How To Read Odds
nia sportsbooks (or elsewhere), you’re going to have to learn how to read odds. After all, the ability to read betting boards and actually understand what they say is crucial if you plan to make any money wagering on your favorite players and teams. Fortunately, it’s easy to learn how to read odds, and the practice will become second-nature after just a few minutes of soaking up the basics.
All you really need in order to read odds like a pro is a basic understanding of the US moneyline system, an understanding of the moneyline vs. different odds types, an understanding of pari-mutuel horse racing odds, and how to read any fractional or decimal (i.e. non-moneyline) odds that you might come across at your favorite West Virginia sportsbooks.
The US moneyline system is the way that sports bets are advertised and posted in America. Unlike fractional or decimal odds systems like those used in other countries, the US moneyline requires no calculations on the part of the bettor in order to see what the payout will be for a given wager on a given bet. In many ways, the US moneyline represents the “price tag” of a bet, and – unless the bet itself is of the straight moneyline variety – all wagers at the top West Virginia sportsbooks (and other US-based sports betting facilities) will have a moneyline attached, usually in parentheses beside the applicable wager.
The US moneyline is predicated on the base of $100, and it works like this: A favorite will always have a negative moneyline, which shows how much money you have to risk in order to win $100. An underdog, on the other hand, will always have a positive moneyline, and that indicates the amount of money you can win on a $100 bet. (Remember, these are not wagering minimums, they merely represent the ratio of risk-to-reward for any given bet. Most West Virginia sportsbooks will allow patrons to risk as little as $0.25 on any given wager.)
The Two Ways Moneylines Are Used In Sports Betting
There are two ways moneylines are used in sports betting. The first is called the straight moneyline, which is a type of bet where the moneyline itself defines the odds of a team winning or losing. You might see the following at your West Virginia sportsbook:
- Cincinnati Bengals (+210) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (-165)
Here, the moneyline also shows the odds. The underdog Bengals will pay out $210 on a $100 wager, while the Steelers, as favorites, will pay out $100 on a $165 wager. The bigger the underdog, the bigger the payout, and the bigger the favorite, the smaller the payout.
The other type of moneyline application in sports betting is to show how much a non-straight-moneyline bet “costs.” Any wager that isn’t a straight moneyline bet will have different kinds of odds attached to them, but the price of the bet will always be expressed by the moneyline. For example, take a common NFL spread bet using the teams above:
- Cincinnati Bengals +7.5 (-110) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers -7.5 (-110)
Here, the underdog Bengals’ odds are +7.5, meaning they can lose by up to 7 points and still win the game. (This is called “handicapping,” which you can read more about here.) The Steelers, on the other hand, must win by 8 or more points, as shown in their -7.5 odds. Both of these bets have the same “price” (aka moneyline) because their odds are what the sportsbooks use to balance the action on both sides of the bet. Thus, regardless of which team you pick, in this example, you will be risking $110 to win $100. The extra $10 (or roughly 9% of the wager) goes to the bookmaker as “vigorish” (aka the house take or juice). Vigorish is how sportsbooks make the majority of their money.
In America, horseplayers don’t typically use the US moneyline, although you will find the moneyline used at various West Virginia sportsbooks on horse futures wagers. However, once you’re betting on the morning lines for horse races (or dog races, which are still held in WV), you will get fractional odds that represent the estimated action per the betting pool.
This is called pari-mutuel betting, and with this type of wager, your exact payout will not be known until a given race’s bets are all in and the bookmaker removes their take. Then, you will be paid out from the pool of wagers in your bet’s category. (Example: If you place a trifecta bet and win, your winnings are derived only from the pool of trifecta wagers placed.) Typically, a horse race’s boards will look something like this. The following bet is strictly to pick the winning horse:
- Secretariat 1/2
- Citation 3/1
- Seattle Slew 4/1
- Count Fleet 6/1
- Affirmed 8/1
Betting on Secretariat to win would cost you $2 (the denominator is the risk) to win $1 (the numerator is the reward). Similarly, a $1 bet on Seattle Slew would win $4, a $1 bet on Affirmed would win $8, and so on.
Except for horse racing betting (and greyhound racing betting), the US does not typically use fractional odds. However, fractional odds (which don’t have to be pari-mutuel in nature and most often do represent hard, locked-in payouts) are used all over the world, especially in places like the UK and India. Learning how to read fractional odds is important so that you can be a well-rounded bettor, but outside of the ponies, you are unlikely to come across them all that often.
Fractional odds are expressed as fractions (or ratios) using one of three common formats. Let’s say the West Virginia Mountaineers are favored to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers, and that WV carries a moneyline of -150. This can be shown fractionally in the following ways:
All three of the above actually show the same odds. The first number is the numerator and shows your reward, while the second number is the denominator and shows your risk.
The above scenario might also be shown as decimal odds, which are common in most of Europe and the rest of the world. When it comes to how to read decimal odds, keep in mind that these odds show not only your risk and your reward, but they also include your initial payment as part of the payout (which, with the moneyline and fractional odds systems, is simply assumed).
So, again, if the Mountaineers are -150 favorites on the moneyline, this can be converted to a decimal odds amount of 1.66. To arrive at this number, you simply take the fractional odds that -150 represents – in this case 2/3 – and convert it to a decimal (0.66). Then, just add 1.0 to that number (the return of your initial risk), and voila!