11 Mar

How to Wager on Basketball Games

Basketball Betting 101: Learn to Bet on NBA, WNBA & NCAA Basketball

Basketball Betting Simplified: Start Betting on NBA and College Basketball Today

For the first time in almost 170 years, sports betting is legal in the state of Indiana. Sportsbooks are now operating, both online and on land, in a locally licensed and regulated environment. Hoosiers are welcome to place wagers on a wide variety of professional and collegiate sports in a locally licensed and regulated environment. Before you get too excited – and it is very exciting, indeed – be careful you’re not rushing into something you don’t fully understand. Sports betting is still gambling, no matter how much you think you know about the sport. If you’re about to embark on your first bookmaking experience, preparation is the key to success.

The following guide is designed to educate first-time sports bettors in the ways of legal betting on NBA, WNBA, and NCAA basketball in Indiana. We’ll teach you about the different types of basketball bets available, how they work, and how to win them (generally speaking, of course – no guarantees!) We begin with straight forward bets on single games, followed by more complex multi-game betting options, as well as future betting on things like the winner of the next NBA Finals Championship.

Before we go any further, you need to understand a few starting points, like how to read a sportsbook’s betting odds, and the general lingo used in the bookmaking community. If you’re not familiar with these features, please take a moment to read over the following materials first.

Legality of Betting on Basketball in Indiana

This first section is a brief lesson in what Indiana law does and does not allow in terms of legal betting on basketball games. There are a few restrictions to take note of. The following chart lists what you can and can’t bet on, with brief explanations for each below.

Is it legal in Indiana to bet on…
Professional Basketball (NFL, CFL)
College Basketball (NCAA)
Yes, with limitations
Youth Basketball (under 18)

Professional Basketball: The Indiana Criminal Code allows wagering on all professional basketball leagues, including the National Basketball Association (NBA), Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), the EuroCup and EuroLeague, FIBA Champions League, as well as other international leagues in Australia, Brazil, Spain and others. [Learn more about the NBA Indiana Pacers, WNBA’ Indiana Fever, and other professional sports teams of Indiana.]

College Basketball: Betting on college sports is more limited by Indiana state law. Bettors are permitted to place wagers on “NCAA Division I” athletics only. Any lower-level divisions, including (but not necessarily limited to) NCAA Division II and III, NAIA, and NJCAA, are strictly prohibited. Additionally, Indiana prohibits live betting player props on individual athletes. [Learn more about what the Indiana Code says about college sports betting.]

Youth Basketball: Betting on youth sports, defined as any athletic event in which any or all of the participants are under the age of 18, is illegal in Indiana.

Single Game Basketball Betting

Single game betting is just as simple as it sounds – placing a single bet, on a single game. You pick an outcome, put action on it, and if you’re right, you win. If you’re wrong, you lose. All bets are settled the moment the final buzzer sounds.

To help explain all the different single-game wagering options, I’ve created a sample bet line for a mock NBA game. This shows what you might expect to see at your favorite online sportsbook leading up to tip-off. The competing teams are listed on the left, with the right columns depicting the various single-game wagering options and odds.

Match Up
Chicago Bulls
+5.5 (-110)
224.5 (-110) O
Indiana Pacers
-5.5 (-110)
224.5 (-110) U

Here we see the lines for a game between the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. The right columns show three types of single game wagers available:

  1. Win Bet (a.k.a. Moneylines)
  2. Points Spread Bet (a.k.a. Spreads)
  3. Totals Bet (a.k.a. Over/Unders)

Straight Bet to Win

Moneylines are as straight forward as it gets in basketball. A moneyline is a bet on who will win the game, plain and simple. Moneylines don’t continue in overtime, though. The score at the end of regulation is all that matters. So if the game goes to overtime, all moneyline bets push.

Match Up
Chicago Bulls
Indiana Pacers

The lines above show the Chicago Bulls are given odds of +190. The team with the positive odds is the underdog, meaning the so-called expert oddsmakers expect them to lose. The +190 odds means that a bet of $100 will return $190. The Indiana Pacers come in at -220, making them the favorite. Since the odds are negative, it reflects how much you would need to bet (in this case $220) to win $100.

To put it simply, moneylines are straight forward bets on which team you believe will win.

Betting Against the Spread (ATS)

As with most of today’s high-scoring sports, spread betting (a.k.a. betting against the spread, or ATS) is the most popular form of wagering among basketball fans. The point spread refers to the number of points given to the underdog by sportsbooks in an effort to level the playing field. Based on stats and an incredible wealth of knowledge, oddsmakers predict the final score of a game, then give the underdog just enough points to even things up, effectively (theoretically) eliminating any advantage the favorite is thought to have.

Match Up
Chicago Bulls
+5.5 (-110)
Indiana Pacers
-5.5 (-110)

In the above sample lines, we see the Bulls (underdog) are being given +5.5 points. In the same token, the Pacers are giving up -5.5 points. So, if you bet on the Pacers to cover the spread, they must win by 6 points or more for you to win that bet. Or, if you place an ATS bet on Chicago, the Bulls can lose by up to 5 points, and you still win the bet. As far as these bets go, the game is over at the end of the 4th Period. Once that clock hits 0:00, spread bets are settled, regardless of the actual game score. If it’s all tied up and going into overtime, in the eyes of the sports betting world, the underdog (the team being given points – this case, Chicago) is always the winner.

I’m sure you noticed the half-point, and you probably figured out why it’s there. It’s a simple matter of eliminating tie bets. By tacking that .5 on each side of the spread, sportsbooks don’t have to worry about returning any bets on a push. All bets will end in a win or loss.

It’s also worth noting that betting either side of the spread usually comes with odds of -110. If you were paying attention earlier, you know that a negative line points to a favorite. Both teams can’t be favorites, can they? No, they can’t. But sportsbooks don’t set lines at 100/100, either. That extra -10 on each side represents the 10% juice, or commission, the bookie expects to make as its profit. In rare instances where ATS lines are not -110/-110, it represents a shift in the opening lines. This happens when too much action is coming in on one side, or when all the sharp money is favoring one team. You can learn more about that here:

Bet on Point Totals

Totals refer to a unique form of betting in which you don’t have to worry about who wins or loses the game. Favorites, underdogs, none of that matters. Totals bets are all about the combined number of points the two teams will score before the game is over. Oddsmakers take the score predictions for the game, then add both team’s projected scores together to come up with a total score. A half-point is usually added or subtracted to prevent ties, and the lines are set at -110 on either side. You’re then given the choice to bet whether the combined final score (in regulation, not overtime) will be “Over” or “Under” the given total.

Match Up
Chicago Bulls
224.5 (-110) O
Indiana Pacers
224.5 (-110) U

The Bulls/Pacers sample lines above show a total score prediction of 225.5 points. The oddsmakers are expecting this to be a high scoring game. If you agree, you can bet the over, requiring a combined 226+ points to win. Or, if you think one (or both) team’s defense will step up to keep the score at or below 225, you can bet the under.

Multi-Game Basketball Bets

A multi-game bet is a single wager placed on the outcome of multiple games. With the NBA, WNBA and NCAAB combined, there could be hundreds of games to choose from at any given time. As exciting as professional basketball betting is, every true sports fan knows that there’s no more popular tournament to bet on than the annual college basketball championships; an event colloquially  known throughout the land as “March Madness“. With so many games occurring throughout the year, it’s no wonder basketball leads the sportsbook industry in multi-game betting.

There are several ways to place a multi-game wager in basketball. The most common are parlays, teasers and pleasers.

Parlay Betting / Accumulators

Parlays (a.k.a. accumulators) are the most basic form of multi-game wagering. To place a parlay bet, you must pick at least two outcomes, with most sportsbooks capping picks at 12, or sometimes 15. The more picks you make, the more money you stand to win if your picks are correct. For instance, a 3-leg parlay will usually pay out at +600 odds (6 to 1). Make 5 picks, and the payout increases all the way to +2,500 (25 to 1). Just remember, sportsbooks aren’t in the business of losing. The more picks you make, the more likely you are to lose. It’s all a matter of balancing the risk versus reward.

For the most part, you are welcome to choose your picks from any sport, and any bet type. You can choose a team to win, or to cover the spread, or you can place totals bets. However, there are some logical restrictions. Most notably, you can’t combine different bet types on the same game. For example, you can bet that the Pacers will beat the underdog Bulls, or bet on the Bulls to win against the spread, but you can’t bet on both. It’s considered advantage betting, because if one wins, the other is more likely to win, too, and that’s just not allowed.

I’m not going to go into more detail on parlay betting because we’ve already covered this subject at great length on our Ultimate Guide to Parlay Betting. Please refer to that page for additional information. You may also be interested in learning more about methodical parlay betting strategies, which are discussed here, Parlay System Betting.  

Teaser Betting

Teasers are extremely popular with the recreational betting crowd. They are point spread parlays that come with insurance in the form of bonus points. Of course, that insurance policy will cost you a pretty penny – not in up front cash, but in heavily reduced odds. You’re essentially trading higher payouts for extra points. It’s not a bad deal, considering you get to allocate those points however you wish.

For example, maybe you have a 4-leg parlay in mind. You’ve chosen four teams you believe will cover their spread. You’re very confident in three of those picks, but the forth one – not so much. A 4pt teaser will let you add 4 points to that team. Or, you can spread those points across all your picks. The choice is yours.

The difference in odds is drastic, though. A standard 4-leg parlay will come with odds of +1,000 (10 to 1). A 4pt basketball teaser drops that down to just +250 (2.5 to 1). Buying 5 points drops it even more to +180 (1.8 to 1). The lower the risk, the lower the reward.   

You can learn a lot more about these wagers and the impact they have on payouts in this section: Parlay Teasers & Odds.

Pleaser Betting

A pleaser parlay is just like a teaser parlay, but in the opposite direction. Instead of reducing the odds to buy extra points, you’re increasing the odds and giving up points. These are incredibly difficult bets to win; considered absolute sucker bets by veteran punters. If you’re so confident in your picks that you’re willing to take that risk, be my guest. Just know that the only ones really pleased by pleasers are the sportsbooks.

Find out more about pleasers, and why we don’t recommend them, here: Parlay Pleasers & Odds.

Partial Basketball Game Betting

Just as you can bet on the outcome of an entire basketball game, you can also bet on portions of a game. The most common options are bets on which team will outscore the other in a specific time frame, such as the 1st period, first half, or second half. Like full games, you can bet on a quarter or half winner, point spread winner, or over/under totals.

There are some good reasons why partial basketball games may be easier to successfully bet on than full games. It’s not uncommon for a team to gain a reputation as a first-period point hound, or a fourth-period comeback team. In the 2018-19 season, the Grizzlies were renowned for covering the first-half spread more than any other team in the NBA. Those keen enough to follow such trends made a pretty penny on those bets.

There are a lot more bets you can make on the action that takes place during a game, but these fall under the class of live, in-play betting. We cover that on another page:

Basketball Futures Betting

Every die-hard basketball fan tries to predict who will win the championship, whether it’s the NBA and WNBA Finals, or the men’s or women’s NCAA March Madness tournament. The average fan will pick their favorite team, but serious sports bettors look beyond personal preferences, putting their money where the performance is. These are what we call Futures bets. Bookmakers will offer futures on professional division winners, conference winners, and finals champions, as well as college tournament qualifiers and winners.

Futures are anything but easy to pick; the biggest problem being that most of these bets have to be placed prior to the start of the season. That means the only information you have to work with is depth charts and prior performance history. Sleepers may awaken, just as the greats may falter. Picking any team can be a gamble, but then again, that’s what sports betting is all about – taking a gamble on a what you believe in. The good news is, because futures are so hard to predict, the odds can be very lucrative. Don’t get too excited about the ultra-high-paying longshots, though. They’re called longshots for a reason.

Next, we’ll take a look at the futures bets you can expect to find at today’s larger Indian sportsbooks.

NBA / WNBA Finals Winners

Betting on NBA futures is incredibly popular. Depending on past performance, the odds on a team winning the upcoming NBA Finals could range anywhere form +250 to +50,000. Everyone has their own strategy for picking future winners. Some like to place a few dollars on the longshots, because what’s $10 when you stand to win $5,000? Some will drop a c-note or better on last year’s finalists, hoping for a repeat performance. Others look at everything from draft picks and trades to team melds and 3pt proficiency to pick top contenders. If nothing else, picking a team to win the trophy before the first regular season tip-off certainly does make the next few months more interesting. 

The WNBA is smaller, so the odds are shorter, averaging anywhere from +200 on the previous season’s champions, up to +2,500 on barrel scrapers. The strategy for picking teams remains the same. Everyone has their own tactics, but in the end, only one team can win it all.

NBA Conference & Division Winners

If picking a league champion seems a bit too difficult, you might prefer to bet on division or conference winners. The NBA has 30 teams, competing in Eastern and Western conferences, across six total divisions. You could bet on who will win the Eastern Conference, cutting the number of teams (and odds) in half. Or, you could bet on who will win the Eastern Atlantic Division, cutting the teams down to just 5. When one team is heavily dominating a division, these can be a lot easier to win, but at the same time, a lot less rewarding .

The chart below shows all the NBA teams, divvied up into their respective conferences and divisions. 

Eastern Conference – Atlantic
Western Conference – Northwest
  • Boston Celtics
  • New York Knicks
  • New York Nets
  • Philadelphia 76ers
  • Toronto Raptors
  • Denver Nuggets
  • Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Portland Trailblazers
  • Utah Jazz
Eastern Conference – Central
Western Conference – Pacific
  • Chicago Bulls
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Detroit Pistons
  • Indiana Pacers
  • Milwaukee Bucks
  • Golden State Warriors
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Phoenix Suns
  • Sacramento Kings
Eastern Conference – Southeast
Western Conference – Southwest
  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Miami Heat
  • Orlando Magic
  • Washington Wizards
  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Houston Rockets
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • San Antonio Spurs

WNBA Conference Winners

In the WNBA, there are only 12 teams, divided into two conferences, East and West. With only six in each conference, there’s no need for subdivisions. Thus, you can bet on the following teams winning it all, or their respective conferences, with the odds often ranging from about -110 to +1,200.

WNBA Eastern Conference
WNBA Western Conference
  • Atlanta Dream
  • Chicago Sky
  • Connecticut Sun
  • Indiana Fever
  • New York Liberty
  • Washington Mystics
  • Dallas Wings
  • Las Vegas Aces
  • Los Angeles Sparks
  • Minnesota Lynx
  • Phoenix Mercury
  • Seattle Storm

NCAA College Basketball Futures

March Madness is a beast all its own. The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament draws billions of dollars from millions of bettors every year, and that’s just counting the action in Las Vegas. Now that more and more states like Indiana are legalizing wagers on professional and college sports, those numbers just keep climbing.

There are many ways to bet on the men’s and women’s annual NCAA Tournaments. You can pick a team you think will make it into the Sweet 16, Elite 8, or Final 4, and of course the team to win it all. As always, the riskier the bet, the higher the potential payout. Just check the lines at your favorite sportsbook as March approaches, and you’ll find all your options laid out before you.

Additional Sports Betting Tutorials

Interested in learning more? Check out our additional targeted sports wagering pages.

Learn How to Bet on…

Legal Indiana Sports Betting in 2021

BetRivers is licensed and regulated on a state level by Indiana to operate legally. It offers a wide range of sport betting options – every popular game is covered. Mobile options are also covered for an “on-the-go” experience. Our editor pick for safe and legal betting in 2021.

Visit https://In.BetRivers.com