How to Read Sports Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 03/07/2008
If you want to be a sports bettor, you need to know how to read sports odds. That only makes sense. It's a really easy thing to do, but if you don't know how then it can be confusing and can cause you to make costly mistakes. If you need a refresher, here are the basics of how to read sports odds:
Money line - We'll start here because it's the more confusing. Money line betting is the most common form of betting in baseball, and is regularly used in other sports like football and basketball as well. In this kind of bet you are betting just on which team will win the game. The odds will either be presented as a negative number less than 100 (like -145, for example), or a positive number equal to or greater than 100 (like +145, for example). In almost every case, one team in a game will be assigned a negative number, and the other will be given a positive number. The one with the negative number is the favorite, and the one with the positive number is the underdog.
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Figuring out the potential payouts is straightforward. We'll start with the underdog. The positive number is the amount of profit you would earn from a bet of $100. For example, if the odds were +145, a $100 bet would earn a profit of $145, so the total payout would be $245 (profit plus the return of the original bet). The favorites just need to be looked at in the opposite way as the underdogs. The negative number is the amount you would have to bet to win $100. For example, if the odds were -145 a $145 bet would produce a profit of $100. The payout would still be $245, but the initial bet would be higher.
Point Spread - This is the most common way to bet on football and basketball. In this case you are not betting on which team will win the game, but rather how much a team will win by. Oddsmakers set a point spread for each game. That spread is, at least theoretically, the number of points by which the favorite is likely to win the game. As a bettor, your goal is to decide whether the favorite will win the game by more points than the spread or fewer, or if they will win the game at all.
This is easier to understand with an example. Let's say that Boston is playing Washington in basketball, and Boston is favored by six points. If you were to bet on Boston then they would have to win by more than six points in order for you to win the bet. If they were to win by five or fewer points then a bet on Washington would be a winner. You would also obviously lose your bet if you bet on Boston and Washington won. If the spread was six points and Boston won by exactly six points then the game would be called a push and all bets on both teams would be refunded.
Another way that this can be looked at is by adjusting the score before the game starts. If Boston was favored by six then the score at the start of the game is essentially 6-0 for Washington. That means that Boston would have to win the real game by at least seven points to cover the spread.
The cost of making a point spread bet can vary, and is set by using a money line. This is referred to as "juice" or vigorish and is the commission charged on sports bets by the bookie. The standard price for a point spread is -110, or a bet of $110 would produce a profit of $100. That vig will vary from sports book to sports book and from game to game, so it is important to look at the spreads and prices being offered at several books to make sure that you find the best price for the bet you want to make.