Sports betting odds can seem confusing at first glance, but the same can be said anytime we come across a concept that’s foreign to us. All it takes is a little familiarity and understanding, just like conquering any other new task we’re unfamiliar with.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know. By the time you’re through, you’ll be able to check out the lines at any sportsbook and quickly understand what they mean.
First things first, there are a few different ways that odds can be expressed in numeric form.
Let’s begin there.
Difference Between American, Fractional and Decimal Odds
There are three main ways that betting odds will be displayed by sportsbooks.
This is the most common listing you will come across at online and mobile sportsbooks. Odds are represented with positive and negative values. The former is the odds for the underdog in the contest, while the latter is for the favorite.
- Cleveland Browns +150
- Baltimore Ravens -170
In horse racing, fractional odds are standard and allow you to quickly separate the favorites in a race. They’re also used in sports betting, mainly across the pond in the UK and Ireland.
- Chelsea 5/6
- Manchester United 3/1
- Draw 5/2
This odds listing is most commonly found at European sportsbooks. Odds are expressed in decimal form with the higher value designating the underdog, while the smaller of the two numbers indicates the favorite.
- Montreal Canadiens 2.5
- Boston Bruins 1.5
We’ll be using American odds for examples in the remainder of this article as this is the style of odds you’ll be coming across most frequently.
What do the + and – mean in sports betting?
The plus and minus signs serve two purposes in sports betting. First, positive odds indicate a team that’s an underdog on the moneyline, while negative odds point to the favorite in an upcoming game.
- New York Giants +120
- Dallas Cowboys -140
In the above scenario, we can quickly determine that the Cowboys are favored to win the game. The plus and minus odds also tell us what the return would be for our wagers.
- A correct $100 bet on the Giants at odds of +120 would return $220 – the original $100 stake plus a profit of $120.
- To make $100 on a winning bet on the Cowboys, we would have to place a wager of $140 for a total return of $240 – the $140 wager plus a return of $100.
Said another way, when we see positive odds, we can interpret that as what the return would be for a $100 wager. When it comes to negative odds, we can tell how much we would have to stake to see a return of $100.
How to Calculate Payouts
Calculating the payout on sports betting odds is a different process for both positive and negative odds. First up, here’s the formula to figure out the payout for positive odds.
Amount of Bet (Stake) x (Odds/100) = Potential Profit
If we take our stake and multiply it by the odds divided by 100, we’ll get our potential profit. For a $100 bet, here’s how the math works.
$100 x (+120/100) = $120
Regardless of the amount of the wager, you can figure out the potential profit in the exact same way.
$10 x (+120/100) = $12
When it comes to negative odds, the equation used to calculate potential profit is different.
Amount of Bet (Stake)/(Odds/100)
In this case, we’re dividing the amount of our wager by the result of the odds divided by 100 to determine the profit potential. Here’s what it looks like with round numbers.
$100/(140/100) = $71.40
To calculate the number quickly, it can be helpful to perform the right side of the equation first: 140/100 = 1.4. From there, we divide the $100 stake by 1.4 to find our profit.
For lesser stakes, the equation remains the same.
$20/(140/100) = $14.28
Said another way, $20 divided by 1.4 would give us a potential return of $14.28.
For example purposes, we’ve been using moneyline odds. When a point spread is involved, there are also odds involved on both sides which are generally in range.
- Boston Celtics +1.5 (-110)
- Milwaukee Bucks -1.5 (-110)
Since the odds are negative on both sides of the equation and equal, we know that we’ll be looking at the same return regardless of the side we choose.
$100/(110/100) = $90.90
Odds of -110 are considered standard for spread and moneyline bets. So why can’t you just get back the same amount of your stake to keep it simple? That’s because the sportsbook keeps a percentage as a charge or commission for taking action on the bet.
Sticking with the same example of a $100 bet at odds of -110, we determine the amount of commission by subtracting the profit potential from the original stake, dividing that amount by the wager amount, and multiplying the result by 100.
$100-$90.90 = $9.10
($9.10/$100) x 100 = 9.1%
Becoming familiar with the calculations for all of these scenarios can be a big help with understanding the risk to reward scenario whenever you are placing bets.
How to Calculate Implied Probability
In addition to favorites, underdogs, and potential returns for correct wagers, odds also tell us the likelihood of an event happening. Also known as implied probability, it takes some calculating to figure it out.
We’ll use this fictitious game line as our example.
- Chicago Bears +130
- Green Bay Packers -150
We quickly deduce that the Packers are favored over the Bears. A $100 bet on the underdog Bears would lead us to a potential profit of $130, while we would have to bet $150 on the Packers to have a shot at getting $100 back.
What are the chances for both sides of the coin? That’s where implied probability comes in. Here’s how we would figure it out for the underdog Bears.
100/(130+100) x 100 = 43.5%
For this equation, it’s the number 100 divided by the positive odds plus 100. The result of that part of the formula is then multiplied by 100 to give us the implied probability.
Here’s what the equation looks like for the favored Packers.
150/(150+100) x 100 = 60%
As you can see, the formula differs slightly for calculating both positive and negative odds. For negative odds, we’re using the actual number at the start of our equation, while we will always use 100 when it comes to positive odds.
Also, be careful that you don’t include the minus symbol when working through the equation with negative odds. That will alter the results and give you an incorrect answer on the implied probability.
What is a Push?
A push happens when there’s a tie in a point spread or totals bet between the bettor and the sportsbook. The end result is that the amount of your wager is refunded in full.
Using an NFL game as an example, let’s say that the Buffalo Bills are 2-point favorites over the Miami Dolphins. When the final whistle blows, the Bills do in fact win the game by a score of 21-19.
Since the exact margin of victory is two points, bettors on both sides of the game at a 2-point spread have tied with the sportsbook. As a result, all bets are considered to be a push and refunded.
For totals, let’s consider an NBA game in which the bar has been set at 191 points for a game between the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons. The Bulls go on to win the game by a score of 96-95, which works out to a total of 191 points.
That’s right on the money with where oddsmakers set the lines. All of the bets placed on the total at that number are deemed a push and wager amounts are refunded.
Types of Bets and How Odds are Represented
For all of the different wagering opportunities you find at a sportsbook, there will be odds attached. Let’s walk through the most popular bet types and some quick examples.
These are bets in which you are simply deciding which side will win between the favorite and the underdog.
- Ottawa Senators +140
- Toronto Maple Leafs -180
For additional info, check out our article on moneyline betting.
This bet type is common in football and basketball betting. Oddsmakers will place a point spread on the contest which has to be factored into the equation.
- Los Angeles Clippers +1.5 (-110)
- Los Angeles Lakers -1.5 (-110)
Check out our point spread betting article for a complete breakdown on how these bets work.
Oddsmakers place a benchmark number of expected points scored in a game, and bettors then decide if they like the number to go Over or Under that amount.
- Over 56.5 (-110)
- Under 56..5 (-110)
Full information on totals betting can be found by clicking here.
A prop bet is a side wager on something that may happen in the course of a game, such as whether or not a QB will pass for a certain amount of yards.
- Patrick Mahomes Over 282.5 -130
- Patrick Mahomes Under 282.5 +110
A full explanation of the ins and outs of prop betting can be found here.
A futures bet is a wager that’s placed on something that has yet to happen such as the winner of next year’s World Series.
- New York Yankees +375
- Los Angeles Dodgers +430
- Houston Astros +650
For additional information, check out our article on futures betting.
A parlay is a bet in which two or more games are placed on the same ticket. After adding the games to the ticket, you’ll see the odds for the parlay wager.
- Butler -238
- Georgia -145
Odds for 2-team Parlay +139
A complete breakdown of everything you need to know about parlay betting can be found here.
How do live odds work?
Live betting, also known as in-game wagering, has become incredibly popular. These are bets you can place after the action has already gotten underway. Opportunities will vary, and the odds move quickly depending on what’s happening in the game.
Let’s walk through an example using an NFL game. Here’s what the moneyline odds look like in advance of kickoff.
- Las Vegas Raiders +150
- Kansas City Chiefs -170
The Chiefs are pretty big favorites for this contest. However, the Raiders manage to get out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. You can still place a live bet on the outcome of the game, but the odds will adjust based on the new information.
- Las Vegas Raiders +130
- Kansas City Chiefs -150
As the game continues, the teams go back and forth. Las Vegas keeps pace with its favored foe and walks into the locker room with a 17-14 halftime lead. The possibility of a Raiders win isn’t seeming so far-fetched anymore, and the odds have responded.
- Las Vegas Raiders +100
- Kansas City Chiefs -120
The Chiefs come out of the break with guns a blazing and quickly flip the script. They now have a 24-17 lead, and once again are looking like the likely victors.
- Las Vegas Raiders +120
- Kansas City Chiefs -140
The odds will continue to adjust throughout the game based on what happens. If the Raiders close the gap or take the lead, there will be a big swing in their direction. If the Chiefs expand their lead, then the odds will head their way.
Live betting affords you the opportunity to place additional bets as the game unfolds. You don’t have to be t on every single opportunity that pops up. Instead, keep an eye out for those that appeal to you and watch for momentum shifts that could impact the final result of the contest.
Colorado Odds vs. Vegas Odds
When chatting about sports betting, you may hear someone ask something along the lines of this: What are the Vegas odds for the game?
Since Las Vegas had a stranglehold on legalized sports betting for decade, most bettors have become accustomed to believing odds that emanate from there being the final say.
Today, the legal sports betting environment has evolved tremendously. So is Vegas still king of odds or do other legal sportsbooks compare quite well?
Let’s take a look. For an upcoming NBA game, here’s what the spread and odds look like for an upcoming NBA game at FanDuel Sportsbook in NJ.
- Toronto Raptors -3.5 (-110)
- Brooklyn Nets +3.5 (-110)
For a comparison, let’s shift over to the odds for the same game from DraftKings Sportsbook.
- Toronto Raptors -3.5 (-112)
- Brooklyn Nets +3.5 (-109)
The spread is the same in both spots, but the odds are slightly different. We can attribute that to market action on DraftKings since it’s not a significant swing.
Now, let’s take a look at the odds for the same game at one of the biggest sportsbooks in Vegas, the Westgate Superbook.
- Toronto Raptors -3.5 (-110)
- Brooklyn Nets +3.5 (-110)
The spread is exactly the same in all three spots, and the odds at Westgate are a mirror image of FanDuel.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the odds are going to be exactly the same everywhere you turn. There will be ticks of difference on the spreads and odds between operators, but that’s where line shopping comes in.
Many moons ago, that was pretty difficult. In the modern world, odds and spreads from sportsbooks can be found with ease online. Those which aren’t in range with the general market consensus will stick out like a sore thumb.
From a bottom line, you can certainly check out what Vegas has to say, but massive operators from other states are generally going to be in the same range.
Why does the line move?
From the time game lines are released until the time the contest gets underway, odds won’t necessarily stay exactly the same. So why is that?
After odds come out, the betting public has a chance to weigh in. If there’s a flurry of action on one side, then sportsbooks will respond by making the other side more attractive.
This is done in a bid to bring the action more in line to even. When there’s a lot of action on one side and not much on the other, that opens up a liability for sportsbooks. If the vast majority of the public is correct, the book will be in line to take a hit.
Sportsbooks are for-profit entities that are not in the business of losing money, so they will do what they can to level the playing field. If you see odds that have shifted from the open to game time, figure out the direction to get a sense of overall sentiment on the game.
Lines can also move if a new piece of information comes out after release, such as an injury, trade, or lineup change. Major injuries, such as to a starting QB or pitcher, can have a big impact, while an injury to a role player won’t move the needle.
When you visit a sportsbook either online or in-person, you’ll see a ton of odds for upcoming contests that are available to be wagered on.
While the odds board can seem intimidating at first glance, a little bit of practice is all it takes to become familiar with the concepts.
After a little seasoning, identifying favorites and underdogs will become second nature. You’ll be able to calculate the potential return on correct wagers, and also be able to interpret the implied probability of a win for each side in the game.
Odds will not be exactly the same at every sportsbook, and you are welcome to shop around to find the most appealing opportunities. Additionally, odds may shift from the time they are released until game time based on market action or news that develops.