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What are Sports Odds? Interpreting Spreads, Money Lines, and Over/Unders

What are Sports Odds? Interpreting Spreads, Money Lines, and Over/Unders

-210, +160, 8-1, 4-7…. sometimes its hard to even pretend your following while listening to someone listing off betting odds for a game.

It’s actually not as complicated as it sounds though, so here’s a quick run through of how odds are defined and what it means for your payday when you win.

Money is typically bet on sports based on one of the two following metrics:

Point Spread

Instead of betting purely based on which team/player you think will win a competition, a point spread establishes which side is the favorite and by how much. Bets are then placed based on whether you believe the favorite will perform better or worse than their predicted advantage.

For example, if the Warriors are playing the Hawks and are a much better team, very few people will bet money on the Hawks beating the Warriors outright. Instead, oddsmakers will establish how much they believe the Warriors will win by. For this example, lets assume that the oddsmakers expect the Warriors to beat the Hawks by 12 points. Betters can now make wagers on whether they believe the Warriors will win by more than 12 (which is called covering the spread) or not. Even if the Warriors win by 8 points, the sports betting world would say that they lost against the spread (ATS).Obviously if the Hawks win, this falls under the “Warriors didn’t win by 12” side of the wager.

Point spreads are communicated as shown:

Warriors -12
Hawks +12

Often, different sportsbooks will have different point spreads, so experienced bettors will shop around for the best price before placing their bet. It would be smarter to place a bet on the Warriors to cover the spread at a sportsbook setting the Warriors at -10 instead of -12, since in the former scenario, the Warriors would only need to win by more than 10 instead of 12 for the wager to be won.

Oddsmakers also will update the point spread as additional bets are made. In order to ensure they make money, there goal is to have an equal amount of money wagered on each side of the designated spread. Experienced bettors will monitor movement on point spreads and time their bets in order to improve their odds of success.

In a scenario where the Warriors win by exactly 12, the bet is a push and money is refunded to the bettors.

Terms related to point spreads:

  1. Chalk – The favored team, in the above example this would be the Warriors
  2. Pick – The point spread is zero, meaning that in the given scenario, the sides are evenly matched and neither is favored. If the above example was Pick’em (also designated as PK), than a bettor would simply place money on which team he believed would win outright.
  3. Juice/Vig – Percent commission that is paid to the sportsbook accepting the wager (typically 10%). This means that in order to win $100 on a successful wager, a person must bet $110. In order to calculate your potential winnings from a 10% commission, divide your bet by 1.1. Often, the commission percentage would be shown after the spread as shown:
Warriors -12 (-110)

Using the above point spread and vig as an example, if you bet $50 on the Warriors covering the spread, your possible outcomes are:

A) Warriors win by more than 12, which means you get your $50 bet back plus $45.45 in winnings. Winnings are calculated by dividing your $50 bet by 1.1. The total money you walk away with is $95.45.

B) Warriors win by exactly 12 which is a push. The exact result depend on the house rules where you placed your bet, but typically, you the bettor would be refunded your $50 bet.

C) Warriors win by less than 12 or lose, meaning they did not cover the spread. You lose your $50 bet and walk away with $0.

PNC/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Money Line

Unlike the previously described point spread, a money line bet is based solely on who wins a competition.

Why would someone bet against the favorite then? Because a money line establishes higher payouts for betting on less likely to occur events.

In the previously described example, the Warriors were large favorites based on the point spread. This means that oddsmakers are fairly confident that the Warriors will win. In order to get gamblers to make wagers on the underdog, a money line will establish a higher payout incentive for betting on the Hawks.

An example money line might look like the following:

Warriors -230
Hawks +220

The negative number next to the Warriors again dictates that they are the favorite. Because they are the favorite, making a correct wager on them to win the game pays out a lower reward. In the above example, -230 means that if you make a $230 wager on the Warriors and are correct, you’ll receive a $100 payout.

The positive number next to the Hawks indicates that they are the underdog. Making a bet on them is a higher risk decision, and thus, comes with a higher possible reward. The +220 next to their name means that if you place a correct $100 bet on the Hawks to win, you’ll receive a $220 payout.

Money lines are often used on non score based wagers. A possible bet could be placing money on who you believe will win the NBA MVP award next season. Obviously, there’s no way to create a point spread in this kind of bet, but there still are general consensus favorites. Oddsmakers handicap these favorites by establishing money lines for each.

As an example, as of February 2018, the money line for betting on the expected 2017-2018 NBA MVP was the following on BetOnline:

James Harden -290
Lebron James +275
Giannis Antetokounmpo +1400
Stephon Curry +2000
Kevin Durant +2000
Kyrie Irving +2000

Based on our previous explanation of money lines, we can read these and tell quickly that James Harden is the heavy favorite. Some might view this as a safe bet then and feel comfortable placing a wager on him winning, but unfortunately, it also means there is fairly low up side. Placing a winning $100 bet on Harden only results in a $34.48 payday (divide the original bet by 2.9). Even though placing a wager on Lebron James is less likely to be successful, it comes with a much greater possible reward. Placing a winning $100 bet on James results in a $275.00 payday. Your specific strategy will depend on your own insights and risk tolerance.

Some advanced bettors also hedge their bets by placing multiple wagers. If the bettor in question is fairly confident that Harden will indeed end up winning, he might place a $100 bet on Harden to win MVP. However, in this hypothetical situation, maybe the bettor also has a specific insight or gut feeling which makes him think that Stephon Curry also has a better chance at winning than his money line represents. He might hedge his original bet slightly by also placing a $20 bet on Curry. Hypothetical resulting scenarios would be:

A) Harden wins. The bettor wins his $100 bet and collects a $34.48 payout. He loses his $20 bet. In the end, he walks away having made $14.48.

B) Curry wins. The bettor loses his $100 bet, however, he wins his $20 bet and receives a $200 payout (multiply $20 by 10). In  the end, he walks away having made $100 ($200 – $100 = $100).

C) Neither Harden or Curry win. Bettor loses both bets and walks away having lost $120.




Over/under bets are based on a specific number, not necessarily based on who wins or loses. A popular over/under bet is wagering on the final combined score of a game.

Other examples of over/under bets include scores for specific halves or quarters or number of 3 pointers or total points made by a certain player.

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