Arguably one of the simplest bets to make in all of sports is the totals bet. This is a bet that allows you to bet on a game or match without any regard for who is going to win. If you’re someone who can predict game flow well, then you’re probably going to be pretty interested in learning about totals bets. In this guide, we’re going to take you through all of the basics of a totals bet and what you need to know to start betting them successfully.
We’re going to lead off by talking about what exactly a totals bet is, and then we’re going to cover how they pay out when you win. Then, we’re going to cover the benefits of betting totals and some of the more important tips you need to know. While a lot of the strategy that goes into totals betting is sport-dependent, there are still some things that are true across the board that can help you improve your chances of winning.
Before we can talk about how to beat totals bets, we need to talk about what they are. You may have heard these referred to as over-under bets by some sportsbooks or those in some betting circles. Keep in mind that totals bets and over-under bets are exactly the same; the names are interchangeable.
A totals bet refers to a wager where you are betting on whether the total points, runs, goals, or incidents of something are over or under a particular line. In all situations, it does not matter which team or players score the points, runs, goals, or incidents. The only thing that matters is the cumulative number in the designated category. It also does not matter who wins the game or by how many points.
Now, that’s the wordy, dictionary-style definition of what a totals bet is. Chances are that half of you are probably more confused about these bets than when you started reading this guide. This is because totals bets are tough to explain in words, but they’re extremely easy to explain and comprehend when you use examples. So, let’s take a look at an example totals bet and everything will become clear.
The most common type of totals bet that you are going to see has to do with the points scored in a game. Let’s look at a college basketball totals bet example. Let’s say that the Gonzaga Bulldogs are playing the Duke Blue Devils in a regular season game. The totals bet you might see on this game would look something like this.
Now, let’s break down what this all means. First, let’s look at the number 168. This number represents the line on how many total points the sportsbook thinks will be scored in this game. They are saying that if you add together all of the points scored by both teams, it should equal 168. If you think that the total points scored is going to be more than 168, you’d bet the over. If you think the total points scored is going to be less than 168, you’d bet the under.
The small “o” next to the 168 on the Duke line represents the over. Sometimes, this will just be written out as “Duke over 168,” which means the exact same thing. If you were to take this bet, you would be betting that the total points scored by both teams would be over 168. Now, you may be wondering why it says Duke on that line and not Gonzaga or why not both teams. This is just the way the sportsbook likes to write things to conserve space on the board. This DOES NOT have anything to do with which team is going to win the game. They could easily be flipped, and it wouldn’t make any sort of difference. All that matters here is the total points scored by both teams.
The same is true for the second line. The small “u” represents the under, but could also be written as Gonzaga under 168 and it would mean the same thing. If it were written as Duke under 168, it would also mean the same thing. A lot of people tend to get confused here because they think that it has something to do with who is going to win the game or who is going to score the most point. None of that matters.
So, let’s say that you decided to take “Duke over 168.” Duke has to score most of the points, right? NO!!! That was a trick question to see if you were paying attention. Here are three different final scores where you would win your bet.
Notice (sorry for beating a dead horse) that it does not matter which team wins or who scores the most points. All that matters is the total number of points The same applies if you were to take “Gonzaga under 168.” As long as the total combined point scored by both teams is less than 168 points, you’d win your under bet. We’ll spare you the example scores because we’re pretty sure this is hopefully making some sense now. Now, let’s look at a few questions that people have about totals bets.
This is a great question. If the score in our above example were exactly 168 total points, neither side of the bet would win, and neither side of the bet would lose. The bet would be ruled a push which is a fancy betting term for a tie. You would get your money returned to you if that were the case.
Now, sportsbooks don’t really like pushes because if they have to give everyone their money back, they can’t make any money on the juice. So, what they will often do is set the totals line at a half point increment. For example, the line is this game could be 168 (which it actually was because this was a real example), or it could have been set at 168.5. Since there are no half points in basketball, it would be impossible for there to be a tie. If you took the over 169 or more points would spell a win for you. If you took the under, 168 or fewer points would spell a win for you. It’s impossible to get to 168.5 points so there would be no tie.
If you’ve got a totals bet as part of a parlay, teaser, or pleaser, make sure that you look into how ties are treated in that format. For most parlays, the tied bet just falls off, and your parlay drops one level down. For example, if you’re betting a 5-teamer and you win four of your bets but push your 5th totals bet, most sportsbooks would pay you out as a winner, but as if it were a 4-teamer.
With pleasers and teasers, most sportsbooks are going to let you decide on how you want ties treated. You’ll have the option of having them drop off, be treated as wins, or be treated as losses. Just keep this in mind when you’re working with totals bets on multi-bet wagers. Just because a standalone totals bet will return your money in a tie does not necessarily mean that a multi-bet format will. This isn’t a positive or a negative; it’s just something that you need to be aware of when making your bets.
Totals bets do not magically shutoff if the game goes into overtime. If you’re someone with the under, you’re not going to want to see overtime as it just gives the teams more time to put points on the board. If you’re betting the over, though, overtime is going to be your friend. There are some occasions where overtime is not included, but this will be clearly stated to you before you make your wager. Specifically, we’ve seen this in hockey and soccer the most, but it is possible in any sport, though rare.
There are some wagers out there that will look like over-under bets that will not include overtime. These are known as three-way lines where you can bet on the over, under, or a tie. In these situations, overtime is usually not included, but again, you’ll need to check each time to be sure. The bottom line here is that majority of the time in most major sports overtime is going to count towards totals bets unless otherwise stated. It will be clearly stated, though, as long as you take a few seconds just to read what you’re betting.
As we stated, the most popular totals bets are on game scores which include runs, points, goals, etc. But, there are a lot of other totals bets out there that you’ll usually find classified under the prop bet categories. For example, you could bet the over-under on the number of bogeys in a particular round in a golf tournament. Or, you could bet the over-under on yellow cards that will be given out in a soccer game.
All of these are decided the exact same way, but they just don’t have anything to do with the score of the game. This does also mean that they are not affected by who wins the game or who does the certain action. There are some totals bets that are player or team specific, though, that you might be interested in. For example, you might see an over-under on how many bogeys one particular player is going to shoot. Or, you might see a totals bet on the number of yellow cards one team is going to receive.
There are tons of different totals bets out there, and most of them are a great way to make some money and diversify your sports betting picks. Just make sure that before you make a totals bet, you know exactly what you’re betting on and what criteria you need to win.
Now that you’ve got a firm grasp (hopefully) on how totals bets work and what types of totals bets are out there, we want to take a look at how these bets pay out. For the large majority of totals bets, they’re going to pay out the exact same on either side of the bet. For example, let’s look at our college basketball example from earlier.
Sometimes this will be written with the moneyline payout odds attached like this:
This means that if you bet the over in this game, a winning wager will be paid out at (-110). If you bet the under and win, you’ll also be paid out at (-110). If you’re not up to speed on how moneylines pay out, check out our moneyline betting guide when you get a chance and we will break it all down. Basically, though, (-110) means that if you bet $100, you should get a little over $90 back in profit on a correct pick.
Now, what happens when they don’t list the payout odds? When this happens, you can assume that they are paying each side out at (-110). If they need to get more action on either side of the contest, they’ll adjust the totals number instead of the betting odds in these situations.
Sometimes, though, you will see totals bets that are paid out at different moneyline odds than (-110). This can happen for several reasons. First, it can happen if they’re looking to shift action a little bit without moving the totals line. Sometimes if they move a total it will cause way too much action to move than they’re looking for.
Let’s say that’s the case in our above example. Let’s say they think if they move the total to 168.5 to discourage action on the over, it’s going to cause too much action to come in. Instead, they might adjust the moneyline odds to try and deter some of that action on the over. It might look something like this:
Now, the total number is still the same, and the requirements to win the over and the under are the exact same. But, the payouts are different. That $100 bet on the over that would get you $90.91 in profit at (-110) will now get you only $86.96 in profit. This is a bit of an exaggerated example because they would almost always just move the points total in basketball, but it still shows the concept we’re trying to show you. If you’re betting a sport where it’s almost always (-110), make sure you at least peak at the payout odds to see if they’re shifted. It only takes half a second to look at, so don’t be lazy and make sure you’re betting what you want to bet.
Another instance where you’re going to see varying moneyline payouts with totals bets are with wagers where the totals number is relatively small. For example, if you are betting over-under on how many bogeys a particular golfer will have in a round, that line is probably going to be something like 1.5. Moving the over-under line from 1.5 to 2 or 2.5 would cause a massive shift in action which is not what the sportsbook wants to happen. So, instead, they’ll change the payout odds.
Another example of a sport you see this in a lot is hockey. Usually, the totals line is set at 6, 6.5, or 5.5 goals and then they manipulate the moneyline odds to get the equal action they want. You’ll also see this a lot in baseball, soccer, and other sports where the total score or total occurrences of something are single digits.
The takeaway here is that the majority of totals bets that deal with double-digit numbers are going to pay out at (-110). Single digit totals numbers will often have varying payout numbers different than (-110). Do you have to memorize all of this? Heck no. All you need to realize is that you should look at what the payouts are before you make any totals bet. If you’re happy with the number, go for it. If you don’t like it, don’t make the bet.
While most of you here probably already realize the perks of betting totals bets, we wanted to cover a few of the top benefits. Knowing what makes these bets great can help you whether or not they have a place in your profit-seeking or entertainment-seeking sports betting strategy. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of betting totals bets. These are not all of the benefits, but they’re the ones that we find to be the most prevalent.
From an entertainment standpoint, totals bets are incredible when you love or hate both teams playing. If you love both teams and want to cheer for both to do well, you can rationally do this with an over bet. When you bet the score over, you don’t care who scores as long as they do a lot of it. On the flip side, there are times you’re watching games and both teams rub you the wrong way. If you’re looking for a fun way to bet the game but don’t want to cheer for either team, then you can take the under.
Keep in mind that this benefit matters if you’re betting for entertainment purposes. If you’re a serious sports bettor who is concerned with profit, you don’t want to be making bets based on whether you like or dislike the teams that are playing. But, if you’re just looking to bet for some added sweat and entertainment, then totals bets can be a great addition.
The more important benefit of totals betting is the betting flexibility that it gives you. Betting flexibility is a fancy term that means you’re able to have more options when it comes to ways to make money betting on sports. Without totals bets, you’re really stuck only to betting on the outcome of games. But, what happens when your prediction or hot tip tells you how the game is going to go but doesn’t really tell you who the final winner is going to be?
Well, the answer is that prediction would be worthless without totals bets. You could sound really smart at the local sportsbook, or you could try and find a way to tie your prediction to the game-winner, but other than that you are out of luck. Luckily, you have betting flexibility thanks to totals bets.
You certainly don’t have to use totals bets, but they can be a nice addition to round out your bets and get you more action and ways to win. On that same token, there are a lot of really successful sports bettors that do nothing but bet totals bets. Just be aware that you have these bets at your disposal, and use them when the time is right. No need to force them and no need to avoid them.
Our last section today deals with some of the most important information we have to offer concerning totals bets. We’d like to give you some of our expert tips on how to best profit from these types of bets and how to avoid making costly mistakes that will kill your bottom line. Now, it’s important to note that a lot of totals betting strategy is sport-dependent. This means that the strategies to beat totals bets in football are not going to be the same as the ones you use when betting hockey totals and so on and so forth.
That being said, there are some tips dealing with totals bets that do run across the board and are applicable to most sports. Those are the tips that we’re sharing with you here today.
The laziest of lazy things that you can do in any format of sports betting is refusing to shop lines. Line shopping is the easiest thing to do, and it also can have the largest impact on the success or failure of your sports betting career. Line shopping totals bets just means checking multiple sportsbooks to see who is offering you the best line.
For example, let’s say you want to bet the over in our earlier Duke vs. Gonzaga example. If your sportsbook has the bet at over 168 (-110) and another has it at over 167.5 (-110), where should you bet? If you are at all thinking about betting at the first book, you are crazy. Sure, it may only be a half a point difference, but if you spend enough time betting totals bets or any bets for that matter, you’ll learn that half a point can be huge.
Sometimes, you may even find a bigger disparity between the different lines and get a whole point or even more. The bigger differences are a bit rarer, but they do happen, and you need to take advantage of those opportunities. On the same token, you might see the same totals line but a different payout. We say earlier that getting (-110) instead of (-115) is almost a $5 difference for every $100 you bet. Again, this might not seem like a lot, but when you extrapolate it out over hundreds and thousands of bets, it’s going to add up.
You don’t have to waste your time checking tons of different sportsbooks. As long as you check 2-4 different books, you can safely say that you’re doing your due diligence. Remember, shop each totals bet separately and place it at the site that is giving you the best totals line or the best odds. Also remember, make sure these sites you’re shopping at are quality and trusted sportsbooks. You should never place a wager with a shady sportsbook just to get a slightly better line. While a half point is huge at a reputable book, a half point means nothing if you run the risk of not getting paid out on your bet.
When you’re looking at the total number of points scored in a game or a match, it seems pretty obvious that you should take the time to study the offense. But, don’t neglect spending an equal amount of time studying the defense. The defense (and this is not going to be revolutionary) can have just as big of an effect on the final score of a game as the offense. This can be by stopping the other team from scoring or through defensive scoring. Yes, this sounds like common sense, but you might be surprised how many people don’t split their time accordingly and only focus on the offense.
We’ve talked to a lot of over-under bettors who have lost wagers because they forgot to account for defensive scoring. Don’t be that guy (or gal). Make sure you take a well-rounded approach when you’re making your totals predictions, and don’t get offense-drunk.
Something that a lot of people forget about when they’re making totals bets on the score is strategic changes that each team might take late in the game. For example, let’s say that an NFL team is up multiple scores with 10 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. Are they going to keep winging the ball and trying to put points on the board? Probably not. They’re probably going to start running the ball and looking to eat up the clock.
Everyone here probably knows this already, but a lot of people forget to take this into account when they’re figuring the total for the game. Not only do you have to understand how each offense and defense are going to interact, but you also have to have a prediction on the flow of the game. Is it going to be close enough where each team is going to keep trying to score? Do the teams typically take a reserved or aggressive approach with a lead?
Ask yourselves these questions and factor it in when you’re making your totals predictions. That way you’re not caught off-guard late in a game when you think things are going great and all of a sudden they start to turn thanks to a change in strategy that you could have predicted.
One of the best strategies with totals bets is learning when the best time to make your bet is. Sometimes with totals bets is best to get your action in right away while other times it’s best to wait and let the line move to give yourself a more favorable outcome. Lines can move several points thanks to the public betting, so you need to be prepared to take advantage of those situations.
Is there a clear and cut rule about which direction lines move? Definitely not. But, you will start to learn trends and find ways to gauge the direction of the line. One thing that is definitely true more often than it is not is that lines will typically rise as the week goes on especially in higher profile games. The public loves to bet on overs, and they usually don’t get their action in until late. So, as their action comes in, the over-under line will rise to try and discourage some of that over action.
What does this mean for you? Well, if you’re looking to bet the over, without any other knowledge, you should usually look to get that bet in as early as possible. If you’re looking to bet the under absent of any other information, you should look to wait and get your bet in as late as possible. This happens thanks to the betting public, so the effect is going to be much greater on higher profile games.
That’s all there is to totals bets! There a relatively simple bet to understand, but can be a little tricky when it comes to mastering them. Use the tips and information we’ve provided for you, and you should be well on your way to getting these profitably worked into your sports betting strategy. If you’d like some more sports betting strategy and total betting strategies for specific sports, make sure you check out our sports betting strategy sections.