How to Bet the Moneyline

With sports betting already in full swing in New York, it’s important to have a working knowledge of the standard types of bets you’ll encounter. No wager is more standard than the moneyline.

The good news is that the objective of moneyline betting is as simple as can be: You need to pick which team will win the game. The margin of victory or number of points that the team prevails by is irrelevant to the moneyline, so you don’t have to be counting points or worrying that a last-second score in a lopsided game will ruin your bet.

Since moneylines are present at every single sportsbook in New York, you need to understand their ins and outs. Here is a complete guide explaining how to to bet the moneyline in New York.

What is a moneyline bet?

The easiest way to understand the moneyline is to see how it is listed. A moneyline is always a pair of three-digit numbers without anything else around them.

Moneyline bet on DraftKings Sportsbook

Those three-digit numbers tell us many things about the game between the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks. However, before we get into those things, bear in mind that the underlying point of a moneyline bet is to pick the winner of the game. At a basic level, you are picking either the Nets or the Hawks to win, full stop. The numbers are just the details.

What do the moneyline numbers mean?

It’s tempting to think that since the moneyline’s objective is to identify the winner of the game, each moneyline bet is a 50/50 proposition. However, we all know that not all teams are equal, and one team will usually have a better chance of winning the game.

The first thing to notice on the moneyline is that one number is positive and one is negative. (Occasionally, you may see two negative moneylines.) A positive moneyline identifies that team as the underdog. A negative moneyline, therefore, indicates the favorite to win the game. So, in our basketball moneyline betting example above, the Nets are favored to defeat the Hawks in their game.

What the numbers tell us, then, are the payout ratios for successful wagers on each team. The favorite, or team with the negative moneyline, will pay out $100 for winning wagers at the published amount. The underdog, or positive moneyline, will pay out the amount of the moneyline for a winning $100 bet.

In other words, DraftKings Sportsbook was offering the following payouts for the Nets-Hawks game:

  • A $230 bet on the Nets would result in a win of $100.
  • A $100 bet on the Hawks would result in a win of $188.

In the uncommon cases where both teams have negative moneylines, the team farther from zero (the bigger negative number) is the favorite. However, any matchup with two negative moneylines means that the teams are quite equally matched and the sportsbook is not very confident picking either one to win.

You will also notice that the two moneylines for a particular game will never be mirror images of each other. In other words, you would never see a moneyline for a game at -200/+200. This discrepancy exists is to allow the sportsbook to make money on the bet. Sportsbooks take a portion of each bet as payment. This portion is known as the vigorish, or “vig” for short.

The discrepancy also exists to accommodate for the likelihood that more people will bet on the favorite. The goal of every sportsbook is to balance the incoming bet money with the outgoing funds plus the vig. So, because it costs more to lay odds for the favorite than take them for the underdog, it’s easier to balance the ledger for the oddsmakers.

How does a moneyline pay out?

It’s important to understand that you do not have to bet in $100 increments, nor are you restricted to betting the listed amount. Because the listings are ratios, the sportsbook will scale the payout to match your bet level. Although it varies from book to book and bet to bet, the minimum wager is usually around a dollar, and the sportsbook will have no trouble adapting the payout to your level.

One possible source of confusion for dealing with moneylines and, frankly, any sports bet is exactly what the word “win” means when it comes to the money you’ll receive. As a general rule, “win” on a sportsbook means your profit, not the entire amount that you’ll receive.

Moneyline bet on FanDuel Sportsbook

So, let’s look at the game between Duquesne and Fordham.

Unfortunately, the Rams seem to be in for a difficult game against the Dukes. The discrepancies in the moneyline are fairly large, and, indeed, Duquesne is favored to win the game by 6.5 points, according to the point spread. As it turned out, the spread was far too small — Duquesne ended up winning 86 to 62.

Let’s say that we wanted to make a bet on one side of this game or the other. According to the moneyline, we would have had to bet $300 on Duquesne to realize a $100 profit. By contrast, a bet of $100 on Fordham would have the chance to win $245.

Let’s say that we have $50 to bet. Here are what the payouts would look like for winning bets:

  • A bet of $50 on Duquesne at -300 would result in a $16.67 win, so FanDuel Sportsbok would pay us $66.67 when we cashed out, since we’d get both our profit and our original stake.
  • A bet of $50 on Fordham at +245 would result in a $122.50 win, so a successful bet on the Rams would put $172.50 into our pocket.

There are many handy odds calculators, both online and mobile, that you can use to figure your win potential on the fly. However, if you’d prefer to consider games from the basis of straight odds or win probability, there’s good news. You can easily convert from the moneyline format.

How do you convert moneyline odds into win probability?

Fractional odds

It can take a bit of time to become comfortable with the moneyline odds format. Fortunately, it is possible to convert to fractional odds, which may be a bit more palatable.

Moneyline bet on BetMGM Sportsbook

Here is a moneyline listing from a UFC event. Cory Sandhagen is an overwhelming favorite to defeat Frankie Edgar in this fight, but trying to determine the meaning of the numbers might be a bit difficult.

Let’s start with Frankie Edgar at +320. For positive moneylines (underdogs), you must simply divide the number listed by 100. So Edgar is a 16/5 underdog in the fight.

Meanwhile, in order to find out how much of a favorite Cory Sandhagen is, we must divide 100 by the absolute value of the listed number. In other words, Sandhagen is 1/4 to win the fight, or a 4/1 favorite. As usual, it costs more to bet the favorite because the sportsbook has to cook in its vig and balance the inflow and outflow of funds properly.

What is the win probability?

It is also possible to calculate an estimated win probability from the moneyline. Of course, it’s not an absolute or “correct” figure, but it is how the professional oddsmakers see the contest in question.

So, to find out perceived probability of an underdog winning, we need to take the following steps:

  • Add 100 to the listed odds.
  • Divide 100 by the new number.
  • Multiply the result by 100.

For Edgar, we’d add 100 to 320 to get 420. Then, we’d divide 100 by 420 (100/420) to reach 0.238. Finally, we multiply 0.238 by 100 to reach Edgar’s win probability of 23.8%. In other words, BetMGM Sportsbook thinks that Edgar has a 23.8% chance of winning his fight with Sandhagen.

Then, we have to make another calculation for the favorite. Here’s what to do:

  • Add 100 to the absolute value of the listed odds.
  • Divide the original listed odds (absolute value) by the new number.
  • Multiply the result by 100.

So, for Sandhagen, we combine 100 and 400 to get 500. Then, we divide 400 by 500 (400/500) to reach 0.8. We multiply 0.8 by 100 to arrive at an 80% win probability for Sandhagen.

One thing that you may notice is that the combined win probabilities for both fighters add up to more than 100%. That may seem off, but remember that sportsbooks’ lines bake their profit into moneylines and set you up to win slightly less than true odds, particularly by betting on the favorite. So, the extra amount (3.8%, in this case) is not exactly the vig, but it is an indication that the vig is included in the numbers.

What’s the difference between moneyline and puck line/run line?

As you peruse sportsbooks in New York, you may find references to bets known as the “puck line” or the “run line” and wonder what those are. The word “line” might be confusing, too, and you might think that these bets are a type of moneyline wager.

In truth, that thought is not completely wrong. These bets are a bit of a hybrid wager that combines elements of both point spreads and moneylines.

As their names imply, the puck line and run line are bets that sportsbooks offer for hockey and baseball games, respectively. Because hockey and baseball games are low-scoring affairs compared to basketball and football, it is tougher for sportsbooks to set a traditional spread.

Instead, the oddsmakers set the spread at a static 1.5 goals or runs for each team. There are still favorites and underdogs, but their estimated margin of victory remains the same. Of course, an estimate of 1.5 goals is not accurate for every single game. So, since sportsbooks cannot adjust the spread, they adjust the payout ratios — which are in the moneyline format.

A typical point spread payout ratio hovers around -110. However, puck lines and run lines can vary wildly from this mark. For instance, here is a puck line listing from William Hill:

Moneyline bet on WH Sportsbook

So, even though the Predators are laying 1.5 goals to the Blackhawks, they are actually an underdog to beat the spread. In other words, William Hill believes that it is much more likely that the Blackhawks will cover the spread, and is requiring a $160 bet to win $100 on the puck line.

Are moneyline bets available during live betting?

Yes. You will find moneyline bets still available after the game is in progress.

As is the case with all live bets, you should be cautious. Unlike pregame wagers of the same name, live betting options have not had the chance to be molded by line adjustments and smart money and are much less predictable.

On the other hand, the lack of predictability can work to your advantage, too. A sportsbook could easily overreact and offer overly favorable odds for a team to make a comeback, for instance. If a team you’re following has a history of coming from behind or starting slowly, you may be able to grab some value after the game is underway.

Should you bet the moneyline instead of the spread?

It depends. While some bets are true sucker bets and are worse than others, the moneyline and the point spread are relatively neutral. In most cases, the decision boils down to personal preference, rather than any other consideration.

In a way, the moneyline dovetails with traditional fandom. The method by which your pick wins is utterly irrelevant, and it doesn’t matter if it wins by one point or 50. So, with a moneyline, you can simply root for your team to win, the same way you would if you were watching as a fan.

You will also find moneylines for almost every single sporting event. After all, few contests end without a winner, and sports where ties are common, like soccer, have a three-way moneyline to account for the possibility.

On the other hand, a point spread bet can give you a certain margin of error. After all, it is possible for a team to lose the bet and win the game or win the bet and lose the game. The actual outcome of the game is only tangentially related to the determination of the wager.

If you’re certain about the outcome of a game, the value might be in predicting the way that it will end, rather than simply the bottom line. You may also be able to pick up some spread value by watching the injury reports and news about the teams — the changes might not change the outcome for the moneyline’s purposes, but the original spreads might seem less trustworthy.

At the end of the day, neither bet is better or worse than the other. It all boils down to what kind of sports betting experience you’re trying to have.

What are the biggest mistakes that moneyline bettors make?

As is the case with any type of gambling, you are not going to win every moneyline wager that you make. There is a house edge baked into every listing, and it’s just not possible for anyone to predict how games will go with a tremendous amount of accuracy. Even professional sports bettors usually win less than 60% of their wagers.

With all that said, there are some common pitfalls that moneyline bettors need to avoid. After all, when the odds are already high, you don’t need to make it even easier for the other side to win. Here are some behaviors to avoid:

  • Betting the first line that you see: Online sports betting means that a multitude of sportsbook options are a button press away. As such, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t shop around for the best lines. Remember, the fact that odds are different on different sites does not mean that the underlying outcome of the game is changing. Do your own research and come up with the most likely solution, then find the best deal for your expectations.
  • Confusing “favorite” with sure thing: The fight between Cory Sandhagen and Frankie Edgar that we mentioned above looks to be a one-sided affair. Sandhagen is a 4:1 favorite to prevail, and in all likelihood, that’s what will happen. However, it is not a sure thing that Edgar will lose. A punch could get through Sandhagen’s defenses and knock him out. Sandhagen could suffer a random injury. He could make a mistake on the ground and allow the Brazilian jiujitsu black belt Edgar to lock up a submission. These things do happen, so you need to temper your enthusiasm for favorites with the knowledge that they have to lose sometimes.
  • Choosing a bet because it’s “your” team: We all have our favorite organizations. To varying, and sometimes unhealthy, degrees, sports fans tie up their hopes, dreams and personal happiness with their preferred sports teams. However, betting on a team because that’s where your loyalties lie is a bad idea. If you cannot dispassionately consider a moneyline bet, you should find another option.

What happens to a moneyline wager than ends in a tie?

Most of the time, it’s a push and you get your bet back.

With a few notable exceptions, ties are quite rare in sports. Many sports will go to extraordinary lengths to determine a winner. For instance, baseball games can have an unlimited number of extra innings. Games stretching into the 10th or 11th inning are common, and the longest game (by innings) in MLB history lasted 26 innings.

That game — played in 1920 — ended in a 1-1 tie due to darkness, but now that every MLB stadium has plenty of nighttime lighting, there will be no endings because of visibility issues. However, had there been moneyline betting on that game, bettors would have received their money back in a “no harm, no foul” situation.

The only exception to this rule is if ties are a common occurrence. The most notable example of this is soccer. In that case (and others), the sportsbook will often adapt the moneyline to offer three outcomes. You can bet that either team will win outright OR you can bet on a tie. Here is an example from DraftKings:

Moneyline bet tie option

In the first game, a Liverpool victory is the most likely outcome, but it’s not terribly certain. The two teams have almost identical records and are right next to each other in the standings, so it’s possible that things could go either way or end in a tie.

The second game is much more of a known quantity. Everton has a much stronger team than Newcastle, and it’s unlikely that the Magpies will be able to come away with a tie, much less a win.

In either case, since the tie is a wagerable possibility, there will be no pushes for bettors who take one side or the other. Only two-way moneylines have that option.

Final thoughts on the moneyline

The moneyline is a simple bet with an intimidating presentation. The three-digit format can be off-putting for beginning bettors, but once you overcome your initial confusion, you’ll find that moneylines are some of the most accessible wagers in the sportsbook’s lineup.

The most important thing with moneylines is to play smart and take calculated risks. Longshots are wonderful when they hit, but they’re long shots precisely because they do not hit very often.

Mind your bankroll at all times, and, above all else, try to have fun. Betting when you’re sad, angry or trying to get back to even is never a good idea, and ill-timed moneyline wagers are no way to change the story.

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