For beginning sports bettors, money lines can be intimidating, but once you understand the essentials behind money lines, they’re just as easy to use as the point spread. While the point spread isn’t only concerned with who wins, but also by how many points they win by, the money line is only interested in who wins.
The best way to explain the money line is to show an example of it in action, so let’s look at a hypothetical baseball game between the Mets and the Dodgers. When looking at the odds for the game, the bettor will see something similar to:
New York Mets +130
Los Angeles Dodgers -140
In this instance, the Dodgers are the favored team, as signified by the – (minus) sign in front of the 140, while the Mets are the underdogs, as designated by the + (plus) sign in front of the 130. These numbers mean that those wishing to bet on the favorite, the Dodgers, will have to risk $140 to win $100, while those wanting to wager on the underdog, the Mets, will risk $100 to win $130. Again, you don’t have to wager that much money; odds are typically given on the basis of $100 wagers for the reason of simplifying things.
As the odds of the favorite winning become greater, the difference between the odds on the favorite and the odds on the underdog will become more pronounced. For example, if the Dodgers are playing the Twins, we might see the following:
Minnesota Twins +190
Los Angeles Dodgers -220
In this case, a bettor would be required to risk $220 to win $100 if they were betting on the Dodgers, while Minnesota bettors would be risking $100 to win $190.
The difference between the two will continue to climb as the disparity between the favorite and the underdog increases. In a boxing match, it wouldn’t be unusual to see odds such as:
Terry Flanagan -1100
Derry Mathews +700
Here, those betting on Flanagan are being asked to risk $1,100 to win $100, while those taking Mathews are risking $100 to win $700.
The reason for the shift in the difference between the odds is that bookmakers typically only make money when the underdog wins. In point spread betting, the bookie hopes to have an equal amount of money wagered on each team, which will guarantee a profit. In money-line betting, the bookie realizes that more people will wager on the favorite and can only hope to have enough wagered on the underdog to cover their potential losses on the favorite.
Using the Flanagan vs. Matthews fight as an example, a sportsbook expects more money to be wagered on Flanagan, as he appears to have a much greater chance of winning the fight than Mathews. If 20 bettors collectively wager $22,000 on Flanagan, the bookmaker hopes to receive $2,000 in wagers on Mathews from 20 other bettors. If Flanagan wins as expected, the bookmaker will take the $2,000 from the losing Matthews bettors and pay off the winners ($100 will go to the 20 bettors). But if Mathews pulls off the upset and wins, the bookmaker will take the $22,000 from the losing Flanagan bettors and pay off $14,000 to the winning Mathews bettors and get to keep $8,000 for its efforts. While the amount of money wagered on each of the two fighters is much different, the bookmaker has its bases covered.
Money line betting is generally offered on all sporting events, even those that use the point spread, such as football and basketball. A 3-point favorite in an NBA game will likely be close to a -160 favorite on the money line, while those bettors who believe the underdog can win the game will be able to take +140 on their wagers. You can bet either way; the money line simply gives the bettor another option in deciding whether or not to make a wager.