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.


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