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How to Understand Sports Betting Odds

by May 14, 2020

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As more and more states legalize sports betting in the U.S., inevitably more people will be drawn to sports betting. If you are a novice sports bettor, a sportsbook’s odds board or homepage on a mobile app may look like complete gibberish.

In this article, we will get you caught up on all the basic terminology you need to know. In addition, we will use this terminology to explain how to read what you see on an odds board and how to apply this knowledge towards your wagers.

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Example of a Game on an Odds Board

(image courtesy of boydsbets.com)

This is an example of an NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs that once appeared on a sportsbook’s odds board. You will notice the following categories of terms: rotation numbers, point spread, over/under, and moneylines. Let’s take a look at each term individually.

Rotation Numbers

Rotation numbers are commonly used at in-person sportsbooks. These numbers are provided for bettors to easily reference their bets when approaching the cashier.

Suppose a bettor wanted to wager on the Cowboys spread. They would approach the cashier and say “I will take number 403, Cowboys -8 for [whatever the bet amount].” The cashier would then have the proposed bet on a screen for the bettor to look at, along with the possible payout. If the bettor was satisfied with the bet, the bet is finalized once the bettor hands the cashier their money.

Telling a cashier the rotation number of a bet is not absolutely mandatory. One could simply say “I’ll take the Cowboys -8” and the cashier will likely know that the customer is referring to an NFL point spread. However, one cannot assume the cashier is knowledgeable about every sport, so telling the cashier the rotation number makes their job easier.

Point Spreads

Betting on a point spread is the most common type of sports bet. Point spreads are in essence a handicap to even the odds between two teams. The favorite will always have a minus sign attached to their number, while the underdog can be identified with a plus sign. In this example, there is no plus sign with regards to the point spread. However, it can be inferred that since the Cowboys are favored by eight points, the Chiefs are underdogs and are, therefore “getting +8.”

Bettors who wager on the “Cowboys -8” believe the Cowboys will win by more than eight points. Those who bet on the “Chiefs +8” think the Chiefs will either lose by less than eight points or win the game outright. If the game ends with the Cowboys winning by eight, that is considered a “push” and point spread bettors get their money back.

Over/Under

Over/unders are also referred to as “totals” in the sports betting world. With over/unders, one is not betting on how much one team will win or lose by. Instead, an over/under is a wager on how many points will be scored.

Those who bet on the “over 42.5” think the Cowboys and Chiefs will combine to score more than 42.5 points. Those who bet the “under 42.5” think the two teams will combine to score less than 42.5. Notice how with this particular line, there can be no “push” since there cannot be a half-point scored.

Moneylines

Similar to point spreads, a moneyline favorite can be identified with a minus sign next to the number while the underdog will have a plus. With a moneyline bet, one is simply betting who will win the game regardless of the margin of victory.

The Cowboys have a moneyline of -400. This fact introduces another important sports term called the “vig.” Those who bet the “Cowboys moneyline” would need to wager $400 to return a profit of $100. That same ratio is applied to all betting amounts, so a $100 bet on the Cowboys moneyline would net a $25 profit.

If one were to bet the Chief’s moneyline at odds of +300, a $100 bet would return a $300 profit. The reason why the payout is so big is that they were considered eight-point underdogs to begin with. Therefore, the likelihood of them winning outright is not high. Moneyline odds and point spreads typically go hand in hand. The more points a team is favored by, the more expensive their moneyline will be.

Vigs are Everywhere

Every bet has a “vig,” whether it is moneylines, point spreads, or over/unders. In this particular example, the odds board did not show the vig with regards to the point spread or over/under. A standard vig is -110 on these bets. This means that a bettor who wagers on the Cowboys -8 or the Chiefs +8 would need to wager $110 to return a profit of $100. The same vig applies to either side of the over/under.

If the math to figure out how a vig of -110 works is too difficult, the rule of thumb is that sportsbooks take 10% of the winnings of every bet. However, one does not have to be a mathematical expert to be a successful sports gambler. Remember, a cashier at a sportsbook will always show you what you stand to win before you finalize your bet.

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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.

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