What may look like a jumble of words, numbers, and punctuation is actually a precise and easy-to-read breakdown of the various odds and point spread details your book is offering. Here is a breakdown of each unit of information given above. Once you understand each part of the jumbled details above, you’ll be able to read a sports betting line with confidence.
In theory, sportsbooks don't care about the outcome of a game, although for those of you who bet on the Steelers (-5.5) last season versus the Chargers and saw a game winning TD returned by S Troy Palumalu as the game expired reversed, thus negating a seven point victory and putting the final at 11-10, you might think otherwise, but this is how it's supposed to be.
If the Cowboys are 6-point favorites, their odds are -6. If the Giants are 6-point underdogs, their odds are +6. From the oddsmakers' perspective, the Giants are starting the game with a 6-0 lead, while from the Dallas side, the Cowboys are starting with a 0-6 deficit. If you bet on the Cowboys and they win 34-30, they failed to cover the spread by two points. If you bet on the Giants, they beat the spread by two points.
Point spreads focus on a margin of victory between the two teams and again, what you’re looking for is the positive and negative signs. If there is a minus sign next to a team’s spread, that suggest that they are favored and have to win by or cover that amount. If there is a positive sign, that tells you that they are the underdog and they are getting points. For example: let’s say that the New England Patriots are playing the Buffalo Bills and the Patriots are -5.5 and the Bills are therefore +5.5. If you bet the Patriots, they have to win by six points or more to cover. If you bet the Bills, they can lose by five points or less, or they can win the game outright and you would still win your bet.
If you bet on sporting events, you must be able to read odds and understand what they mean. Furthermore, you need to quickly calculate the potential winnings for different bets, especially if the odds are changing while the event unfolds. Odds tell you the likelihood that an event will occur (a team wins, a boxer makes it a certain round) and how much will be paid out if you win. There are, however, multiple ways to convey this information.
Identify the favorite. Lines with a - before the number (i.e. -200) indicate the favorite. A -200 should be read as: "For every $200 wagered, I win $100." When there is a negative sign, the line should always be read with relation to 100. That does not mean you have to bet that much, it's just easiest to understand! When a + sign is present, just reverse the reading, always keeping reference to 100:
Simply, bigger returns. On a point spread bet you would usually have to spend $105 or $110 to win $100. If you bet on the moneyline you may instead only have to spend $50, or even less, to win $100. You won't win as often, of course, because the underdog not only has to cover the spread, but it actually has to win the game outright. Upsets happen, though, and good handicapping will often isolate situations where the likelihood of an upset exceeds the risk of the bet. This is especially relevant in the NBA because the number of games, and the possibility for even the best teams to have a bad night mean that major upsets are far from rare and can be very profitable.
The last number in the top two rows of our sports line example is known as the money line. If you’re not interested in betting on the point spread, you can wager on a team to win outright. The plus sign next to the underdog (in our case, the Giants) indicates how much money you’ll earn for every $100 you bet on the money line. Conversely, the minus sign next to the favorite’s line tells you how much you have to wager in order to win $100. In our example, a $100 wager on the Giants earns you $300 should they pull off the upset, while a bet of $405 on the Cowboys will net you an extra $100. Representing odds in units of $100 makes placing different size bets easy; if you want to bet $10 on the Giants, you stand to earn $30 if they win, while a $40.50 bet on the Cowboys will net you an additional $10.
When a betting line is listed, it will contain the moneyline and spread information. If there are two teams and there is a spread of +6 and -6, betting on the favorite, which is the – spread, the score must be greater than the underdog’s score to win. For example. The score between the Patriots and Bengals is 20 to 10. So, 20-4 is 14, which is greater than the 10 points earned by the underdog, so the bet will win.
That was all before Charles McNeil, a math teacher from Chicago, invented the concept of the point spread. An avid gambler, McNeil created what he called “wholesaling odds” and started his own bookmaking operation in the 1940s. He started out offering this new style of betting on football, but his business model grew to include basketball. McNeil changed the way sports betting was done, and his legacy lives on today in what we now call the point spread.