A Guide to Basketball Moneyline Bets

Guide to Basketball Moneyline Bets

Basketball has a wide array of different bets you can pick from when you're looking to make a wager on a team or a game. One of the more popular bet styles is the moneyline wager.

Moneyline wagers are sometimes referred to as just an alternate to point spread bets presented in a different format. While elements of this statement are true, it's not the complete story, and we would say it's more false than it is true. There are going to be plenty of situations where moneyline bets will be the better option.


How They Work

Moneyline wagers in basketball are bets on who you think is going to win the game. There are no point spreads to cover or any other stipulations; it all comes down to who wins the game. If you place a moneyline bet on the Orlando Magic and they win the game by 1 or 100 points, it doesn't matter. You win your bet either way. If they lose the game by any amount of points, you lose your bet. For those that read our section on point spread bets (and we recommend you do before getting through this section), you are probably already wondering how the sportsbook is going to make these bets fair.

This is where the big difference between moneyline bets and point spread bets lie. To make the bet fairer and on a level playing field, each bet type does something different. As we discussed, point spread bets are adjusted by manipulating the number of points a team is favored or an underdog by. With moneyline bets, this is achieved by manipulating the payouts.

  • The bigger the favorite a team is, the less money you will be paid on a winning bet.
  • The bigger the underdog a team is, the more money you will be paid on a winning bet.

Again, there is no point spread to cover. With point spread bets, you can bet on a team that you think is going to lose the game and still win your bet. This luxury goes out the window with moneyline bets.

Basically, you are going to win moneyline bets less often, but when you do win you will be paid a lot more.

This is the reason a lot of people like to say the bets are effectively the same thing. The amount extra you are going to be paid on your moneyline wins should make up for the fewer wins you do hit. In theory, you should win the same amount of money in the long run with the same picks. This is only in theory, though.

Moneyline bets are shown with a plus or minus sign before the odds to depict whether or not a team is the favorite or underdog. A plus sign means that the team is the underdog and a minus sign means that the team is the favorite. The corresponding number signifies how much of a favorite or underdog the team is. The larger the number, the larger the favorite or underdog. For example, a team that is -260 is a bigger favorite than a team that is -135. A team that is +380 is a bigger underdog than a team that is +190.

This really is the simplest bet available. You pick a team to win. If they win, you win, If they lose, you lose. You will be paid according to how likely or unlikely the sportsbook thinks their win will be.

How They're Paid Out

Let's take a look at a few sample moneyline bets so we can show you how they're paid out and how to calculate how they're paid out.

Raptors v NuggetsMoneyline
Toronto Raptors
+180
Denver Nuggets
-155

In the above example, the Denver Nuggets are taking on the Toronto Raptors in an NBA basketball game. Since the Raptors have a plus sign attached to their moneyline, we know that they are the underdogs in this game. This means the Denver Nuggets with their minus sign attached to their moneyline are the favorites.

  • If you bet on the Raptors moneyline and they win, you win your bet.
  • If you bet on the Nuggets moneyline and they win, you win your bet.

We're sorry to be obnoxiously hammering this home, but we want it to be crystal clear that your team must win to win your bet. Since that's been crammed into our brains now, let's talk about how much we will get paid on each of these bets if we win. Let's imagine that we are going to make a wager of $100 in two different scenarios.

Scenario One

We place a wager of $100 on the Denver Nuggets.

Since they are they are the favorites, we should expect to be paid less for a winning bet.

With odds of - 155, we will profit $64.52 on a Nuggets victory.

Scenario Two

We place a wager of $100 on the Toronto Raptors.

Since they are the underdogs, we should expect to be paid more for a winning bet.

With odds of +180, we will profit $180.00 on a Raptors victory.

Obviously, the payouts in scenario two are much sexier. This shouldn't make you more likely to place that bet, though. You have to remember that Scenario Two is much LESS likely to happen than Scenario One. You will win it less often, but you will be paid more when you do. Again, this is the sportsbook attempting to make both bets completely even or 50/50.

Calculating Payouts

If you are betting in a live sportsbook, you will have to calculate your potential winnings on your own. The only time the sportsbook will do it for you is after you place your bet. It will be printed on the top of your ticket. If you choose to place your basketball bets online, almost all sites will calculate what you stand to win on your wager size before you place your bet. This is a nice perk of betting online.

For those that would like to know how to calculate their winnings, here are the steps. The steps are slightly different for favorite moneyline odds and underdog moneyline odds. We'll also include sections for fractional odds and decimal odds which are common ways for moneylines to be written in Europe and other parts of the world.

Calculating Underdog Payouts

Divide your bet amount by 100 first and then multiply that number by the odds.

Let's calculate this for the above example to demonstrate.

  • Toronto Raptors +180
  • Bet Amount $100
($100 / 100) * 180 = (1) * 180 = $180 in profit

Remember, this calculates the profit that you will be receiving in addition to receiving your original bet back. In other words, you will give the sportsbook $100 for this bet, and they will hand you $280 back which will include your original bet amount of $100 and your profit of $180.

Calculating Favorite Payouts

Divide your bet amount by the absolute value of the betting odds first and then multiply that number by 100.

For those that don't remember math class, absolute value means the positive version of the number regardless of the sign in front of it. So instead of using negative 255 in this example, we just use the number 255. Absolute value is written as a number between two vertical lines like this, |number|.

  • Denver Nuggets -155
  • Bet Amount $100
($100/|-155|) * 100 = ($100/155) * 100 = .64516 * 100 = $64.51 in profit.

Again, the sportsbook will hand you $164.51 which will include your $100 original wager and your $64.51 in profit.

Decimal Odds

This way of writing the moneyline payouts is used in Europe and other parts of the world very frequently. Its popularity probably has to do with the fact that it is a lot easier for patrons to use to calculate their potential winnings.

Here are our odds from our example earlier in their American odds format.

Raptors v NuggetsAmerican Odds
Toronto Raptors
+180
Denver Nuggets
-155

Now, let's see what these exact same odds look like as decimal odds

Raptors v NuggetsDecimal Odds
Toronto Raptors
2.80
Denver Nuggets
1.64

These odds are EXACTLY the same. They're just a different way to write them. Calculating your profit amount is extremely easy with decimal odds and is calculated the same way with underdog or favorite odds. All you have to do is multiply your bet amount by the decimal odds and then subtract your original bet amount. Let's look at our two scenarios again betting $100 on each team.

If we bet $100 on the Toronto Raptors at 2.80

($100 * 2.80) - $100 = $280 - $100 = $180 in profit

If we bet $100 on the Denver Nuggets at 1.65

($100 * 1.64) - $100 =$164 - $100 = $64 in profit

As you can see, these are the exact same profit numbers as with the American moneyline style odds. They're just written differently and are much easier to calculate your potential profit.

Fractional Odds

Another format of moneyline odds you might see are fractional odds. Again, these are the exact same as the above two formats except written a little differently. Calculating your potential profits for these are almost the same as decimal odds, though, you do not have to subtract out your original bet to get your profit.They might confuse you a little if you haven't worked with fractions in a while.

Here is what the odds will look like for our above example in all three formats including the fractional odds we are currently talking about.

Raptors v NuggetsAmerican Odds
Toronto Raptors
+180
Denver Nuggets
-155
Raptors v NuggetsDecimal Odds
Toronto Raptors
2.80
Denver Nuggets
1.64
Raptors v NuggetsFractional Odds
Toronto Raptors
9/5
Denver Nuggets
13/20

Let's calculate our payouts with our fractional odds. Remember our formula is to multiply your bet amount by the fractional odds and then subtract your original bet amount. If you aren't sure how to put the fractions into your calculator, you can convert them to a decimal point by taking the top number and dividing it by the bottom number.

  • If we bet $100 on the Toronto Raptors at 9/5
($100 * 9/5) = $180
  • Same bet, but we don't like fractions, so we take 9 and divide it by 5 first and get 1.8
($100 * 1.8) = $180
  • If we bet $100 on the Denver Nuggets at 13/20
($100 * 13/20) =$65
  • Same bet, but we don't like fractions, so we take 13 and divide it by 20 first and get 0.65
($100 *0.65) = $65

Benefits of Basketball Moneyline Bets

Bigger Paydays

As we mentioned earlier, the payouts for underdogs on moneyline bets are significantly higher than betting that same team as a point spread bet. To compensate for this, the team has to win the game. In situations where you think a team is going to "beat the spread" by more than a point and actually win the game, you can take advantage of that with moneyline bets.

Let's say you are deciding between betting $200 on the Miami Heat at +5.5 points or betting the moneyline at +200. Let's also say that you think Miami isn't just going to cover the spread but is going to win the game. You could take the point spread bet and have a 5.5 point cushion and cruise your way through the game. If you're right, you'll easily win this bet with a nice cushion and get paid $181.82 in profit. But let's say you're confident in your prediction and want a way to capitalize on it. This is where you can take advantage of the moneyline. If you place your $200 wager on the moneyline instead, you will win $400! When you think the line is way off in a game, moneyline bets allow you to capitalize and win big.

The Simplest Bet on Earth

Some of you may be shaking your heads that this is the simplest bet on earth after we got done doing all of that math. Remember, all of that math was only to show you how to calculate your payout odds if you wanted to know. Online sportsbooks are going to do all of that work for you before you place any of your bets. These bets really come down to picking a winner. That's it. If you pick the winner of the game correctly more times than you pick them incorrectly, you will be a profitable sports bettor.

How and Why a Basketball Moneyline Can Change

As we mentioned earlier, the goal of the sportsbook is always to get an equal amount of money bet on both sides of a game. If they can successfully pull this off, they will profit from the game no matter who wins. If the sportsbook has too much money bet on one side, they need to make adjustments to try and make the other side of the bet more enticing.

With point spread bets, they accomplish this by shifting the spread to give the team with less money bet on them a bigger advantage. This isn't possible with moneyline bets as there is no point spread. What they do instead is alter the amount that you will be paid out for a winning bet. The payout for the team with too much money bet on them will get worse, and the payout for the team with too little money bet on them will get more attractive. The payout odds will continue to shift until enough bettors start to bet the other side and the bets even out. As with point spread betting, it is entirely possible for the line to move in either direction at one time or another before a game starts.

Tips and Strategy Advice

Shop Till' You Drop

You'll see this tip with just about every type of bet we talk about. This is because there is nothing more important than this. If you want to be successful at sports betting, you have to be willing to look for the best lines offered. If one sportsbook is offering a bet at +200 and another is offering the same bet at +225, you would be a fool not to place a bet at the sportsbook offering +225. This may not sound like much, but let's look at an example. Let's say you see those two lines and are planning on wagering $100.

  • The payout on a $100 wager at +200 is $200 profit.
  • The payout on a $100 wager at +225 is $225 profit.

We're talking about $25 additional dollars just for taking a few seconds to look at the line at a different sportsbook. What exactly do we mean by shopping lines? All this means is opening up several different sportsbooks online and checking what odds they are offering. If one sportsbook is offering better odds on the bet you want to make, then you make your bet there. It's as simple as that.

This is really only feasible with online sports betting unless you happen to live in Las Vegas and can walk from casino to casino easily. Still, that's a lot of work that can be accomplished comfortably sitting on your butt at home or in a hotel room.

Remember the Victory

This one may seem straightforward, but it definitely needs to be mentioned. You must remember that to win a moneyline bet, the team you select has to win the game. This can be forgotten when you see a big underdog that you think is way better than the spread shows. For example, if you see a team that are 10 point underdogs but you are confident that is way wrong. Even if you are right but that line is only nine points wrong, and the underdogs lose by one, you still lose your bet. Basically, make sure if you are making a moneyline wager on an underdog that they're going to be able to finish the job, not just make a great showing. If you are unsure, just bet the point spread bet and take the easy money. If you are confident, though, aim for the big win with the moneyline bet.

Something else you can do is to bet both the moneyline bet and the point spread bet. Here is what your profit would look like under three different scenarios if your betting budget were $200.

  • Betting Budget: $200
  • Point Spread Bet - UNLV Rebels: +9
  • Moneyline Bet - UNLV Rebels +455

You think the Rebels are going to win the game, but aren't positive, so you bet $100 on each bet.

  • You bet $100 on the point spread bet at +9
  • You bet $100 on the moneyline bet at +455

Scenario One

  • The Rebels lose by 10 points.
  • You lose the point spread bet
  • You lose the moneyline bet
  • Total Loss = -$200

Scenario Two

  • The Rebels lose by 8 points.
  • You win the point spread bet and profit $90.91
  • You lose the money line bet
  • Total Loss = -$9.09

Scenario Three

  • The Rebels win the game.
  • You win the point spread bet and profit $90.91
  • You win the moneyline bet and profit $455
  • Total win = $545.91

If you had bet your full betting budget for this game of $200 on the moneyline, you would have profited $910 in scenario three. But, you would have lost $200 in scenario one and scenario two. By betting both bets, you protect yourself in case you're right, but not as right as you thought you were. Yes, you sacrifice some potential profit, but you protect yourself from an outright loss when you're at least a little right. Keep in mind that you are also giving up a little bit of equity with two bets because the house is taking their piece of both bets.

Make Sure It's Financially Worth It

This pertains to betting basketball favorites specifically. Even if you are pretty confident a team is going to win, make sure the payoff is worth your time and effort.

For example, let's say the Miami Heat are playing basketball against a college team. We can be almost certain that they are going to win. For this reason, the Heat are -1100. Some people might think you should bet this because it's almost a lock. The problem here is that a $100 bet will net you a profit of a massive $9.09. You would literally be betting $100 for the chance to win $9.09. For some people, this is ok and part of their strategy. For us, the risk vs. reward seems a bit off and not really worth our investment.

Again, the joy of sports betting is that no one has developed a perfect strategy that they've shared, so you're free to do whatever you want to with your bets. Just as an aside, the moneyline odds would probably be even worse if that game were actually to happen.

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