What is Over/Under or Totals Betting?

Totals bets are the “Baba O’Riley” of sports betting. Much like the famous song by The Who, commonly mislabeled as “Teenage Wasteland,” totals bets are often called by another name entirely. As it turns out, a totals bet is what most people call the “over/under.

If you’ve been calling these types of bets the “over/under” to this point, don’t feel silly or that you need to change. Even gambling professionals use that term, and everyone knows what you mean. The only reason we’re using the actual name for the bet is to stay technically accurate. If you prefer to call it the “over/under,” go right ahead.

Since sports betting in New York is on the rise, you must understand the ins and outs of this type of wager. Totals bets are present in virtually every single sportsbook you’ll ever encounter. For that matter, they can be a lot of fun, too.

So, you will find everything you ever wanted to know about totals betting in the sections below. Read on if you’re interested in making the totals bet a part of your sports betting toolset.

What are totals and over/under bets?

A totals bet is a wager surrounding the combined amount of points that two teams will score in a game or match. A sportsbook will estimate what the total will be, and bettors will wager on whether they believe the estimate to be too low or too high.

The nickname for this type of bet derives from the action itself. Bettors who estimate that the total will be higher than the estimate are said to have “taken the Over.” Sometimes, this group of bettors is even called “the Overs.” Conversely, bettors who foresee a lower total will have “taken the Under” and may be referred to as “the Unders.”

The “Over/Under specifically refers to the sportsbook’s estimate itself. As mentioned, this term has come to serve as an alias for this type of bet, presumably because it’s easier and more descriptive than the word “totals.”

Totals bets exist for virtually every wagerable sport. However, they are much more popular for higher-scoring games, like basketball or NFL betting, than they are for sports where scoring comes infrequently and at a premium, like in soccer or baseball betting. Baseball also has its own popular version of the bet which runs season long, and is known as an over/under ‘win total’.

How do you read over under odds?

Although we can describe what a totals sports bet listing looks like, it’s much easier if you see a real-world example. So, here is a sample basketball betting listing from William Hill Sportsbook:

This listing is for an NBA contest between the Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks. The totals option is listed in the third column. Please note that there is no connection between the Jazz and the Over or the Hawks and the Under — it’s simply written that way for formatting purposes.

In this game, William Hill is estimating that the teams will combine to score 225.5 points. According to Basketball Reference, the average NBA team is scoring 111-112 points per game in recent seasons. So, William Hill estimates that the Jazz and Hawks will score slightly above average, but that’s nowhere near the whole story. It’s a fairly unproductive way to look at these wagers, but we’ll cover that in a moment.

One thing to notice, however, is the fact that the total is a half-point decimal. Naturally, it is impossible to score in half-points, so you may be wondering why the total is given as a decimal. The reason is simply that the sportsbook does not want to run the risk of the actual total tying the over/under. That situation would mean the book would have to declare all bets a push, return the wagers, and, most importantly, not keep any money for itself.

The other thing to see is the payout ratios associated with each selection of the total. The -110 indicates what William Hill is offering to pay for a winning wager on that choice. For every $110 bet, you can expect to realize a profit of $100. However, the ratio will scale proportionally to your wager amount, so don’t feel like you have to bet in those exact increments.

A -110 payout ratio is the standard payout amount for many bets in a sportsbook. The book will pay you nearly even money for a successful wager but will add a 10% premium to the bet as payment for processing the wager. This premium is also known as the vigorish, or “vig.

If the two payout ratios are both -110, as they are here, then that indicates either that there has been equal betting on each side of the wager or that there hasn’t been much action at all. If you see movement in the payout ratios, then the sportsbook is attempting to make one side more attractive to you as a bettor. It is doing so because there is an imbalance in its amount of betting, and it is trying to garner a handle on the other side.

What over/under line movements can tell us

Like any odds listing, the over/under has the ability and tendency to move as game time approaches. The sportsbook can only adjust the payouts by so much, so it may also need to offer a different estimate for the total.

In general, the over/under is going to follow the direction of the betting. If “smart money” bettors — professional handicappers and so forth — are hammering one side of the wager or the other, the sportsbook will read the action as a sign that there is something amiss with the estimate.

However, sportsbooks may also move over/under due to factors that affect the upcoming game itself. Late announcements regarding issues like injuries, recovery from injuries, suspensions, a venue change, or inclement weather can change the entire equation of a game, both in terms of its outcome and the scoring potential.

You can see this in action on our live odds feed.

Tips and strategies for betting on totals

Now that you have a firm understanding of what totals are and look like, let’s talk about how to maximize your returns on these bets. Although it is possible merely to flip a coin and choose one or the other, it’s nicer to have a strategy for analyzing a potential totals opportunity. So, here are some tips for doing so.

  • Watch how the over/under moves: If you find a game that you’d like to bet on, the first thing to do is note the current status of the over/under. Mark the date and time, too. Then, just watch what happens. The direction of the estimate can tell you loads about what the pros are thinking about the bet.
  • Look for reasons why it did or should move: Your over/under watch is not complete by simply noting its movement, however. You should also be investigating all the reasons mentioned above that a total might. If you can determine the reasoning behind the movement, it may give you an inkling about where the final score is going to land. If you notice an element that should have caused a move but didn’t, then you should look for an opportunity there, too.
  • Examine teams on both sides of the ball: It is tempting to decide a total based upon the historic scoring average of each team. It should be a simple matter of addition, after all. However, scoring does not occur in a vacuum, and teams respond differently to the defenses they face. So, make sure that you look at a) how the teams have scored against each other in previous matches, and b) how the teams have scored against other teams with similar defensive attributes and schemes.
  • Check out how each team performed in previous over/unders: You should also investigate each team’s record against the over/under in previous games. This information is less about the teams themselves but is more of an indication of how accurately the sportsbook’s estimations are. If there seems to be a consistent trend, then it might indicate the result in the future.
  • Once you’ve decided, shop around: Finally, once you’ve made up your mind about how you’re going to bet, you should pause and shop around for the same wager at different sportsbook sites or casinos. For instance, if you have determined that you’re taking the Over in a game, then you want to find the lowest over/under that you can since it will be easier for you to collect. The converse would be true if you’re taking the Under, of course. You should also look to see if there are any promotions that you can use for the game in question. Even if you’re not a regular patron at a particular site, you can always make an exception for a great opportunity.

Wrap-up

Totals are a fascinating type of bet because they are totally unconcerned with which team wins the game or performs well. Instead, they are wagers about the offensive firepower (or lack thereof) that you’re bound to see.

If you do your homework and follow the steps above, you can probably find some excellent options for betting. If nothing else, you can bet on a total and have fun rooting for something other than which team is ahead in the score. Even if your team is getting pasted, there still might be a cause to celebrate.

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