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How to Read Betting Lines in Sports Betting

This betting lines guide will help you understand how to read betting lines and what action you should take, if any, if betting lines move.

There is nothing more important than learning how to read sports betting lines. If you are new to sports betting or unfamiliar with how US sportsbooks present their odds, this betting lines guide is for you.

Betting Lines Explained

If you are new to the sports betting world, one of the first skills you need to master to become a successful sports bettor is understanding sports betting lines work. Having this basic knowledge down pat is a must even before you make your first bet. Winning real money relies on being able to read sports betting lines accurately.

A betting line shows the amount of money that you will need to wager on a particular outcome to collect a certain payout if you are correct. However, more often than not, the two teams playing each other are not evenly matched. So, to prevent online sportsbooks from getting one-sided action, the superior team is designated the favorite and its opponent is designated the underdog.

The purpose of the betting line is to attract balanced action. The way this is accomplished varies depending on the sport, but the two basic methods that online sportsbooks use are moneyline odds and point spreads.

Betting Lines Example

The following examples from week 1 of the 2022 NFL season will show you how betting odds work. Shortly before game time, these were the moneyline odds and point spreads that FanDuel Sportsbook offered on three NFL games, along with the final scores.

🏈Teams💵Moneyline👉Point Spread🔚Final Score
Kansas City Chiefs @
-6 ½ (-106)
+6 ½ (-109)
New Orleans Saints @
-5 ½ (-110)
+5 ½ (-110)
Pittsburgh Steelers @
+7 ½ (-118)
-7 ½ (-104)

Each matchup would have let you choose either a moneyline bet or a point spread bet on either the favorite (displayed with a minus sign) or the underdog (displayed with a plus sign). Thus, a moneyline bet on the heavily favored Kansas City Chiefs to win the game outright cost $260 for every $100 it would pay in winnings. Or, if you thought the Chiefs would win but the moneyline price was too steep, you could have laid 6 ½ points for only slightly more than even money. But unless they won by 7 points or more, you would have lost your bet.

Alternatively, you could have bet on the underdog team. In that case, a moneyline bet of $100 would have returned $215 if the Cardinals won outright, or a wager of $104 getting 6 ½ points would have paid $100 if the Cardinals either won outright or lost by 6 points or less.

As you can see by the final score, the game was a blowout. The Chiefs not only won outright but easily covered the point spread. So, all bets on Kansas City were winners and all bets on Arizona were losers. However, upsets occur in all sports, and much more often than you might think, the better team wins the game outright but does not cover the spread. That is because the point spread is the great equalizer.

The game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons is a good example. The Saints won the game but only by one point, so they failed to cover the spread.

Sometimes, as in the Cincinnati Bengals-Pittsburgh Steelers game, the favored team not only does not cover the point spread but loses the game outright. A bettor making a moneyline bet on the Bengals with the hope of winning $100 lost $330 instead. Meanwhile, every $100 moneyline bet placed on the underdog Steelers returned a $265 profit.

Of course, you can make sports bets in different amounts, and while the payouts would change, the betting odds would not. For example, in the Saints-Falcons game, where the point spread line of +5 ½ on the Falcons was priced at -110, the cost of the bet would have been $275 to win $250 or $55 to win $50.

Meaning of – and + in Sports Betting

All sportsbooks display their betting odds with plus and minus signs. This is important information for any sports bettor because it readily tells you which team is the favorite and which is the underdog in any matchup. The favorite will always have a minus sign (-) before the odds, while the underdog will always have a plus sign (+).

For example, if you see betting odds of -150, it means that to win $100, you must bet $150. Conversely, if the betting odds are +150, it means that each winning bet of $100 will pay $150 extra. Either way, assuming you are making real money bets with your own funds, if you win, the sportsbook will return to you both the cost of your bet and your winnings from the bet.

Bonus bets awarded by the sportsbook (i.e., if a previous qualifying bet loses) typically only pay out the winnings from the bet, not the cost of the bet.

Understanding the Odds in Betting

Depending on where you live and which sportsbook you use, the format in which sports betting odds are expressed can vary as follows:

  • Fractional odds: common in the UK
  • Decimal odds: common in other foreign countries
  • Vegas odds or American odds: the format you are most likely to encounter at American sportsbooks.

Here in the US, you may never have an occasion to use fractional odds or decimal odds. However, they are described briefly below, so if you come across them, perhaps in online research or while traveling, you will know how to read sports betting lines that are presented in these ways.

Fractional odds

Fractional odds are written like fractions with a slash mark between the two numbers or one number (the numerator) shown directly over the other (the denominator), separated by a horizontal line. The second number shows the cost of the bet, while the first number shows the amount you would win with a bet of that size.

For example, if the fractional odds are 4/5 and the bet wins, for every $5 you wager, you would collect $4 in winnings. Conversely, if the fractional odds are 5/4 and the bet wins, for every $4 you wager, you would collect $5 in winnings.

The first number is smaller than the second for favorites and larger than the second for underdogs. When the betting odds are even money, the fractional odds will appear as 1/1.

Decimal odds

Unlike fractional odds, decimal odds are shown as just one number with a decimal point. This is the total amount you will be paid on a winning bet of $1. It includes both your profit from the bet plus the $1 cost of the bet.

The most frequently seen decimal odds amount is 1.92, which is based on American odds of -110 and is the price you usually see for football and basketball point spread bets. At these odds, the total payout on a winning bet of $1.10 would be the $1.10 cost + $1.00 in winnings, for a total of $2.10. Or, if the winning bet is only for $1.00, the payout would be the $1.00 cost + .92 in winnings, for a total of $1.92.

Decimal odds of 2.00 designate bets that pay even money (the $1 cost of the bet plus another dollar you receive if the bet wins. Favorites will always have decimal odds of less than 2.00, while underdogs will always have decimal odds of greater than 2.

Since you will probably want to make wagers of more than $1.00, you can determine the potential payout for any other bet simply by multiplying the decimal odds by that amount. For example, if the decimal odds are 1.91 and you wish to bet $20, multiply 1.91 by 20, which will give you a total payout of $38.20.

Vegas odds

Sports betting odds at US online sportsbooks are typically expressed in the format of Vegas odds rather than fractional odds or decimal odds. They are called Vegas odds because the system was created back in the 1930s when sports betting first became legalized in Nevada. The three most common types of betting lines that all major US sportsbooks offer across different sports are as follows:

  • Moneyline odds (the odds that the team will win the game outright)
  • Point Spreads (or another sports-specific prediction of the margin of victory such as run lines in Major League Baseball
  • Over/Under lines (Totals)

The main difference between Vegas or American odds and fractional and decimal odds is in the point of reference for the moneyline. Like moneylines based on decimal odds, moneylines based on Vegas odds contain just one number. However, there is no decimal point.

The moneyline on a favorite, preceded by a minus sign, is the amount of money (including the vig) that you will have to wager to win $100. This number is always more than $100. For example, a small favorite might have a moneyline of -104, while the moneyline on a huge favorite might be -200 or higher.

The moneyline on the underdog, preceded by a plus sign, is the amount of money you will win on a $100 wager. Some of these potential payouts can be huge. But huge underdogs come with generous odds for a reason; they rarely win.

Most football and basketball point spread bets, regardless of whether you pick the favorite or the underdog are priced at -110.

How to Read Point Spread Lines

Correctly picking which team in a given game is going to beat the point spread is often more difficult than simply picking the outright winner. It also involves handicapping what you think will be the margin of victory for the winning team. In other words, you need to make an educated prediction about whether the difference between the winning team’s final score and the losing team’s final score will be greater than or less than the betting line number.

Nonetheless, at American sportsbooks, point spread betting is a very popular way to bet on football and basketball games. The problem with straight moneyline bets is that frequently, one team is far superior to its opponent, so the only way for the sportsbook to try to get balanced two-way action is to make bets on the favorite very expensive. This happens in both professional and college football and basketball games, but with college teams, sometimes the disparity in talent is so great that a moneyline on the outright winner, if it is offered at all, would be prohibitive.

Point spreads level the playing field so that even in games where the teams look like a complete mismatch on paper, the underdog could be the right side. Furthermore, most point spread lines are reasonably priced at $110 to win $100 no matter which side you bet.

For example, in the NFL game discussed earlier between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, the point spread lines were as follows:

  • New Orleans Saints: -5 ½ (-110)
  • Atlanta Falcons: +5 ½ (-110).

For the Saints to cover the spread, they would have had to win by 6 points or more. For the Falcons to cover the spread, they did not even have to win as long as they did not lose by more than 5 points. The Saints won but only by a score of 27-26, so they failed to cover the point spread.

How to Read Moneyline Odds

When you place a straight bet against the moneyline, you do not have to worry about the margin of victory. Simply make a correct pick on which team will win outright, and your bet is a winner.

The moneyline on the favorite, preceded by a minus sign, shows the amount of money that the bet will cost you for every $100 you hope to win. The moneyline on the underdog shows the amount of profit you will make on a winning $100 wager.

For example, Fox Bet posted the following moneylines on an upcoming MLB game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies:

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Nola, A.
  • -180

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Priester, Q.
  • +153

How to Read Totals Lines

In addition to or instead of a point spread or moneyline bet, you can make an over/under bet. The most popular bet of this type is on the total number of points scored in the game by both teams combined.

Simply decide whether it is likely to be over or under the total posted by the sportsbook. Either way, you will probably lay -110 odds. Which team’s score is higher does not matter.

For example, the closing over/under line on the 2023 Super Bowl was 51.5 points. Although this might have seemed like a high number to some bettors, a bet on the “over” was an easy winner.

Reading Betting Lines for Different Sports

Now that you have the important basic knowledge you need to understand American odds and read sports betting lines at online sportsbooks in your state, reading betting lines for different sports should be a piece of cake. In the following sections, we will expand on this topic briefly for three of the most popular sports you can bet at US sportsbooks: football, basketball, and baseball.

Football Betting Lines

Draftkings Football Betting Guide

Out of the many different sports you can bet on at US sportsbooks, NFL betting is the most popular. Each NFL game that is scheduled to be played on a given day is listed with the following betting information as soon as it becomes available:

  • The moneyline odds on the favorite
  • The moneyline odds on the underdog
  • The point spread on the favorite with the applicable betting odds
  • The point spread on the underdog with the applicable betting odds
  • The over/under line for both teams combined with the applicable betting odds

Odds and Bet on Sports Betting

As with betting lines in any sport, between the time NFL betting lines are first posted and game time, they are subject to change.

The following example shows the betting lines at Tipico Sportsbook shortly before game time for the 2022 NFL game between the New York Giants and the Minnesota Vikings.

🏈Teams💵Moneyline👉Point Spread➖Over/Under
New York Giants
Minnesota Vikings
+4.5 (-111)
-4.5 (-109)
Over 49.5 (-110
Under 49.5 (-110)

The Vikings beat the Giants by the score of 27-24. So, here is how a $100 bettor would have fared on each of the six possible betting options:

  • Moneyline bet: Won $100 betting $210 on the Vikings or lost $100 betting on the Giants.
  • Point Spread bet: Won $100 betting $111 on the Giants or lost $109 betting on the Vikings.
  • Over/Under bet: Won $100 betting $110 on the Over or lost $110 betting on the Under.

Note that even though the Vikings won the game outright, since they only won by 3 points, they lost to the point spread.

College football betting, which is also very popular, works the same way.

Basketball Betting Lines

American sportsbooks offer the same types of betting lines for NBA betting and games in other basketball leagues such as the NCAA and WNBA.

Draftkings Basketball Betting Guide

Here, for example, are the betting lines posted on BetMGM Sportsbook for the NBA playoff game that day between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors.

🏀Teams💵Moneyline👉Point Spread➖Over/Under
LA Lakers
GS Warriors
+7.5 (-110)
-7.5 (-110)
Over 225.5 (-115)
Under 225.5 (-105)

Golden State, the 2022 NBA champion, was playing at home against a team that barely made the playoffs and was therefore a huge favorite both on the moneyline and against the spread. But the Lakers pulled the upset and won outright by a score of 117-112.

That made bets on the “Over” winners. In addition, all moneyline and point spread bets on the Lakers were winners, while all moneyline and point spread bets on the Warriors were losers. Bettors hoping to win $100 on a moneyline bet on the Warriors lost $350 instead. Meanwhile, those who made a moneyline bet on the underdog team made a $260 profit.

Baseball Betting Lines

Baseball betting lines also include moneylines and totals, but instead of point spreads like in football and basketball, baseball games have run lines. These are bets you can make either that the favorite will win by more runs than the run line or that the underdog will either win the game or lose by fewer runs than the run line. The run line is usually 1.5, but if the disparity in talent between the two teams is huge, it could be higher.

Baseball Betting Guide

Here are the closing lines that Fox Bet offered on the Phillies-Pirates game mentioned earlier.

⚾Teams💵Moneyline👉Point Spread➖Over/Under
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates
-1.5 (-113)
+1.5 (-107)
Over 9 (-114)
Under 9 (-106)

The final score was 7-6 (over the total), with the Pirates winning by 1 run. Therefore, all moneyline and run bets on the Pirates were winners, and all moneyline and run bets on the Phillies were losers.

Can I Read The Lines Similarly On All Sportsbooks?

The answer is not necessarily. While sports odds at different sportsbooks do not vary greatly, you will not always find the same odds.

Each sportsbook has its own oddsmakers who use a combination of factors such as team power rating comparisons, personal analysis, and public perception to set and fine-tune the lines. Sports betting lines can also change later.

Why Do Lines Move?

One reason for line movement is betting activity. If a lot more money is being wagered on one side than the other, the moneyline, point spread, or both could move to encourage more people to bet the opposite way.

Early line movement usually reflects heavy “smart money” from “sharp bettors,” while public betting might affect the line later. Team personnel problems or important late information, such as a key player being out of the lineup, will also cause the sports betting line to move. If bad weather is predicted, the total on a football game will go down.

Lines might change faster at one sportsbook than at another. That is why shopping around for the best lines possible is so important.

Tips to Find Favorable Betting Lines

  • Before you check the sportsbook’s lines on the games you are considering, do some background research and try to set your own lines based on what you think the betting lines should be.
  • Try to place your bets at the most opportune time. Anticipate in advance if the line is likely to move and in which direction, so you can bet into the best numbers.
  • If you see a particular line move, try to ascertain the reason.
  • Compare the lines at different sportsbooks. A slightly cheaper moneyline or even a half-point difference in the moneyline or point spread could save you money.
  • Always look for good value. If you want to place a bet on a huge favorite, bet the point spread line rather than an overpriced moneyline. Pass on gigantic underdogs with virtually no chance of winning despite their generous odds.
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Lines Betting Calculator

If you are betting online, but are not good at math, no problem. Each time you add a new bet to your bet slip, the cost and what it will pay if you win are displayed for you. However, you can also use a simple formula and a calculator as follows to calculate the payouts yourself.

  • For bets with negative odds: 100/odds without the minus sign x bet.

For example, a $60 bet at -160 odds would pay 100/160 x 60 = $37.50.

  • For bets with positive odds: Odds/100 x bet.

For example, a $20 bet at +140 odds would pay 140/100 x 20 = $28.


What do 10 to 1 odds mean in betting?

10 to 1 odds mean that for every $1 you wager, you will make $10 in profit if the bet wins.

What do the numbers symbolize on a betting line?

The numbers on a betting line show the betting odds. Three common types of betting lines are moneylines, point spreads, and totals.

What does cover a +14.5 betting line mean?

A betting line of +14.5 means that the team is a 14.5 point underdog. The team can cover the spread in either of two ways: by winning outright or by not losing by more than 14 points.

How do you read a line on betting sites?

Locate the sport and the specific game you want to bet on. For each team, you will probably see both a moneyline and a margin of victory line. You will also see an over/under line for both teams combined.