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  • Ryan Staley

American Odds and Moneylines

Welcome to my first introduction to betting - foundational basics for betting and the meaning behind the numbers, figures and format. A few minutes of reading and you’ll see it’s actually all really simple. After all, you probably know somebody that’s not that sharp who bets on sports. So you’ll pick it up no problem.


AMERICAN ODDS AND MONEYLINES.


If you’re like most people, you have looked at a betting site and you see a game, it will look like some version of the below.


Team Spread Moneyline Total

Los Angeles Lakers +2.5(-110) +115 O-218.5 (-110)

Boston Celtics -2.5 (-110) -145 U-218.5 (-110)


For a first time better – some of this might be intuitive. Other parts might make your eyes glaze over. But after a little reading, you’ll see it’s pretty easy!  So with that, we’re going to start with the most basic pieces:  Moneylines and Odds.  


To keep things simple, we’re going to get rid of Spreads and Totals

(click either link to jump to our breakdown on how spreads and totals work). 


Team Moneyline

Los Angeles Lakers +115

Boston Celtics -145



Let’s start with the terminology: 


Moneyline: Who is going to win the game.  Plain and simple.


If you’re picking the moneyline, you’re saying this team is going to win. Period. 

I could go into a long dissertation about how the intricacies of this work, but that’s really about it. If you don’t understand this, then may I suggest a different hobby.. 


Moneylines are the foundation of every sports bet you’ve ever made with a friend since you were old enough to have friends…or money…or watch sports. You get it. It’s been a while. 


When we say win, we mean it. Could be by one point in triple OT or by 50 points.  I know I know, 50 points sounds hyperbolic, but it’s an important distinction in the case of the modern NBA, where a tanking team losing by 50 is a real possibility. Shoutout 2018 Charlotte Hornets. But when it comes to moneylines, it’s just about that W. 


So that’s the easy part. When we dive into the numbers, that’s where people can trip themselves up a bit.  So checking back in on our example:


Team Moneyline

Los Angeles Lakers +115

Boston Celtics -145


The numbers highlighted in the moneyline column are the odds. More specifically, they’re called “American Odds.”  When you think of odds, you may think 2 to 1 or 50% or something like that. All of these are the same, they just show up in different ways. Today, we’ll focus on American Odds. 


Why are they called American Odds, you may ask? Well, in addition to being an infamous explorer, Amerigo Vespucci was also a degenerate gambler and made them up, but of course Christopher Columbus popularized them as he ran game on the Santa Maria as he searched for the new world, naming them after Vespucci. 


Sound fishy? You’re right –they’re just used in the US . This isn’t a history site...


So there are two distinguishing elements of American Odds. 

  1. The sign (- or +) 

  2. The number (115, 145, etc). 


The Signs


So we’ll start with the signs and their meanings.


 +  (called “Plus” or “Positive”): the amount you will win if you bet $100.

 

Plus odds are attributed to the team considered less likely to win (Underdogs/Dogs).


Think of it this way – a coin flip is 50/50. If you flip it 100 times, you’ll likely come out close to 50 heads/50 tails. It’s random. Shot in the dark. Fifty-fifty, coin flip, random….wait, I’m on the infinity loop of idioms. Phew. Close one. 


So let’s say you and a buddy are degenerates and there are no sports on (let’s say there’s a pandemic, for example…), you would likely bet 1-to-1 odds on that coinflip. Meaning if you bet $1 and win, you get a dollar back. But, if you had a coin that you both knew was slightly weighted to land on heads more, the person who picks tails as their side will ask for more money to play, since he knows it’s a higher risk. 


To use a real world example not involving hypothetical lightly weighted coins, the same goes for the Knicks strolling into the #1-seeded Milwaukee late in the season. The guy from Long Island picking the Knicks to win is going to want to get more than 1 for 1 odds back. As of 2020, probably closer to 3-1…I mean, maybe more…


- (called “Minus” or “Negative”): the amount you have to bet to win $100.


Minus odds are attributed to the team considered more likely to win (the Favorites). 


Using the coin example, the friend who picks heads (the more likely side) isn’t going to be able to expect 1-for-1 odds. He’ll take odds where maybe he gets $.95 back for every $1.00 he bets, because he thinks there’s still a greater likelihood of payoff. 


Using the Knicks/Bucks example, the Cheesehead who bets on the Bucks is going to have to take lower odds if he wants to bet on his team, who’s expected to beat up on the Knicks by double digits. 


If it sounds confusing – that’s ok. It can be, but we’ll clear it up.  Just know that you’ll only see + or – when looking at American Odds.  If you see another sign, like an asterisk or some combination of an eggplant/water emoji, close the site you’re on.  Please. I beg you. 


The Numbers


Now the question often comes: Why the $100?

The answer: simplicity. (Again, not a historian).


When showing odds, having it based off of $100 is simple. As you will come to understand, $1 would create too many decimal points ($0.95 to win $1.00 just seems weird) and doing $10,000 would add too many zeros. And who has $10K to bet on random games, anyways? If you do, please direct me to your line of work..

$100 is  just easy. Americans can all wrap their heads around a Benjamin. 


But if it’s based off $100, does that mean I have to bet $100. NO.

You can bet any amount and get the same odds/% back. Whether it’s $5, $100, or $2000. This can throw people off, so we’ll use an illustration a little later to show the difference. But first, we’ll round out the numbers and signs working together.


The Odds


Using our example, we’ll show how these two work together within (and across) bets. 


Team Moneyline

Los Angeles Lakers +115

Boston Celtics -145


So knowing what you know about the signs and numbers, these odds should mean more now.  The above is saying that: 

  1. The Lakers are underdogs, and if you bet $100, you will win $115 profit. 

  2. The Celtics are favorites, and you have to bet $145 to win $100 profit. 


But the real question is – how do they come to those profits? What if I only have $100 to bet? To understand that, you’ll have to do a bit of math.


The Math


The Math: Plus odds (underdogs)

The math is relatively easy with this one. You take the odds, move the decimal over two spots [he says, reminiscent of the simpler times of elementary math] and multiply that times the amount you’re betting. To use the more complete formula:


Underdog Formula

(Odds / 100) * Money wagered = Profit.


So if we use our example of pick LA at +115 and wager $100. 

(115/100) * 100 = $115

1.15*100= $115


Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, as they say… (other people say that, right?)


The Math: Minus Odds (favorites)

The math on favorites is a bit trickier. When you see the odds, it shows how much you have to bet to win $100. So in our example, if you bet $145 on the Celtics to win, you will win $100.  But what if you don’t have $145? You only have $100! (or at least that makes my example easier). So I need to know my payout before I bet (Rent’s due..). Let’s take a look at the formula:


Favorite Formula

[1 – (100/Odds)] * Money Wagered = Payout. 

Payout – Money Wagered = Profit


If we use our example of picking Boston at -145 and wager $100.

To calculate our total Payout:

[1 – (100/-145)] * 100 = $169. 

[1-(-.6896)]*100 = $169

1.6896*100=$169

Then we subtract out our initial bet to get the profit:

$169-$100 = $69


Having explained that, lets recap: 


Team Moneyline Profit

Los Angeles Lakers +115 $115

Boston Celtics -145 $69



  1. The Lakers are underdogs @ +115 odds, and if you bet $100, you will win $115 profit. 

  2. The Celtics are favorites @ -145 odds, and if you bet $100, you will win $69 in profit. 


So you can see here that the + and – sign are REALLY important. You’d hate to bet on the Celtics at -145 thinking you were going to win $145 back and only get $69 (nice). 


But at the end of the day the payouts are the same if you pick wrong:

Zero dollars and zero cents.


So these are nice tidy examples using $100. Let’s see a few friends betting together and see how they do to help understand payouts. 


Illustration 1: Three buddies – Three bankrolls.

In this illustration, we’ll follow three college buddies getting together one weekend.


Nickel Jim – who will bet $5 

Nickel Jim really enjoyed nickel pitchers in college. Maybe too much..


Average Joe – who will bet $100

And will go on to beat White Goodman & Globo Gym in the ADAA Championship in Vegas (shoutout Dodgeball) 


Big Money Bob – who will bet $2000.

Bob isn’t better than his buddies. He just won some scratchers and got in on Amazon stock back in the early 2000’s. 


Nickel Jim, Average Joe and Big Money Bob are buddies and will all bet the same way, just different amounts.  


Scenario A: Betting the dog. 

Let’s assume they correctly pick the Lakers (+115) to win and see how it shakes out.


Bettor $ Bet Team Odds Formula Profit

Nickel Jim $5 Lakers +115 5 x 1.15 $5.75

Average Jo $100 Lakers +115 100 x 1.15 $115

Big Money Bob $2000 Lakers +115 2000 x 1.15  $2300


Since they all won, they all get the same % back (%115). Or “one hundred fifteen cents on the dollar” for those of you who like idioms, like I do. 


Everyone is happy - they won money! Nickel Jim can buy a beer or two, Joe can buy beers for the night, and Bob better be buying the rounds all weekend!



Scenario B: Betting the favorite. 

Let’s assume they correctly pick the Celtics (-145) to win and see how it shakes out.


As a reminder of the formula for favorites:


Favorite Formula

[1 – (100/Odds)] * Money Wagered = Payout. 

Payout – Money Wagered = Profit


Bettor $ Bet Team Odds Formula Payout Profit

Nickel Jim $5 Celtics -145 [1-(100/-145)]*5] $8.45 $3.45

Average Joe $100 Celtics -145 [1-(100/-145)]*100] $169 $69

Big Money Bob $2000 Celtics -145 [1-(100/-145)]*2000] $3378 $1378


So everyone is still happy, just less happy than if they picked the Lakers and the Lakers won.  But Jim can still buy at least a cheap beer in most places, Joe can pay for his night, and Bob better still be buying all the rounds. 


But at the end of the day the, important thing is they won. If they picked the Lakers and the Celtics won their payout would be:

Zero dollars and zero cents.

(Email me if you want the formula for that one.)


Now you have a high-level understanding of how American Odds work. The underdog math is easy, and while you’ll get used to it, the favorite math is a little trickier. So let’s try one more example to bring us home on moneylines, odds, and a little extra on how payouts really work. 



Illustration 2: Ryan & James – Coinflip Match


The prior example with Jim, Joe and Bob was one of those great, rare situations when you and all your buddies are in the boat together and win. Like I said, beers all around! Maybe an irish car bomb here or there. Who knows. But let’s use a scenario when you are betting against your buddy.  We all have that buddy who basically just takes the opposite of what you think just to get under your skin – but you love him anyways. In this scenario, let’s assume we’re doing it through a typical betting site too. 


It’s the NBA finals at a neutral site (let’s say Orlando, as a random example… top of my head...).  LeBron puts the Lakers on his back to the Finals and the Celtics claw their way through the East. It’s game 7. The series is tied 3-3. There’s no clear favorite, no home court.  These teams are as evenly matched as they come. Two buddies, Ryan and James, are on different sides of this one. James loves LeBron and Ryan is a huge Celtics fan.  They decide to use a traditional bookie site to make their bets.


Taking what you just learned about American odds, a new gambler may expect to find the odds look like this if you bet $100 on evenly matched teams. 


Team Moneyline Payout Profit

Los Angeles Lakers +100 $200 $100

Boston Celtics +100 $200 $100


But in reality, it’s going to look like this: 


Team Moneyline Payout Profit

Los Angeles Lakers -110 $191 $91

Boston Celtics -110 $191 $91



So if James and Ryan both bet  $100 on their respective teams, and the Celtics win, the total payout will look like this. 


Bettor Bet Team Moneyline Payout Profit/(Loss)

James $100 Los Angeles Lakers -110 $191 $91

Ryan $100 Boston Celtics -110 $0 ($100)


Total $200 $191 ($9)


So James and Ryan bet the opposite side of the same game. James won and Ryan lost. They invested $200 as a group, and only got $191 back. How?


That’s how Bookies and betting sites make their money, boys and girls.  We’ll dive in on the economics of bookies in our next post. But the short answer here is that James & Ryan basically paid a 4.5% finders fee just to bet each other money.


You may be asking yourself – why didn’t James & Ryan just bet each other off the books and keep that $9.  


To that, my friend, I say – Welcome to BettorEdge. 


BettorEdge’s purpose is to use technology and community to give the edge back to bettors (get it? Eh?!?) by taking out the inflated costs (aka the “vig”) that bookies take to basically be a place for people to come and bet each other.  BettorEdge doesn’t take a cut, they don’t have a fee – they just want to be the place that hosts sports bettors, because BettorEdge love sports and life is always better when money’s on the line. 


Disclaimer: The author, Ryan Staley, is an independent sports and betting blogger and is not employed by BettorEdge. The opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of BettorEdge and should not be considered investment or betting advice from BettorEdge.


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