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Betting Odds Explained

Betting odds are a way to quantify the likelihood of certain events and in sports, they usually deal with game winners and game losers.

Odds generally demonstrate the probability of a certain event whereas sports betting odds are assigned a monetary value that fans will bet on in order to make (or lose) money.

Events that are likely to happen, like a heavy favorite winning a game, pay out far less than your actual wager. But if you put your money on a heavy underdog that is unlikely to win, you could win a lot more than you put in.

Here is quick introduction to how sportsbooks display betting odds:

What are Betting Odds?

There are two main ways that betting odds are displayed. The first is the moneyline, which is a simple way to quantify the likelihood of events using a dollar figure.

You might see something that looks like this:
Philadelphia Eagles -130
Dallas Cowboys +125

The minus sign means the team is the favorite and you have to bet more than the potential winnings. The plus sign means the team is the underdog and pays out more than your initial wager. The moneyline simply shows the ratio between what you put in and what you get out. So you would have to bet $130 on the Eagles to win $100. But since the Cowboys are the underdog and less likely to win, a $100 bet on Dallas would net you $125. This just shows the ratio, so a $65 bet on the Eagles would win you $50, etc.

Aside from moneyline bets, other bets are by definition “even money.” They are usually displayed as -110, meaning a $110 bet wins $100. It’s not exactly 100-100 because every sportsbook charges a “vig,” which is a fee for facilitating the bet. The exact line may be higher or lower than -110 but you are highly unlikely to find a straight even money bet with no vig.

This is the case with point spreads and point totals. The payout is always the same ratio but the spread and total is adjusted by the oddsmakers to make it more competitive.

A sportsbook might display something like this:
New York Giants -4 (-110)
Seattle Seahawks +4 (-110)

The Giants are a slight favorite so they are “giving up” 4 points, meaning they must win by a margin of 5 points or more for you to cash in. The Seahawks are “getting” 4 additional points so they can lose by up to 3 points and still win your bet. No matter which team you bet on, the payout ratio is the same.

How Do Betting Odds Work?

Football and basketball odds show the moneyline and point spread exactly as demonstrated above. Game lines will also usually include the over/under, which looks like this:

Knicks vs. Lakers O/U 207 (-108)

This means that the sportsbook projects the two teams to score a combined 207 points and you can then bet on whether the actual final total will be “over” or “under” what this sportsbook projects. The bet has an $8 vig so you would have to bet $108 to win $100.

Hockey and baseball also feature the moneyline and an over/under, but the point spread is a bit different since there is far less scoring in both sports.

In hockey, every game has a set “puck line” of 1.5 goals. So, if the Devils are the favorite, they must win by 2 or more goals to win your bet. If they are an underdog, they can afford to lose by a goal and still win your bet. Baseball similarly has a 1.5 “run line” for each game.