A moneyline bet is the simplest, most straightforward type of wager. All you're doing is betting on one team or the other to win a particular game. Moneylines are listed most often as three-digit whole numbers with a plus sign or minus sign in front of them, depending if the team you're betting on is a favorite or underdog.
Despite how relatively easy this concept is to understand, the various types of numbers beginning sports bettors have to process can be a little overwhelming, and it's totally possible to miss out on moneylines. In the following sections, we'll teach you how to read moneyline odds, how to calculate what you stand to win off such a bet, and more key information to know before you commence picking outright winners.
This can be instantly confusing, but it's simpler than it seems. Moneyline odds are listed in relationship to a $100 bet. It's easier to show an example rather than tell more, so take the following lines from the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers ahead of their Week 4 NFL matchup:
Arizona (-165) is the favorite over Carolina (+155). What do those numbers mean? Well, it means that you'd bet $165 to win $100 on the Cardinals, and you would win $155 off a $100 bet on the Panthers. This is the type of calculation you use in any situation involving a moneyline wager.
So, what happens if your moneyline is dead-even at +100? First of all, +100 and -100 are the exact same, so don't let that throw you. Secondly, it just means a winning bet will be precisely even with the amount of money you initially bet. Try remembering this slogan, "You win what you put in."
Did you bet $50 on a team to win at +100? Great. If your team comes through, you win $50. Say you bet $37.65 instead. You get $37.65 for a winning +100 moneyline bet, which gives you a gross payout of $75.30. And so on. All you're doing is multiplying your bet by two when it's even-money (+/-100) odds.
The good news about moneylines is they don't vary by sport. The numbers are all in relation to how evenly matched or lopsided the game is. You also don't have to worry about point spread or margin of victory. As the sports adage goes, "A win is a win." No matter how ugly it is, as long as you place a bet on the winning team, you'll get paid.
As our display on abebets.com shows, these moneyline odds are shown in the American format. If you're looking for fractional or decimal odds, it's wise to use an odds converter or a similar tool so you don't get thrown off by the numbers. Getting into the nitty-gritty details of those here is bound to create more confusion, and at least when consulting U.S. sportsbooks, there should be nothing but American-style odds, unless the bookmaker allows you to change your settings in account preferences.
Moneyline bets take some of the guesswork out of other betting styles or props. It's as straightforward of a wager as you'll have, as you're either thinking the favorite will prove to be the superior team on that given day, or the underdog will find a way to pull off the upset. In a single question: Who will win the game?
But as we can see in that Cardinals-Panthers example, bettors must wager more on the favorite in order to receive a worthwhile payout. The shorter the odds are — or, the more heavily favored a team is — the more risk you assume by placing a bet on the favorite.
Underdogs can net massive payouts off a single bet if it's a big enough upset. In the case of a +200 moneyline, you'd essentially triple your money. Say you really throw down and bet $100 on the +200 and you win. That $100 goes back to you, plus the $200 you win off the bet, for a gross payout of $300. Now, extrapolate that to an even longer shot, such as the Los Angeles Chargers (+270) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4:
Those NFL lines underscore how much more upside betting small money on underdogs has, as opposed to sinking a ton of money into a favorite. It's almost always more worthwhile, if you feel super confident in a favored team, to take their spread, which is typically listed at around -110 odds, as is the case here with the Chargers.
Would any bettor in their right mind throw down $300 to win $100 on Tampa Bay, despite the high likelihood of victory? Seems unnecessarily risky. Bettors would be better off taking the spread on either side as opposed to doing that.
Only in parlays should heavily favored teams with moneylines that are something like -250 or shorter be considered. For those who don't know what parlays are, they're simply combining multiple bets on one ticket, and needing all of them to hit to score the payout. By parlaying bets together, the odds balloon, and bettors don't need to wager as much to get a decent profit.
Let's build a parlay using some heavy favorites from the NFL's Week 4 action. With DraftKings Sportsbook's odds at the time, our mock four-team parlay features the Bucaneers (-315), the Seahawks (-265), the Cowboys (-225) and the Saints (-215).
On their own, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Dallas and New Orleans aren't good moneyline bets, at least in terms of return on investment value. When combined together on the same betting ticket, though, the collective odds on all four of those teams to win at DraftKings shoots up to +288. It's still audacious to bet $100 on that, yet at least you're feeling good about your chances in all those games, and could almost quadruple your money.
In this situation, sports bettors trade off a decreased margin for error with better odds and a higher payout. The fewer heavy favorites you mix into a clustered bet like this, the more earning potential your parlay bet has.
Monitor the inevitable line movement on moneylines in the days leading up to a game. Critical injuries could cause a drastic shift in the line, so be on the lookout for injury reports, as star players' status can have a large impact on how a moneyline fluctuates.
NFL odds are usually posted for the next week right after the majority of action takes place on Sunday. The turnaround is even shorter for sports who have mere days between games. It's worth sticking to the sport you know best at least to start, and narrowing your focus there so you aren't trying to keep up with too many things at once as a beginning bettor.
What is a live moneyline bet, exactly? Like with many types of wagers, the moneyline is available for live bets as well, but this is where things get a little chaotic. If a team is trailing by a significant margin early, their moneyline is likely going to go into the plus side, which can present a tempting opportunity to take them while they're down.
Unless you're at a sportsbook where they are generous about allowing you to cash out early if you bet an underdog and a comeback bid looks fairly promising, it's smart to steer away from single-bet moneylines when you're first starting. There are so many moving parts in a live situation, and you're best suited to just do your research beforehand and make a decision prior to the game starting.
More experienced bettors who have done their homework many times and know enough about both teams involved may be better suited for a live moneyline bet. However, there's always the "wishful thinking" trap of basically lighting money on fire by betting a small amount on a supreme long shot and watching them, as the odds dictated, wind up losing the game.
That said, you can get lucky on a live bet and nail an underdog at astronomical odds — say something like +1300. That'd earn you a $130 payout on just a $10 bet. Not bad if you can pull it off! Live moneyline parlays are also a good way to boost your odds, but again, trying to hit multiple moving targets is likely to lead to heartbreak more often than not, as it's hard to even nail pre-game moneyline parlays.
The longer a game goes, of course, the harder it becomes to nail a live moneyline wager. Plus, the odds for the favorite will shorten significantly as the game wears on, and odds for the underdog may even disappear if they're too far down. Thus, you have to be cognizant of how deep into the action it is, and it takes some trial and error to figure out when the opportune time is to strike.
Finally, it's preferable and beneficial to have a TV or streaming screen in view so that you know what's happening and can see the flow of a game. Betting blindly without getting a glimpse into what's going on, or following a play-by-play, makes live bets of any kind even riskier when they don't have to be. It's almost impossible to check how all the key players are performing if you aren't bearing witness to the game directly.
All you're trying to do with a moneyline bet is boil down who will win. There's no need for a favorite to win by a certain amount of points. It doesn't matter if your team's star player is having a woeful performance. As long as that "W" is secured when the clock expires, you're in the clear. No sweating out garbage time. No catch. As the late Al Davis would say, "Just win, baby."
That's the chief advantage of a moneyline bet. You're not having to stress about any other lingering factors or any of the multitude of other bets that can be placed on a game. It's straight-up, heads-up sports betting at its finest, and especially if you get a winning ticket on an underdog, you're going to feel pretty great about it.
The game viewing experience is a lot more fun for a sports bettor when they aren't trying to thread the needle and need a ton of things to go right in order for them to win. It's even better when you're not combining together games.
Another advantage to moneyline bets is the fact that you can start to develop a sharper eye for when good betting values present themselves. If two teams are evenly matched and bookmakers don't present a massive gap in their odds, you can capitalize on that. A team may have +105 odds to win, yet you may view them as the favorite. Heck, some may even view the Heat to be the expected winner against the Celtics despite +140 odds. The more you can sneak in advantages on these types of matchups, the more potential you have to be a consistent moneyline bet winner.
If you don't like any underdogs in a particular sport that day, though, you can throw together favorites into a parlay, as we've explained above, and get a strong profit as long as you wager enough. By using the moneyline in said parlays, again, you're not dealing with the potential disappointment of your favored team winning but failing to cover. If you decide to take the plunge with live parlays or just single live moneyline bets, the spread isn't a factor, and you can even maybe get better odds than you would pre-game on a favorite if they're down in the early going.
Mainly, it just takes a lot of guts to bet on moneylines. If you feel a lot of conviction about an underdog, it can feel a little foolish to place the amount of money on them to win as you would on a favorite. Often, bettors will doubt themselves and not wager enough on the less-favored team. While this is standard practice and a smart way to properly budget as a sports bettor, it can lead to a bittersweet feeling even on a winning bet.
What also hurts in the case of an underdog is that they can cover the spread, but not win. That'll have you saying, "Oh gosh, if I'd only picked them to cover instead!" Such a situation can cause a distorted reality where you start second-guessing your best gut-feeling — or even thoroughly researched — upset picks, and put a cap on your earnings potential even if you have expert-level knowledge of a particular sport.
On the other side of the moneyline coin is the necessity to bet a lot of money on a heavy favorite for a decent payout. This is extremely risky on a single-game basis, and is a recipe for disaster if you're not careful.
Generally, if a team is at -200 or shorter odds to win, it's a good idea to stay away from betting big on them. The downside is really steep, and can lead to a devastating instant loss to your bankroll, which may skew your betting strategy and lead you down a dangerous path to betting big to make up for it.
If it wasn't super clear in the pre-game versus live section of our moneyline discussion, sportsbooks essentially throw out "sucker bets" on moneylines when games are live. That is, they'll inflate the odds of a heavy underdog who needs to pull off a ridiculous comeback for a winning ticket. Even if bettors wager a small amount on this outcome, more often than not, the house is going to win, and that can create a handsome profit for the bookmaker.
There can be a little deception involved in moneyline betting. While it seems like the easiest type of bet to wrap one's mind around, it can also be surprisingly complicated. Some might find it easier to stick to individual player achievement-based props, or leaning on the spread as either an enhanced cushion for an underdog they aren't entirely sure will prevail, or as a more viable way to boost their odds on a favorite.
If you're just beginning as a bettor, don't let the "disadvantages" section discourage you too much. Those are just mistakes to caution you against, because once you get the hang of moneyline bets, it's easy to want to try your luck on darn near any game out there, especially if you're winning a lot early on.
This is a common theme in our "How to Bet" tutorials, yet it bears repeating almost every single time: Stick to the sport you're most passionate at the outset of your sports betting journey. It'll take away some of the guesswork you might otherwise deploy when betting on a sport you're less familiar with. You're also more likely to win at a higher rate. Even though there's admittedly some luck involved in all betting, leaning too heavily on it without a firm knowledge base is going to catch up to you at some point and lead to more losses than wins.
Another word of advice for these bet types: look for value when a moneyline has a plus sign, and don't bet too much on a big one with a minus sign in front of it. The closer your favorite is to "even money" or +/-100, the better off you'll be. That's what real value on a favorite will look like. If you can tackle enough research and crunch more numbers than most to find which team has an edge when their implied chances of winning are relatively even, you'll enjoy greater payouts on moneyline bets in the long run, as was suggested in the "advantages" section.
To further your sports betting education and maximize your upside as a bettor, please take advantage of abe's odds comparison engine, which gives you the highest possible payouts on all your bets. It behooves you to hunt for the best odds available so you can earn more on your moneyline betting tickets.
Also, be sure to brush up on your basic betting knowledge with abe's "How to Bet" hub, which features deeper dives on how to read and bet point spreads, Over/Under lines and other forms of wagers. If you're more of an advanced bettor, our articles on the more nuanced, finer tactics of sports betting strategy should appeal to you as well.
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