Standard sports wagers fall into one of four categories: straight bets, accumulators/parlays, proposition bets and future bets. Straight bets can be further broken down into money line wagers, over/under wagers and point spread wagers. This page will focus on money line wagers.
When using a point spread doesn’t make sense, online bookies will usually settle on posting a money line. Money lines are used for sports like European football (soccer), hockey and many individual sports like tennis, golf and boxing. Remember: Bookmakers are not in the business of picking winners. Instead, they are trying to anticipate which team the masses will favor, posting a money line that’s directed towards trying to get balanced action on both sides. Ultimately, the bookie is going to use math to avoid having a net position on any game or match while simply collecting a differential or commission for accepting wagers.
The lines will be posted based on the $100 increment. For example: -120 means the bettor will have to lay $120 for the chance to win $100, +120 means the bettor wins $120 with a $100 wager. Stated another way, a minus number represents the amount that needs to be wagered to win $100 while the plus number is the amount that will be awarded if the bettor wagers $100. It takes simple math to calculate any other increments.
The game or match favorite is always represented by the minus amount. If both teams have a minus amount, the larger minus amount would be the favorite. If the favorite sits at a high minus number, they would be considered a “heavy favorite” to win the game or match. Example: Manchester City from the UK’s Premiere League might be posted at -400 against Everton. That’s a big number, considering a draw is also a possible outcome. If a bettor is willing to lay $400 to win $100, they have to feel fairly certain Manchester City outclasses Everton in order to justify such a wager.
On the flip side of the coin, the underdog is considered somewhat inferior to the opponent. In the example used above, the bookmaker has posted a line that indicates they feel the betting public will be wanting to wager on Manchester City. If they want to entice bettors to take a shot with Everton, they might try to increase the plus number high enough to attract some action. If Manchester City sits at -400, the money line on Everton might be somewhere around +300 with the tie at +100.
A good money line would be one where the number given to the favorite would be in close proximity to the number given to the underdog with the slightly higher number going to the favorite. The bettor’s job is to decide whether a team’s price justifies the amount they have to lay to win a target amount.
NOTE: Most, but not all, proposition and future bets will use a money line.