If you find sports betting complicated or confusing, you may appreciate moneyline betting because it’s the most simple and straightforward way to wager on sports. That doesn’t mean monyeline bets are just for rookies though because they’re extremely popular with professional bettors and newcomers alike.

A moneyline bet is simply a wager on which team (or athlete in individual sports like tennis and boxing) will win a particular game or event. That’s it. Moneyline bettors aren’t concerned with how many points are scored or other details like the point spread. While betting the moneyline, you might invoke the words of former Raiders’ owner Al Davis who famously said, “Just win, baby.”

Moneyline Betting Explained

A moneyline bet is usually a choice between a “favorite” (the team considered more likely to win) and an “underdog” (the team considered less likely to win). Because the favorite is theoretically more likely to be victorious, a bet of any size will win more money on an underdog than as a favorite. In other words, moneyline favorites provide more security with less reward, while moneyline underdogs offer more risk and more reward. Exactly how much money each bet wins is determined by the odds set by the sportsbook (more on that below), but the bigger the upset, the more lucrative the wager is.

Three-Way Moneylines & Draws

For sports that traditionally have a lot of ties or draws (i.e. soccer), the moneyline works a little differently.  Instead of seeing two teams as moneyline options, bettors also see “draw,” which is a third choice. For these three-way moneylines, all three options will have better odds for the bettor than a 2-way line, but of course with one additional outcome (draw) the bet is more risky because it has an additional way to lose. If someone prefers to bet a soccer game on a 2-way moneyline where a tie would return the original moneyline wager (like an NFL football game), most sportsbooks have a “draw no bet” option, but they might need to dig a little to find it.

EXAMPLE: 3-way moneyline (soccer)
Charlotte FC +100Draw +245DC United +240

How to Read Moneyline Odds

Next to any moneyline bet is a number called the “vigorish” or “juice” that informs us how much the bet will pay if it wins. Traditionally, a negative number (i.e. -120) is associated with the favorite while a positive number (i.e. +140) is associated with the underdog, although there are exceptions.

EXAMPLE: Standard 2-way moneyline (NBA)
Dallas Mavericks+205
Boston Celtics-250

A +200 moneyline price means $100 will win $200 and a +350 price means $100 wins $350. A -120 moneyline means a bettor would need to risk $120 to win $100 and a -550 price means a bettor would need to risk $550 to win $100. If $100 returns $100, it’s common to see the word “EVEN” as the moneyline instead of +100. The more dramatic difference between the numbers, the more lopsided the game expected to be. For instance a game with -120/+140 options is expected to be a lot closer than a -410/+320 contest. Our odds calculator is helpful if you’re still unclear on this math.

Moneyline is often abbreviated as ML, so if someone says they’re betting the Dallas Cowboys ML -120, they’ll be rooting for the Cowboys to win their game outright and if they do, $120 will return them $100 in profit.

It’s important to understand the difference between betting the moneyline and betting the point spread. For instance, if you bet the Cowboys ML -120 while a friend bets the Cowboys on the point spread ( -1.5, -110) and Dallas only wins by 1 point, then you’d win your bet as your friend loses. Notice in this example that your friend had better vigorish but a more difficult bet because Dallas needed to win by at least two points. It’s common for teams to win a game but lose ATS (against the spread) or lose a game but win ATS.

The three most popular ways to be on sports are moneyline, point spread, and over/unders. Since point spread betting and over/under betting create level playing fields where each side theoretically has a similar chance to win, moneyline wagers are different and present an opportunity to win big on underdogs or play it safe with large favorites. Just keep in mind those large favorites aren’t going to pay out as much and the underdogs won’t win as often.

How are Moneylines Made?

Oddsmakers publish moneylines after considering a variety of factors including head-to-head matchup history, recent play, injuries, motivation, home crowds, analytics, rest advantages, etc.

Moneyline prices constantly change and it’s common for different sportsbooks to have different prices for the same game so it’s recommended to use multiple sportsbooks and shop around for the best price available. For instance if betting on the Denver Nuggets and Sportsbook A is offering +115 odds, and Sportsbook B is offering +125 odds, Sportsbook B is a much better deal because on a $1000 wager, they’re paying out an extra $100 compared to Sportsbook A. This difference may not seem like a lot for one bet, but over time shopping around will make a big difference in a bankroll.

Moneyline prices move more frequently than point spreads and the changes happen for a variety of reasons including injuries. For example, if the Nuggets are playing the Celtics and the night before the game we learn two nuggets players will rest, the Nuggets moneyline could adjust from +125 to +145. In this scenario if the moneyline changes between the time of a bet and the time the game starts, the original bet is all that matters (unlike horse racing). There are many reasons why an oddsmaker might change a moneyline including liability concerns from public betting patterns or reacting to respected bettors.

Moneyline Betting Strategy

There are many different ways to approach moneyline betting strategy. Some people don’t do a lot of research and rely on pick service providers, while others rely heavily on their own data, trends, and analysis. A group of 20 bettors might have 20 different ways of analyzing games. Many bettors have flawed betting strategies that act as a placebo effect. For instance, if someone places a bet because of an irrelevant trend or inaccurate data and the bet wins, they may be falsely under the impression that their data caused the win. For those new to betting, I recommend finding multiple data points from multiple sources prior to any wager.

Some helpful factors to consider in one sport are less useful in other sports. For instance, home court advantage is generally a little more valuable in college basketball than home ice advantage in the NHL and weather is important for baseball and football games, but doesn't impact indoor sports like hockey or basketball. Below is a short list of factors to consider no matter which sport’s moneyline you’re betting:

  • Style/Matchup - Two teams can be equally strong, but if one team matches up better vs. the other, it might be time to fire away.
  • Injuries/rest days - It's a real bummer when you place a wager only to find out a star player on your team is getting a day of rest.
  • Momentum - Sometimes (but not always) fading a struggling team on the moneyline makes a lot of sense and can be profitable.
  • Analytics - Every sport has advanced statistics for bettors to consider. For instance DVOA in the NFL or Bart Torvik ratings for college basketball.
  • Rest advantage - Is either team off a bye week in the NFL? Is one team playing a back-to-back in the NHL? Could a team be fatigued from their recent travel schedule? 
  • Motivation - "Revenge" games can sometimes give one team a motivation edge, as can incentives such as making the playoffs.

Some bettors lean heavier on underdogs and accept that they’ll win less often but hope to make up for it thanks to the friendlier vigorish. Other bettors don’t feel as comfortable picking upsets and prefer safer favorites with the understanding that the payouts are worse. It’s okay to have a preference, but understand that most successful bettors bet both favorites and underdogs on the moneyline and are experts in finding value in both. For instance, in a coin toss bet, if a bettor is offered a +130 moneyline on tails, there is a lot of value and over the long term, profit is expected if that bet is repeated.


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