navigate to a sport you would like to place a wager on and assess the totals options available.

3. Select a totals wager you would like to place.

Placing a totals bet.

4. The selection will show up on the bet slip of the sportsbook. Enter an amount you would like to wager and submit your bet.

Betslip with totals bet.

Totals Bet Examples

It may help to examine a few specific examples of totals bets and how they look at a leading online sportsbook. This way, you will be prepared to make your wagers with confidence and an understanding of how to place a totals bet in practice.

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NBA Totals Bet Example

NBA totals.

In the above NBA example, the Brooklyn Nets are playing the Detroit Pistons, and the total is set at 227.5. The odds on both sides are -110, as you will generally see in pre-game NBA betting on basketball, making this a simple example.

You need 227 or fewer points to score in the game to hit the under, while 228 or more must score to win on the over. The odds are -110 on both the over and under, meaning that a $110 wager will win you $100 on either side.

Let’s also take a look at an MLB example that will give us a somewhat different scenario.

MLB Totals Bet Example

MLB totals bet

Here, the total is 8. MLB totals on baseball games will be much lower than you will see in basketball and football due to the nature of scoring in the sport. A the total that is in between numbers (7.5, not 7 or 8), a push is impossible, and either the over or under will win in every instance.

Here we have more disparate odds that are further from -110. This is more common in baseball than in basketball. The over is -115, while the under is -105.

It could be confusing to understand this since you will see both sides of the total indicated on one or the other team’s side of the betting lines/odds. The way to comprehend it is that you will see, in this case, “O 7.5” with the odds (-118) represented under it, and “O” stands for the over. In contrast, the under is represented as “U 7.5” with the odds (-104) listed under it.

You may wonder why the odds are so different here depending on whether you bet the over or under, as the total should be set close to what the sportsbook believes is efficient. The answer is that:

  • A. The sportsbook believes that the over is more likely.
  • B. More action is coming in on the over than the under.
  • C. A combination of these two factors in tandem.

The sportsbook may want to encourage more bettors to wager on the under, and if this occurs to a high enough degree, they will likely move the line on both the over and under closer to -110. They may also believe that the over is simply more likely, or a combination of these two factors.

Point Spread vs Moneyline vs Totals

When getting into sports betting, the first types of wagers you will encounter are single-game outcome bets like money lines, point spreads, and totals. Let’s take a look at the differences.

Moneyline

The moneyline is the most basic type of wager you can place. Here you are betting on what team or player will win the game/match outright.

In the above example, there is an NBA game between the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics. The Raptors are -186 favorites on the moneyline, while the Celtics are +144 underdogs. This is because the sportsbook believes that the Raptors are more likely to win, in combination with adjusting for the sides that action is being placed on by the public.

This means that you would need to bet $186 on the Raptors to win $100. A $100 wager on the Celtics will garner you a $144 win.

Point Spread

A point spread is more similar to a total in that a number is introduced to account for the likelihood of events. This is in contrast to betting odds being the major equalizer as in moneyline betting.

You will generally see odds on point spreads of close to -110, just like totals. Point spread betting is generally more popular than moneyline on the most prominent US betting sports like NFL and NBA.

Using the same above NBA example, the Dallas Mavericks are favored by -6.5, and the Sacramento Kings are +6.5. This means that the Mavericks need to win by at least seven for you to win a point spread wager on them, while the Kings can lose by as much as six, and you will win your Sacramento spread bet.

Like a total, a spread can be set at a number without a decimal, like -6 on the favorite and +6 on the underdog. In this case, if a team wins by precisely six, both sides push and receive their money back.

Totals

Of course, we have already discussed totals. Pitting totals in contrast with moneylines and point spreads, the important thing to remember is that totals involve the overall score of the game regardless of which team wins or scores the points. Totals, like point spreads, are also very popular in US betting.

Moneylines and point spreads involve taking a side in a game, either against or with the odds, or with or against the spread, so you must choose. Let’s use the below example.

In this MLB game between the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves, the total is set to 7.5. If you bet the over, you need eight or more runs to score. On the under, you need seven or fewer. Since the total is between numbers, you can’t push.

If the total was 7 instead of 7.5, a push would be possible. If exactly seven runs are scored, you would push on either the over or under and get your amount wagered back.

Totals Betting Tips and Strategies

Of course, there are many considerations one can make when betting on totals. Considering the odds, the total itself, and odds and over/under line movement are important. Still, there are a few hacks to betting on totals effectively.

  1. Bet on the under: The simplest and most tried and true sports betting strategy is to simply bet on the under. The betting public tends to put money on the over as casual fans often prefer to root for scoring. For this reason, the total and odds will generally skew toward the favor of the under.
  2. Shop for the best line: You will often see varying totals and odds depending on the sportsbook. When looking to place any bet, it is best to scan the options and make sure you are getting the most advantageous numbers on your wager.
  3. Keep an eye on breaking news: Particularly in sports like the NBA, you will often see late-breaking news involving player availability and other factors. These can greatly affect the likelihood of scoring or lack thereof, and you may be able to jump on inefficient lines before they are moved to reflect new information.

Pros and Cons of Totals Betting

In terms of tangible profitability, totals betting is much like any other. If you find efficient lines and odds, you will have a better opportunity to win.

Therefore, the pros and cons of betting on totals overall have more to do with the enjoyment of betting than profitability or lack thereof. However, there are some overt benefits to totals betting.

Pros

  • You don’t have to root for one team or the other. You can simply root for both teams to score or not to score.
  • The public tends to bet the over, meaning that betting on the under, by and large, has inherent value.
  • You won’t be tempted to bet on your favorite team or teams you prefer over another.
  • The total points scored can be more predictable than which team will win a game.
  • Totals betting is straightforward; there is one number to consider and whether the score goes over or under.

Cons

  • Some bettors may enjoy rooting for a side rather than having no stake in which team wins.
  • Since the lines constantly move based on action, it can be difficult to ascertain the actual likelihood of events.
  • Since overtime counts, under wagers can be risky even if you handicap the game correctly and find an advantageous wager.
  • It can be time-consuming to line and odds shop between various sportsbooks on often differing totals lines.
  • It is possible to push on even totals and neither win nor lose; getting your money back can be anti-climactic.

Popular Sports for Totals Betting

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular sports in the US for betting totals. There are some key differences to understand.

NFL Football Totals Betting

The NFL is the most popular sport to bet on in the US, and totals are one of the most common bets. You will generally see totals set in the 40s and 50s for NFL football games. Odds tend to be fixed around -110 on both sides of pre-game NFL totals.

Due to the large quantity of casual action, NFL totals are very likely to skew toward the over. This makes simply taking the under when in doubt a strong basic strategy in NFL totals betting.

NBA Basketball Totals Betting

The NBA is another common sport for betting on the total. You will usually see NBA totals in the low-to-mid 200s. Like the NFL, odds on both the over and under tend to be very close to -110.

There is a lot of late-breaking news in the NBA between injuries, rest management, and other factors. It is wise to keep a close eye on the news wire and bet quickly and accordingly.

MLB Baseball Totals Betting

MLB totals are a lot different than NFL and NBA in that they are set very low. There is simply not much scoring, and you won’t often see a total over 10. It is also more common that odds vary on the over and under more than you will usually see in NFL and NBA.

There are some key considerations in MLB, such as keeping a close eye on the starting lineup that day and betting as soon as it comes out. Perhaps a star player is unexpectedly out of the lineup. It is also wise to consider the bullpens of both teams and which relievers may be available that day.

NHL Hockey Totals Betting

Like MLB, NHL totals are meager compared to many sports and are usually between 5.5 and 6.5. You are also more likely to see widely differing odds on hockey games for both the over and under that skew further from -110.

When betting on NHL totals, it is good to keep an eye on late-breaking news involving injuries, line combinations, and starting goalies. Starting lineups and combos, in addition to goalies, are announced relatively close to game time, meaning it is quite possible to take advantage of inefficient total if you bet quickly.

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Totals Betting FAQs

What are sports betting totals?

What is a totals bet example?

What are betting team totals?

What does a total over 2.5 mean in betting?

Can you add totals bets to parlays?

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Resources

Jack Garry
US Sports Betting Expert
Jack Garry
US Sports Betting Expert

Jack Garry is a successful daily fantasy sports (DFS) player and writer, providing content on DFS, sports betting, and legal online gambling. He has written for sites like Lines.com, Oddspedia.com, and Casino.org. This has included articles on DFS and betting strategy, regional online gambling news and information, and more.