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Sports Betting Odds Explained

Sports Betting Odds Explained

By Loot, Professional Sports Bettor,

Sports betting odds may seem foreign at first for the beginning sports bettor. But rest assured, you’re never that far from gaining total comprehension. It’s really not that hard. Walk through a sportsbook one day. You may think “if these guys can understand sports betting odds, so can I.” You would be right.

The odds and how odds apply to betting may vary slightly from sport-to-sport. At the same time, there are some principles that apply to all aspects of sports betting. Let’s break it down by sport and give you the lowdown on how betting odds work for all the different major sports.

NFL and College Football: There are two things you need to understand in order to bet on football at the professional and college level. Those two things are the point spread and the money line. The point spread is applied to the standard form of football wagering, where you pick one of two teams to “cover the spread.”

A number is applied to a game, with one team favored by that many points, while the opponent is an underdog by that same number of points. It will look like this:

Pittsburgh Steelers +4.5 vs. Cincinnati Bengals -4.5

Above is an football point spread. Pittsburgh is +4.5, with Cincinnati at -4.5, which means Pittsburgh is a 4.5-point underdog and Cincinnati is favored by 4.5 points. For a bet on Pittsburgh to win at +4.5, they can either win the game outright or not lose by an amount that surpasses 4.5. For Cincinnati to win, they must win the game and do so by a number greater than 4.5.

In other words, if it’s 21-17 Cincinnati, a bet on Pittsburgh would win by a half-point. If the score was 24-19 Cincinnati, a bet on the Bengals would win by a half-point.


All other football bets will take place on the money line, which is simply a way to express odds. You can make prop bets, futures wagers, over/under bets on totals, and a slew of other bets and they will almost always use the money line. Another popular bet using the money line is when you bet on a team to simply win the game. Let’s use that as an example:

Arizona +220 vs. Arizona State -240

In the above example, you see a money line. Arizona State is favored at -240, with Arizona a +220 underdog. When you see a minus-sign (-240), the number you see is how much you would have to bet to win $100. Therefore, to win $100 on Arizona State, you would need to bet $240. With a plus-sign (+220), the number you see is how much you would win if you bet on $100.

Note: All the different bets in pro and college football are more or less self-explanatory. The key to understanding the bets is to be able to understand the odds.

NBA and College Basketball: Pro and college basketball mirrors football in terms of betting odds. The standard form of betting is on the point spread, with all other bets expressing odds on the money line. The only real distinction between NBA and college in terms of betting is that the NBA plays quarters, while college basketball games are played in two halves. Let’s take a quick look at how a basketball point spread would work:

Dallas Mavericks +7.5 vs. San Antonio Spurs -7.5

In the above example, you see a basketball point spread. The spread is 7.5. San Antonio at -7.5 is favored by that amount, while Dallas is a 7.5-point underdog at +7.5. If you bet on San Antonio at -7.5, a bet would only win if they win the game by 8 or more points. A bet on Dallas would win if they won the game straight-up or if they lose by 7 or fewer points. A point spread is a type of handicap. Both sides of an against-the-spread bet pay the same, but the teams are obviously not of the same quality. A point spread evens things out and gives both sides of the bet some wagering appeal.

Most other basketball bets are governed by the money line, which is just a way to communicate odds. Here is an example:

North Carolina +135 vs. Duke -155

Above you see a money line wager, where you simply pick who will win the game, with no mind being paid to point spreads. With money lines, remember that plus signs mean underdogs and minus signs mean favorites. North Carolina is an underdog at +135 and since they are the underdog, you make more than you bet if they win. A bet on North Carolina would pay $135 for every $100 you bet. When betting on favorites to simply win, you won’t be getting as much as you bet. At -155, you would need to bet $155 to win $100 on Duke.

This form of odds expression is used for all facets of basketball wagering. The bets themselves are easy to comprehend, but to really understand a bet, you just need to understand the odds. Knowing the point spread and money line will allow you to do that.

Key Points About Football and Basketball Betting Odds

With money lines, the $100 reference point doesn’t mean you have to either bet $100 or enough to win $100 You can wager whatever amount you want and the odds would just break down proportionately.

When betting against the spread, you will be doing so on a money line of -110, meaning you must wager $110 for every $100 you want to win. You can also find a -105 line, where you only have to wager $105 for every $100 you want to win.

Major League Baseball: Standard MLB betting occurs on the money line. The two teams in a game are simply given odds. You pick a winner. There are certainly other bets available when wagering on baseball, but they are easy to understand. The only part that might be tricky is the odds, but understanding the money line means you understand baseball betting odds.

Remember these 4 things about the money line and you will be equipped to at least understand how the wagering of baseball works:

1. Minus means favorite.

2. Plus means underdog.

3. The number you see next to the minus sign is the number you need to BET to win $100.

4. The number you see next to the plus sign is how much you WIN if you bet $100.

Let’s look at a quick example:

San Diego Padres +145 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates -165

In the above example, you see a money line. San Diego is +145. That means they are the underdog and you win $145 for every $100 you bet. Pittsburgh at -165 is the favorite, meaning you would bet $165 for every $100 you want to win. Again, there are a bevy of other bets in baseball other than who will simply win the game. But they all take place on the money line, the key to being able to at least understand baseball betting.

Note: Understanding the money line will not only have you ready to understand baseball betting, but it will also mean you understand boxing, MMA, tennis, auto racing, hockey, soccer, and elements of football and basketball wagering.

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