What Is Over/Under Betting?

When the topic of betting on a game comes up, much of the discussion is about which side will win and by how much. That coincides with two of the three main bets you’ll find at online sportsbooks: moneylines and spreads. The third member of the trio, however, has a different focus.

Over/under bets are wagers on the total combined score of a game. It’s a simple bet, as you have just two choices. However, it’s important not to confuse simplicity with “easy to win.” Read on as we explore over/under betting — aka totals — in full detail.

Are over/unders and totals the same thing?

Yes, when it comes to betting, the terms “over/under” and “total” refer to the same thing. It’s generally all about how many points two teams will combine to score in a game and whether that total will be over or under a line that the sportsbook has set.

Also, there are over/unders and totals for smaller snippets of a game, such as the total points in the first half of a CFL game or whether Auston Matthews will collect over or under 1.5 points.

How totals betting works

A standard totals bet will generally be part of the main listing for a game. An NHL game line might look like this, for instance:

  • Buffalo Sabres at Montreal Canadiens
    • Moneyline: Sabres +118 (2.18)/Canadiens -142 (1.7)
    • Puck line: Sabres +1.5 (-215 or 1.47)/Canadiens -1.5 (+172 or 2.72)
    • Total: Over 5.5 (-110 or 1.91)/under (-110 or 1.91)

The Canadiens are the moneyline and puck line favourites in a game with a projected total of 5.5 goals. Over bettors will win if the teams combine for six or more goals. A 4-2 victory for either side gets it done, but a 3-2 game does not. Under bettors, meanwhile, are looking for five or fewer goals in the game.

Do all sports use totals bets?

The total or over/under bet has many uses at legal online betting sites. While it is most common when betting on the total scoring in a game, here are some other examples:

  • Number of sets or games in a tennis match.
  • Total rounds in MMA or boxing.
  • Number of laps that a particular driver leads a NASCAR race.
  • Shots, corners and cards for soccer.
  • Over/unders for player props — NFL/CFL yards, NHL points, etc.

The basic concept is the same for all of them: Bet based on a line that the sportsbook has set.

How to read over/under betting odds

When sports betting lines for a game first come out, the odds on either side of the total will generally be the same or similar:

  • Ottawa Redblacks at Toronto Argonauts
    • Over 49.5 (-110 or 1.91)
    • Under 49.5 (-110 or 1.91)

Once people start betting, the numbers will often move. If one side is bringing in more action than the other, a sportsbook may tweak the line in an effort to even things out:

  • Ottawa Redblacks at Toronto Argonauts
    • Over 49.5 (-108 or 1.93)
    • Under 49.5 (-112 or 1.89)

In theory, making the side that’s seeing the bulk of the action less attractive will lead to more money coming in on the other side. The process of massaging the numbers may continue right up until game time. In most cases, the numbers will stay around where they were at release, but you could see a more extreme shift:

  • Ottawa Redblacks at Toronto Argonauts
    • Over 49.5 (+100 or 2.00)
    • Under 49.5 (-120 or 1.83)

It’s also possible to see the total itself shift by a half-point or more due to betting action or other developments. Additionally, keep in mind that the odds and lines can vary by sportsbook. Before placing a total bet, take the time to shop around and compare the numbers to place yourself in a position for the best possible return.

How much do you win on over/under bets?

The payout for winning totals bets will be based on your stake and the odds at the time you placed your bet. While the odds may move afterward, you’ll be locked in at where the number was when you wagered.

For a $100 bet at the standard odds of -110 or 1.91, you can expect back a profit of $90.91 if you win. Any shift up or down in the odds will change that number. For example, here’s the payout on a winning $100 bet at different odds:

  • -105/1.95: $95.20
  • -108/1.93: $92.60
  • -110/1.91: $90.90
  • -112/1.89: $89.30
  • -115/1.87: $87.00

As for the total itself, any movement in the line can easily impact your results. Add those two points together, and we have ourselves a very strong case for the importance of line shopping and placing your bets at the best possible numbers.

Over/under betting examples for major sports

To further understand how betting on totals works, let’s walk through some examples from different leagues, beginning with the CFL:

CFL totals betting

Betting lines for CFL games come out well in advance of kickoff. That translates into plenty of time for research, as well as for movement in the numbers.

  • Calgary Stampeders at Saskatchewan Roughriders
    • Over 51.5 (-110 or 1.91)
    • Under 51.5 (-110 pr 1.91)

For this matchup, over bettors are hoping for 52 points or more. A 28-24 decision gets it done, but a final score of 27-24 does not. If we flip the two outcomes, under bettors are celebrating at 51 points or fewer.

NFL totals betting

NFL betting odds also come out early and remain incredibly active from there. Some bettors prefer to get in early, while others like to see how the market develops.

  • Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills
    • Over 49.5 (-110 or 1.91)
    • Under 49.5 (-110 or 1.91)

NHL totals betting

For NHL betting, totals are naturally much lower. In fact, you’ll find that most games fall into the same range of 5.0 to 6.5 goals.

  • Edmonton Oilers at Winnipeg Jets
    • Over 6.0 (-110 or 1.91)
    • Under 6.0 (-110 or 1.91)

In this case, it’s possible that the total goals will land exactly on the number. If that happens, such as a score of 5-1 or 4-2, your bet would be a push, and the sportsbook would refund your original wager.

NBA totals betting

Scoring in an NBA game can often climb well over 200 points. While the numbers may be larger, the same rules and research principles apply. For example, this is how an NBA totals bet may look:

  • Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors
    • Over 218.5 (-110 or 1.91)
    • Under 218.5 (-110 or 1.91)

A 111-110 game would be good for over bettors, while a 109-108 decision would see a win for the under.

MLB totals betting

Totals for MLB games are similar to the NHL as they tend to fall into a tighter range and are on the small side in comparison to football and basketball. On the average daily slate, there may only be a game or two that climbs into double digits.

  • New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
    • Over 9.0 (-110 or 1.91)
    • Under 9.0 (-110 or 1.91)

If you place an MLB bet on the over here, you need 10 or more runners to cross the plate, while under bettors are hoping for anything under nine runs. A score of 8-1 or 5-4, for example, would result in a push.

What’s the average over/under for the major sports?

As you gain experience with betting on totals, you’ll find that the lines tend to fall into a distinct range for each major sport. Here are the basic parameters:

Football (NFL, CFL)Range: high 30s to 55-plus
Lower-scoring: 42 or less
Midrange: 43 to 53
Higher-scoring: 54 and above
NHLRange: 5.0 to 6.5
Rarely under 5.0, the benchmark for defense-heavy games
Majority at 5.5 to 6.0
6.5 can be considered potential high-scoring
MLBRange: 6.0 to 10-plus
Games at 7.0 or less look like pitchers’ duels
Majority of games in the 7.5 to 9.0 range
Potentially high-scoring at 9.5 and above
NBARange: 190s to 220-plus
Lower-scoring: Anything under 205.5
Midrange: 206-219
Higher-scoring: 220 and above

Sportsbook rules for totals bets

All legal online sportsbooks have house rules that may come into play. On the simple side, these rules cover what you need to know about the settlement and placement of wagers. Other rules cover things that can impact your wagers directly, special circumstances, betting limits and more. For over/under betting, here are some key points to remember:

  • Official game results will dictate whether bets win or lose.
  • Unless otherwise indicated in the bet terms, the total includes the result of any overtime.
  • In the event of a game cancellation, sportsbooks will void and refund over/under bets.

You should be able to find the relevant rules directly on a sportsbook’s website or app. While some may have a direct link, others will include the rules in the FAQ or help section. It’s your responsibility to be aware of and understand these rules, so be sure to take the time to review them before you bet.

Tips for betting on totals

Over/under betting is simple in nature, which is one of the main reasons for its popularity. However, don’t mistake the simplicity of the bet to mean that it’s easy to win. Just like any other sports bet, it can take some time to gain knowledge and skill. Here are some tips to help shorten the learning curve:

  • Always line shop: Totals that are a half-point off what you researched will impact your betting results. There’s no need to bet on a number that you’re not comfortable with, so take the time to look around and find what you want. The same applies to the odds for your wagers. If you can get more of a potential return on winning bets at one sportsbook over another, that’s likely where you should bet. Learn more about shopping for lines here.
  • Review team trends and historical matchup data: As part of your sports betting research, be sure to review team records on the over/under, recent scoring trends for both sides and what has happened in the past when the two clubs have met. While none of these indicators will point you to exactly what’s going to happen this time around, they all can help you get a potential idea of what might take place.
  • Know when to pass: At times — frequently, even — your research won’t yield a strong feeling one way or the other about a game. Instead of forcing it, take that as a sign that it’s time to take a pass. There are plenty of other games to bet on. If you don’t feel confident about an over/under bet, move along.
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