In sports betting, a Moneyline bet is a wager on which team will win a game. While offered as the primary wagering option for hockey and baseball, for basketball and football, moneylines are an alternative to the point spread. As an example, take an NBA game of Boston Celtics -5.5 / Memphis Grizzlies +5.5. In addition to the point spread, the alternative moneyline is Celtics -240 / Grizzlies +210.
Favorites - In the above example, the Celtics are -5.5 point favorites. When betting on the point spread, you need them to win by 6 or more points. However, when betting the moneyline, you just need them to win--by how much doesn't matter. The case of -240 means risk $240 to win $100. A quick trick is change 240 to a decimal of 2.40, take any size stake, and divide it by 2.40 to calculate your payout. If you risk $650 on the Celtics -240, this is $650/2.40=$270.83, and therefore your bet is Risk $650 to win $270.83.
Underdogs - In the opening example, the Grizzlies are +5.5 point underdogs. When betting on the point spread, your wager is successful if they either win or lose the game by 1-5 points. If you'd rather bet they win the game outright, you can bet the moneyline at +210. The +210 means win $210 for every $100 staked. Again, a trick here is to change the +210 to a decimal 2.10. To calculate your payout, take any stake and multiply it by 2.10. So, if you risk $450 on Grizzlies +210, this is $450*2.1=$945, and therefore your bet is risk $450 to win $945.
To recap: In point spread betting, a spread is used to create a 50/50 betting proposition. With moneyline betting there's no such proposition, and likewise the odds are based on a team's chances of winning outright. Favorites are listed as a negative moneyline, which represents how much stake is needed to win $100, and underdogs are listed as a positive moneyline, which represents how much a $100 stake will pay in winnings.
When betting in non-$100-increments, use the trick of converting to a decimal. For favorites, divide the stake by the decimal, and for underdogs multiply the decimal by the stake to calculate your winnings. Now that you understand how moneylines work, let's have a look at some betting strategy.
Moneyline Betting Strategy
All moneylines have what is referred to as an implied probability, just a fancy term pertaining to how often a wager needs to win to average breakeven. In the case of Celtics -240, we calculate implied probability using the formula risk/return = implied probability, where the return is how much a winning bet would pay (stake + win). So, -240 is risk $240 to win $100, the return is $240 stake + $100 win = $340 return. Our formula works out as: $240 stake / $340 return = 0.7059, and therefore the implied probability is 70.59%. This means we should only wager Celtics -240 if we feel they have a greater than 70.59% chance of winning.
On the other side, Grizzlies +210 is risk $100 to win $210, and the return is $100 stake + $210 win = $310 return. To calculate the implied probability, we use $100 stake / $310 return = 32.26% implied probability. This means we should only bet the Grizzlies if we feel they have greater than a 32.26% chance of winning the game.
How to Remove Vig
To start with trivia question: If the odds are Celtics -240 / Grizzlies +210 what is the fair price without vig? Many assume because there's a 30 cent gap between the two lines, we just deduct 15 cents from the favorite and add 15 cents to the underdog, getting a fair price of Celtics -225 / Grizzlies +225. This is incorrect.
Earlier, we showed the implied probability of -240 is 70.59% and of +210 is 32.36%. Notice these two probabilities total 102.95%. The extra 2.95% is the bookmaker's advantage, called vig. To remove it, we need to divide the total percents market (102.95%) by each probability. So: 70.59%/102.95%=68.57% and 32.36%/102.95%=31.43%. Notice now 68.57%+31.43%=100%, and therefore the vig has been removed; these figures are called the no-vig win probabilities. Next, go to our odds converter and enter 68.57% into the implied probability field and see this is -218; enter 31.43% and see this is +218. Therefore, Celtics -240 / Grizzlies +210 has no-vig odds of Celtics -218 / Grizzlies +218.
Line Shopping Moneylines
In our detailed article on handicapping the market, we explain removing vig and how the bookmaker adds juice in far more detail. We also showed that the no-vig odds for -550 / +450 are -466 / +466. This is an important lesson since most sports bettors understand the importance of using multiple sites to shop for the best odds possible.
When simultaneously not understanding how moneylines and vig work, these same bettors will end up making many -EV bets. An example would be enthusiastically betting -490 on a favorite for the sole reason that all other sites are offering -550. In such a case, if the no-vig market price is -466, this would be a poor bet.
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 to make the bet +EV than on the underdog's moneyline. Knowing this information, you're now more knowledgeable than most recreational bettors who bet Moneylines uninformed as to how they work.
Moneyline Bonus Strategy
In sports betting, there are two types of bonuses offered by most betting sites. TopBet offers punters an incredible 50% cash bonus on their initial deposit. Consider the bonus is cash, there's no unique strategy outside of the usual sound handicapping required to gain an edge. Where additional strategy comes into play is with betting sites that offer free plays as opposed to cash. For example, at Bovada bettors are welcomed with a 50% up to $250 free play credit on their first deposit.
As explained in the article on sports betting deposit bonuses, if you wager $100 cash on odds +100, your bet is risk $100 cash to win $100 cash; therefore a winning bet returns $200 ($100 stake + $100 win). If you wager $100 free play on +100, your wager is risk 100 Free Play to win $100, and therefore the return is $100 ($0 stake + $100 cash); win or lose your free play is used up. You can see cash bonuses are worth 100% their face value whereas free plays are worth considerably less.
One the best ways to get maximum value out of your free play is to hedge using multiple betting sites. To go back to our intro example, if you bet $100 free play on either Celtics -5.5 or Grizzlies +5.5, these bets are made at -110, risk $100 free play to win $90.91. Considering point spreads are a 50/50 proposition, half the time you win $90.91, and half the time you just lose your free play. So on average, a $100 free play bet on point spreads is worth $45.46.
To evaluate the hedge method, let's say at Bovada you bet your $100 free play on Grizzlies +210, which is risk $100 free play to win $210 cash. You then head over to TopBet and bet $148.24 to win $61.76 on Celtics -230. If the they win, you win $61.76 at Topbet and have lost nothing at Bovada, so you're up $61.76 cash. If the Grizzlies win, you win $210 at Bovada and lose $148.26 at TopBet, so once again you're up $61.76 cash. Using the hedge method, you went from winning an average of $45.46 on point spread bets to winning a guaranteed $61.76 no matter which team wins.
Additional Moneyline Tips
Now that you understand moneyline betting, refer to the article on football teasers. You'll be well prepared to understand the moneyline method of teaser betting analysis explained in the article on college football teasers.
A final piece of advice: don't be afraid to evaluate the chances of moneyline wagers on large favorites being +EV. This is especially true in football prop betting wherein small markets recreation punters prefer chances at large payouts. Heavy favorite bets, such as no for the question "Will the first score of the game be a safety?" is a prop where many times you'll find, despite the massive moneyline, that the favorite price is +EV.
Author: Jim Griffin
Updated: March 2015
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