Sports Betting 101: What you should know about moneyline bets

March 21, 2020 12:29 AM

Let's get back to our Betting 101 series. Today: The moneyline.

After the spread, the second most popular way to bet on a favorite or an underdog is on the moneyline, also known as the "ML" for short. The moneyline is only based on which team will win straight up. The margin of victory does not matter. It could be 1 point or 100 points, all that matter is winning the game.

The oddsmakers set moneyline prices for each team, which then bettors must pay in order to bet either side. The amount of money you need to risk depends on the price of the moneyline. If you win your moneyline bet, the price of the moneyline also determines your payout. Unlike spreads where you are giving or getting points, moneylines involve paying a specific price determined by the oddsmakers based on how likely or unlikely a team is to win the game.

Because favorites win the majority of their games, the oddsmakers force bettors to assume more risk and pay a more expensive price when betting favorites. In other words, a favorite lays "minus money." On the flip side, because underdogs win less often, oddsmakers need to make them more attractive to bet on so they add a sweetener to underdogs in the form of a bigger payout, which is popularly referred to as "plus money." 

You can quickly identify which team is the favorite and which team is the underdog by the plus or minus sign listed in front of their odds. Favorites will have a minus sign in front of their odds and underdogs have a plus sign in front of their price. In both cases, this is the amount of money you would need to risk or stand to win if your bet cashes.

All moneylines begin at even odds, also known as "even money," which is -100 or + 100. This would be considered a pick’em price. The moneyline price then increases based on how much better one team is compared to the other. 

Moneylines are available across all sports but are most common in baseball and hockey. This is due to the fact that they are lower-scoring sports and many games are decided by one run or one goal. As a result, it makes more sense to bet on who will win the game, not the margin of victory.

For example, a common price for an average favorite in Major League Baseball is -150, with the dog being + 135. To put this in perspective, let’s say the Atlanta Braves are -150 favorites against the St. Louis Cardinals, who are + 135 dogs. If you wanted to bet on the Braves -150 you would need to risk $150 in order to win $100. If the Braves win, you win $100 plus you get back the $150 you risked. If the Braves lose, you lose the entire $150 that you risked. So while favorites win the majority of their games, they also come with big risk. When they win, you only win the pre-determined amount you stood to gain. But if they lose, you lose much bigger amounts.

On the flip side, if you wanted to bet $100 on the Cardinals at + 135 and they ended up upsetting the Braves and winning the game, you would win $135 plus you would get back the $100 you risked. If the Cardinals lose, you only lose the $100 that you risked. In essence, because underdogs are less likely to win the game, you assume less risk betting on them and receive a bigger reward when they pull off an upset. The plus money and additional payout is what makes underdogs appealing to bet on.

Moneylines are available in football and basketball, but they are far less common and less popular to bet on than the spread. With football and basketball, the oddsmakers convert the spread into a moneyline price, which bettors can then pay. 

For example, let's say the San Francisco 49ers are 10-point favorites on the spread against the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers -10 would translate to roughly -700 on the moneyline. If you think the 49ers will win the game but aren’t confident in them winning by 11-points or more, you could bypassed the spread and bet San Francisco -700 on the moneyline.

However, because of the super expensive moneyline price, this means you would have to risk $700 just to win $100. Despite paying the massive price, you would think betting the 49ers would still be worth it. A big favorite like that can’t possibly lose, right? But remember, there are no locks in sports betting. There is no such thing as a guarantee. Upsets happen.

On Feb. 3, 2008, the New England Patriots faced the New York Giants in Super Bowl 42. The Patriots were entered the game a perfect 18-0 and were looking to finish off the first 19-0 perfect season in NFL history. New England was a 14-point favorite on the spread. Not only did the Patriots fail to cover, they lost the game straight up 17-14.

This is why point spreads are much more common in football and basketball. They carry far fewer risks than the moneyline. Sure, favorites will win the majority of their games. But when they lose, you lose big because you had to risk so much to bet on them. This is why bettors should be careful betting huge favorites on the moneyline. In the end, it's all about risk vs reward. Always ask yourself: is the juice worth the squeeze? 

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