When first getting started in sports betting I think one of the most confusing aspects is learning how to understand betting odds and betting lines and ultimately what they mean. This is confusing in my eyes simply because there are 3 different methods in how odds are displayed which not only tell you who the favourite or the underdog is, but will also tell you how much money you hope to win in return for your wager.
Well, after doing some research and learning how everything works myself I can honestly tell you that learning about betting odds, spreads, money lines and over/under is much, much easier than what it looks like. To prove that point and to help everyone gain an understanding of all these need to know concepts in sports betting, I have outlined all of the basics of sports betting odds below.
Types of Sports Betting Odds
Now, aside from random prop bets such as who will score first or what play results in making the first score, the most common types of bets made are generally on the overall outcome of the game; in other words, who the winner or loser will be. These are generally displayed in either a spread or a money line depending on the sport. Additionally, an over/under bet can also be made which is generally used only for games that use a spread but there are variations that are used for games that typically use a money line.
Here are the definitions of each below along with an example.
Spread: A spread is generally used in higher scoring games such as football or basketball that displays a number that the favourite team needs to win by to at least have a push (break-even) bet with them winning by more resulting in a winning bet. All favourites are shown as a negative while all underdogs are shown as a positive. The team that is shown in all caps is the home team. For example:
New Orleans Saints -7 vs. DALLAS COWBOYS +7
What this betting line will tell you is that the New Orleans Saints are the favourite to win by 7 points and the Dallas Cowboys are the home team which are underdogs in this specific game. Any bets placed on the Saints will only be winners if the Saints win by 8 points or more with 7 points resulting in a push/tie. If the Cowboys lose by 6 points or less, then any bet placed on them will be winners.
As a rule of thumb, all games payout $1 for every $1.10 wagered unless otherwise noted.
Money Line: Although money lines are typically used for lower scoring games such as baseball and soccer, they are still used for other games such as football and basketball as well. Money lines are different then Spread betting lines in that there is no deficit that a team must win or lose by for a wager to win or lose. For example, using the same teams, if you placed a wager that the Saints will beat the Cowboys in their next game, it will not matter if they win by 1 point or 1,000; as long as they win, you win your bet.
Now, money lines are displayed a bit different than spreads are. They are still displayed as a negative but are generally displayed with a decimal or a whole number such as this:
Green Bay Packers -1.20 (or 120) vs. Dallas Cowboys +1.10 (or 110)
What this will mean to you as a bettor, is that to win $1 while wagering on the Saints you must risk $1.20 to do so and the $1 will go a bit further as you need to wager only that to potentially earn $1.10 while betting on the Cowboys. This may seem odd, wagering more to earn less for the favourites as opposed to wagering less to earn more for the underdogs; but this is simply because the Packers are a favourite to win, so you are more likely to win your bet thus earning a bit less.
Over/Under: Over/under is super easy to understand. All this bet is, is a bet on the likely overall score of the game with both teams points combined. For example, if the over/under for our teams above was 31, then you can place a wager on the fact that you think they will score less than 31 (under) or place a wager on the fact that you think they will score more (over). Over/unders, also known as totals, also payout at the rate of $1.00 for every $1.10 wagered unless other wise noted.
How Odds Are Displayed
The last thing to understand is how to read and interpret each of the different ways that odds are displayed. There are 3 in all, American, decimal and fractional, with all of the odds written above using the American format. Unless you are betting in the UK, odds are generally in American form which is typically shown in whole numbers (+120, -110, +1000, -1,500, etc). However, most sites offer the option to change it to decimal or fractional if that happens to be the norm for you. Having said that, here are what the decimal and fractional methods look like when displayed along with the easiest way to interpret them.
Decimal: When viewing odds in the decimal form, they should look very similar to the American format other than the fact that there will be a decimal point. (This doesn’t mean you can take a whole number from the American format and add a period to get a decimal format however).
Now, the easiest way to determine the favourite between two teams is to find the smaller of the two numbers listed. For example:
Green Bay Packers 1.25 vs. Dallas Cowboys 3.50
In this case, the Packers are the favourite since their number is smaller. To figure out how much you can expect to make for a $1 wager, simply take the number next to the team and subtract $1 from it. For example:
Packers: $1.25-$1 = $.25 – If you placed a $1 bet on the Packers, you could expect a return of $.25 should they win.
Cowboys: $3.50-$1 = $2.50 – If you placed a $1 bet on the Cowboys, you would win $2.50 in the event that they win.
This way of calculating how much you expect to win should work for spread, money line and over/under odds.
Fraction: The fractional method of displaying odds is rather easy to pick up as well.
The easiest way to tell whom the favourite is and who the underdog is, is to look at how the fractions are displayed next to the team. For example:
Green Bay Packers: 1/3 or 1 to 3 – When the odds are displayed like this, with the larger number on the left, then this team is generally regarded as the favourite to win the game.
Dallas Cowboys: 5/2 or 5 to 2 – When the odds are displayed like this, with the larger number on the left, this means that this team is the underdog.
OK, now, the maths to figure out how much you will make based on your wager is a bit more intense, especially if you’re mathematically illiterate. However, using the example above, I will do my best to explain it.
Green Bay Packers: 1/3 or 1 to 3 – Take the right number and divide that by 1 for $1 wager. This is known in maths as “reducing” to common denominators. Now, do the same to the left side using the number 1 as well. This will leave you with approximately $.33. So, what you are left with is $.33 to $1 which means you risk $1 to win $.33.
Dallas Cowboys: 5/2 or 5 to 2 – Do the same thing as above and divide the right side by itself (2) which will leave you with 1 which means your $1 wager. Now, divide the left side (5) by the same number you used on the left (2) which will leave you with $2.50. So, what this means is that you risk $1 to win $2.50.
The fractional method is probably the hardest to figure out in terms of how much you stand to win. But, most sites will display how much you stand to win in relation to the wager you are making so there is no need to stress.
Understanding Betting and Odds in Sportsbooks
Hopefully this article has helped all of you gain a bit more understanding in how to read and interpret betting lines and the different ways that they are displayed at each sportsbook. While it seems a bit confusing at first, all it takes is a few minutes of playing with the odds (which can be done without any commitment) and you are sure to have the hang of it. Now, go place a bet and root for your favourite team.