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All You Need to Know About Sports Betting Odds

By some studies, Americans are expected to spend $2.5 billion on sports gambling in 2021. Nearly thirty to forty cents of every dollar in gambling comes from the sports side of gambling. Companies have ventured well beyond Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and other traditional gambling hubs to find those seeking extra money or riches from picking winners. 

With the seemingly ever-growing interest in sports gambling come numerous media and other outlets publishing “odds.” You see pluses, minuses, and other characters with numbers accompanying them. Below, we explain how to read the odds, which are ultimately opinions by bookmakers of the chances of a particular outcome in sports. 

The Plus or Minus Signs

We start with signs, for they tell you who oddsmakers think will win. The team with the negative symbol (“-”) is favored. For the underdog, you’ll see the plus (“+”) sign. 

If sportsbooks simply let you bet based on the plus or minus, you would likely choose the favorite. This is particularly true if you’re betting between a 10-win unbeaten powerhouse and a team with a 0-10 mark. There would likely be little reason for you to bet against a basketball team with three all-stars rather than one with none.

The Spread

Oddsmakers entice you to at least look at or bet on the dog. One method comes via the point spread. If you take the favorite, you win your bet only if the team wins by a certain margin. You can take home money if you pick the underdog and that team wins outright or loses by less than a specified margin.

Say that your favorite sports channel or page shows the following line for a basketball game:

Milwaukee - 5.5

Phoenix +5.5

Notice this example sets the spread with a decimal number, not a whole number. In football, basketball, and most sports for that matter, teams score only in whole numbers. A team can’t win or lose by 5.5 points.

As such, in our example, you win with Milwaukee if it wins by at least six points. If you go with Phoenix, a five-point defeat or even an upset means you have a winning bet.

Occasionally, sportsbooks publish whole-number point spreads. Here’s one:

Chicago +4

Green Bay -4

For a 28-24 win by either team, no one wins. This result is a “PUSH” bet. It also means no one loses. All betters get refunds.

You may hear oddsmakers and sports gambling analysts use the term “handicapping.” Point spreads make this possible by allowing the odds maker to compensate for the underdog’s shortcomings. 

Think of it as Alabama, being declared a 38.5 point favorite over “Not Really Competitive University (NRCU),” actually starting a game down 38-0. It’s as if Alabama should have little trouble coming back from 38-0 to beat “NRCU.” 

Such bets may be “suckers” or “teasers.” When the favorite gets close to such a point total or margin, coaches might trot out second or third-stringers. Consider how many pro games feature a team scoring a meaningless touchdown -- unless you’ve taken the favorite and that late score keeps your team from covering.

The Moneyline

Point spreads give you slightly more options to win by taking the underdog. Moneylines seek to give you a greater reward for believing in the under-matched squad. 

To illustrate a moneyline bet, let’s return to our Chicago versus Green Bay example. Rather than the +/- 4 for point spreads, the moneyline odds look like this:

Chicago +130

Green Bay -130

As before, the “plus” sign tells us that Chicago is the underdog. Green Bay is the favorite due to the “minus” sign. At first blush, the figure “130” seems to have no meaning. After all, you don’t expect two NFL teams to post a total of 130. 

That number helps determine the payout of a winning bet. Specifically, to bet on Green Bay, you would lay down $130 for the chance to win $100 along with your $130 bet back. If you pick right, Green Bay will earn you $230. If you think Chicago will spring the upset, you bet $100 for a chance at $130 and getting back your original bet. 

You’ll have a small potential profit and greater potential loss if you take the favorite. For underdogs, your possible profit is greater, and the possible loss proves smaller. With the wagers being equal, you stand to have a greater payout with taking the dog. 

Generally, you don’t have to bet in $100 increments or wage enough to win in $100 increments. If you want to bet less, or even more, than $100, here are some money line formulas: 

*Payout on Favorite = Wager divided by (Odds, or Money Line Figure, divided by 100) plus the wager

*Payout on Underdog =Wager times (Odds, or Moneyline Figure divided by 100) plus the wager

With our Chicago at Green Bay illustration, if you put $50 on Chicago:

*Payout from Chicago =(50*(130/100))+50 




 For a winning Moneyline bet of $50 on Green Bay:

*Payout from Green Bay = (50 divided by (130/100)) +50

 = (50 divided by 1.3)+50



We used examples from football. Moneylines also apply to basketball, baseball, hockey, and soccer. In fact, you’re more likely to see odds expressed this way in baseball, hockey, and soccer. These sports feature less scoring than in football and basketball. In reality, it’s difficult to set point spreads when soccer matches typically go 2-0, 3-1, 1-0, and the like. 

Finally, on the moneyline, don’t be fooled if you see a “(-110)” after-point spread. This is because point-spread betting involves you placing $110 for every $100 you want to win.

The Forward Slash Odds

Sportsbooks also express odds in a ratio format using a forward slash. You might see it as something like 20/1, 10/1, 4/1, or the like. 

Conceptually, the lower the ratio, the more likelihood of the event happening. Say you see the following odds on winning a golf tournament, such as the Open Championship:

*Golfer A: 10/1

*Golfer B: 3/1

*Golfer C: 20/1

*Golfer D: 100/1

In this example, the bookies think Golfer B has the best prospects to win. Apparently, Golfer D doesn’t stand much of a chance among these four competitors.

These odds also tell you how much you can win for $1 of a wager. If you took the long shot, Golfer D, you can win $100 if you put $1 on this golfer to hoist the Claret Jug. If the bet were $100, you could profit $10,000. Placing that same $100 bill on Golfer B would mean you earn a $300 profit if Golf B is the “Champion Golfer of the Year.”

You’ll likely see these fractional odds when it comes to picking a winner from multiple competitors. This comes into play in preseason odds for a team to win a Super Bowl or other league championship or some competitor to win a NASCAR race, golf tournament, or tennis tournament.

Along with these tips from understanding odds, be sure you’re familiar with the teams and players on whom you bet. A number of tidbits, such as a home field or home-court advantages, injuries, and head-to-head matchups, may affect how you read the odds. Enjoy sports, including gambling, responsibly.