The Complete Guide to Betting on Basketball

Basketball and Money

As one of the world’s most popular and most watched sports, you can imagine that betting on basketball is also extremely popular. As the game is a fast-paced competition that often comes down to the wire, it makes for an incredibly fun and potentially profitable betting experience.

Like with most popular sports, there are several different leagues and organizations of play that offer different things to fans and sports bettors. The two most popular that we will talk about today are the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association Basketball (NCAA Basketball) also known as college basketball.

If you’re an avid basketball fan or just stumbled upon the sport and are looking to up the action and excitement with sports betting, you’ve come to the right place. We are going to walk you through everything you need to know and more about the sport, how to bet on it, what your betting options are, and most importantly tips and strategies to be more successful and more profitable. Basketball wagering is one of the simplest forms of sports betting and a great place for beginners to get started and for seasoned bettors to make some serious profits.

Basketball | The Full Scoop

Before you can become a master at betting on basketball, you need to make sure you have all of the basics of the sport down. Betting on a sport that you don’t fully understand is a losing play and will result in lots of lost bets and confusion. Yes, you can use small wagers to help get you excited to learn a new sport, but when you actually start betting amounts that matter to you, it becomes a different story.

If you are insanely brand new to basketball and don’t even understand the rules or how the game works, we’ve got some links to help you out. In general, the point of basketball is for a team to try and get the ball through the circular basket more times that the other team. Teams are awarded varying amounts of points based on how far away they are from the basket.

We aren’t going to go into detail on this here as we want to focus on more intermediate and advanced concepts, but we won’t leave you high and dry. Here is a link with all of the rules and basics of gameplay for basketball. Once you review this, come back over here, and you’ll be much more equipped to absorb and use the information we are going to provide.

Leagues and Organizations

Like most sports, there are several different leagues and organizations that basketball teams play in. While some are more popular than others, wagering is usually available on most of these.

NBA – National Basketball Association

Easily the most popular basketball association is the National Basketball Association, commonly referred to as the NBA. The NBA is a US based league and is regarded as the top league in the world. This is where the best of the best play and where every player dreams of ending up. While the league is US based, there is currently one Canadian-based team in the league, the Toronto Raptors.

Formed in 1946, the NBA now has 30 teams based all over the US and Canada. The league is separated into two conferences that are each divided further down into three divisions with five teams in each. Here is the current breakdown of teams by conference and division.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division Central Division Southeast Division
Boston Celtics Chicago Bulls Atlanta Hawks
Brooklyn Nets Cleveland Cavaliers Charlotte Hornets
New York Knicks Detroit Pistons Miami Heat
Philadelphia 76ers Indiana Pacers Orlando Magic
Toronto Raptors Milwaukee Bucks Washington Wizards

Western Conference

Northwest Division Pacific Division Southwest Division
Denver Nuggets Golden State Warriors Dallas Mavericks
Minnesota Timberwolves Los Angeles Clippers Houston Rockets
Oklahoma City Thunder Los Angeles Lakers Memphis Grizzlies
Portland Trail Blazers Phoenix Suns New Orleans Pelicans
Utah Jazz Sacramento Kings San Antonio Spurs

The regular season for NBA basketball is 82 games, with half at home and half on the road. A team’s schedule is broken down like this:

  • A team plays each of their division opponents four times per season (16 games)
  • A team plays six of the teams from the other divisions in their conference four times (24 games)
  • A team plays the other four teams from the other divisions in their conference three times (12 games)
  • A team will play each team in the other conference twice per season (30 games)

This scheduling breakdown is a lot more rigid than you might find in other sports. It’s also one of only a few sports where teams do play every other team in the league at least once despite what conference or division they are in. This creates a much more equal “strength of schedule” making it much easier to gauge the success and strength of a particular NBA team.

A traditional playoff system is used to determine the overall champion. 16 total teams will make the playoffs every year which begins in late April. Eight teams from each conference will make the playoffs and are decided by the following criteria:

Teams that make the playoffs:

  • Three division winners and the team with the next best record in each conference are given one seeds
  • The next four teams with the best records in each conference are given the remaining lower seeds

The playoffs then follow a bracket style format with teams playing each in a best of seven series. Once a team loses in a best of seven series, they are out, and the other team moves on to the next round. Once a conference champion is decided on, the two teams will meet in the NBA Finals to decide the outright winner. This championship competition is also a best of seven series with the first team to win four games being the outright champion.

College Basketball – NCAA

College basketball is the collegiate level of basketball in the United States that is governed by the National Collegiate Basketball Association (NCAA). Players must be students and enrolled at a participating school during their years of eligibility. Dating back to 1891, college basketball was started by James Naismith for the Springville YMCA Training School. Within two years, the game began spreading to campuses nationwide and has since evolved into the college basketball we know and love today.

College basketball in the United States is divided into three divisions and men’s and women’s leagues for each. The divisions are ranked in regards to the size of the schools with the lower number divisions being for the larger schools and programs. The divisions are further broken down into conferences which have varying amounts of teams in each.

Division I

As of 2017, there was a total of 351 schools spread across 32 different conferences for Division I basketball. Though teams historically were allowed to play as independents not part of a conference, all teams in Division I sports are part of a conference as of 2013. This is the most prestigious of divisions and is the most popular when it comes to sports wagering.

Division II

As of 2017, there were 24 Division II basketball conferences in college basketball. Unlike Division I, Division II does have a few teams that are still independent and not part of a conference.

Division III

As of 2017, there were 43 Division III basketball conferences in college basketball. Division III is by far the largest division with around 40% of schools and 438 active member institutions. Upwards of 80% of these schools are private institutions.

College basketball does not follow a traditional playoff path as the NBA does. Instead, they have an extremely popular betting event known as March Madness. 64 teams from Division I schools are selected and play in a single-elimination style bracket tournament to decide the ultimate winner. Just getting an invite to the tournament can be a huge accomplishment for a school, regardless of how they actually perform in the tournament. Selections into the tournament are made based on the following criteria:

  • 32 teams receive automatic bids (entry) by winning their respective conference championship
  • The remaining teams are selected by a selections committee run by the NCAA
  • The actual number of teams in the tournament is 64. However, 68 teams are selected. The last four teams selected compete in play in games before the tournament starts to get the last spots. These are known as the first four and are technically not part of the tournament. These are known as “The First Four.”

If you’d like to know more, here is a link to a comprehensive guide to betting on March Madness we put together for you.

Other Basketball Leagues

There are several other basketball leagues and associations that are less popular amongst sports bettors. These include the European Basketball League as well as many country-specific leagues throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Sometimes sportsbooks will offer action on these games and sometimes they will not. Typically, you will have a tougher time finding information on these games and players as a lot of them will be newer or less covered by the media.

That being said, sometimes these smaller leagues can be a way to make easy money as the sportsbooks might not put as much time into creating and adjusting their lines. For the sake of this guide, we will mainly be focusing on the organizations mentioned above, the NBA and College Basketball. The tips and strategies down below will still apply though for whichever league you choose to wager on.

Basketball Betting for Beginners

Basketball wagering is one of the simplest and most straightforward forms of betting available. While complex betting options are available, simple options are the most popular and allow you to get into the action easily without getting confused. As we will mention later, simple bets are just as lucrative and offer the same potential as more complex bets. If you’re brand new to betting and a bit confused about everything, that’s ok. We’re going to walk you through all of the basics, and different bet types step by step. By the time you are done reading this guide, you will know more about betting on basketball than most seasoned bettors.

Types of Bets

Understanding the different types of bets that are available is the most important step in becoming a successful sports bettor on basketball. If you’ve ever bet on other popular sports, you will realize that the main bet types are very similar, if not exactly the same. Here are the most popular types of basketball bets you will encounter with links to full breakdowns on each. We HIGHLY recommend you read each of these as they are the real “meat” of this article and what will help to set you apart from other basketball sports bettors.

Common Betting Mistakes

This is a must read if you are new to sports betting and highly recommended even if you are a seasoned bettor. We are no longer surprised when we see even some of the most experienced bettors making these mistakes when it comes to betting college basketball. Do yourself a huge favor and commit the information in this section to memory so you don’t end up with a huge headache or lost profits down the road that could have been avoided.

Basketball Betting Tips

These tips serve as an addendum to the above betting mistakes section. The first thing we always want new bettors to do is to make sure they are avoiding any common mistakes. The easiest way to fix the problem is to prevent it from ever happening. Once you’re up to speed on those, it’s important to start offering some proactive tips that you can start doing today to give yourself a better chance at making a profit and having a much more enjoyable betting experience. Take a few minutes and read through the list of tips below that our experts have offered to help you out.

Always Check Your Tickets

This is the number one tip with any form of sports betting, not just basketball. Whether you are betting live in a casino, at a bookmaker, with your creepy cousin Vinny, or online, you must check the accuracy of your betting slips after you get them. There is no worse feeling than cheering for an entire game only to find out later that what you thought was a victory was actually a loss because your bet was input incorrectly. Trust us on this one; this happens way more often than you’re probably aware of. It only takes a few seconds to make sure that the bet on your slip is what you wanted for the correct team, correct bet, correct game, and correct amount.

Don’t Overcomplicate Things

There is a strange trend in sports betting where new bettors think that the more complex a bet is, the more profitable and better odds it will have. There is no other way to put this; this is not true. Many professional and seasoned sports bettors use the simplest of bets and only the simplest of best to build their winning strategy. It’s ultimately about picking winners and losers and being able to identify trends. Don’t let anyone try and convince you that more complex bets are a necessity to be a winner. These are usually ignorant bettors that think the complex bets make them look cooler.

Be Wary of Trends or Popular Opinion

People and the popular media have a love for sensationalizing things. They love to gravitate to the better storylines and get behind what makes for the best TV. This means that a lot of the time they will be hyping up the better storyline instead of the better team. Be careful not to let this improperly influence your picks. Stick with the data and don’t get clouded with the emotional betting that everyone else has a tendency to do. There is a reason when you ask a sportsbook manager what the simplest piece of advice is and they almost all say to bet against the public always.

This does not mean to ignore everyone that has an opinion. Some people are wise and will have great opinions and good information that you may have missed. All we are saying is to be skeptical with every piece of information or opinion you get and make sure you do your own homework before you decide to accept it as correct.

Ultimately, it’s going to be you making the bet, and it’s your money that will be won or lost. Make sure you don’t let the media or a friend sway your bet the wrong way.

Stick to What You Know

This is a tip you may have heard before when people were talking about sports betting in general. They usually tell you to stick to the sports that you know and avoid the ones that are new to you. What we want to point out now is that this extends further than just sticking to the sports you know. You need to make sure that within each sport you are sticking to the teams and leagues that you know best.

Just because you are an expert on NBA basketball does not mean you are automatically going to be a college basketball expert just because it’s the same sport. While they are in fact the same sport, they are completely different. The teams are different, the players are different, the league setup is different, the game flow is different…It is different.

All of that being said, you will probably be able to transition easier from one to the other because you already understand the sport. Just keep in mind that there will be some different nuances that you will need to pay attention to and a new batch of teams and players to learn about.

Basketball Betting – How to Place a Bet

When it comes to betting sports, basketball, in particular, you have a few options available. The traditional options for betting on sports involve going to the closest casino or sportsbook and placing your bets with a live agent. Some bettors elect to work through an intermediary or a bookie who is a private individual that takes their bets and places them for them. The final option available that has come about in the last 15-20 years is placing your sports bets online. Each of these three options has pros and cons that we would like to point out for you.


The means of sports betting that most people are probably most used to is actually going to a physical location usually at a casino or in some countries a standalone location. One of the perks of this method is that you are able to speak to an agent directly to make sure you are making the bet that you want. This can be great for new bettors or those that are worried they might make some sort of mistake. Another perk is that payouts are instant. You just have to walk back up to the window after the game, and you will be paid on your bet. This is, of course, if there is no line of other patrons which is likely around busier betting times.

There are a few drawbacks to this means that we need to point out. First, from a purely logistical standpoint, it takes a lot more work to place a bet this way. You have to actually drive or travel to your closest casino which depending on where you live could be hundreds of miles away. You also have to set up arrangements for any of your at home responsibilities like the kids, pets, or significant others.

This costs gas money, travel time, and can create some issues if your family or work needs you around. The second drawback is that you are not able to shop lines. You are forced to take whatever line the sportsbook chooses to offer on the game you are betting. With online betting (which we will talk about more later), you have the option to have instant access to multiple sportsbooks and choose the lines and odds that are best for you.


A bookie is someone who takes your bets for you and either covers the action themselves or runs it through a larger organization that covers your action. They are basically operating as an unlicensed and unregulated “sportsbook.” It’s important to note that this is the shadiest and riskiest option available. You have no means of recourse if your bookie decides to skip town and steal from you or if they are arrested. Why would they be arrested?

This is because private bookmaking by an individual is illegal. If they are caught, their money (and your money) will be confiscated, and you may never see a payout. If there is a disagreement with your bookie, you will most likely lose all arguments and could end up in a dangerous situation where violence and intimidation are not uncommon. While this may seem like a convenient option, please heed our warnings and stay far away from bookies.

Online Betting

As we feel online basketball betting is the option with the most amenities, we have decided to give it its own full dedicated section below. We’ll discuss in detail why we think it’s the best option available as well as cover any drawbacks you should be aware of.

Betting Basketball Online

The internet has truly done wonders for a lot of industries, and the sports betting industry is definitely towards the top of that list. Betting on basketball has not only become more convenient but has become more efficient, and more options and amenities have become possible through the technological advancements. We’d like to walk you through some of the newfound benefits and amenities that come with betting basketball online and then walk you through how to get started betting basketball online. It’s quick, secure, and easy and our guide will make sure every question you have and more are answered before you get started.

Benefits of Betting Basketball Online

Ability to Shop Lines

From a financial standpoint, this is the most important benefit that online sportsbooks bring to basketball betting. Traditionally, you would be forced to accept whatever line is offered at the casino sportsbook that you attend and that would be the end of the story. If you didn’t like the line, you would either have to make a bet you didn’t think was smart or just not bet at all. Even if you found out another casino sportsbook was offering a better line, you’d be stuck unless you felt like driving or traveling to that other place. Typically, this is just not an option.

If you’re new to sports betting, you may be asking what we’re talking about when we are referring to shopping lines and how it can benefit you. Let’s take a look at an example:

You want to bet on the Knicks vs. Celtics game. You like the Celtics and see at your local casino that they are favored to win by 5.5 points. You go down to the casino and place your bet. As far as you know, you made a great bet right? Well, what if we told you that there was a similar bet available that was much better. The casino a few towns over is offering bets on the same game, but they only have the Celtics favored by 4.5 points.

In the real world, you’d be forced to take the 5.5 points unless you felt like doing a lot of extra driving. If these were online casinos, though, you’d be able to quickly place your bet at the sportsbook offering the better line without driving anywhere or spending any additional money or wasting additional time.

This one point might not seem like much, but in the long run, it really is. The first line would require the Celtics to win by 6 points for you to win your bet. The second better line would only require them to win by 5 points for you to win your bet. If the final score were Celtics 94, Knicks 89, you would lose your bet at the first sportsbook, but win your bet at the second sportsbook.

You would basically lock up a win just by taking a few extra minutes to check the lines at the other sportsbook. In the real world, this isn’t feasible because of how far casinos are apart typically. But online, you can shop lines at tons of different sportsbooks in a matter of minutes. Trust us. This is a HUGE benefit for you.

Comfort and Convenience

If the potential profit benefit from being able to shop lines is not enough for you, the comfort and convenience of online basketball betting should put you over the top. As we mentioned earlier, betting at a live location takes a lot of extra work and money. You have to pay for travel or gas to the casino sportsbook, pay for parking, pay for a babysitter or dog sitter if you need one, wait in line and deal with the loud and commotion-filled atmosphere of the casino.

It’s not the end of the world, and we may be being a bit dramatic, but it’s definitely an inconvenience and definitely costs additional money. We prefer to save our money and spend our time enjoying the games and placing bets instead of traveling to make bets.

Online basketball betting allows you to make all of your wagers from the comfort of your favorite chair at home or from your mobile phone or tablet anywhere you have an internet connection. This allows you to easily place bets without having to worry about being somewhere at a certain time to be able to get a bet in before a game starts or a line changes.


We mentioned in the first benefit that you could potentially make more money by shopping lines easier with online casinos. On top of this, there are more money benefits that we briefly touched on in comfort and convenience but want to make clearer. Let’s say you want to make a $50 wager on the Orlando Magic game. You decide that you want to make your bet at the local casino that is 30 miles away. So you get in your car and head to the casino and place your wager. The moneyline odds offered at the casino are -110. The Magic play a great game and win! You profit $45 on your bet! Right?

Well, not exactly. Gas is $3 a gallon, and it takes you 2.5 gallons to get to and from the casino (this does not include wear and tear on your car). Parking is also $5 at the casino. You also are at the casino during dinner time and are forced to eat there instead of at home and spend $11 on a few slices of pizza. So your actual profit on the trip is:/

$45 Payout – $7.50 in Gas – $5 Parking – $11 Dinner = $21.50 Profit

By going to the casino to make your bet, you actually slashed your profit by over 50%. This is also not taking into account the cost of wear and tear on your car. The IRS puts this number at around $0.53 a mile which would be somewhere around $32 for this trip. Even if you packed a dinner, had a magical car that never wore down, and somehow got free parking, you’d still be slashing your profits by 16%. If you were to make that wager online at the same odds, you would slash your profits by 0%. You would make the $45 you should be earning on that bet.

Getting Started

If you’re finally sold that it’s a much better idea to move your basketball betting to the online realm, you’re probably wondering how you go about getting started. The first step in the process is picking out which site that you want to play on. As this can be a bit of an overwhelming task with so many options available, we’ve put together a list of our favorite sites below to get you started. We have spent a lot of time going through the different options available and looking for the most secure, trusted, bonus-heavy, and user-friendly sites available.

Once you pick a site (or sites so you can shop lines), the next step is creating an account and funding your account. The signup process is super simple and just involves picking out a username and password and providing a few basic details about yourself. After creating your account(s), navigate over to the cashier section of the site and follow the instructions to fund your account. There will be a lot of different options, so just pick the one that you prefer. If you happen to have any trouble or questions while creating your account or funding it, every site listed has awesome customer service that you can access quickly to get help. Don’t be scared to ask for help; that’s what they’re there for.

If you’re a serious or seasoned bettor, just disregard the next few sentences. For all the new bettors, please pay attention. Make sure that you start small with basketball sports betting only betting amounts that you are comfortable playing with and comfortable losing if you make an incorrect pick. This will help you to get comfortable with the sites and the different kinds of bets that are probably fairly new to you. Online sites are great in that they will allow you to place very small wagers. This allows you to test out your betting systems and get comfortable with everything before you place any larger wagers. Also, never feel like you have to place larger wagers. If smaller bets for fun are your thing, then go for it! For most bettors, sports betting is just a hobby and should always be fun and entertainment filled.

Recommended Sites

As we mentioned above, we have put together a short list of our favorite sites for betting basketball online. These sites ranked high in security, customer service, reliability, and user-friendliness. We also paid special attention to the basketball lines they put out and how competitive they are with the rest of the industry. Again, if you’re serious about making some money, we recommend joining multiple sites so that you can shop lines quickly and efficiently. It doesn’t cost you anything extra to be part of multiple sites but might cost you profit if you’re only a member of one. For those of you that don’t care that much and are just looking for a little fun, totally ok. Sports betting can be different things to lots of people.

Take a few minutes and check out the sites below and make sure to take full advantage of their bonus offers available to new players.

Rank Gambling Site Deposit Bonus Get Started
Bovada Sports
50% Up To $250 Visit Site  
50% Up To $1,000 Visit Site  
BetOnline Sports
50% Up To $1,000 Visit Site  
100% Up To $250 Visit Site  
50% Up To $1,000 Visit Site  

Basketball Betting Strategy

If you’re a seasoned sports bettor or have a lot of experience betting, you probably jumped straight to this section. This is totally OK. We do recommend that you take a minute and skim through the basketball betting tips section above as it does have a lot of good information that you should always be aware of.

Knowing how to bet on basketball and where to go to place your bets is only half the battle to being a winning bettor. Ultimately, it is going to come down to how you choose to develop your strategy and what criteria and systems you use that will decide if you’re going to be a winner or not. While styles and strategy development are usually personal to you and your views on the sport, there are some strategies that have been tried and tested that should help get you on the right track. Again, it’s up to you if you choose to adopt any of these strategies or not, but we can tell you that experts and professional sports bettors agree these are must-know strategies to beating the game of betting on basketball.