Sports Betting Odds

Understanding the different types of betting odds is essential before placing your first or next wager. Understanding odds has gotten increasingly easier as sports betting continues to grow, which is forcing mainstream media networks to discuss betting, whether it’s on sports TV, radio shows or websites.

The more you are exposed to something, the easier it will be to understand. The more you familiarize yourself with the items you will need to know about when gambling on sports, the smoother the learning curve will be.

If you’re one of those people who is just getting started in this industry or you need a refresher on how this works to polish up your sports betting knowledge, this post should give you everything you need to know about understanding sports betting odds.

Understanding decimal, fractional and American odds

There are three major odds formats: decimal, fractional and American odds. Here’s a definition of each one of them, as you may be exposed to different formats.

American betting odds

As you can tell by the name, this is the typical way sports betting odds are listed in the United States. They can also be referred to as moneyline odds.

If you see pluses and minuses, you are likely looking at American odds. For example, let’s take a look at the American odds for who would win an NFL game between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs.

  • New England Patriots      +125
  • Kansas City Chiefs              -115

Because Kansas City is the favored team, there is a minus in front of its number, while the plus sign signifies an underdog, in this case the Patriots.

Fractional betting odds

Fractional odds are used elsewhere around the world, but they are frequently used in the US when talking about horse racing. Instead of pluses and minuses, you will see fractional numbers to show which is more likely to win a particular event.

In this made-up example using two Triple Crown winners — American Pharoah and Justify — this is what the odds may look like.

  • American Pharoah      3/1
  • Justify                            1/2

Because Justify has a smaller number, it means betting on him would lead to a smaller payout if he wins, which signifies Justify as the favorite and American Pharoah as the underdog.

Decimal betting odds

Decimal odds are the third major way to read sports betting odds. Instead of plus and minus signs or fractions, some sportsbooks in different parts of the world will use decimals.

In this example, we’ll go to the NBA for a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.

  • Los Angeles Lakers      1.25
  • Boston Celtics               4.80

In this example, the Celtics are coming in as underdogs to the Lakers because their number is higher.

How do betting odds work in sports?

Next we’ll take a look at how sports betting odds work, how to calculate payouts and the most common betting types to make you a more knowledgeable sports bettor.

For these examples, we will utilize American odds since that’s likely what you will be seeing the most of if you’re betting on sports in the United States.

Odds for different bet types explained

There are three main categories to choose from when deciding to bet on some of the most popular sports in the US. These betting opportunities consist of moneylines, point spreads and totals. Keep in mind, these numbers can move quite a bit leading up to the game, with oddsmakers constantly adjusting the numbers in accordance with how the public is betting or news about key injuries and other items. Bettors are encouraged to take a look at our single-game odds feed as the numbers continue to change.

Let’s take a look at the three major betting categories and describe what they mean.

Moneyline betting

Betting on the moneyline is the simplest way to bet on sports and probably the easiest to understand of all the betting types. Rather than looking at how many points were scored or how many points a team won by, moneyline bets simply care about who won a particular game.

For this example, let’s take a look at a potential NFL matchup between the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams. When looking at the betting board filled with possibilities of wagers to make, here’s what the moneyline option might look like.

  • Chicago Bears             +215
  • Los Angeles Rams      -260

From what we learned earlier when talking about American odds, the minus sign in front of the number means that team is favored, while the team with the plus symbol is the underdog. In this scenario, the Rams are the favorite, while the Bears are less likely to win according to oddsmakers.

Even those who are not involved in sports betting understand not all teams are equal. No matter the sport. The odds will be significantly different in a matchup between two evenly matched teams compared to if the No. 1 team in the sport was playing a lower-tier team. This idea is reflected in moneyline odds. The larger the favorite, the less of a payout there will be since it’s highly likely the team will win. However, there would be a large payout if you bet on a massive underdog that finds a way to pull off the upset.

If you bet on a team to win on the moneyline and it claims the victory, you’ve won your moneyline bet.

Point spread betting

Betting the point spread is very popular, and the result of who wins the particular game or event doesn’t matter as much as the margin of victory. The point spread essentially evens the playing field by giving the lesser team a head start heading into the game.

Oddsmakers will typically try to set the point spread so they get 50% of the bets on each side of the wager to make it as even as possible.

Let’s head to the NBA for this next example for a potential matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Here’s what the point spread might look like for that game.

  • Los Angeles Lakers      +7.5
  • Boston Celtics                  -7.5

In this scenario, the Lakers are coming in as 7.5-point underdogs against the Celtics. Think of it as the Lakers are adding 7.5 points to their score before the game even starts, giving them a head start.

If you bet on the Lakers, you would need them to lose by seven points or fewer or win the game outright to cover the spread. If you decided to gamble on Boston to beat the spread, you would need the Celtics to win by more than seven points to win it.

Totals (over/under) betting

When betting on the point total, which can also be referred to as the over/under, it does not matter one bit how many points a team wins by or even which team wins the game. In this bet type, people are just choosing to put wagers on how many points are scored in a game. Different styles of play are often a major factor when analyzing the point total.

Just as in point spread betting, oddsmakers will try to set the point total at a number that would likely get action on both sides of the bet.

For this example, let’s go to college football in a game between the Miami Hurricanes and Duke Blue Devils.

  • Over         49.5
  • Under      49.5

This is fairly simple to understand. If you think both teams will combine to score more than 49.5 points, you’d take the over. If you think there might be a little more defense involved than the oddsmakers expect, you’d bet on the under.

How do I calculate betting odds payouts?

So how do we calculate payouts for these bets? Let’s look at our above examples and explain how to calculate how much you might win using American odds.

The easiest way to understand American odds is by using the $100 mark. While the moneyline odds will vary quite a bit, the point total and point spread odds are usually always around -110.

For a number with a minus sign in front of it, you can think of that number as how much you would need to wager to gain $100. When the odds are set at -110, you would need to bet $110 to win $100. That’s the simplest way to understand the odds.

However, the moneyline varies quite a bit. In our earlier example on the Bears and Rams matchup, you would need to bet $260 to gain $100 if you bet on the Rams because they have -260 odds. When betting on a team with positive odds, it’s a little bit different: the number represents how much you would win on a $100 bet. With the Bears at +210, that means wagering $100 on Chicago would win you $210 in profit if it pulls off the upset.

Odds for other types of sports bets

Beyond the main bet types, there are a variety of other possible wagers to make, including futures, props, live (in game), parlays and teasers/pleasers. We’ll explain what each of those means here.

Futures betting

Futures betting consists of making a wager on something that might be a long way off. This is available for plenty of sports when looking ahead to the biggest events of the year. This could include who wins the Super Bowl, the Heisman Trophy winner, conference winners, Masters champion, etc. Just like single-game wagers, the odds can move significantly depending on the ebbs and flows leading up to the game or event.

For determining what payouts might be, calculate it out just as you would a moneyline wager. For the Super Bowl winner, it could look something like this.

  • Kansas City Chiefs                 +350
  • Baltimore Ravens                  +600
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers       +700
  • Pittsburgh Steelers                +750
  • Seattle Seahawks                    +800

The list would go on so all 32 NFL teams would be listed, but the lower you go, the lower the odds would be. Notice how each team has a plus in front of its number. Hitting on a futures bet is likely to lead to a large payout since there are so many options to choose from and they are difficult to call correctly.

Prop betting

Prop bets can be an exciting way to entertain yourself during a game. There are props out there that require a decent amount of skill, with plenty of them that are completely based on blind luck. The Super Bowl is the king of prop bets, with items like how long the national anthem will take, whether the opening coin toss will be heads or tails and the color of Gatorade dumped on the winning coach.

Other prop bets could be more sophisticated and based on research. If we go to the NBA, bettors could wager on how many points, rebounds or assists a player will get in a particular game. The idea of prop bets is they act as side wagers in a game since they are not directly tied to the result of the matchup.

Prop betting can also be tied to live betting, as you can place some of these wagers in the middle of the game, so you don’t need to place your bet prior to game time.

Live (in game) betting

Live betting, sometimes referred to as in game betting, is on the rise in the sports betting industry as sportsbooks continue to increase their offerings on mobile platforms. As you could imagine by the title, this refers to bets that can be made while a particular event has already begun. This style of wagering is very appealing because of the increasingly easy-to-use technology, and it can help make a game more interesting as bettors introduce different strategies to their bets.

Halftime adjustments are key in live betting. Some coaches are much better at it than others, which can provide an edge for sports bettors, who now have the ability to bet on the spread throughout the game, but halftime betting is increasingly popular.

One exciting element of live betting is how rapidly the lines will move throughout the game. It’s an entertaining way to wager because bettors have to be on their toes with the line potentially moving in a matter of seconds.

Parlay betting

Parlays are an all-or-nothing style of betting. Bettors can combine two or more outcomes onto a single bet slip, and each one is correct, you win the parlay. No matter how large the parlay is, the entire bet is a loss if one outcome is incorrect, even if the rest were predicted correctly.

For example, this would be an example of a parlay bet on an NFL Sunday.

  • Cleveland Browns -3        (-110)
  • New York Jets +19            (-110)
  • Baltimore Ravens -3.5     (-110)

If you are confident these teams will cover, you could group them all together into a parlay. If all three of them cover, your $100 bet would turn into $665.37. Payouts are quite large in parlay betting because they are difficult to achieve with so many outcomes that need to happen.

Bettors could mix and match different categories as well by betting on multiple games using moneylines, point spreads and point totals.

Teaser/pleaser betting

Teaser and pleaser bets are a variant of parlay bets, so they also involve multiple wagers. In a teaser bet, you would shift the line for each game in your favor to get a better chance to win. For an example, let’s return to the NFL.

  • Miami Dolphins          +2.5 (-110)
  • Baltimore Ravens       -3.5 (-110)

If you used a six-point teaser in your direction, the Dolphins’ number would be +8.5 with the Ravens at +2.5. Both items must be correct for this to be a winner, but the payout would be less in this scenario because you’re changing the lines in your direction.

For a pleaser bet, it works the exact opposite. In the above scenario, you could move the line for the Dolphins and Ravens in the sportsbook’s favor, and if you’re still confident both will cover the new spread, there would be quite a high payout since it’s a difficult bet to win.

Odds boosts

As sportsbooks compete for new users and try to keep their customers happy in the growing industry of sports betting, many will utilize odds boosts to give their users an advantage over the competition. For example, the Washington Football Team could be a three-point favorite over the Dallas Cowboys, and a sportsbook could decide to boost this to give Washington extra points and now make the team a three-point underdog to increase the chance of covering the spread.

Be sure to check out your sportsbooks’ offerings, as items like this might pop up from time to time, and it’s up to you to take advantage of these opportunities.