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How To Read and Understand Betting Odds

Odds LogoThe scope of legal sports betting encompasses a great many subjects, from gambling on 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 to clear 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 players in the United States.

Table Of Contents

    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 for wagers to win.

    The act involves risking something of value against a predicted outcome. If the gambler (the person who places the wager) is correct, they will be awarded something of value from either the person they wagered with/against or the bookie who accepted the wager.

    Online sports betting

    How Do Betting Odds Work?

    Straight-up wagers 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 gamble 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 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

    Here is a generic game line for college football, which we will use as an example for the next three sections.

    Notre Dame -7.5 | -155 | O/U +44.5
    Miami (FL) +7.5 | +135 | O/U -44.5

    Point Spreads

    In the realm of sports, very rarely are two opponents evenly matched. Because of this, sportsbooks handicap each team via the point spread. Using the above Notre Dame vs. Miami game line, the point spread favors ND to win by 7.5 points (-7.5).

    In order for wagers 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 players must wager that the team will cover by a full point, whereas half-point margins narrow the line to a point range of variance.

    If the teams are evenly matched according to the predictions of the bookmakers, then the wager will be a “pick ‘em,” and the point spread will be listed as “EVEN.”


    Moneyline odds allow for gambling on which competitor will win the game or match, and does not involve the use of point spreads.

    In the above ND vs. MIA game line, the second column contains the money line odds. Similar to the point spread, the team with the lowest odds are favored to win, although, at times, teams can draw the same chances of victory.

    Notre Dame’s moneyline 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.

    The Over/Under

    The over-under is represented in the third column of the above betting line and reveals that oddsmakers believe that both teams will combine to score 44.5 points.

    Wagering 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 wagers require (a line of 44 would payout for 43 and under, or 45 and over).

    Prop Bets

    Short for propositions, props can cover any element of a game or broadcast that doesn’t involve the point spread, over/under, or money line odds.

    Props 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 prop bet types 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.

    Super Bowl prop bets are by far the most popular in this genre, as the final game of each year’s pro football season prompts legal online NFL sportsbooks to post literally thousands of them.


    A parlay is two or more wagers combined into one. For instance, a bet could be placed on the New York Yankees to cover the spread and the New England Patriots moneyline odds to win.

    Parlays merely require a combination of two wagers of any variety and do not require that all of them be the same type (i.e., point spread + point spread or moneyline + moneyline).

    Prop bets are also able to be included in the combination.  Some gambling sites may have differing policies regarding what they allow to be included in parlays, so do a little research before deciding which book best suits your needs.

    Every outcome included in the parlay must win, or else the entire wager fails.


    Teaser bets operate identically to parlay wagers in that the types and the amount can vary so long as there are two or more sets of odds included.

    The major difference between teasers and parlays is that the book will allow the gambler 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 sportsbook were to grant a 6-point allowance for this teaser, then the points could be applied anywhere to the member's liking – all on one spread or a point here or there. An example of a potential before and after teaser 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 can apply the points of variance to the line as opposed to the gambler. Also, just like a parlay and a teaser, all facets of the pleaser must win, or the entire wager fails.

    Futures Betting

    Technically, the spectrum of futures odds involves anything occurring tomorrow or after, but they typically refer to a listing of all potential winners into a single line that asks which option will be victorious.

    Futures lines include odds on the NBA Playoffs, Super Bowl winners, NHL Stanley Cup bets, and division champions across all sports.

    Most entertainment sportsbooks provide their odds in futures form. Examples of entertainment futures include:

    Frequently Asked Questions