In sports betting, a moneyline bet is a wager on which team will win a game. Moneylines are the primary wagering option for hockey and baseball, while for basketball and football they are viewed as a secondary alternative to the point spread.
Have you ever heard of moneyline betting? It’s an American term that’s traditionally associated with betting on the major US sports. These wagers are available in other parts of the world too, but they’re typically referred to as win bets. The same principle applies though. When you correctly select which team will win a match, you’ll get paid out at the relevant odds.
We explain how moneyline betting works in a little more detail below. There’s no need to feel overwhelmed, since they’re relatively straightforward. As a result, the strategies for betting moneylines are also rather straightforward. Nonetheless, we provide some useful advice for how to use them effectively.
For the most part, moneylines are used when there are two possible outcomes. For example, if you’re placing a moneyline wager on a basketball game, then you’ll essentially be betting on which of the two competing teams will win. Your two choices will be to either back the favorite or to back the underdog.
For example, let’s say there’s an upcoming basketball game between the Boston Celtics and the Memphis Grizzlies. A bookmaker might offer the following point spread on the game.
Celtics vs Grizzlies Point Spread
Boston Celtics -5.5
Memphis Grizzles +5.5
If you understand point spread betting, then it will be obvious that the Celtics are the favorites here. For the purposes of a point spread bet, the bookmaker would remove 5.5 points from their total at the end of the game. If you chose to back them, you’d need them to win by six points or more in order to win your point spread wager.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are the underdogs. For the purposes of the point spread bet, the bookmaker would add 5.5 points to their total at the end of the game. If you chose to back them, you’d need them to win or lose by less than six points.
The point spread is basically used to create a 50/50 betting proposition. In this example, the Celtics are theoretically just as likely to win by six points or more as the Grizzlies are to lose by less than six points. This is reflected in the odds, which are typically -110 on both sides of the wager. You have to risk $110 for the chance of winning $100.
If a bookmaker offers moneyline betting on the same game, then their market might look similar to this one.
Boston Celtics -240
Memphis Grizzles +210
The bets here are no longer a 50/50 proposition. A bet on the Celtics means you have to risk $240 for the chance of winning $100. The odds are lower because you only need the Celtics to win. Since it doesn’t matter how many points they win by, the chances of this happening are obviously higher.
A bet on the Grizzlies means potentially winning $210 for every $100 staked, which is obviously a better return on your money. However, the Grizzlies would need to win the game outright for such a wager to be successful. The chances of this happening are pretty low.
Favorites are always listed as negative moneylines. Underdogs are always listed as positive moneylines.
With a negative moneyline, the odds show how much stake is needed to win $100. With a positive moneyline, the odds show how much a $100 stake will pay in winnings. When betting in non-$100 increments, you’ll have to do all of these calculations on your own.
Calculating Moneyline Payouts
We’ve written a whole article on how to calculate moneyline payouts. Anyone interested in learning more about all the formulas and configurations involved should definitely check this article out. Otherwise, you could just follow this quick trick.
When betting on the favorite, simply divide the negative moneyline by 100 to get a decimal. If you were planning to bet on the Celtics in the above example, this would give you 2.40 (ignore the negative). Now all you have to do is divide your stake by that number in order to see what your potential payouts would be. Let’s say you wanted to stake $650. When you divide that number by 2.40, you’d see that your potential payout is $270.83.
When betting on the underdog, the first step is the same. Divide the positive moneyline by 100, which in the case of the Grizzlies in the above example would give you 2.10. Then, multiply your stake by that number to get your potential winnings. $450 multiplied by 2.10 is $945. Essentially, this means if you risked $450 on the Grizzlies, you would stand to win $945.
Finding Value in Moneylines
All moneylines have what is referred to as an implied probability. This is really just a fancy term pertaining to how often a wager needs to win in order to breakeven, but it’s something you need to understand in order to make a profit from betting moneylines.
Calculating implied probability is relatively straightforward, as long as you use the following formula.Risk / Return = Implied Probability
Risk is the initial amount staked on a wager, while return is the initial amount staked plus the potential win.
Let’s use this formula to calculate the implied probability of the Celtics winning their game against the Grizzlies. We know the odds are -240, which means we’d have to risk $240 for a total potential return of $340 (the initial stake plus the $100 winnings). So the calculation here is $240 divided by $340. This gives us an implied probability of 0.7059.
Technically, the probability should always be a number between 0 and 1. It’s often expressed as a percentage though, which makes things easier for the purposes of betting. 0.7059 converted into a percentage (i.e. multiplied by 100) gives us 70.59%. What this means is that the odds suggest the Celtics have a 70.59% chance of winning. If we believe the Celtics have an even greater chance of winning, then we should back them at odds of -240. Theoretical value exists in a wager when we estimate that its chance of winning is greater than the implied probability of the odds.
This is basically what finding value is all about. When we think that a wager is more likely to win than the odds suggest, we should place that wager. As long as we’re estimating those chances accurately, we should have no problem making an overall profit.
It’s important to note that finding value isn’t necessarily about betting on what we think will happen. If we applied the above calculations to the Grizzlies at odds of +210, we’d get an implied probability of 32.36%. Backing them would be a wise decision if we believe their chances of winning are higher than 32.36%.
After conducting some research, we gave them a 40% chance of winning. Even though this means we actually think their chances of losing are higher than their chances of winning, we should still back them. We’d be placing a wager with positive expected value, which should be everyone’s goal when betting on sports.
Removing Vig & Shopping Moneylines
Earlier, we explained how the implied probability of -240 is 70.59% and how the implied probability of +210 is 32.36%. Notice these two probabilities total 102.95%. The extra 2.95% is the bookmaker’s advantage. It’s called vig, and it’s basically a commission that they charge customers for placing wagers. By removing the vig, you can see what the fair odds on the game would be.
If the odds are the Celtics at -240 and the Grizzlies +210, what is the fair price without vig? Many assume that because there’s a 30 cents gap between the two lines, we just deduct 15 cents from the favorite and add 15 cents to the underdog. This would give us a fair price of -225 for the Celtics and +225 for Grizzlies, which is incorrect.
To remove vig correctly, we need to divide the total of the two implied probabilities by each individual probability. So, in this case, we need to do the following calculations.70.59% / 102.95% = 68.57%32.36% / 102.95% = 31.43%
The two results above are the no-vig probabilities. If you’re sharp, you’ll notice that adding 68.57% and 31.43% up together will give you 100%. The extra 2.95% has been removed, so there’s no more vig. We can now go to our odds converter and enter 68.57% into the implied probability field. This will give us moneyline odds of -218. If we enter 31.43%, we’ll get moneyline odds of +218. The original moneyline market of the Celtics at -240 and the Grizzlies at +210 therefore has no-vig odds of the Celtics at -218 and the Grizzlies at +218.Further Information
We explain removing vig, and how this process helps us, in more detail in our article on handicapping the market.
Armed with the knowledge of how to remove vig, it’s now possible to prevent yourself from making the same mistakes that the majority of bettors make. Most bettors understand the importance of line shopping (i.e. comparing the lines and odds at different bookmakers and betting sites). However, if they fail to also understand how moneylines and vig work, then they’re probably going to make wagers where they think there’s positive expected value (+EV), even though there’s not.
For example, imagine a game where the odds were -550 for the favorite and +450 for the underdog. A bettor shopping around for lines might be delighted to see the same favorite offered at -490 and enthusiastically back the team at those odds simply because those are the best odds available. However, if we removed the vig from -550 and +450, we’d see that the fair odds are actually -466 and +466. So, placing a wager at odds of -490 doesn’t actually offer any value.
For reasons hinted at, when shopping odds for what’s expected to be a lopsided game, you need to find significantly better odds on the favorite’s moneyline than on the underdog’s moneyline. This is the only way to make the bet +EV.
Value only exists when the odds are better than the fair price, or when you are confident that a wager has a greater chance of winning than the odds suggest. By simply knowing this information, you become more knowledgeable than most recreational bettors who bet moneylines without really knowing how they work.
Moneyline Bonus Strategy
When it comes to sports betting, sites usually offer one of these two bonuses: cash or free plays. When the bonus is cash, there’s no unique strategy outside of the usual sound handicapping required to gain an edge. When the bonus is free plays, however, some additional strategy comes into play.
If you wager $100 cash on odds of +100, you are staking $100 cash to win $100 cash. Your total potential return is $200, which is your initial stake plus your winnings. If you wager $100 free play on +100, however, your total potential return is just the $100 winnings. Whether you win or lose, your free play is used up. Obviously, free play bonuses aren’t worth as much as cash bonuses, so that means it’s up to you to squeeze as much value out of them as possible.