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Home → Betting Guide → Understanding Money Lines

Sports Betting: Understanding Money Lines

While point spread wagers are the most common type of sports bet, there is another option that can be used when handicapping a game or event. A money line or straight up wager simply involves a bet on which team will win a particular game. With a money line wager, the bettor doesn't have to worry about how many points a team will win by.

Money Line Fundamentals

Many novice sports bettors can find the money line a little confusing. It is fairly easy to understand a football or basketball point spread. If a particular football team is favored to win a game by a field goal, it is fairly obvious that the squad must win the contest by at least four points for the bettor to cash in. While the money line is quite different from a point spread, the concept really isn't too difficult to understand.

When an oddsmaker sets a point spread for a football or basketball game, there will also usually be a money line price available on each team. There is a basic conversion chart that bookmakers are able to reference to form a suitable money line that is appropriate for the point spread that is being used for each team. In Super Bowl XLV, the Green Bay Packers were a 3-point favorite (-3) against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Using the conversion chart, a solid money line on Green Bay would have the Packers as a -150 to -155 favorite on the money line. If the price were at -150, the bettor would need to wager $150 on Green Bay to win $100. As an underdog of three points (+3), the Steelers would be installed at a price of +130 to +135 on the money line. If Pittsburgh were at +130, the bettor would wager $100 to win $130. For this kind of example, many novice bettors are confused about the price difference between the two clubs. They don't understand why the Steelers wouldn't be listed at +150 in the money line odds. In reality, the price difference in a money line is almost like the vigorish or juice that is used on point spread wagers. The odds difference between the favorite and an underdog in a money line enables the bookmaker to gain a little more protection on these kind of wagers.

Like the point spread, the money line has its own risks and rewards. On the risk side, the bettor must lay more juice to wager on a favorite. Of course, the reward can be a money line victory that would have been a losing point spread wager. From the underdog perspective, the bettor doesn't have to lay any juice at all on the money line. However, an underdog covering the point spread in a loss will not be enough for the bettor to cash his ticket on the money line. A savvy football or basketball bettor will keep an open mind in regards to the money line. There are certainly situations where a favored team is in a good position to win a game but may not be a sound bet to cover the point spread. On the other side of the coin, there will be instances to look at underdogs that are poised to win straight up. For the football and basketball bettor, the money line is another viable option to consider.

While point spreads are the primary betting options in football and basketball, money line wagers are the top choice in many other popular betting sports. Baseball, hockey, and soccer are among the sports that make primary use of the money line. Because there is limited scoring in these sports, point spreads aren't really appropriate. For these sports, the oddsmaker will set a money line for each club based on the appropriate strengths and weaknesses of the teams. Boxing is another popular sport that relies on the money line to set the odds for each fighter in a particular bout.

Money lines are also used for many prop and matchup wagers for a variety of sports. While point spread numbers will always gain plenty of attention during the football season, a bettor must understand the depth and importance of the money line as well to become successful in sports wagering.