Betting Lines


Betting Lines


This is an overview of the basics of how sports wagering lines work.  If you already know what the paragraph below means, don't bother reading this page.

New England Patriots -7.5 -115
Washington Redskins +7.5 +105

What you probably already know

In order to create good gambling, the sports books usually cannot just let you pick the winner and pay you.  In most games, everyone knows one team is much more likely to win than the other.  Gamblers have solved this problem with the point spread.  The point spread redefines victory.  Now it isn't enough for the better team to win, they have to win by a certain number of points.  Similarly, the worse team can lose, but if they keep the game within the required number of points, they will win in the gambling world.

The guys who set the point spreads are usually pretty smart.  They usually do a pretty good job of giving enough points to the underdog that people are interested in betting on both sides.  In some ways, they would love it if they picked a point spread and exactly half the gamblers bet on each side.  That way, they make money no matter what happens.

The astute among you will notice a flaw with the above plan.  If half the people bet on one side and half bet on the other, the house wouldn't make any money.  Half of the people would just pay the other half.  This occurred to the bookies too and they have a plan for dealing with that too.  They don't pay you as much as you bet.  The usual deal is to pay you about 10% less than you bet.  Viola! Instant profits for the house no matter who wins.  Here in the USA, we use a notation that makes everything relative to $100.  A standard football payout is -110, meaning that to win $100 you have to bet $110.

Now we are ready to tackle the mysterious Patriots/Redskins example above.  The first number is the point spread and it indicates that New England will have to win by 8 points to win the money.  If the Redskins can keep the score within 7 points, they will pay the money.  However, it turns out that more people still want to bet on my beloved Patriots (smart people).  In this example, if you want to win $100 you will have to bet $115 on the Patriots.  If you prefer the Redskins, you will win $105 for every $100 you wager on them.

You usually won't see too many lines that pay more than +109 or so for reasons I'll explain later.  When the money is still unbalanced between the two teams, they will usually just move the line to -8/+8 and adjust the payouts.

Money Lines

You might decide that all this point spread stuff is for the birds.  You don't care about that, you just want to bet on the winning team and can't be bothered with all that point spread nonsense.  This often happens when your team is required to win by 8 points and they give up a completely meaningless touchdown in the last thirty seconds and you lose.  Don't they know those points are very important to us?

The solution for you, my friend, is the money line.  This is a straight bet on who will win and who will lose.  In my example above, a typical money line would probably look like this:

New England Patriots -350
Washington Redskins +290

This means that if you bet $350 on the Patriots to win, you will win $100.  If you bet $100 on the Redskins, you will win $290.  Betting the money line is not as popular in football, but is widely used in other sports.


Home | Betting Lines | Arbitrage

This site was last updated 01/02/06