To help with spellings and usage in coverage of sports gambling, The Associated Press has compiled an editorial guide of essential terms and definitions.

Most terms are from the Sports Guidelines section and other entries in the AP Stylebook, including several recent additions. Others are common usage in AP news stories.

The terms include input from AP reporters Wayne Parry in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, and Regina Garcia Cano in Las Vegas; as well as investigative editor Rick Pienciak, national beats editor Josh Hoffner; and Oskar Garcia, deputy sports editor and AP Stylebook committee member.


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May 2018 that states could decide for themselves whether to allow gambling on sports, a decision based on a challenge from New Jersey. Since then, Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia legalized sports betting. District of Columbia lawmakers also voted to allow it, though the measure is still under review. Additionally, casinos run by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians as well as the Pueblo of Santa Ana in New Mexico began offering sports betting.

That is likely to expand in 2019. Experts tracking the industry say they expect 30 states to consider bills during legislative sessions this year. Lawmakers in Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia already have filed bills to allow sports betting. Additionally, two U.S. senators introduced a bill at the end of 2018 proposing federal regulation of sports betting.

Beyond the central question of whether to allow sports gambling, legislative debate on the issue generally focuses on how much to tax the bets, who can be licensed to offer the wagers and whether bets can be accepted online. States have taken different approaches and therefore have markets that may look very different from one another. Rhode Island, for example, taxes sports betting at 51 percent and requires gamblers to be physically present in one of two casinos to make wagers. Nevada has a tax rate of 6.75 percent and accepts sports bets online from people who are physically within state borders.

These issues have implications for commercial casino companies, American Indian tribes, lotteries, horse tracks and others that already offer other forms of gambling, as well as regulators who oversee gambling in each state.

Sports leagues themselves have also emerged as a key player in legislative debates, with some pushing for direct payments to leagues as well as new laws requiring casinos to use data provided by the leagues.



Preferred term instead of gaming for risking money or some other stake on the outcome of an event: gambling on blackjack at a casino; gambling on a chess match; gambling on football. Betting and wagering are also acceptable terms: betting on a horse race; the friends wagered on a footrace; a betting pool for the NCAA Tournament. Avoid using the term gaming except in direct quotations, in proper names or when referring to video games, as it is often used as a euphemism to downplay gambling.

The terms sports gambling and sports betting are essentially interchangeable.

gambling revenue

Do not confuse gambling revenue with handle. Revenue is the money kept by casinos after paying out winners on their wagers. Handle, also sometimes known as drop, is casino jargon for the amount of money wagered. If two gamblers each bet $25 on the opposite sides of a game, the loser will lose $25 and the winner will be paid back her original $25 wager plus winnings of about $22.50 — the stake from the loser, less fees of about 10 percent from the casino for administering the bet. The revenue on that transaction is $2.50 for the sportsbook, while the handle is $50.

The difference between revenue and handle in legislative contexts is important because the numbers are vastly different with implications for taxes, fees and other elements of proposals.

"integrity fee"

The term "integrity fee" should be used in quotation marks on first reference and only with explanation, as it has become a key issue in legislative debates over sports gambling. Generally, this refers to a proposed cut paid directly to leagues like the the NBA and MLB on wagers or proceeds from bets in each sport. No states in 2018 agreed to such payments. But some leagues continue to push for them by arguing that their products provide the backbone for sports betting and that they should be compensated to make sure players, referees and other team and league officials do not cheat.


Use one word for places where sports bets are accepted either in person or online, unless part of a formal name. The shorthand book is acceptable on second reference: The sportsbook opened in December; the book stopped taking bets just before kickoff.

betting odds

Use figures and a hyphen: The odds were 5-4; he won despite 3-2 odds against him. The word to seldom is necessary, but when it appears it should be hyphenated in all constructions: 3-to-2 odds, odds of 3-to-2, the odds were 3-to-2.

spread, line

It's often not necessary to use the word spread itself; simply say whether a team is favored or not: The Lakers were favored by 8 1/2 at home against the Knicks. When necessary, numbers for spreads, totals and other wagers should generally be expressed as mixed numbers rather than decimals. The term line is also acceptable: The Patriots opened as a heavy favorite, but the line tightened to 1 after coaches said star quarterback Tom Brady was injured and would not play.


A team that covers the spread beats the expectation of oddsmakers for that game, regardless of an actual win or loss. The Warriors beat the Kings but failed to cover the 12-point spread. The Kings lost but covered.

over/under, total

Use a slash, not a hyphen, for the gambling phrase that describes wagers on a total set by oddsmakers, such as combined total points in a game or total wins for a team in a season. Total is also acceptable. Bettors drove the over/under down to 58 points for the Alabama-Clemson national title game after Nevada casinos initially set the total higher. The total for the Eagles-Bears playoff game opened at 41 1/2 points.

favorite, underdog, upset

The terms favorite, underdog, upset and variations should be used only based on actual odds offered by a sportsbook. For individual games in team sports and head-to-head events like boxing or tennis, the favorite is the team or player who oddsmakers say is most likely to win, while the underdog is most likely to lose. An upset happens only when an underdog beats a clear favorite. UFC fighter Holly Holm was a more than 8-1 underdog when she knocked out Ronda Rousey to give the superstar her first loss.

A team should not be called an underdog unless its opponent is favored by oddsmakers, even if rankings, location or other factors seem to give the team a disadvantage. For example, teams in the NCAA Tournament are seeded numerically 1-16, but lower seeds are sometimes favored over teams seeded higher. When No. 9 seed Florida State beat No. 8 seed Missouri in 2018, it was not an upset because Florida State was a slight favorite.

In events with large fields like tennis tournaments or auto races, as well as future-looking bets like NFL or MLB championships or MVP races, it sometimes makes sense to refer to teams and players as among the favorites if they are one of several top contenders, but not necessarily the top favorite: The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams were among the favorites to win the Super Bowl as the playoffs began, though behind the New Orleans Saints, an 11-4 overall favorite. In horse races, golf tournaments and similar events, a top contender winning shouldn't be termed an upset even if the very top favorite loses.

long shot

Use two words for this term describing a big underdog.


The following terms should generally be used sparingly and with explanation, especially in stories that talk about sports betting itself rather than specific bets on games. Many of these terms are familiar to gamblers but not to others.


A synonym for bets most often useful when describing trends or groups of bets: Early action on the Steelers shifted the line by 2 points on the first day of betting.

bad beat, backdoor cover

Similar but not mutually exclusive terms to describe bets that flip unexpectedly, generally based on unusual play. Both terms can be somewhat subjective, and it is very important to detail the circumstances of the game to explain the descriptions.

Bad beats generally happen when an outcome looks all but certain before something truly unexpected happens. For example, if the New Orleans Saints are ahead by four touchdowns at the start of the fourth quarter yet still lose, that could be considered a bad beat for those who bet on the Saints to win. The key to a bad beat is when a defeat flips seemingly overwhelming odds, especially late in a game. The term is also common in poker and some other games that involve betting.

Backdoor covers are when the outcome of a bet flips in the final moments because of plays that are unusual and irrelevant to the outcome of the actual game itself. For example, Victor Oladipo hit a 3-pointer at the end of a game between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA playoffs in 2018 that did not affect the outcome, but resulted in Indiana covering the spread of 5 1/2 because of a 105-101 loss.

The terms should be used with explanation and thought given to the distinctions. Backdoor covers are not necessarily the result of a bad beat; scoring is common in the final minutes of games — after the winning team has effectively clinched a victory. Remember that athletes are generally simply trying to win, not satisfy bettors with specific circumstances.


When a favorite covers the spread and a game goes generally as expected. The four early games Thursday during the first round of the NCAA Tournament went chalk with no upsets.


To boost the payoff on a single bet, gamblers can use a parlay to string together a series of bets on multiple games or multiple bets within the same game. Parlay bets are frequently lost but are among the highest earning bets for sportsbooks because of the potential to win a lot of money for a relatively small bet.


A wager allowing bettors to change the odds offered by bookmakers for a price, a practice also known as teasing. Teasers often must be applied to combined wagers on two or more games, or at least two bets on the same game.

Here's an example: Say the New York Giants are favored by 3 points over the Philadelphia Eagles and the Los Angeles Chargers are favored by 7 over the Baltimore Ravens. A gambler using a common 6-point teaser for football can move the lines to make New York a 3-point underdog and the Chargers a 1-point favorite, meaning Los Angeles would not need to win by a touchdown.

Lines can be adjusted upward or downward and involve multiple games. In a single game, a bettor can lower or increase the point spread and the under/over total on the same game.


For a strong favorite to win, odds of less than even money: The horse was sent off as the 4-5 favorite. An odds-on favorite means casinos believe the event is more likely to happen than not.

vigorish, juice

The bookmakers' cut of the action, also known as the vig or the juice. Precise betting lines encourage an equal amount wagered on each side. Sportsbooks use money from losing bets to pay winners, while keeping a percentage for the casino. That percentage varies, but usually is around 10 percent, so that a successful $25 bet would earn a $22.50 profit with the vig earning the casino $2.50.

money line

Use two words for this phrase describing a type of bet that varies odds based on how much it would take to win $100 or how much a wager of that amount would win. Money line bets do not involve a point spread; gamblers simply bet on who will win and who will lose. The money line odds tell gamblers how much they can win by betting $100 on an underdog, or how much they'd need to put up to win $100 on a favorite.

For a heavily favored team, say the Boston Red Sox putting their best pitcher against a weak opponent with a poor pitcher, that could involve gambling $350 to win just $100, a bet that should be expressed as minus-350. Big underdogs pay off well if victorious. A bet on a team with a money line of plus-410 would give a gambler $410 profit on a $100 bet. Alabama opened as a minus-280 favorite against Clemson in the national championship game, but the money line tightened to minus-220 after several days of betting.

pick, pick'em

Interchangeable terms for when odds show opponents as evenly matched, with neither team favored. Oddsmakers had the game as a pick'em. The A's-Giants game opened as a pick.

value bet

The abundance of numbers in sportsbooks leads some gamblers to focus specifically on odds; frequent bettors often bet based on their perception of the numbers themselves. This practice is often called finding value or a value bet that takes advantage of a perceived misjudgment by oddsmakers. Steve Jenkins said he made a value bet on UFC fighter Brian Ortega because he believed Ortega should not have been such a big underdog.

sharp, square

Sharps are professional gamblers and other frequent bettors who generally wager the most on each game. Squares, also known as the public, are the higher number of casual gamblers who generally bet lower amounts. Oddsmakers and gambling analysts frequently contrast the habits of sharps and squares to try to find trends. Often, when more wagers are placed on one team but more overall money is bet on the other team, this is a sign that the sharps and squares see the game differently and that the professional gamblers are betting against the perceptions of the public.

sucker bet

A bet with very poor odds, especially one that correlates poorly with the true odds of winning.


A result that ties a spread, meaning neither the favorite nor the underdog win. Generally wagers that end in a push mean refunds for bettors or adjustments if the game is in a parlay or teaser.

late money

A flurry of final bets that backs one side of a bet: Late money backed the Eagles, forcing some sportsbooks to shift the line a half-point in the final hours before the game.

Back to Top