What Is A Moneyline Bet And How Does it Work?

One of the most popular ways to bet on sports is the moneyline. This common betting option is used by new, recreational and experienced bettors and it’s one of the simplest ways to make a sports bet because you’re wagering only on which team will win or lose.

Odds Shark’s Moneyline Betting Guide will explain the wide variety of moneyline bets that can be made, why and how sportsbooks display the odds and how the moneyline differs from other betting options like point spreads or totals. 

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What Is A Moneyline Bet?

A moneyline bet simply involves you picking one of two teams to win the game. No catch, no angle, just the right answer or the wrong answer.

Each team/person in a matchup for a moneyline betting option is given a separate numerical value for bettors to wager on and these are called “odds.” The numbers, or odds, are determined by oddsmakers and sportsbooks based on how the two opponents match up, and each number is displayed with a minus sign (-) or a plus sign (+) in front of it. More on that below.

Here is an example from an NFL game between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs of what moneyline odds will look like at an online sportsbook:

New England Patriots vs Kansas City Chiefs
TeamMoneyline Odds
New England Patriots-120
Kansas City Chiefs+150

In this moneyline scenario, the Patriots are the favorites, which you can tell by the minus sign (-). The Chiefs are the underdog – you can see this because of the plus sign (+). This is universal across all sportsbooks for American odds.

Let’s say you wager $100 on the Pats. A winning bet would give you a payout of $180 – your $100 comes back along with your winnings of $80. On the other hand, if you were to bet that same $100 on the Chiefs and they won, you’d get a payout of $250 – your original wager comes back along with your prize of $150.

Betting on underdogs, in this case the Chiefs, is considered riskier but you get a bigger reward. Conversely, betting on the Patriots is less risky, which means it comes with less reward.

What Do Minus (-) And Plus (+) Odds Mean?

At Odds Shark, we primarily use American odds because the majority of betting sites use them, especially when displaying moneyline odds.

The number with the minus sign (-) signifies what you’d have to bet to win $100 while the number with the plus sign (+) is what you’d win if you bet $100.

Instead of citing an NFL matchup, let’s try an NBA example between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Boston Celtics
TeamMoneyline Odds
Los Angeles Lakers-140
Boston Celtics+175

For the Celtics, you would only need to wager $36 to win $100 since they’re the underdog. But for the Lakers, you would need to bet $140 to win $100 in profit. That being said, you don’t always have to wager $100 exactly.

The amount you bet is completely up to you but this method makes it easier to track, especially for recreational sports bettors, because bankroll management is essential for long-term success.

Situational Moneyline Betting

As you become more comfortable with sports betting and understanding moneyline odds, there are a variety of scenarios that may arise that aren’t as common as the examples above. Let’s explore those:

No Obvious Favorite

When betting on moneylines, not every matchup will have a clear favorite or underdog. In fact, oddsmakers may think the game is so close to call that their moneyline odds will be nearly the same.

You’ll come across many of these on the oddsboard regardless of which sport you’re focused on. When evenly matched teams square off, it can be close to a toss-up in terms of which side will win.

For example, in a really tight NFL game, you could see moneyline odds like this:

Minnesota Vikings vs New Orleans Saints
TeamMoneyline Odds
Minnesota Vikings-105
New Orleans Saints-115

As you can see, neither team has plus odds (+) because the sportsbook feels that both teams have a nearly equal chance of winning the game. However, that doesn’t mean you should flip a coin and hope for the best.

You’ll still need to handicap the game in search of a Sportsbook. It doesn’t matter how even teams may seem at first glance or according to the odds. There is almost always an edge to be found. If nothing stands out to you, there’s no shame in passing on a game that legitimately is too close to call.

Lower-Scoring Sports

Unlike football and basketball where scoring happens fairly regularly through a game, other sports like baseball, hockey and soccer are typically low-scoring. That’s why moneyline betting can be a primary betting choice for these sports because there are so few scoring opportunities.

For hockey, a standard final score in the NHL can be 3-2 or 2-1. This can also be the case for soccer. For baseball, MLB final scores can vary but generally don’t surpass 12 runs between the two teams.

That’s why point spreads don’t typically apply to these sports and moneylines are the easier way to go. Here is an example of moneyline odds for the lower-scoring games:

Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees
TeamMoneyline Odds
Boston Red Sox-165
New York Yankees+180

Here’s an example for the NHL:

Montreal Canadiens vs New York Rangers
TeamMoneyline Odds
Montreal Canadiens-135
New York Rangers+120

Just like in football or basketball, you would still take the same thought process in making your moneyline bet. But because there will be less scoring, bettors need to know that there are only a few moments within these games that will likely determine the outcome of a bet.

How To Handicap Moneyline Bets

Before placing any moneyline bets, an experienced sports bettor will do extensive research into the game. Breaking down matchups, odds and specific team advantages are all part of the process of handicapping sports and even then, it’s not an exact science for long-term success.

We will detail below some of the key aspects of a matchup that all bettors should research, and explain why they’re important to the outcome of a moneyline wager.

Sportsbook Odds

Once a matchup is announced in football, basketball or any sport, sportsbooks will release betting odds for the matchup for the moneyline. Bettors should be scanning daily matchups to see if there’s an odds disparity from previous games as these numbers will move once the market has a chance to react.

Tracking the odds from when they opened, to when you place your bet, to the start of a game can provide key indicators of what the betting public is thinking and how oddsmakers see a game playing out.

Home Vs Road Performance

The prevailing theory in sports is that teams typically perform better at home than they do on the road. But there are also teams that excel when playing away from home. So as a bettor, what do you do?

Well, this is the time when you analyze how each team performs in these situations to determine if recent results at home or on the road will be relevant to an upcoming matchup.

You may find that a team like the Toronto Raptors has lost five straight games at home but is now hosting the Chicago Bulls and has won five straight games in this matchup. This data may not be the decisive factor when placing your moneyline bet but it certainly needs to be taken into consideration.

Matchup Edges

Researching a specific matchup and how it could potentially impact the game requires a lot of experience and study but for new bettors, it could be as simple as looking at offense vs defense.

For each sport, there are many specific player matchups that can impact a game and in turn impact your moneyline bet. Some of the more popular matchup edges to research include whether specific NFL teams have problems stopping pass-catching running backs or if an NBA team struggles to stop opposing guards.

In MLB, how a team fares against left-handed pitching can be crucial. In hockey, a critical factor is how a team performs when having to play on the penalty kill and being a man short. Each sport and game has a matchup edge and it’s up to you as the bettor to try to exploit it.

Recent Play

Every team in sports goes through ups and downs in a season. No team goes undefeated (except for the Patriots and Dolphins).

While recent games are no guarantee of what’s to come in the future, it’s a strong indicator of how things are going for the team overall. If one team is surging while the other is flailing, you’ve found an important variable to consider.

Different game sample sizes are excellent to use for determining recent play and can be found by using Odds Shark’s extensive game log database.

A good way to start is by using the last 10 games for a team in the NBA, MLB or NHL or the last three games for an NFL team. How else are you supposed to predict the future without knowing your history?

Moneyline Strategy: Betting Favorites Vs Betting Underdogs

If you’ve gotten this far, then you know moneyline odds have favorites and underdogs but experienced bettors don’t solely use potential return as their compass for picking a Sportsbook.

Regardless of payout, the main goal for ANY moneyline bet is to win. Making the correct call is the bottom line, so your choices should revolve around which side you think has the greater chance to win.

Let’s use an NBA matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks as an explanation:

Golden State Warriors vs Milwaukee Bucks
TeamMoneyline Odds
Golden State Warriors+120
Milwaukee Bucks-140

In this matchup, the Bucks are the favorite. You’ll see less of a return for betting on the Bucks while a winning wager on the underdog Warriors would see a bigger return. Once again, it’s important not to let the potential return be your guide.

For example, you may find that after your basketball betting news research, favorites have been relatively safe wagers, but the payouts aren’t what you have in mind, so you get impatient and start looking for larger odds to cash in on.

Soon, you’ll begin to understand those huge underdogs are that way for a reason. You may win occasionally backing underdogs but the mindset of only betting on teams that aren’t favored is a disaster waiting to happen. Also, we can’t stress this enough. Not all underdogs are created equal.

Moneyline Odds Shopping

Just like your mama said, you better shop around, especially for moneyline odds. While most of the major betting sites Odds Shark works with are typically in range, you can find slight odds differences, which is why line shopping is essential for a sports bettor.

For example, a matchup between the Lakers and Celtics may see varied odds for the moneyline at two different sportsbooks:

Los Angeles Lakers vs Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Lakers-140-120
Boston Celtics+150+130

Let’s say you want to take the Lakers to win the game but the moneyline odds are -140 at Sportsbook but then you check Sportsbook and the Lakers’ moneyline odds are -120.

Those differences aren’t eye-popping but it is no different than when you shop for an appliance for your house and you see it’s $20 cheaper at one store than it is at the other.

If it’s the same product, it only makes sense to purchase it at the lower cost. It’s the same thing with sports betting odds and a crucial factor for long-term success in wagering on moneylines.

Moneyline Betting FAQ

How do you read a moneyline bet?

Moneyline odds are based on a $100 wager, with the favorites getting a negative number (-) and the underdogs getting a positive number (+). A favorite at -140 moneyline odds means a $140 winning wager wins you $100 in profit. An underdog at +140 moneyline odds means a $100 Sportsbook nets you $140 in profit.

What does a +200 moneyline mean?

+200 odds on a moneyline bet indicates how much money you would win if you bet $100 and were correct. If the New Orleans Saints have +200 moneyline odds and you wager $100, you would get a payout of $300 if the Saint win. You would get your $100 back along with $200 in winnings.

What’s the difference between a moneyline and a point spread?

The difference between a moneyline and a point spread is how a team wins or loses a game. For a moneyline bet, you’re picking a Sportsbook between two teams. In order to win, your team selection must be successful. For point spreads, the team you selected must win by a certain number of points or not lose by a certain number of points.