Moneylines – How They Work

No matter which sportsbook you choose to use, you are certain to encounter moneyline bets. Moneylines are, in many ways, the baseline wager for most games and matches. So, it’s important that you understand how moneylines work. On this page, you will find information about:

  • The moneyline odds format
  • How to bet on moneylines
  • Moneyline variants due to various sports
  • Reasons to bet moneylines
  • Moneyline tips for beginners

Let’s get started.

What are moneylines?

When two players or teams are scheduled to meet, you can bet on the moneyline about which team will prevail. Unlike wagers like point spreads or some propositions, the manner or degree to which your chosen team wins is irrelevant to the settlement of the bet. If they win, you win. If they don’t, you don’t.

Though the concept is simple, moneylines can seem challenging because of how they are offered and displayed. Moneylines are denoted by three-digit numbers next to each team name, and at first glance, the meaning behind these numbers is baffling. 

What do these three-digit numbers mean?

So, let’s discuss what these numbers mean. 

Suppose that you observe the following listing:

  • Toronto Raptors +220
  • Memphis Grizzlies -110

Although there are only two three-digit numbers, they bear a wealth of information about both the prospect of making this wager and what the sportsbook’s oddsmakers estimate the game’s outcome will bring.

The first thing to notice are the + and – signs next to the numbers. The + sign indicates which team is the underdog, and the – sign goes with the favourite. Occasionally, you may see two negative moneylines when the teams are expected to be closely matched. In that case, the moneyline farther away from zero (the bigger absolute number) is with the favourite, but there’s not much separation.

The numbers, then, are information about the payout ratios associated with a successful wager on each team. The positive number is the amount that you will receive as profit on a $100 bet. By contrast, the negative number is the amount you must bet in order to win $100 in profit.

So, in the example above, a $100 bet on the Raptors bears the potential of paying $220 in profit. If you can predict a Raptors win with a $100 wager, you’ll get a $320 payout (your bet plus the profit).

If you want to bet on the Grizzlies, however, you’ll have to bet $110 in order to win $100. So, a winning bet on the Memphis team would pay out $210.

How sportsbooks come up with their numbers

Modern sportsbook apps use a combination of complex mathematical algorithms and tweaking by experienced oddsmakers to produce their moneylines. However, behind the mechanisms that set the numbers is a very simple concept.

A sportsbook’s goal with any hosted wager is to pay back slightly less money than it accepted. In other words, the total inflow of money from both sides of a bet should equal the outflow to the winners and a small slice of profit for the book. This slice of profit is known as the vigorish, or the “vig.”

With regard to moneylines, the sportsbook’s vig is baked into its advertised payout ratios. In other words, the +220 and -110 from the example above are not quite the true odds that the sportsbook estimates each team has to win. There’s a bit of an adjustment to make sure that, regardless of which team wins, the book gets to keep its required chunk of the money pool.

What is the puck line?

The most popular sport to bet in Canada is hockey. If you look at the options for betting on the NHL or other hockey leagues, you can find plenty of moneylines to bet. However, you may also see opportunities to bet something called the “puck line.”

The puck line does bear some similarities to the moneyline, but it is its own type of wager. It is, in fact, hockey’s version of the point spread. Because hockey games often end with a single-goal margin, setting a typical point spread is a dodgy proposition for oddsmakers.

So, books set the margin at a standard 1.5 goals for every single game on the docket. However, in order to account for the differences between the teams, they vary the payout ratios in a manner much more similar to the moneyline.

In essence, the puck line is a hybrid bet that combines elements of point spreads and moneylines. It is certainly a valid type of wager, but it is distinct from the moneylines described here.

What are live moneylines?

After a game begins, you may be surprised to see that moneyline betting options remain. Although these look the same as the pre-game variety, they are not.

As it turns out, these moneylines are, in fact, propositions. They are only concerned with the remainder of the game, and they use the information generated by the progress of the game. Because they vary according to the game, your pre-game understanding of the situation goes out the window. 

If you choose to bet one of these moneylines, it’s important to consider the teams as they are playing that day, rather than how they should be playing.

What are three-way moneylines?

Moneylines are pretty simple at their core. You bet that one team wins, and it either does or it doesn’t. The problem, however, is if you’re wagering on a sport that commonly ends matches in a tie.

In that case, you may encounter the three-way moneyline. You’ll still have the ability to pick a winner, but you’ll gain the opportunity to predict a tie, too.

  • Manchester United -300
  • Tie +390
  • Burnley +600

In this matchup, the oddsmakers are favouring Manchester United heavily to win the match outright. You’d have to wager $300 to win a measly $100. 

However, if you wanted to give yourself two possible winning conditions, you might also wager $100 or so on the option to tie. If Burnley happened to lock down the match and keep it knotted, you’d lose your win bet on Man U (-$300), but receive the payout from the tie ($390), resulting in a $90 profit. If Man U did prevail, you would break even, since you’d get your $400 payout to cover your $400 in bets.

One caveat with three-way moneylines is that the conditions for the settlement of the bet may be a bit tricky. A moneyline bet may only extend for regulation time. If a game goes into overtime, your bet on one team to win may be lost – even if your chosen team prevails in the extra period. So, be sure to examine your chosen sportsbook’s terms and conditions about these bets before you dive into them.

Why are moneylines a worthwhile bet?

Sportsbooks have many different types of wagers. Point spreads, propositions, totals (the over/under), and futures are always available for you to bet. However, there are a few reasons why moneylines might be worth your time:

  • Easy to understand – As we’ve mentioned several times, moneylines are the simplest propositions at their core. Even if you’re still a bit shaky about the odds format, you can always go with the team you believe will win the game.
  • Relatively low risk – Because the payouts for moneylines are a bit more volatile, you have a better opportunity to find value with underdogs for a relatively small investment. Alternatively, you can also lay money on the heavy favourite and not worry about the way that it defeats the underdog, so long as it does. 
  • Cheer potential – Betting on a team to win means that you can be entirely in the bag for that team during the game. Even if you don’t usually root for the team in question, having money on the match can make you into a quick fan. If you’re with others who root for the same team or have the same bet, you may even find yourself with some new friends – people with whom you can either celebrate or commiserate together.

What pitfalls should you avoid when wagering on the moneyline?

If you are excited about the possibility of betting on the moneyline, that’s great. However, if you are just beginning your journey with this wager, you need to be aware of some common mistakes and traps to which moneyline bettors can fall victim:

  • Betting too much for your bankroll. The first trap is a universal one for sports betting. No matter what, you should not be committing a large portion of your bankroll to a single wager. Bear in mind that professional sports bettors rarely win more than 60% of their bets. Losses happen, and will happen to you. So, bet small portions of your bankroll, and never bet with money that you might need for other expenses in your life.
  • Spreading your bets too thinly. A corollary to betting too much on an individual wager is betting on too many moneylines at one time. You can put your bankroll under similar strain if you have too many individual wagers across the board. Furthermore, every additional bet that you make means that you’ve neglected the amount of preparation and study that you should have performed on the bets in your portfolio.
  • Betting on the basis of emotion. It’s fine if you’re a fan of the teams that you bet. However, your fandom should not be the primary motivation for your wager. Make sure you have sound statistical or logical rationale for betting on the hometown team. More broadly, you should not bet the moneyline or any other type of wager if you are upset or in a disturbed state of mind. It is crucial that you don’t chase your losses or try to “get back” your money if things aren’t going your way, as it usually compounds your problems, rather than fixing them.
  • Betting the first moneyline you find. When you have as many sportsbook app options to choose as you do in Ontario, it is simply poor sports betting to accept blithely the first option that you see. After you decide on a bet that you want to make, be sure to visit a handful of different apps and look for the best deal. If you’re betting the favourite, you want the option closest to -100 that you can. If you’re betting the underdog, go for the biggest three-digit number you can find.
  • Always betting the underdog. It’s understandable if you feel drawn to the underdog side of most moneyline wagers. After all, it’s much more enticing to get multipliers on your bet amount as profit. However, realize that the sportsbook’s oddsmakers make their living predicting which team will win. The bigger the potential payout on the underdog, the more confident the heads at the sportsbook are about their prediction. With that confidence comes a decreasing chance that you will cash in on your wager.
  • Always betting the favourite. By the same token, it’s not a smart plan to bet on the favourite robotically. Over time, you’ll find yourself broken apart by all those times that the underdog pulls out a win. Sports are unpredictable, and strange things are a certainty every season. A favourite at -200 is expected to win twice if the two teams play three times, but lose that third game. The payouts on the favourites are usually not enough to make a slavish devotion to the higher-percentage outcome worthwhile every time you bet.
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