Betting Lines Explained

Level: Beginner
8 m mins read
Page  created  08 Aug, 2022


Looking to dive into the sports betting world? Our guide to sports betting lines will have you making expert wagers on the biggest leagues in the USA in no time. We'll teach you how betting lines work and give you the lowdown on sports odds to help you make sharper bets.

What is a Betting Line?

A betting line is a form of wagering whereby the bookmaker or sportsbook set gambling odds and determine the favorite and underdog teams in a match. This handicap creates a margin (line) between the two teams, where there are only two outcomes possible, and sets the parameters for wagering on the game.

An Example of How Betting Lines Work

Let's use point spread and say a sportsbook believes that the Cleveland Cavaliers are a 20-point better team than the Washington Wizards. The bookmaker can handicap the Cavaliers by 20 points, which creates our line bet.

In this scenario, there are two options for the bettor: back the Cavaliers to win by more than 20 points, or the Wizards to get within 20 points. Both outcomes of this bet will be of equal odds.

Here's a real-life example: in a game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Charlotte Hornets, a sportsbook imposes these handicaps on the two teams:
Nets + 7.5
Hornets – 7.5

This line has now evened the playing field in the contest, meaning both teams now have an equal chance to win with the handicaps imposed. Given the Hornets are the favorites in this game, they must win by eight points for the bet to win. For a wager on the Nets to pay out, the underdogs must not lose by eight points or more. With point spread, the odds are usually set to -110 unless specified by the sportsbook. That means a $10 wager on the Hornets would give you $9.10 if they won.

Our sports odds guide offers more info on point spread, fractional odds, and more if you want to boost your knowledge on sports betting.

What is a Moneyline Bet?

Moneyline bets are the most popular wagers in sports betting. With this wager, a gambler bets which team or player will win a match or tournament outright. New bettors love these wager types as sportsbooks do not impose handicaps on them.

Almost all sports games have a favorite and underdog though, and a bookmaker will adjust their odds to reflect the likelihood of each team/player winning the game.

Matches Odds
Milwaukee Bucks -175
Cleveland Cavaliers +500
Charlotte Hornets +115
Philadelphia 76ers -143

Favorites immediately draw new bettors, but the rewards for backing this team will be significantly less than the underdog. The more likely a favorite is to win means bettors will receive proportionately lower payouts in return.

Here is where finding value comes into play. If you have a solid reason to think an underdog will win, backing them may prove lucrative, depending on what odds the bookmaker assigned them. The bigger the underdog, the greater the payout.

Here is a perfect example of a moneyline bet using the Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor boxing match from 2017:
Floyd Mayweather - 500
Conor McGregor + 400

Who do you think will win the fight?
-500 At -500, Mayweather is the overwhelming favorite, with his odds reflecting it. In this scenario, you would need to stake $500 on Mayweather to win $100.
+400 If you fancied McGregor to upset the odds and win the fight, a $100 bet on the Irishman would return $400 — a hefty profit.

Use betting tools like our odds calculator to help you check multiple odds from sportsbooks within minutes.

Finding Value in Betting: Outsmart the Sportsbooks

Knowing when a bet is good to place is all about finding value in the market. It's more than betting on who will win a game; it's considering whether the price/odds of that team/player are truly representative of what is likely to play out.

Reverting to the Mayweather vs McGregor example gives us a prime perspective on value. This was the miss-match of all miss-matches. Yet some diehard mixed martial arts (MMA) and Irish fans convinced themselves that McGregor would pull off an upset in his boxing debut; against arguably one of the greatest boxers of all time, no less. Here we find value in backing Mayweather in a near certainty of a contest.

Sure, staking $500 to return $100 sounds risky, but the odds should have been closer to -1100 for Mayweather to win that bout when assessing the form (and lack of) between both fighters.

With so many fans backing McGregor to win, the disparity between the odds of each fighter shrunk. Odds on McGregor started at +700 in June but shrank to +400 by the time he entered the ring. The match also highlights that the timing of a bet is crucial to its value. Backing a popular underdog early on will give you better odds than waiting until the day of the event.

NFL Betting

When it comes to NFL betting, the sheer number of wagers gamblers can make offers more excitement when watching a game. Given a tied game is a rarity in NFL, it opens a whole scope of betting markets.

Let's take an example of an NFL game between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins and what the betting markets would look like:

Team Line Betting Moneyline Total
New York Giants +8 +180 40
Miami Dolphins -8 -200

In this NFL example above, there are three bets to choose from:

  1. Line Betting
    A bet on the Dolphins to win by at least 9 points.

  2. Moneyline Betting
    Placing a bet of $200 to receive $100 on a Dolphins win.

  3. Total Betting
    Betting that there will be over or under 40 points scored in the match, with equal returns for either outcome (an $11 stake will return $10.01 in total).

NB: if the Dolphins won by 8 points then all bets would be refunded.

NBA Betting

Given the back-and-forth nature of basketball, handicaps are tricky for the bookmaker to predict. This is especially true when considering the number of points scored in an NBA game. Let's look at a possible example of an NBA betting line between the Brooklyn Nets and the LA Clippers.

Team Line Betting Moneyline Total
Brooklyn Nets +3.5 +160 215.5
L.A Clippers -3.5 -180

In this example, we have three types of bets that we can focus our attention on:

  1. Line Betting
    A bet on the Clippers to win by at least 3.5 points.

  2. Moneyline Betting
    Placing a bet of $180 to receive $100 on a Clippers win.

  3. Total Betting
    A wager that there will be over or under 215.5 points scored in the match, with equal returns for either outcome (an $11 stake will return $10.01 in total).

NB: In this example, the line betting and total betting is cast at a decimal (e.g. 3.5) this means there is zero chance that the line can be split and that a refund is required.

Parlay Betting

Parlay betting is where you bet on a combination of teams to get the highest returns for your stake. Gamblers can make parlay bets in all sports leagues, but they are particularly common in NBA betting. In this case, you could back four different teams across four separate matches all to win their line bet — with substantial odds reflecting this risk. A gambler must correctly predict every individual wager for a parlay bet to pay out. This means the higher the risk, the bigger the reward.

NHL Betting

The markets of a hockey match are identical to those of basketball and football. However, there is an important distinction to make in terms of the added chance of overtime. Due to this possibility in hockey, bookmakers will offer a totals market (as discussed previously) that includes overtime. Say you want to bet on a Stanley Cup match between the Dallas Stars and the Toronto Maple Leafs:

Team Line Betting Moneyline Total
Dallas Stars +4.5 +135 5.5
Toronto Maple Leafs -4.5 -150

If you predict the match will be close, backing the 'overs' goal total could be profitable with the extra time added.

MLB Betting

Baseball offers similar markets to the ones listed previously, with the noticeable difference being the inclusion of a pitcher pre-game. Odds are heavily determined on the starting pitcher, so if a late change is made to the pitcher, some online sportsbooks will refund bets. Here's an example of a line in MLB betting:

Team Line Betting Moneyline Total
Boston Red Sox -6 -140 N/A
New York Mets +6 +120

Bookmakers will give you the option to select whether your bet includes listed pitchers (both pitchers throwing the ball at least once in the game) or either pitcher to start. The odds will change heavily if the team makes a late swap.

Vegas Odds & Betting Lines

Betting is popular across the US, with many forms taking differing priorities. With Nevada seen as the hub of betting in the country, gamblers flock to Las Vegas to experience the thrills of betting, both on casino games and sporting events. This has given rise to Vegas odds and Vegas betting lines, a popular betting system found solely in the US.

Before making a pilgrimage to Sin City, we recommend bettors read our Vegas odds guide. This short guide will tell you everything you need to know about betting on Vegas odds, including how to read Vegas betting lines, how to make a wager on them, and tips for better bets.

Ready to Start Betting?

Before heading to the online sportsbooks, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

  2. Take it slow and steady; make small bets and spread your bankroll.

  3. Don't get sucked in by big odds and the 'glory shot'.

  4. Always consider the underdog.

  5. Quit while you're ahead — don't let the thrill of winning one bet encourage you to take excessive risks, and ultimately lose more money.

Check out our top-rated sports betting sites to start placing real money bets today.


How do you read NBA betting lines?

Bettors will find the team names along with the point spread, moneyline odds, and total number of points scored in the game. The + and – signs in the lines will denote which team is the underdog and favorite in the match, respectively. Gamblers must decide whether the odds reflect the true value of the game. If so, bettors can then wager on the number of points a team will win/lose by or whether a particular team will win the game outright. They can also bet on the total number of points scored in the game.

What is the hardest sport to bet on?

Baseball has 162 games per season and a wide array of betting options for gamblers to consider. Betting on the sport requires a massive amount of data to make educated decisions. For many bettors, the amount of time and effort required to follow baseball and analyze odds makes it one of the hardest sports to bet on.

How do point spreads work?

A point spread is a betting system used by sportsbooks to even out the odds between two teams. Each team is labelled the favorite (-) or underdog (+) and given a point total they must win or lose by to determine whether a bet has won or lost.

What does +4.5 mean in sports betting?

Generally, this amount refers to the point spread in a game and means the underdog team must not lose by five points or more.

What does 0 point spread mean?

Also known as pick'em (PK), a 0 point spread occurs when there is no clear favorite or underdog in a game. In this scenario, the winner of the game wins the point spread.

Why would you bet on negative odds?

Negative odds refer to the favored team in the match, the player(s) with the higher probability of winning the game. Bettors will find the favored team/player to win on a betting line with a – sign next to their odds.

Should I bet spread or moneyline?

This depends on your level of knowledge, betting experience, and the value of the odds. Moneyline bets are the easiest to place as they focus solely on the winner, making them a favorite bet for new gamblers. Point spreads can be harder to determine as the sportsbook has evened out the odds between the two teams. We recommend researching a team or athlete's recent performance, as well as the venue, before placing any point spread bets.