If you want to bet on sports, you need to know what you are looking at when you see the odds. There are a lot of terms that you want to familiarize yourself with, especially if you are placing your bets in a brick-and-mortar sportsbook so that you place your bets clearly and correctly.
How to read sports betting odds is a search that a lot of people have looked up since sports betting legislation started to sweep across the nation. For a lot of gamblers that are just starting out, the odds just look like a bunch of numbers and team names. There truly is a method to the madness.
Let’s go back to a Sunday and examine the NFL slate with a handful of games and betting odds from that day.
|Rotation #||Team||Spread||Money Line||Over/Under|
|451||Green Bay||-6.5 (-105)||-290||44 (-110)|
|452||NY Giants||+6.5 (-115)||+250||44 (-110)|
|453||Washington||+10.5 (-110)||+420||39 (-105)|
|454||Carolina||-10.5 (-110)||-515||39 (-115)|
|455||San Francisco||+6 (+100)||+215||45 (-115)|
|456||Baltimore||-6 (-120)||-255||45 (-105)|
|457||Tennessee||PK (-115)||42 (-110)|
|458||Indianapolis||PK (-105)||42 (-110)|
|459||Philadelphia||-10.5 (-110)||-550||45 (-105)|
|460||Miami||+10.5 (-110)||+425||45 (-115)|
All betting odds screens will look a little bit different, but many will be sectioned off into columns like this or will have different tabs to show the Spread, Money Line, and the Total.
Let’s start with the numbers on the far left, 451, 452, 453, etc. These are called “Rotation Numbers” and they are extremely important. Look at game 453/454 between Washington and Carolina. What if the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes also had games that day? In fact, in the NBA, the Washington Wizards did have a game that day.
The first digit in the rotation number corresponds with the league. In this case on December 1, the 4 stands for NFL. (The Washington Wizards were rotation number 525, so 5 stood for NBA). Then the teams are numbered. For December 1, the Packers were team #51 all the way down to the Houston Texans at #74. Rotation numbers are generally universal, so teams will have the same rotation number at DraftKings that they will at PointsBet that they will at William Hill and so on.
Rotation numbers determine the league and the team in that league. If you walked up to the sportsbook window on December 1 and said you wanted to bet $100 on Washington, they would have to ask if you mean the Redskins or the Wizards.
The Arizona Wildcats had a college basketball game on December 1 and were rotation number 712. The Arizona Cardinals played a game as well. What if you also had the Arizona Coyotes? What if it was a day in October and there were MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL all in the same day?
Rotation numbers are designed to keep everything in order and differentiate between the teams. They are also the way to announce your bet at a retail sportsbook. Instead of saying “Green Bay” or “Washington”, you refer to the team by its rotation number.
Following the rotation number is the team name. This is self-explanatory. The team on the top is the road team and the team on the bottom is the home team. If a game is being played at a neutral site, that is usually labeled above the odds for that game. If not, it will be up to you to know where that game is being played.
The spread is a handicap placed on the teams in an effort to make them close to equal. Based on team ratings, the oddsmakers will set a line that appears to level the playing field between a better team and a worse team. It will also include the home field (court, ice, etc.) advantage.
The spread on a game will be noted by a plus sign (+) or a minus sign (-). If a team is the favorite, they will have a minus sign in front of their spread. If a team is the underdog, they will have a plus sign in front of their spread.
Based on the final score, the spread points will either be added or subtracted to the team’s total. If you subtract the favorite’s points and add the underdog’s points and the favorite still has a higher total, then the favorite has “covered the spread”. If the underdog either scored more points than the favorite in the actual game or has more points than the favorite with the additions and subtractions, the underdog has “covered the spread”.
The Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 31-13 on December 1, 2019 as a 6.5-point favorite. If we subtract 6.5 points from the Packers and add it to the Giants, the Packers still win 24.5 to 19.5. Therefore, the Packers covered the spread.
Sometimes the spread will read PK, which stands for pick ‘em. In this instance, the oddsmakers, based on betting action, have determined that the two teams are equal. Betting on a pick ‘em game is basically the same as betting the money line, which we will address in a second.
Some sites will put the vig, or vigorish, in parentheses. Others will just have it sitting next to the spread. The vig was introduced into sports betting to help the sportsbooks make money. A vig of -110 is the industry standard, but it can vary based on betting action. The vig determines how much your payout winnings are if the team that you bet on covers the spread. You will know ahead of time when you place your bet how much you will get if you win.
If you want to make a spread bet in the sportsbook, you would inform the teller by saying “451” (Green Bay) “Spread” (-6.5) “To win $100” (betting $105 to win $100) or “$100” (risking $100 to win the designated payout amount based on -105 odds).
The teller will print a bet slip for you. Ensure the accuracy of the ticket before you walk away or before you move on to your next wager.
The Money Line is the odds to pick the team to win the game. That is why the vig is so much higher for the favorites than it is for the spread. That is also why the plus money prices are so much bigger. The favorite for spread purposes is also the favorite for the money line.
In the case of the Packers, as you can see, they are a big favorite of -290. This essentially means that you will win $1 for every $2.90 that you bet on the Packers. For the underdog Giants at +250, you will win $2.50 for every $1 that you bet. But, remember, the Giants are a 6.5-point underdog. When you bet the money line, you lose the opportunity to add the spread points to a team’s score, so it is a much bigger risk.
In the example of the Packers and Giants, the Packers won 31-13 and won on the money line at -290.
If you want to bet on the money line, you would inform the teller by saying “451” “Money Line” “$100”.
The total, often described as the over/under, is a line based on the number of points the two teams are expected to score combined. Like the spread, these bets have vig attached to them, with the industry standard still at -110.
The goal here is to bet whether or not the teams will score more collective points than that number or fewer collective points than that number.
In the same Packers/Giants example, the total was 44 and the game ended 31-13. This is known in betting lingo as a “push”. It is basically a tie because the total and the sum of the final score added up to the same number.
Washington beat Carolina 29-21, so 50 points were scored in that game. The total was 39, so that game flew “over the total”. On the other side, the San Francisco/Baltimore game finished 20-17, so only 37 points were scored. That game went “under the total” of 45.
When reading the sports betting odds, the over has the same rotation number as the team on that line. So the over in the Green Bay game is also 451 and the under is 452.
If you go into a sportsbook to make a totals bet, it is important to let the teller know that you want the OVER instead of GREEN BAY by saying “451, over, $100”.
Oddsmakers post a line. Bettors wager into that line. Based on the bets that come in, sportsbooks often move the odds. Remember that the vig exists so that sportsbooks can attempt to balance their exposure and risk in order to make a profit on the game no matter which side wins.
They can do that by moving the vig itself. If a line is -110 on both sides, but more bets are coming in on one side than the other, the vig could move to -115 on that side. If the vig moves on one side, it will move on the other side as well. A move to -115 on one side means a corresponding move to -105 on the other side. The lower vig amount is designed to entice betting action on that side of a game.
Sportsbooks can also outright move the odds on the game. A total of 47.5 that has received a lot of betting action on the over could be moved up to 48 or 48.5. That is done by the bookmakers in hopes of getting bets to come in on the other side at a more attractive line for bettors. In this case, that would mean the bettors that want to bet under 48.5. They may not have felt comfortable betting at 47.5, but feel better about 48.5.
As the point spread moves, the money line moves in a corresponding way as well. Let’s say that a lot of money comes in on the Giants at -1.5. The line moves up to -2 and the money line may move to -130. Money keeps coming in on the Giants and the line moves up to -2.5. The money line may move to -140.
Bookmakers and risk managers will keep moving the odds if necessary until they begin to see betting activity come in on the other side. Remember, the goal of the sportsbook is to try and have as even of a split as possible on both sides of a game.
Think about the vig at -110. Let’s say that bettors from both sides are betting $110 to win $100. If 50 people bet $110 to win $100 on the Cardinals +1.5, there is $5,500 worth of wagers on that side. If 50 people bet $110 to win $100 on the Giants -1.5, there is $5,500 worth of wagers on that side.
Because the winning amount is only $100 on each $110 bet, the sportsbook would pay out $5,000 worth of winnings and “hold” the $5,500 worth of bets on the losing side. Therefore, if the bet counts were exactly even on the game, the sportsbook would “win” $500 for itself on that game.
If that count gets too heavy to one side, the sportsbook becomes exposed. If there are 50 bets at $110 on the Cardinals at +1.5, but 100 bets on the Giants at $110 on the Giants at -1.5, a Giants win would be very bad for the sportsbook, who would pay out more in winnings than they held in losses. As a result, they will move the lines or sometimes increase the vig in hopes of balancing things out.
The process is certainly more detailed for the sportsbooks than that, but that gives you a good overview into how sports betting odds work for the player and how odds work in sports betting for the sportsbooks themselves.