Online Sportsbooks - All You Need to Know About Online Sportsbooks
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Online Sportsbooks

Before the advent of online sportsbooks, if you wanted to place a bet on the outcome of a sporting event, you had to visit a retail operator. And that was if you lived in a state that was lucky enough to have one. If you didn’t, you’d have to physically travel to another state which did have a retail sportsbook.

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Introduction to Online Sportsbooks

Some bettors might look back on the 'good old days' of retail-only sports betting with fondness. However, most sports betting fans are very glad that online sportsbooks came along to change the status quo. They made it possible for anyone with an internet connection to log into an online sportsbook account, look through the betting markets available and make a wager. All without ever having to leave home, let alone the state!

For those of you who are new to online sportsbooks, this guide will help you to get up to speed. You’ll learn which states have legalized online sports betting and which sportsbooks are widely regarded as being the best. We’ll tell you how to choose a sportsbook for yourself, how to sign up for an account and even how to place your first bet. As for picking winners… we’ll leave that to you!

What are Online Sportsbooks?

Online sportsbooks are virtual platforms which allow you to place bets on sporting events just as you would when visiting a retail operator. Whilst you won’t get to enjoy a sense of community as you might in a retail setting, you will have access to many more betting opportunities. It can therefore be said that, as far as actual betting is concerned, online sportsbooks are often superior to their retail cousins.

When you have a sportsbook account, you will be able to explore all of the available betting markets on your computer or mobile screen. If you come across a betting opportunity that you’d like to take advantage of, you can click your selected outcome, state the size of your bet and place your bet - all in a matter of seconds. If the bet wins, your profit will be added to your account automatically, along with your returned stake.

The number of sports that you can bet on with an online sportsbook is huge. You’ll have your pick of local, national and even international events. Whether you want to bet on the US Open, on a county cricket match in England or on a table tennis match in China, a good online sportsbook will be able to handle all equally well. 

Many online sportsbooks will also allow you to bet on non-sporting events. For example, some will let you bet on who the next US President will be, or who will emerge from the next Oscars ceremony clutching a Best Leading Actor award.

In short, online sportsbooks have all the functionality of a retail operator, but with a much wider range of choice. They’re also a lot more convenient to visit!

Online Sportsbooks in the USA

Online sports betting is a relatively recent phenomenon in the US, so although it is catching on fast, it isn’t legal in all states by any means. The good news is that there are more states offering online sports betting today than was the case even a couple of years ago. The current list of ‘online-friendly’ sports betting states is as follows:

Colorado

The state of Colorado legalized sports betting in November 2019, and it was initially expected that retail operators would go live in May 2020. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed those retail plans, but online sports betting was successfully launched on May 1. The Colorado online sports betting scene has thrived ever since, with DraftKings and FanDuel being two of the first on the landscape. Some 28 retail casinos have applied for a license to offer online sports betting facilities, so the future looks even brighter.

Iowa

One of the states to most recently welcome online sports betting is Iowa. Offline betting with retail operators has been legal here since 2019. Online sports betting was also possible, but used to require bettors to register for their accounts in person. Despite that hurdle, online betting in Iowa has been very successful. The in-person registration requirement was dropped at the start of 2021, making it possible for new bettors to register online. This should help Iowan online sports betting to become even more popular in the months and years ahead.

Illinois

Online sports betting was launched in Illinois in March, 2020. Whilst this has been very good for sports fans in the state, it has to be said that there aren’t quite as many sportsbook choices here as in some other places. There are just five to choose from, but what Illinois arguably lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. The mighty BetRivers Sportsbook was the first to go live here, and Illinoisians can also bet with DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet and William Hill.

Indiana

The first sportsbook to open its doors in the state of Indiana was DraftKings, which has been active since October, 2019. That was just a month after sports betting was made legal in the state, and its main competitor, FanDuel, opened just a few weeks later. BetRivers and BetAmerica both launched before the close of that year, and another half a dozen sportsbooks went live in 2020. All of this has helped Indiana sports betting to get off to a great start, and the success looks set to continue.

Nevada

Nevada is no stranger to sports betting in person, and retail sportsbooks have been operating in the state for decades. Despite that theoretical head start, Nevada is still finding its feet as far as online sports betting is concerned. Online betting is available with a number of big-name operators but the current law requires you to visit a retail sportsbook in person to register. Fortunately, you only need to register once, and when your account has been set up you can bet from anywhere in the state.

New Hampshire

Online sports betting in New Hampshire was legalized in the summer of 2019. The new law allowed for both retail and online sportsbooks to operate, but so far only one of the latter has opened its virtual doors. Fortunately for bettors in the state, that solitary online sportsbook is none other than DraftKings. That gives New Hampshire sports fans plenty of sports and betting markets to choose from, even though their choice of operator is currently negligible. 

New Jersey

Sports bettors in New Jersey are some of the most fortunate in the country. That’s because this state played an instrumental role in getting online sports betting legalized. The first online sportsbook operators went live here in 2018, and bettors in the state now have access to well over a dozen different online sportsbooks. Those include DraftKings, FanDuel, William Hill, 888sport and Caesars, to name just five. 

Oregon

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As in New Hampshire, bettors in Oregon have just one online sportsbook that they can use. That sportsbook is Scoreboard, which is operated by the Oregon State Lottery. It isn’t a poor sportsbook by any means, but it would be good to see other online operators in this state. In the meantime, online bettors here must simply make the most of what’s available.

Pennsylvania

The state of Pennsylvania was preparing for the legalization of sports betting even before most people were convinced it would happen. That put it in a great position to act swiftly when sports gaming licensed became available in October 2017. Pennsylvania now has plenty of online sportsbooks for bettors to choose from. These include BetRivers, BetAmerica, DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars.

Tennessee

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In most states that allow online sports betting, it is simply a very convenient alternative to placing bets in person. That isn’t the case in the state of Tennessee. Here, there are no retail casinos anywhere, and therefore no retail sportsbooks for bettors to visit. Fortunately, what it lacks on the retail side it more than makes up for online, with  BetMGM, DraftKings and FanDuel all operating in the state.

West Virginia

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Sports betting in West Virginia was made legal in 2018. The first in-person sports bet was made in August of that year, and online sportsbooks were in operation by the end of December. Although this isn’t the biggest state in the country by any means, it has plenty to offer enthusiastic sports bettors. Online sportsbooks currently taking bets here include DraftKings, FanDuel and William Hill.

What About Other States?

The number of states which have legalized sports betting has increased quite nicely over the last few years. That trend is widely expected to continue in the future. Several states that are well worth keeping an eye on include Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky and Massachusetts.

Five of the Best Online Sportsbooks 

Online sportsbooks are keen to operate in as many states as possible. Take the country as a whole and there are plenty of different sportsbooks to choose from. Some are bigger than others, however, and that’s usually due to the fact that they offer a superior betting experience. Here are five of the best online sportsbooks around right now:

DraftKings Sportsbook

You’ve heard its name repeatedly in this article, and that’s because DraftKings is an industry leader. It offers a huge number of sports to bet on and an impressively wide range of betting markets. New registrants here can get a very generous deposit bonus, and the operator also offers plenty of ongoing promotions for regular bettors.

FanDuel Sportsbook

Another leading player in the sports betting business is FanDuel. Widely regarded as the main rival to DraftKings, FanDuel is just as impressive in its range of sports and markets. It also competes very well on the bonus front, offering new bettors a risk-free bet of up to $1,000.

William Hill Sportsbook

A jewel in the crown of the British bookmaking industry, William Hill has been taking bets since 1934. The company now offers online sports betting in ten different countries, and is operating in several US states. Take advantage of a risk-free bet worth up to $500 if you want to take this sportsbook for a spin.

BetMGM Sportsbook

BetMGM is a very popular sportsbook which is available online in a growing number of states. With a great variety of betting markets on many dozens of sports, and an impressive associated online casino in those states where online casinos are legal, this is definitely an operator to consider. New bettors can place their first bet of up to $500 risk-free.

Unibet Sportsbook

Although it isn’t quite as well-known as DraftKings or FanDuel, the Unibet Sportsbook is becoming increasingly popular. It gives new bettors two free $10 bets just for signing up, and a risk-free bet of up to $250 for those who stick around to place a first bet with their own money. 

What Do You Need to Bet with Online Sportsbooks?

The equipment needed to bet with online sportsbooks is no more specialist than that needed to buy a copy of the latest bestseller from Amazon. If you can get yourself online, either with an internet connection at home or in the office, or via the data coverage of your mobile phone, you’re pretty much good to go.

Of course, there are a couple of caveats to that statement. The first is that you need to be physically located in the same state as the online sportsbook that you want to use. If you live in New Jersey and you work in New York, for example, you could place a bet with a New Jersey sportsbook when you're at home using your laptop or mobile phone. However, you wouldn’t be able to do that whilst you’re at work, because you’d be outside state lines.

The second caveat concerns convenience. Whilst it’s true that you can bet online with almost any modern internet-ready device, you should also think about when you’re likely to want to place bets. If you know that you want to bet when you’re out and about, you’ll need to make sure that you have a tablet or mobile and that you can connect when you need to. Even if it means using the WiFi connection at your favorite bar or coffee shop.

What Sports Can You Bet On?

This would be a much shorter section if we were to talk about what sports you can’t bet on, because we can’t think of any. We should point out that betting on college games is illegal in many states, but as far as the sports themselves are concerned, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice.

The specific range of sports that are available for betting will vary from operator to operator. However, if you’re betting with any of the major sportsbooks that are active in the US, you can expect all of the nation’s favorite sports leagues to be covered, including the NFL, NBA and NHL, to name just three. You’ll be able to bet on baseball, soccer, tennis, golf, athletics, boxing, motor sports, MMA and more.

Those of you who have a keen interest in international sporting events should also be well catered for. Sportsbooks such as William Hill, which are based outside the US, will usually offer more diversity in this area. That opens up the world of English cricket, Italian football, international rugby competitions and more.

As mentioned earlier, online sportsbooks also allow you to bet on a variety of non-sporting events. Again, the specific opportunities available to you will depend on the sportsbook you choose. Politics, entertainment, finance and even the weather have their own markets at William Hill and other sportsbooks.

Available Betting Markets

Whilst on the topic of markets, it’s also worth pointing out that you won’t have just one way to bet on a given event. On the contrary, you’ll normally have several to choose from, and the main ones are outlined below.

The Moneyline Bet

Betting on the moneyline requires you to predict which participating individual or team will win the event. You’ll therefore need to select the fighter you expect to win a boxing match, or the team you expect to win a football game. If your prediction is correct and your selection wins, your bet also wins.

The Totals Bet (Over/Under)

This market requires you to predict how many points or goals will be scored in total in a particular event. Fortunately, you don’t have to be precise. Simply bet whether the total will be Over or Under the prediction made by the sportsbook. Again, if you are correct then your bet will win.

The Point Spread Bet

In point spread markets, the sportsbook will assign a theoretical handicap to the favorite and a similar advantage to the underdog. This allows fans of both teams to take comparable odds. Your selection must either overcome the stated handicap or win with the help of the stated advantage for your bet to win.

The Parlay Bet

A parlay bet allows you to bet on several events and to win big if they all go your way. For example, you could predict the outcome of four football games. If all of your predictions are correct then the odds for each game will be multiplied together and you’ll land a bigger payday. However, if one of more of your selections fails to win, the whole parlay bet loses.

The Prop Bet

A prop bet is one that doesn’t depend on the overall result of the event. You could bet on the first player to score in a soccer match, on how many aces will be scored in a tennis match, and so on. These bets can win for you no matter who wins the match itself.

The Futures Bet

This is a bet that concerns the outcome of an event in the more distant future. For example, after watching the latest Super Bowl game, you might decide that you want to bet on a particular team to win the next one, even though it’s almost a year ahead. That’s what the futures betting markets are for.

What are Online Sportsbook Bonuses and Promotions?

We have said that many states have a number of online sportsbooks operating in them. This makes attracting bettors to sign up for accounts a rather competitive business. One way in which sportsbooks like to attract and retain new players is by offering bonuses and promotions.

Bonuses at Online Sportsbooks

Bonuses are offers that are designed to reward those who perform a certain action. In the sports betting world, the three main actions that sportsbooks like to reward most often are signing up for a new account, making a first deposit and placing a first bet. They have therefore created bonuses relating to each of these, as follows:

The Sign-Up Bonus

This bonus is given to those who simply sign up for a new account. Since this involves little more than providing some personal information, these bonuses tend to be quite modest. You might be given one or two bets worth around $10 each, for example.

The Deposit Bonus

A deposit bonus is given to those who make a first deposit into their new sportsbook account. Because this requires bettors to invest some of their own money, these bonuses tend to be more generous. For example, the sportsbook might give you $100 in free bets when you deposit $100 of your own cash. 

The Risk-Free Bet Bonus

The risk-free bet bonus is designed to reward you for placing your first real-money bet. Here the deal is simple: place your bet and if you lose the sportsbook will refund your stake. The refund will usually have a very generous maximum limit and be given in the form of free bets.

You probably won’t get all three of these bonuses from the same sportsbook. Instead, an operator will choose to offer just one or two of them. Shop around to see what’s available and pick one that suits you.

Promotions at Online Sportsbooks

Whilst bonuses are primarily designed to attract new bettors, promotions are offered to try and keep them. The theory here is just as simple. If the  sportsbook gives you a little something every now and again when you bet with it, you’re likely to remain loyal.

Promotions come in all shapes and sizes. You might be offered an extra bonus payment if you land a winning parlay bet. The sportsbook might give you better odds about an event than are available elsewhere. It might even give you your money back if your selection achieves something extraordinary but still loses the match.

You won’t be offered a promotion on every bet you place by any stretch of the imagination. However, promotions can be made available often enough to be quite valuable over the long term.

Loyalty Programs at Online Sportsbooks

Those of you who have played at online casinos will probably have noticed that a good number of them offer loyalty programs. Unfortunately, that isn’t very common at all at sportsbooks, for the simple reason that it’s a lot easier for people to make money from sports betting than from casino gaming.

If you’re good at predicting sporting results and betting with discipline, sportsbooks probably won’t make much money from you, so loyalty programs would just be an added expense for them. Of course, if you find one then you should feel free to take advantage of it, but don’t expect loyalty programs as standard because they aren’t.

How to Get Started with Online Sportsbooks

At this point you’re probably wondering how difficult it is to start betting with online sportsbooks. The answer is that it isn’t difficult at all. You simply need to choose a sportsbook, download any required app, sign up for an account and make a deposit. Allow us to walk you through each step for clarity…

1 - Choose an Online Sportsbook

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Before you can join an online sportsbook you need to choose one that suits your needs. Although there are plenty to choose from, this isn’t a complicated matter. Because most legal sportsbooks in the US cater for all of the main sports and provide a similar range of betting markets, any one of them will be of benefit.

Of course, you should still take a look around at the sportsbooks that are online in your particular state. The bonuses and promotions may vary from operator to operator, so knowing what’s available will help you to take advantage of the best offers. In addition, if you already know what sports you want to bet on, you’ll want to check that it is given adequate coverage. When you find a sportsbook that offers an attractive bonus and offers all the betting action you want, you can sign up with confidence.

Reading through the online sportsbook reviews provided here at HowToBet can make this whole process a walk in the park. And if you’re lucky enough to have several top-class sportsbooks in your state, there’s no law against signing up with more than one of them!

2 - Download the Sportsbook App (If Required)

Some sportsbooks will require you to download their app to your mobile device if you want to place bets on the move. Where applicable, the sportsbook website will point you in the direction of the required app. Normally it will be available via an app store as a free download. The process of downloading and installing a mobile sportsbook app is the same as for any other app, so this shouldn’t give you any problems at all.

3 - Sign Up for an Account

First Registration
Register an account
Verify your account

In some states, it is still necessary to visit a retail sportsbook in order to sign up for an account. If you live in such a state, there is no way around that law. The good news is that signing up will involve nothing more than a one-off visit. Just make sure you have any required proof of ID with you when making the trip.

Most states now allow bettors to sign up for a new account online. In most cases, all you need to do is visit the sportsbook website or launch the app and click a SIGN UP or REGISTER button. That will launch the process and you simply need to provide the information that is requested. This will be much the same at all sportsbooks, and will include your name, date of birth, email address, and so on.

4 - Make a Deposit

The only step remaining after signing up for a new account is to make a deposit into your account. Of course, if a sportsbook gives you a free bet just for signing up then you can use that first. However, at some point you will need to deposit some of your own money in order to continue betting.

Again, sportsbooks do their best to make this as straightforward and hassle-free as possible. Head to the Account section of the website or app and select the DEPOSIT option. You will then be able to choose a banking method (credit cards, PayPal and e-wallets are common options) and state the amount you want to deposit. Check your selections and then confirm to initiate the transaction. In most cases, your cash will be in your sportsbook account within a matter of minutes, if not sooner.

How to Place a Bet

The precise mechanics of placing a bet will vary a little between sportsbooks. However, the main principles will be the same in each case.

First, you need to find the event that you want to bet on. Most operators list sports so that you can scroll through them and go directly to the one that interests you. A range of available events that are scheduled to take place will then be shown. Click the event you want to bet on and you’ll be presented with the betting markets available for it.

Next, take a look at the odds for the outcome you want to bet on. If the odds are acceptable to you, click on them and that outcome will be added to a virtual bet slip. This is often shown as a pop-up screen or sidebar, depending on the sportsbook and whether you are using the app or website.

The final step is to enter the amount that you want to bet on the bet slip. When you have done that, check that all the details are correct, then submit the bet. Your bet will then be confirmed, and should be viewable in your betting history.

How to Withdraw Your Winnings

The whole point of sports betting is to try and make a profit from your ability to make accurate predictions. You can leave such profits in your account for as long as you want, but eventually you will want to take some or all of the available cash out of your account for other purposes.

Doing this is no more complicated than putting money into your account. Once again, you need to visit the Account section of the sportsbook. From there, select WITHDRAW and enter the amount you want to withdraw. Many withdrawals can be made using the same method used for deposits, but this depends on the sportsbook.

When you have submitted your withdrawal request, the sportsbook and payment processor may need some time to carry out the necessary checks and balances. It can therefore take a few working days before your withdrawal reaches you, depending on the banking method used.

Online Sportsbooks FAQ

What is the minimum legal age for betting with online sportsbooks?
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The minimum legal age to participate in online sports betting in the US is 21.

Are online sportsbooks fair?
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Online sportsbooks are tightly regulated in the US and can only operate within strict legal guidelines. This means that all legal sportsbooks are perfectly fair.

How can I win at online sportsbooks?
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Winning at online sportsbooks comes down to being able to correctly predict the outcome of sporting and other events. The way to win at online sportsbooks is therefore to develop your ability to make successful predictions.

How do online sportsbooks stay in business?
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Online sportsbooks stay in business by offering odds that are slightly lower than their assessment of an outcome merits. This gives them a likely long term profit, although bookies can and do get it wrong and lose huge chunks of cash from time to time.

How many online sportsbooks can I join?
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You can join as many as you want. The benefits of signing up with two or more sportsbooks are more bonuses and a wider choice of betting markets.

Which are the best online sportsbooks?
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All legal online sportsbooks have something to offer, and the best one for you might not be the best one for someone else. Choose a sportsbook that gives you access to all that betting markets which you personally want to participate in. FanDuel, DraftKings and William Hill are all leaders in the industry, so check them out to begin with and go from there.

About this author

Ian Bruce author profile

Ian is a keen sports fan with an even keener eye for advantageous betting odds. The only thing he enjoys as much as watching his favourite teams win is being able to land sportsbook winners at the same time. He takes a strategic and mathematical approach to betting and he encourages others to do the same.

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