How to Read Sports Betting Lines

The two biggest questions that can be heard in every Las Vegas casino’s sportsbooks are–“Can someone tell me which teams are the favorites and please explain to me how to read the sports betting lines?”

First-time bettors can easily get confused reading the tote boards inside a sportsbook. Many of their previous betting experience consist of participating in the office pool come Super Bowl time or filling out a March Madness bracket each spring.

In professional sports today, the betting line reflects not only on the oddmaker’s prediction of the outcome on the playing field, but also the amount of wagering that will take place among bettors. A misread of the sports betting line could be very costly for all involved.

Here is a fictitious sports betting line that will be used as an example to explain how to read one:

Patriots -5 -200
Panthers +180 O/U 50

Determine The Point Spread

The most common form of betting on football and basketball games is the point spread format. Before you place a bet, you must identify the favorite in the game by determining which team has a negative number next to their name on the sportsbook’s tote board. If you look at the above example, it states that the oddmakers believe that the Patriots are five points better than the Panthers. A wager on them requires the Patriots to win the contest by a margin greater than five points. This is called “covering the spread,” and more importantly, you have won your bet. Choosing the Panthers essentially gives you a 5-0 lead before the football has ever been put into play, as the oddmakers believe they are the underdogs in the contest. If the point spread column has “pick’em” next to a game that means neither side is considered a favorite in the contest. Your wager would be similar to a money line bet, which requires you to pick a team to win the game outright.

The Money Line

The money line is more associated with baseball games, but some gamblers use this form of betting to place a wager on big football or basketball games. You’re choosing a team to win the game outright regardless of the point spread. If you look at the above sports betting line example, each team has a number next to their name in the second column. The favorite has a negative number while the underdog has a positive number next to their name. Each bet is based on increments of $100, so if you believe the Patriots will win the game, then you must bet $200 to win $100 back. On the side, if you believe the Panthers will win, then you you must bet $100 to win back $180. Why? Well, the Patriots are the favorite, so you must bet more money to get a return back.

Over/Under, Push and No Line

The number in the third column is the over/under betting line, as your wager must choose whether or not the combined point total for both teams will be greater than the betting line. In the above sports betting line example, if the Patriots win by the margin of five points, then the sportsbooks will rule your bet to be a “push” or tie. The bettor will get a refund on their original bet because you neither won nor lost the wager. If a game is listed as “no line” that means no bets will be accepted on the game. Usually, this occurs when the health status of a key performer comes into question, and most sportsbooks will refuse to take any action on the game until the issue has been resolved.