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Odds 101 for Dummies

How to Read Lines

Most newspapers and online sports betting sites publish the line on a football or basketball game simply as a single number. In our example we will use Chicago against New York in which Chicago is favored by 4 points versus New York. Some bettors refer to this as the favorite laying 4 points, and the underdog getting 4 points. The spread is typically displayed in the following format:

  • Chicago -4

  • New York +4


By betting the spread, a sports bettor wagers on the amount of points a team is projected to win or lose by. In the example above, -/+4 is the spread. Since the spread is 4, Chicago must win by 5 or more points to win the bet, while New York can lose by 3 or fewer points to win the bet. If Chicago wins by exactly 4, then the bet is a push and no one wins or loses money.

Often there is a number to the side of the spread, such as Chicago -4 (-110). This is to show how much extra money a bettor must risk on their wager.

The (-110) important for calculating payouts and break-even percentages. Since it is -110, we must bet 1.10 to win 1.00, so for each $1 we want to win, we have to risk $1.10. For example, a sports bettor must risk $11 to win $10, $55 to win $50, $110 to win $100, $1100 to win $1,000 and so forth. If the line is a single number, like in the first example, -110 is simply assumed As you may have noticed, bettors are risking 10% more than they can possibly win from their wager.

There’s a technical term for this extra fee: vigorish. The vigorish, also known as “vig” or “juice”, gives sportsbooks a mathematical advantage, commonly referred to as the house hedge. You have likely seen similar fees for casino games. This how sportsbooks make a profit. Since sportsbooks charge a fee, sports bettors winning only 50% of their bets will likely end up losing money in the long term. Taking into account the vigorish, you need to win not half of your bets but at least 52.4% to break even on traditionally-juiced lines (-110).

A common misconception is that, because of this fee, sportsbooks stand to make 10% from the total amount of money bet, also known as the handle. For clarity’s sake, the commission charged to sports bettors is actually 5%. Remember, there is action on each side of a betting line. Say the betting handle on New York vs. Chicago is $1100, divided evenly between the two teams. With $550 to win $500 wagered on Chicago -4 (-110) and $550 to win $500 on New York +4 (-110), the sportsbook will profit $50 off this game, or 5%, so long as Chicago does not win by exactly four points. In the case of a push, all money wagered on the spread will be returned to bettors.

While -110 is typical for spreads and totals, in the era of online sports betting, competition among legal US sportbooks often leads to better deals for customers. One no longer needs to risk an extra 10% on every wager. Some US sportsbooks will run promotions where sports bettors only have to risk an extra 5% on most games instead of 10%. In this case, the line would look like:

  • Chicago -4 (-105)

  • New York +4 (-105)


One would only risk $105 to win $100 a wager on Chicago winning by 5 or more points. If you win, you still win $100, but if you lose you’ll only lose $105 instead of $110. It may seem like a small difference, but that extra $5 can add up over the course of a season.

Sometimes the line will be displayed as a rather larger number to the side of the point spread. Let us look at an example where you would need to wager $120 in order to win $100:

  • Chicago -4 (-120)

  • New York +4 (-100)


In this case, the bookmaker is getting a lot of action on Chicago. The bookmaker has two choices. Option A) they move the spread to Chicago -4.5/New York +4.5, or B) if they like the current spread, they can stick with Chicago -4 and move the “juice” instead, hence -120.

Now bettors will risk $120 to win $100 on Chicago -4. On the other hand, those wagering on New York +4 will only risk $100 to win $100 (even money). This is how the bookmaker incentives bettors to wager on New York and balance their sportsbook’s betting handle.

You might find one sportsbook with Chicago -4 (-120) and Chicago -4 (-110) at a different sportsbook. This is why it’s so important for sports bettors to shop for the best lines across the US sports betting industry. The best way to shop lines is to use our odds comparison tools, which you can find for NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAAB, NCAAF and NHL.

In general most bookmakers apply the principle that the difference between betting on the favorite and the underdo is 20 cents. So if the favorite is -115 then the dog is -105. If the favorite is -125, then the dog is +105. And if the favorite is -110, then the dog is -110.

The same principle applies to wagers on the point total (Over/Under) of the game. If the game total is O41 (-120), U41 (-100) then a $120 wager on the over will win $100 while $100 on the Under will win $100. If the line simply states 41, then you are risking 1.10 to win 1.0 whether your bet is on the over or the under. Again, you can minimize the difference between the over and under and favorites and underdogs by using our odds comparison tools to shop lines.

A Moneyline bet is a wager on the outcome of the game regardless of the point spread. So if you bet the moneyline, you are betting on a team to win the game straight up (or outright). Moneyline wagering is more popular for MLB, NHL, golf matchups and combat sports such as the UFC and boxing, but you can also find moneylines for football and basketball. The usual display for a moneyline wager is as follows

  • X Team/Player -200

  • Y Team/Player +170


As you can see, the spread disappeared. Now the number to the side of Team/Player is the moneyline. The moneyline is fluid, fluctuating based on the matchup and the amount of money being bet on each side. In this particular example, a sports bettor must risk $200 to win $100 (2-to-1) if they’re betting on the favorite to win the game. One may bet $200 to win $100, $150 to win $75, $10 to win $5 and so forth. The bottom line is the same, one has to risk twice as much as they want to win.

A $100 wager on the underdog will net the sports bettor $170 if the underdog pulls off the outright upset. One may bet $100 to win $170, $200 to win $340, etc. The bottom line is the same, a bet on the underdog results in a +170% ROI if the underdog wins.

This principle is universal for moneylines, regardless of the team or sport. If Tiger Woods is -180 vs. Phil Mickelson +160, golf bettors must risk 1.80 to win 1.00 on Tiger. Those betting on Phil will risk 1.00 to win 1.60.

If you’re new to sports betting, we hope this page helped answer some important questions. We also have a parlay calculator for your convenience, along with the odds comparison tools mentioned above. Be sure to use all of our sports betting tools and tips to help save you time and money at legal US sportsbooks.

Note: Lines and scores highlighted in blue signify an update within the last ten minutes.

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