If you are new to sports betting, you might be wondering what it means to place a wager on the money line of a certain match or game. While the odds can be a little confusing if you aren’t familiar with them, the principle of a money line bets is simple to grasp. You are simply wagering on which team/player will win a specific game or match.

This is different than betting on the spread of a game, where a team either has to win by so many points or win/lose by less than a certain amount of points (spread). At first you might be think money line is the way to go, as it’s a lot easier to predict a team to just win the game, than worry about how much they win or lose by. While it’s certainly easier, it’s difficult to profit long-term, especially if you like betting favorites.

Understanding Money Line Odds

Oddsmakers will list who they feel is the favorite in a game/match with “-” odds and the underdog at “+” odds. For this example we will use the same odds for both sides, say Team A is the favorite and are listed at -200 to win a game, while Team B is the underdog and is listed at +200. When you see “-” that means you are going to have to risk more than you win, while with “+” odds you risk less than what you will win.

When you see a team listed at -200, that means you are going to have to risk twice as much as you will win back. For example, if you bet $100 you would win $50. If a team was listed at -300, then you would have to risk 3-times what you will win, $150 to win $50.

For an underdog at +200, this means you are only have to receive 2-times what you bet. If you bet $50, you would win $100. If the underdog was listed at +300, a $50 wager would net you $150 (3 x $50).

To figure out the exact amount of risk/return, just divide the money line by 100. So if it’s -200, you take -200/100 and that gives you -2. That means you have to risk twice as much as what you would win . If it was +200, you take +200/100 and get +2. That means you will get twice as much back.

This is useful when you get to money lines like that aren’t an even 100. Say a team was -340 on the money line, you would have to risk 3.4x (-340/100 = -3.4) what you would get in return if the bet won. If it was +475, you would get an additional 4.75x (+475/100 = +4.75) what you bet if it won.

Betting Money Lines in Football/Basketball

Oddsmakers make you pay a premium on the money line in football and basketball, forcing you to hit at a ridiculously high percentage. For example, say the Patriots are hosting the Raiders. Clearly there’s a good chance that New England will win the game at home, but it will cost you a pretty penny for a small return on your investment. Say, the Patriots are a 10-point home favorite, that would have them listed at roughly -700 on the money line. That means you would have to risk $700 to win $100. Even if you predicted a winner in this scenario 6 out of 7 times, that one loss would actually have you down $100. (Win $600 on 6 winners and lose $700 on the 1 loser).

Now that you can see how difficult it can be to show a profit betting favorites on the money line, you might be thinking that underdogs are the way to go. That’s not quite the case. While you will get a much higher return on your investment, the odds aren’t the same both ways. In the same example from above, where the Patriots were a 10-point favorite at -700 on the money line, the Raiders as a 10-point underdog would be listed at roughly +480 on the money line, not +700. A $100 wager on the Raiders at +480 would net you a return of $480. The problem here is that it’s extremely difficult to predict when an underdog is going to win outright.

Money Line Specific Sports

Due to there not being a real edge betting either favorites or underdogs, most professional bettors will stick to wagering on the spread when it comes to football and basketball. However, there are some sports where the best option is on the money line. The most common money line sports are baseball, hockey and soccer, largely due to their not being enough runs/goals scored on average to set a realistic line for every game. The money lines in these sports are not as drastic as what you would see in football or basketball. For example, the Yankees might only be listed at -160 on the money line at home against the Twins.

There are other sports where money line based odds are used. For example, there are money line bets available for most boxing/MMA and tennis matches will typically have a money line available, but like football and basketball, you are going to have to risk a lot on the favorite to win a little.

There are also money line wager available in sports like golf or motor sports, but these work a little different. Instead of just team A or team B winning, there are numerous players/drivers who have a chance at winning. In this case, almost everyone in the field will have + odds to win, with the better players/drivers having a smaller return. For example, Tiger Woods in his prime may be +300 to win the Masters, while someone like Bubba Watson is +1200. There are some books that will offer head-to-head matchups, where you would simply make you wager based on who finishes higher in the standings (don’t have to win).