Reading Sports Odds Guide

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How to read sports betting odds

For new sports bettors, odds can be hard to understand. Sportsbooks throw a lot of numbers at you, and it’s easy to get lost. However, once you have a simple grasp of the basics, odds become much easier to read and calculate. With a few pointers, you can quickly become an expert.

On this page, we’ll walk you through how odds work and how to read them so you don’t have to worry about making spur-of-the-moment calculations when you’re betting on sports.

How Do Sports Betting Odds Work?

Odds come in various formats, which we’ll cover in more detail further down on this page. First, it helps to understand the purpose and function of odds.

Odds exist to tell you a few important bits of information:

  • How much a specific bet will pay if it wins
  • How likely a bet is to hit
  • How other bettors are placing their wagers on a given market

When you place a bet, the odds tell you exactly how much money you’ll win if successful. Those same odds also dictate how likely a sportsbook believes your bet is to hit. When odds change, it is often an indicator that bettors are flocking to one side of a bet or another factor is moving the line, such as a player injury or roster change.

What Are American, Decimal, And Fraction Odds?

There are three types of odds formats: American, decimal, and fraction. Some sportsbooks let you toggle between these formats. However, most sportsbooks will default to American odds.

Still, learning to read each type can be valuable. Here’s a quick primer on each type.

American Odds

As mentioned, American odds are the most common format at US sportsbooks. Here’s a look at PointsBet’s odds for an NBA matchup using American odds.

Philadelphia 76ers Vs. Miami Heat Moneyline:

  • Philadelphia 76ers: +120
  • Miami Heat: -150

The easiest way to understand American odds and their payouts is to pretend you’re placing a bet. In this case, a $100 bet on the 76ers would pay $120 (plus your original bet back, making the total payout $220).

Conversely, you’d need to bet $150 on the Heat to win $100 (plus your original bet back). The “-” in front of the Heat odds means they’re the favorite to win. The “+” on the 76ers means they’re the underdog, and not expected to win.

But in this case, the odds are relatively close together, meaning it’s expected to be a tight matchup, despite the Heat being favored.

Decimal Odds

Decimal odds display the possible outcome a bit differently. Here’s a look at another NBA matchup with decimal odds used:

Dallas Mavericks Vs. Phoenix Suns Moneyline:

  • Dallas Mavericks: 3.1
  • Phoenix Suns 1.4

Another way to think about this is in multiples. If you bet on the Mavericks, for every $1 you bet, you’d get $3.10 back if the bet wins. So a $10 bet would pay out $31 if the Mavericks won.

On the Suns, then, a $10 bet would pay out $14.

Many bettors like decimal odds because the multiplication method is fairly easy to grasp when calculating payouts.

Fraction Odds

Fraction odds look like…you guessed it: fractions!

Here’s an example.

Oakland Athletics Vs. Detroit Tigers Moneyline:

  • Oakland Athletics: 6/5
  • Detroit Tigers: 5/7

The easiest way I’ve found to calculate fraction odds payouts is simple: bet the bottom number, win the top number (plus your original bet). So if you bet $5 on the Oakland Athletics, you’d get an $11 payout if they won (your initial $5 bet plus $6 in winnings). A $7 bet on the Tigers would pay $12 (Your initial $7 plus $5 in winnings).

You don't see fractional odds too often at US sportsbooks, but it’s helpful to know how they work.

What Do The + And - Mean In Sports Betting?

In simple terms, the + means that team is the underdog (expected to lose) and the - means that team is a favorite (expected to win).

The + or - also determine your payouts. If you see a + with a number following it, a $100 bet would pay out the number following the symbol (more on that in an example below). If you see odds with a -, it means you’d have to bet the number that follows to win $100.

Here’s a clever look with a real-life example.

Los Angeles Kings Vs. Edmonton oilers Moneyline:

  • Los Angeles Kings +180
  • Edmonton Oilers -221

If you wanted to bet on the Kings, a $100 would pay $180 (plus your original bet back).

On the other hand, a $221 bet on the Oilers would pay $100 in profit. Because the Oilers are favored to win, you’re more likely to hit the bet and therefore need to pay more to win a similar amount. Keep in mind you are never required to bet in $100 increments. They are just helpful for understanding how odds work. In the case above, a $10 bet on the Oilers would pay out $28 (inclusive of your initial bet and your winnings).

In other words, the favorite is usually more likely to win, so you won’t make as much money betting on them. It’s a risk-reward balance.

Calculating Winnings With American Odds

Let’s look a little closer at American odds and calculate a few payouts with some examples.

Philadelphia 76ers Vs. Miami Heat First Basket:

  • Bam Adebayo: +425
  • Joel Embiid: +425
  • James Harden: +700
  • Jimmy Butler: +700

These odds are all high for a simple reason: only one first basket will occur, and only one player will score it. For that reason, all of the odds (there are more, but we listed the most likely ones) offer great payouts. Remember, though, these bets come with more risk.

If you were to bet on either Adebayo or Embiid to score the first basket, you’d nab a +425 payout. A $1 bet would payout $5.25. If you’re betting James Harden or Jimmy Butler, a $1 bet would pay $8. It’s a big return, but again, it’s unlikely, and the + symbol indicates that upfront.

Here’s one more example using a point spread.

Dallas Mavericks Vs. Phoenix Suns Point Spread:

  • Mavericks +6: -110
  • Suns -6: -110

Point spreads are made to even the playing field and give either team a chance to hit. For this reason, you’ll find the odds are exactly the same. They aren’t even money (+100) because the sportsbook adds a vig to the odds to ensure it makes a profit.

But here, a $110 bet would pay $100 on either side if it hits. With a bet like this, the only risk you have to weigh is the strength of your pick. Will the Suns blow out the Mavs and cover? Or will the Mavs make it close and eke out a hit for this bet? Those are the factors you need to consider, as the odds are the same for either team to cover.

Are Negative Or Positive Odds Better?

It’s not as simple as declaring a single one better or worse. There’s risk and reward attached to each side.

In the short term, safer bets (with - odds) are more beneficial. You’re more likely to win, though your wins won’t be incredibly high all the time.

On the other hand, longshot bets with great + odds can be beneficial, especially if you think the line is higher than it should be. A smart bet with long odds can prove very lucrative if placed at the right time and on the right team.

Which Sportsbooks Have The Best Odds?

No single sportsbook offers the best odds across the board. Instead, many will feature favorable lines compared to competitors from time to time. For this reason, it makes sense to shop around and find the best line after looking at multiple sportsbooks.

If you have access to one sportsbook, chances are you have access to many more. It can be extremely advantageous to shop at various sites until you find the most favorable odds on your particular bet. Even a small difference can be very impactful. For example, -105 is better than -110. Keep this in mind as you look for the best place to make your bet.

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