How To Read and Understand Betting Odds
The scope of legal sports betting encompasses a great many subjects, from betting the Super Bowl to laying some action on political election odds, but the rules work the same regardless of what outcomes are being predicted.
We’ve created this legal online sports betting how-to page with the intent purpose of clearing up any misconceptions or outlying queries regarding legitimate online sportsbooks, the odds, the type of bets that are offered, or anything else that might be of concern to active wagerers in the United States.
Bet Definition: What Is A Bet?
A bet is a wager where at least two outcomes are in play. The outcome can be two or more opponents competing head-to-head for the same outcome, or it can be multiple scenarios that must play out in order for wagers to win.
A bet involves risking something of value against a predicted outcome. If the bettor (the person who places the wager) is correct, then they will be awarded something of value from either the person they made the bet with/against, or the bookie that accepted the wager.
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How Do Betting Odds Work?
Straight-up bets on which team or competitor will win a given match are not popular because most often, one athlete or group has a clear advantage over the other.
To make betting on sports and other occurrences more competitive and interesting, odds are included that handicap the games so that wagers fall evenly on both outcomes. Since sportsbooks offer different odds for the same competitions, our guide to shopping betting odds breaks down how to find the most lucrative odds.
To learn how to read betting odds, read the next few sections for an explicit breakdown. Our guide to how to calculate betting odds is also a great resource for beginners.
Types Of Sports Bets
When prospective gamblers ask the question “how does sports betting work,” they are usually inquiring about the meaning of the numbers and odds that are posted in each game. In the next few sections, we’ll slowly work through each aspect of a common sports betting line.
How To Read Betting Odds: Betting Lines Explained
Here is a generic betting line for college football that we will use as an example for the next three sections to reference.
Notre Dame -7.5 | -155 | O/U +44.5
Miami (FL) +7.5 | +135 | O/U -44.5
Point Spread Betting
In the realm of sports, very rarely are two opponents evenly matched. Because of this, legal sports betting sites handicap each team via the point spread. Using the above Notre Dame vs. Miami betting line, the point spread favors ND to win by 7.5 points (-7.5).
In order for bets made on Notre Dame to cover the point spread to payout, the Fighting Irish must win by at least 8 points.
Bets placed on Miami’s point spread of +7.5 requires the Hurricanes to lose by 7 or less.
If the point spread is set at a round number, then bettors must wager that the team will cover by a full point, whereas half point margins narrow the line to one point range of variance.
If the teams are evenly matched according to the predictions of the bookmakers, then the bet will be a “pick ‘em,” and the point spread will be listed as “EVEN.”
Money Line Betting
What is a money line bet? Money line odds allow for bets to be placed on which competitor will win the game, and does not involve the use of point spreads.
In the above ND vs. MIA betting line, the second column contains the money line odds. Similar to the point spread, the team with the lowest odds is favored to win, although at times, teams can draw the same chances of victory.
Notre Dame’s money line odds are set at -155. A winning wager with will $1 for every $1.55 risked. Alternatively, laying $1 on Miami’s +135 money line will payout at $1.35 if they are victorious.
Over Under Betting
The over under is represented in the third column of the above betting line, and reveals that legal online sports betting sites believe that both teams will combine to score 44.5 points.
Betting on the over under requires that wagers be made on whether or not the final point total will be above or below the line.
Again, because the above over under is set at a fractional number (44.5), winners and losers are decided by one point of play (44 and under, or 45 and over) instead of a two point range that round numbered over/under bets require (a line of 44 would payout for 43 and under, or 45 and over).
Short for proposition bets, props can cover any element of a game or broadcast that doesn’t involve the point spread, over/under, or money line odds.
Prop betting lines can include yes or no outcomes, over unders, or can list multiple potential outcomes to wager on. Money line odds will be offered on each outcome that reveal their chances of occurring and also disclose how much can be won when risking some bankroll on it.
The types of prop bets offered can range from how many stats a player or team will acquire, to what color socks a competitor will wear. Props can even include activities by the coaching staff, fans, broadcasters, and referees.
Parlays merely require a combination or two wagers of any variety, and does not require that all bets be the same type of bet (i.e. point spread + point spread, or money line + money line).
Prop bets are also able to be included in the combination. Some sports betting sites may have differing policies regarding what they allow to be included in parlay bets, so do a little research before deciding which book best suits your needs.
All bets included in the parlay need to win, or else the entire wager fails.
Teasers operate identically to parlay wagers in that the bet types and the amount can vary, so long as the total combined bets equal two or more.
The major difference between teasers and parlays is that the book will allow the bettor to adjust the odds to their liking. Typically, a number is granted by the book that can be applied to the spreads involved in the parlay. Take the following three wagers as an example.
If the legal sportsbook were to grant a 6 point allowance for this teaser, then the points could be applied anywhere to the bettors’ liking – all on one spread or a point here or there. An example of a potential before and after teaser bet is below, where 2 points of variance are applied to each of the three portions of the teaser.
- Chicago Bears +2.0
- Dallas Cowboys -4.5
- Los Angeles Lakers -3.0
- Chicago Bears +4.0
- Dallas Cowboys -2.5
- Los Angeles Lakers -1.0
The only difference between a teaser and a pleaser bet is that the sportsbook is able to apply the points of variance to the line as opposed to the bettor. Also, just like a parlay and a teaser, all facets of the pleaser must win, or the entire bet fails.
Technically, the spectrum of futures betting involves anything occurring tomorrow or after, but futures odds typically refer to a listing of all potential winners into a single line that asks which option will be victorious.
Most entertainment betting sites provide their odds in futures form. Examples of entertainment futures betting options include:
- Betting on the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and other annual award shows
- Odds for American Idol winners, The Voice, Big Brother Betting, and other Reality TV and competition series
- Betting on political election results
Hollywood Betting: Celebrity divorce odds, betting on movies, television shows, and music
FAQs For Betting Odds
A parlay is when two or more wagers are combined into one. This allows for increased odds and higher payouts, but all aspects of the wager must win, or the entire parlay fails.
The plus sign in sports betting will either be placed next to the point spread or the money line odds for a given competitor. For point spreads, the positive sign indicates the amount of points they are predicted to lose by. For money lines, it means that more money can be won vs. the amount risked, and that they are more than likely the underdog as well.
The minus sign in sports betting will always indicate a favorite unless another competitor has the same or better odds. A negative point-spread always indicates the favored challenger, and reveals how many points they are expected to win by.
Under refers to over/under betting. The over/under line is what oddsmakers have predicted that both team will combine to score for. If the under hits, that means that the total points scored by both teams fell “under” the line.
Money line odds are offered for betting lines that offer two potential outcomes, or multiple outcomes. Money line odds are the positive or negative numbers that are posted next to each betting outcome, and declares what their chances of winning are while also stating how much money can be won. Moneyline odds also allow for wagers to be placed on straight winners.
When a point spread is set at an even number, 7 for example, teams must win by 8 or lose by less than 6 to cover, depending whether they are favored or the underdog. Reducing the spread to a half point lessens the degree of variance from 2 total points to 1. If the spread is 7.5, teams must now win by 8 or lose by less than 7.
Even means that both teams are equal and that neither are favored in the point spread. This is also referred to as a pick ’em as it is a straight up, winner-take-all, wager.
A spread is the number of points that a team or competitor is expected to win or lose a game by. A negative point spread implies the favored team while a positive point spread indicates the team that is expected to lose. If both teams are equal, the spread will be listed as “EVEN.” Winning bets will cover if the winner wins by more, or the loser loses by less, than the spread.
There is no substitute for research when it comes to making an informed bet. This includes looking through historic betting lines from prior weeks to determine a team’s performance against the odds, as well as becoming familiar with the sport and watching the games regularly.
The line refers to a single, contained wager. It usually refers to a game line where the point spread, money line odds, and over/under are conveniently contained, but it also refers to prop bets that can offer two or more outcomes to gamble on.
Live betting odds allow for in-game wagers to be placed until the final whistle blows and the end result has been determined. Live betting is perfect for patrons who didn’t have time to place a pre-game wager or for those who need a little more time to make a decision.
A push can occur either when a game results in a tie, or an over/under hits perfectly. Each book has the right to declare their own rules regarding a push, but typically, all bets are refunded.