How To Bet On Sports Online

Many of the most avid sports fans often wonder how to bet on sports online legally, particularly because sports betting only became legal a few years ago.

Just two years ago, the US Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). The historic decision paved the way for states to legalize sports betting on an individual basis.

In only two years, the burgeoning US sports betting scene has developed into a competitive market, and it’s only getting stronger. 

Sports betting isn’t legal everywhere in the US, but many jurisdictions authorized and launched completely legal sportsbooks. It’s easier to place a legal bet in the US right now than it has ever been before. 

How To Bet On Sports Online Legally

To bet online legally, you first need to find a legal and regulated operator. Fortunately, many states have legalized sports betting and have online sportsbooks live, accepting wagers. Sportsbook technology is so streamlined that using them is about as simple as using any other app you access on a day-to-day basis.

The bets you’ll find vary somewhat by state because certain jurisdictions prohibit specific types of bets. Illinois, for example, does not allow betting on elections, awards shows, any college match that includes an Illinois school, or minor league sporting events. Still, most sportsbooks offer a wide array of bets on professional sports, college matches, and international events. 

Online sports betting brings a hobby to the digital space that formerly required users to visit land-based sportsbooks. Betting online has the added advantage of convenience and speed. 

The Top Sports Betting Promo Codes

Here’s an at-a-glance overview of sign-up bonuses from some of the biggest sportsbooks:

SportsbookBonus OfferLive In
DraftKingsUp to $500 free bet, 20% deposit match up to $500CO, IN, NJ, WV, PA, IL, IA, NH
FanDuelUp to $500 risk-free betCO, IL, IN, NJ, WV, PA
FOX BetUp to $500 risk-free bet, up to $500 deposit matchCO, NJ, PA
BetRivers100% deposit match up to $250CO, IN, PA, IL
PointsBetUp to $1,000 in risk-free betsNJ, IN, IA

Where To Place An Online Sports Bet

When the Supreme Court overturned PASPA, it granted states the individual opportunity to legalize sports betting. As a result, the US sports betting landscape is incredibly diverse and nuanced. Even among states that have launched sports betting, the laws make each market unique. 

States With Legal And Live Online Sports Betting

StateFirst Online Sportsbook Launched
ColoradoMay 2020
IllinoisJune 2020
IndianaOctober 2019
IowaAugust 2019
Michigan2020-2021
Nevada2010
New HampshireDecember 2019
New JerseyJuly 2018
OregonMarch 2020
PennsylvaniaMay 2019
Rhode IslandSeptember 2019
TennesseeLate 2020
Washington DCMay 2020
West VirginiaAugust 2018

Sports Betting Coming Soon

Legislation and regulation, especially when real money gambling is involved, can take time. Many states are still solidifying their sports betting laws, and a few are expected to enter the market very soon. 

Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia have all legalized online sports betting and will launch once regulations are finalized and licenses are granted. Among those states, Tennessee is unique in that it will allow online-only sportsbooks exclusively because there are no land-based casinos in the state.

Meanwhile, New York, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and New Mexico all have retail sports betting. Those states could consider online legislation in the near future to boost their existing land-based offerings. 

Other states have been working on legislation, but have encountered roadblocks for various reasons. Once they overcome certain obstacles, we expect California, Massachusetts, and possibly Florida to legalize online sports betting. 

The Best Online Sportsbooks In The US

The expansion of the US sports betting landscape has brought the rise of various operators. This gives sports bettors plenty of options to choose from, and using one of the top sports betting sites means you’ll have a seamless experience from start to finish. 

DraftKings

Available in: CO, IN, NJ, WV, PA, IL, IA, NH

DraftKings is one of the industry’s undisputed leaders. The company began as a daily fantasy sports provider and grew rapidly to become a top-tier sportsbook and online casino operator. In states where it’s live, DraftKings almost always nabs the top spot in terms of revenue. 

DraftKings is about as close to flawless as a sportsbook can get. It has apps for iOS and Android, it’s optimized for mobile browsers, and it has an intuitive desktop interface. With plenty of sports and competitive odds, playing at DraftKings should be an easy choice for any bettor.

The only downside is that DraftKings sign-up bonus, a 20% deposit match up to $500, requires a hefty initial deposit to make it worth your while. 

Check out the current bonus at DraftKings.

FanDuel

Available in: CO, IL, IN, NJ, WV, PA

FanDuel is another leading name in the sportsbook world. It’s owned by Flutter Entertainment (a company formed by merging Paddy Power and Betfair). Flutter is a driving force in the European gambling market, so FanDuel has the backing of an experienced corporation.

Like DraftKings, FanDuel has plenty to enjoy and very few faults. The app has some minor interface issues (sometimes pages load on the slow side), but generally FanDuel is a top-notch sportsbook. You can find plenty of US sports in addition to more niche offerings on international events. 

Check out the current bonus at FanDuel Sportsbook.

FOX Bet

Available In: CO, NJ, PA

The biggest downside for FOX Bet is that it’s only available in three states. However, the company has big expansion plans, and you can expect the sportsbook to move into new markets in the coming months and beyond. 

FOX Sports and The Stars Group (another major European company) run the FOX Bet brand in the US. With strong backing from leading gambling and media corporations, FOX Bet has a great chance to rise to the top of the sports betting industry. 

FOX Bet is user-friendly and has lucrative sign-up bonuses: a 50% deposit match bonus up to $500 and a $500 risk-free bet, totaling a possible $1,000 bonus for new players. FOX Bet players can access the book via Android or iOS app plus desktop and mobile browsers.  

BetRivers

Available in: CO, IN, PA, IL

BetRivers is the official online sportsbook from Rush Street Interactive. 

BetRivers’ welcome bonus offers up to $250 as a deposit match with a minimal play-through requirement, and you’ll find odds similar to those on DraftKings. The company’s app is user friendly and easy to navigate, cementing it as a sports betting leader. 

PointsBet

Australian operator PointsBet has one of the most intuitive, user-friendly apps on the market. PointsBet also has great odds on the underdog compared to competing sportsbooks. Add on a welcome bonus up to $1,000 in risk-free bets, and you have a strong sportsbook. 

Other Online Sportsbooks

There are plenty of other sportsbooks on the market. Barstool Sportsbook, for example, is coming to a few states. William Hill is another big operator with a strong industry history. Every sportsbook has something to offer, so keep an eye out for special bonuses, competitive odds, and unique betting options.  

How To Choose A Legal Online Sports Betting Site

You should look for a few key details when you’re choosing an online sports betting site.

Availability And Accessibility

First and foremost, is your preferred sportsbook actually live in your state? That’s the first factor you should consider. Fortunately, many sportsbooks are making their way to multiple markets. 

Second, how do you want to bet? Phone, tablet, or desktop? Most sportsbooks have apps and desktop sites available, but you should always check that your preferred method is available. Take it one step further and check to see how intuitive the experience is. Sportsbook apps should be seamless and easy to use. 

Sports And Odds

Do you prefer to bet on the underdog or the favorite? Do you like to bet on a niche sport outside of the most popular events? Check for these types of things at your sportsbook. Some sites, like PointsBet, tend to favor the underdog while some offer better odds on the favorite. 

Deposit and Withdrawal Methods

Most payment methods–credit/debit, PayPal, online banking, etc.–are standard across the board. But if you use a more obscure method like PayNearMe, you should be sure your preferred sportsbook accepts it. 

How To Place A Bet At An Online Sportsbook App

Getting to the point where you can actually place a bet is usually very simple, but you do have to take a few required steps first. 

Step 1: Choose A Sportsbook Site Or App

This may seem obvious, but given the growing market and the number of operators, choosing a sportsbook can be tough. Use the information on this page or visit our individual sportsbook reviews to help you choose one that’s legal in your state and best fits your tastes.

Once you’ve picked a sportsbook, you’ll want to access it via either desktop/mobile browser or by downloading the app. You can switch methods whenever you’d like, but for your first time pick one and stick to it to keep the process simple. If you’re playing on a desktop or a mobile browser, just head to the sportsbook’s website. To get the app, it’s slightly more complicated:

How To Download A Sportsbook App

Sportsbook apps have to adhere to strict regulations–not just from legislators, but from technology providers. Google and Apple have specific restrictions on gambling apps. To download a sportsbook app, you have to work with these restrictions. 

For iOS device users, it’s pretty cut and dry. If your preferred sportsbook has an app in the App Store, just download it as you normally would. 

Android users aren’t quite so lucky. Google prohibits all gambling apps from the Google Play Store, so you can’t get them from that marketplace. Instead, you can install the app straight from your sports betting provider’s website. Sportsbooks will have a convenient link on their site that kickstarts the download process. Once you select a few settings and install the app, you’re good to go. 

Step 2: Create Your Account

Once you have the app or have visited the desktop site, create your account. This is similar to signing up for an account at a social media site or online shopping retailer with some small differences. You’ll provide:

  • Username and password (you will create these)
  • Name
  • Email address
  • Home address
  • Phone number
  • Date of birth
  • Last 4 digits of your SSN (to confirm your age/identity)

You may also need to download a separate geolocation app (pr plug-in for desktop users) to confirm your location whenever you wish to place a bet. You need to be in state lines 

In-Person Registration

Some states require you to confirm your account in person before you can place a bet. Illinois and Iowa are among the states with this requirement. Once you register, you need to visit your chosen sportsbook’s land-based partner to complete registration, then you can place wagers.

Step 3: Deposit, Bet, and Cashout

App downloaded/desktop site bookmarked? Registration complete? Now you’re ready to make a deposit. There are a number of popular payment methods: credit and debit cards, prepaid cards, PayPal, online banking, wire transfer, and more. 

Use the method you’re most comfortable with. In the app or on the sportsbook site, visit the cashier section from the menu (sometimes there’s an option to just select “deposit”) and follow the prompts to connect your preferred payment method. ACH echeck and PayPal are two of the easiest methods, but others work just fine, too.

After you deposit, you can place a bet. And when you’re ready to cash out, head to the cashier page again and select from the available options. These usually include check by mail, bank transfer, or PayPal.

How To Place A Sports Bet Using A Bonus Offer

Sportsbooks offer a few common bonus types that you can use to maximize your account value, especially your first few bets. 

No Deposit Bonus

This one’s simple. Just register for an account and the sportsbook will credit your account with a small amount of money, usually between $5 and $25 (more if you’re lucky). No deposit required! It’s essentially a “thank you” bonus for signing up, and you can use the credit to place a bet. 

Deposit Match Bonus

Deposit matches are simple in theory, but the terms and conditions can make them tricky to navigate. In their simplest form, deposit matches allow you to double your account value. For example, BetRivers offers a 100% first deposit match up to $250. Simply put, if you make an initial deposit of $250, they’ll credit your account with an additional $250. 

Some operators match a smaller percentage. DraftKings does a 20% deposit match up to $500. To get the maximum match, you’d have to deposit $2,500. 

Always check the terms–deposit matches usually only apply to your very first deposit. And before you can cash out the bonus money, you typically have to wager with it. 

Risk-Free Bet

With a risk-free bet, you have a wagering safety net. These almost always apply to your first bet and then expire. Just place a bet, and if you lose, the sportsbook will credit your account with the amount you wagered. If you win, you keep your winnings. Risk-free bets often come with a maximum of $500 (this is the case at FanDuel and PointsBet).

Placing Sports Bets Online Legally 

Using a legal, regulated sportsbook offers the safest, most secure sportsbook experience. Offshore/grey market sites are incredibly risky; they can shut down at a moment’s notice and they don’t use high-level security tools. Your data and personal information are at risk at an offshore site, making legal sites your best route to a safe sportsbook outing. 

Why Should I Trust Online Sports Betting Sites?

You should trust online sports betting sites only if they are licensed and regulated. State government agencies oversee sports wagering, and they put strict regulations in place to protect players.

Each state has some sort of governing body for sports betting that grants licenses. Legal sites have licensing information easily available on their websites and within their apps. Click through the available links for more regulatory and legal information about your chosen sportsbook.

Is My Money Safe With Online Sportsbooks?

Yes. Legal online sportsbooks use high-level encryption tools. SSL is one such tool, and it protects your data, including financial information, from hackers as it travels from your device to your sportsbook. Regulated sports betting sites use technology on par with security tools used by banking institutions and online shopping sites. 

Are Sportsbook Winnings Taxable?

In most cases, yes. States often set a threshold for taxable winnings. If you win a significant amount of money, you will have to pay income taxes on those funds. Laws vary by state, so check with your sportsbook’s support team or your state’s gaming oversight organization for more information. 

Is My Personal Information Safe When Betting Online?

Yes. You’ll need to provide your social security number, location, and other info when you sign up for a sportsbook. Your data is encrypted before it’s sent to the sportsbook, and only the sportsbook’s systems can view it to confirm your age and identity. 

The SSN and location requirements also stop hackers from creating dummy accounts in an attempt to steal information from sportsbooks.

Types Of Sports Bets

Sports bets can be a bit daunting for beginners, but they’re not too complicated once you get a grasp on the most common available wagers. Here are some of the most common bets at legal sportsbooks.

Moneyline, Point Spreads, And Totals

These three bets are often listed side by side and are commonly the first bets you’ll see for a given match-up. 

Moneyline

Moneyline bets simply require you to choose a winner of a given match. The odds (which we cover below) on that match then determine how much you win if you chose correctly. If you see moneyline bets available, all you have to do is pick the team or player you expect to win. 

Point Spreads

Point spreads are intended to even the playing field for a match. Instead of picking an outright winner, you’re betting on the margin of victory. Here’s an example of how a point spread bet might look:

  • Chicago Bears -3.5
  • Green Bay Packers +3.5

The 3.5 on both teams represents the margin of victory, and players have to decide whether the Bears will win by at least 3.5 points. After the game ends, if you selected the Bears and they won 24-20, you would collect on your bet because they won by 4 points. If the final score was Bears 21 Packers 20 and you selected the Bears, you would lose your bet because they did not win by at least 3.5 points. 

Totals

If you’ve heard the term “over/under,” it’s likely been in reference to totals bets. Totals take the final combined total score of both teams in a match and have players bet on whether that score will be over or under a certain threshold.  Using our example match-up above, it might look like this:

  • Bears vs. Packers, Over/Under 50.5

You would place a bet on either the over or the under. If the total points at the end of the game exceeded 50.5, the over wins. If the total is below 50.5, the under wins. If the score was 24-21, the total points would add to 45 and the under would be the winning bet. 

Other Bet Types

You can find plenty of other bets at online sportsbooks, too. Each bet has its own advantages and disadvantages.

  • Parlays: you combine multiple simple bets into a single pool and you only win if every choice you make is correct. High payout potential, but harder to win than a single bet. 
  • Futures: bet on a match occurring in the future. For example, betting on an NFL champion before the regular season begins. High risk, high reward. 
  • In-Game/Live Betting: wager on events happening in a currently live match. 
  • Proposition (Prop) Bet: wager on an in-game event not necessarily affecting the final score or outcome. For example: will Tom Brady score two passing touchdowns in the first half?

How To Read Sports Betting Odds

Odds determine how much you’ll receive if you bet correctly. To new bettors, they can be intimidating, but they’re easier to understand than they look at first glance. 

How Odds Are Determined

Odds are first set by the likelihood of one outcome to occur over the other. You will almost always see a higher payout on an unlikely bet than a wager on the favorite of a match. Once the initial odds are set, they can change based on how many bettors are wagering on either side. This is to balance out the sportsbook’s earnings on each bet. 

Odds could also change based on events outside of a game. For example, if a starting quarterback is unexpectedly benched due to an injury, the odds on that team to win could plummet.

Understanding Odds

At US sportsbooks, odds are displayed as positives and negatives. Let’s use a moneyline bet as an example and pretend once again the Bears are playing the Packers:

  • Bears +112
  • Packers -136

When a team has a negative number (Packers -136), it means that team is favored to win the match. A positive number (Bears +112) means that team is the underdog. These odds also determine payouts. 

If you bet on the favorite (Packers -136), you would need to wager $136 to win $100. Negative odds essentially mean you need to bet that amount to win $100. 

Betting on the underdog is slightly different. The +112 on the Bears means you would win $112 if you bet $100. Because the underdog is less likely to win statistically, the payout potential is better. 

Find The Best Odds

If multiple sportsbooks are available in your state, peruse the available odds to find the best possible payouts. PointsBet, for example, usually offers great odds on the underdog while FanDuel tends to give better payouts on the favorite. These change frequently, so always check your options before you place a bet. 

See our full Guide To Sports Betting Odds.

Sports Betting Words To Know

ActionHaving “action” is meant to indicate you have a vested interest in a match. If you placed a bet on a match, you could say you have “action” on that match. 
BonusAn added benefit or reward, usually given to new players as a thank you or to frequent players for crossing certain spending thresholds
BankrollThe amount of money you’re willing to risk or bet at a sportsbook
EdgeAn advantage, either real or perceived, that a bettor has over the sportsbook’s odds
Even MoneyA bet with a 50-50 outcome, aka an even chance for either side to win
HandleNumber of bets taken by a sportsbook
LinesAnother term for point spread. A “line” is set on matches with a favorite and an underdog to make the outcome more even. 
Live bettingWagering on a game or match after it has already started.
MarginThe difference between the odds of a match and the true probability of the outcome.
OddsNumbers assigned to bets meant to indicate the likelihood of specific outcomes.
Prop betA bet on an in-game event not likely to affect the outcome of the match. For example: Will Khalil Mack record a sack in the second half?
PushResult of a tie between the bettor and the sportsbook. No money is won and no money is lost in a push, you keep your wager but receive no winnings. 
SpreadLike “lines,” a spread is set to encourage bets on either side of a match-up by giving a point advantage to the predicted underdog.
ExoticsExotics are less common bet types beyond point spreads, moneylines, or totals. Some might consider parlays or pro bets to be “exotic.”

Placing Online Sports Bets FAQ

How old do I have to be to place a sports bet online? 

21. Regulated states require gamblers to be at least 21 years of age to place a bet. When you sign up for a sports betting account, you will provide your date of birth and the last four digits of your social security number to confirm you’re old enough to participate. 

What is the best online sportsbook?

It’s difficult to say if there’s one frontrunner. DraftKings, FanDuel, BetRivers, PointsBet, and FOX Bet could all be considered the best for different reasons. 

If you look at revenue by state, DraftKings is the undisputed leader in the sports betting arena. In terms of overall experience and app functionality, PointsBet gives DraftKings a run for its money. Bottom line: it comes down to personal preference. 

Can I place a sports bet online in Las Vegas? 

Yes. There are plenty of sports betting apps available in Las Vegas, most of them operated by Sin City casinos. To place bets online in Nevada, you have to be within the state, which will be confirmed by geolocation. 

How can I place a bet on the Super Bowl?

Most regulated sportsbooks already have Super Bowl future bets available, so you can bet on your favorite team to win the big game. 

For more specific Super Bowl bets like moneyline, point spreads, and totals, you’ll have to wait until the playing teams are revealed and odds are set. 

Can I bet on college sports online?

Yes. College sports betting is allowed in almost every state that has legal sports betting. Some states have specific restrictions, though. In Illinois, for example, you can’t bet on any match that includes an in-state college or university. Regulated sportsbooks won’t offer bets that are deemed illegal in that specific jurisdiction, or they’d risk losing their license to operate. 

Can I bet on high school sports online?

Not across the board. In fact, most states completely ban betting on high school sports for fear of league corruption. High school sports are considered amateur events, and almost every regulated sports betting market prohibits amateurs betting. 

Can I bet on politics and elections in the US? 

In some states. Not every state allows election betting. Because the overturning of PASPA gave states the right to regulate sports betting on an individual basis, election betting availability varies widely. Some states have chosen to allow it while others bar it completely. 

Is online sports betting legal in every state? 

No. Currently, 12 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized and launched sports betting. 

Other states–Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia, to name a few–have legalized sports betting but haven’t launched any sportsbooks yet. 

Some remaining states are in the early process of building legislation to allow sports betting, such as California and Massachusetts. 

Only a select few states, such as Texas, have specifically moved to stop sports betting legislation. 

About the Author

Cole Rush

Cole Rush is a Chicago-based freelance writer in the gambling, media, and entertainment space. His work has been showcased in various gaming industry magazines and online columns. Prior to freelance writing, Cole spent seven years in communications at a gambling and lottery supplier. Cole writes for a number of online and print publications, including The Quill To Live, a book review site.