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How to Read Odds & Bet on Sports

Matchweek Three

Are you interested in sports betting? You’re not alone; the pastime grows in popularity each year. At first glance, it might seem a bit complicated.

If you’re a new bettor, you may be surprised to learn there’s a lot more nuance to it than simply betting on which team will win (although that’s always an option). 

There are a few different types of odds (like Decimal and Fractional), but in this post, we’re going to explain how to read American Odds:

Reading Odds

Sports betting odds indicate two things:

  • The team that is more (or less) likely to win 
  • How much you could win by betting on one team

The first is indicated by the symbol in front of the odds: either a (-) or a (+). The negative symbol tells you which team is favored to win, while the positive symbol indicates the underdog.

When you see odds with a (-) symbol in front, the number that follows shows you how much you’ll need to bet to win $100. As for odds with a (+) symbol, it’s the opposite; the following number indicates how much you’ll  win if you bet $100. Naturally, you need to wager more money on the favored team to win $100, since a payout is more likely.

Most odds use $100 increments so that it’s easy to tell how much you can win. However, you can bet any amount that you see fit.

Let’s go over an example using two NHL teams:

Dallas Stars: +130

Tampa Bay Lightning: -150

We can see that Tampa Bay is favored to win—one would need to bet $150 to win $100. The Dallas Stars, as the underdogs, can net a $130 payout if a bettor risked $100 on them. 

You’ll see varying odds when placing a moneyline bet, but you may notice that totals or point spread odds are often set at (-110). This means that on either side of the bet, you’ll receive an equal payout. 

When you’re calculating your potential winnings, remember that the sportsbook will take a cut (usually 10%). This is referred to as the “juice” or “vig”. To win $100, you’ll need to bet $110. 

Types of Bets

Betting on major sports leagues can get complicated quickly, which is why many bettors use sport picks chosen by professional handicappers to increase their win rate. 

Here are a few of the most common types of bets:

Moneyline odds

This is the type of bet that most are familiar with: you wager on which team will win or lose a game. It’s up to you to decide whether you’ll side with the favorite, or if you believe that the underdog has an underestimated advantage. Betting on the underdog has a greater payout, but comes with more risk.

Point spreads

Point spreads involve the margin of victory (or defeat) between the teams. You place a bet on how many points one team will win or lose by.

Here’s an example from the NFL to illustrate the point:

The Green Bay Packers are playing against the New Orleans Saints. The point spread for GB is -7, which means they have to win the game by more than 7 points to cover the spread. If they win by 3 points, you would lose the point spread bet. For the Saints, the spread is set at +7. They need to lose by less than 7 points (or win the game) for you to win the bet. That means if they lose the game, but only by 3 points, you still get paid.

Odds are set to equal amounts in point spread bets—a wager of $100 will net you the same payout on either side of the spread.

Totals bets

With a totals bet, all that matters is the cumulative points scored by both teams. That combined total is what you’re trying to bet on. 

The sportsbooks will set a number for the final score of the game. Bettors must choose whether they think the scores of both teams will be over or under that number. Just like point spreads, the odds are set equally on either side of the bet.

You might see a half-point given in a totals or point spread bet, which is designed to avoid a push (or tie). If the combined score of both teams is exactly what sportsbooks chose, then both sides receive a refund. Half-points prevent a push from happening.


Sports betting makes any game more exciting. It gives you the possibility of making money off of watching your favorite sport. And, to get into betting, you’ll need to read up on the different types of bets you can place.

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