How a Moneyline Works in Sports Betting

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For beginning sports gamblers, moneylines (sometimes called money lines or American odds) can be confusing to understand. Unlike point spreads, which are concerned with who wins and by how much, a moneyline is solely dependent upon who wins. Moneylines are used most commonly in low-scoring games like baseball or hockey, but they may also be used in boxing and other sports.

How to Read a Moneyline

Consider a hypothetical baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

When looking at the moneyline for the game, a bettor will see something like this:

Chicago Cubs +120
Los Angeles Dodgers -130

In this instance, the Dodgers are the favored team, as signified by the negative numeral. It would cost you $130 in order to collect a $100 payout on a Dodgers victory. But if you bet $100 on the Cubs, you'd collect $120 if they win. In other words, you'll have to wager more money on Los Angeles than you would Chicago in order collect on a bet.

It's important to remember that even though moneylines are expressed in units of $100, you do not have to bet that much money. The moneyline will work just as easily with a $5 or $10 wager as it does with $100.

Moneyline Uses

Besides baseball and hockey, moneylines are used for betting on other sports where a point spread becomes irrelevant, such as auto racing, boxing, soccer, and tennis. While there are margins of victory in some of these, they are so small that it would be impossible to create a point spread for every game.

The difference between moneyline odds increases as the likelihood of the favorite winning increases. For example, in a boxing match, it would not be unusual to see odds such as this:

Joe Louis -700
Ray Leonard +550

In this instance, those betting on Joe Louis are being asked to risk $700 to win $100, while Ray Leonard backers are risking $100 to win $550.

Moneylines Versus Point Spreads

In point-spread betting, the bookie hopes to have an equal amount of money wagered on each team, which will guarantee a profit. In moneyline betting, the bookie assumes most people are going to wager on the favorite and sets the line on the underdog so as to cover any potential losses on the favorite.

Using the Louis-Leonard fight as an example, the bookmaker knows more money is going to be wagered on Louis than Leonard because Leonard's chances of winning are much greater. If bettors collectively wager $14,000 on Louis, the bookmaker must also receive $2,000 in wagers on Leonard to cover his payouts.

If Louis wins as expected, the bookmaker will take the $2,000 from the losing Leonard bettors and pay off the winners. But if Leonard pulls off the upset and wins, the bookmaker will take the $14,000 from the losing Louis bettors, pay $11,000 to the Leonard bettors, and keep $3,000 in profit.

Moneyline betting is generally offered on all sporting events, even those which also use the point spread, such as football and basketball. In these instances, you'll have to do some quick math to see which form of oddsmaking promises a greater payout, if any.