Sports Betting Odds: How Betting Lines Work

Posted by James Guill

With legal sports gambling legislation easing across the United States, more and more interested parties are going to want betting odds explained. This guide to sports odds will help novice bettors understand how betting odds work, how to read sports odds and provide easy-to-understand point spread, moneyline and total sports betting examples.

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How Do Betting Odds Work?

If you’re traveling for work, pleasure or to attend an international sporting event, like the Olympics, online sportsbook betting odds may look different depending on the country. The three sports odds formats you need to familiarize yourself with are: American, fractional and decimal.


American sports odds are pretty easy to learn. The favorite’s odds will come with a minus prefix displayed like (-115), while the underdog’s odds features a plus prefix such as (+200). Although you aren’t required to wager $100, the American odds system is easily explained based on a $100 wager.

For example, if the odds are (-115) on a favorite, you would need to wager $115 for every $100 you sought to win.

If the odds are (+200) on an underdog, you would risk $100 to win $200, plus recoup you original wager.


Fractional odds are also referred to as British odds are often found in horse racing betting. They are often displayed on oddsboards using a backslash or hyphen.

For example, a horse named Any Given Saturday is 7/1 or 7-1 to win the upcoming race means you can win $7 for every $1 wagered. If the odds were reversed at 1/7 or 1-7, you’d need to risk $7 for every $1 you hoped to win on the heavy favorite.


If you travel to Europe at any point and check out the local sports oddsboard, chances are you’ll see decimal sports odds, also known as continental odds. Potential winnings are calculated by taking the odds multiplied the wager.

For example, a -250 moneyline favorite in the United States would equal a 1.40 decimal odds favorite in Europe. If you risked $100 and the bet won, you’d win $40 on top of the original wager of $100 for a total payout of $140.

Sports Betting Odds Explained

At the end of the day, the most common sports odds can be broken down into three categories: point spread betting, moneyline betting and total betting. Most online sportsbooks will display these three betting options like this:

Teams Spread Moneyline Total
Bengals +3.5 (-110) +160 O47 (-115)
Titans -3.5 (-110) -185 U47 (-105)

At its core, point spread betting or just spread betting is placing a wager on how much a team or individual will win or lose by. Point spread odds are created by bookmakers in attempt to level the playing field if one team or individual is superior to their opponent.

Using the example above, the Titans are 3.5-point favorites over the Bengals. Now, a bettor could wager on the Titans to win by four-or-more points OR bet on the Bengals to lose by 3-or-fewer points or win the game outright. If Tennessee beats the Bengals 24-20, they cover the 3.5-point spread, but if Tennessee beats the Bengals 23-20, they do not cover the spread. If you wager on Cincinnati +3.5 and they lose 17-14 to Tennessee, that bet cashes because 14 + 3.5 = 17.5.

The (-110) indicates that a $110 wager would be required for every $100 you wish to win should the bet win.

A moneyline wager is the easiest one to make. All you need to do is bet on the team you believe is going to win. That’s it.

In the example above, the Titans moneyline is -185 and the Bengals is +160.

If you believe Tennessee is going to win, a $185 wager will win $100 plus your original wager should the Titans win.

If you believe Cincinnati is going to win, a $100 wager will win you $160 plus your original back should the Bengals win.


Typically, a total odds bet is referred to over/under a point total, run total or goal total. However, there are instances in like tennis where the total might refer to total games or matches.

In our go-to example above, the point total in the Bengals-Titans NFL matchup is Over/Under 47 points. If you believe the two teams will score more than 47 points combined, hammer the over wager, which – at (-115) – requires a $115 wager to win $100. If you think Cincinnati-Tennessee score fewer than 47 points combined, wager on the under. On the chance the two teams combine for exactly 47 points, the wager becomes a push or tie and your original wager is returned to your account.

Sports Odds FAQs

James Guill

James Guill is a former professional poker player who writes fro about poker, sports, casinos, gaming legislation and the online gambling industry in general. His past experience includes working with IveyPoker, PokerNews, PokerJunkie, Bwin, and the Ongame Network. From 2006-2009 he participated in multiple tournaments including the 37th and 38th World Series of Poker (WSOP). James lives in Virgina and he has a side business where he picks and sells vintage and antique items.

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