Reading and Understanding Money Lines
After learning about betting point spreads, Emily wanted to find out how to gamble on her favorite sport: Tennis. There are no point spreads in tennis and other individual sports like boxing and NASCAR because there is no meaningful way to measure how much a player wins or loses by. In these sports all that really matters is who wins and loses, and that's where money line wagering comes into play.
What Is the Money Line?
Like the point spread, the money line is used to equal out the attractiveness of the favorite and the underdog for the typical bettor.
Money line results are decided by an event's straight-up winner, without regard to any point spread, since there is no point spread. Oddsmakers set the money line so that more money must be risked on the favorite (the expected winner) and less money on the underdog in an effort to balance the willingness of bettors to back the respective sides of a contest.
For example, Emily's favorite tennis player Serena Williams wins a majority of her matches. The money line between Serena and her opponent, let's say the 102nd-ranked player in the world, would not be even for this very reason. Sportsbooks would make bettors wager significantly more money on Serena than her opponent because of the disproportionate likelihood of Serena winning the match.
How to Read the Money Line
In the case of Serena Williams versus an overmatched opponent, a reasonable money line would require Serena bettors to risk $400 to win $100; while a $100 bet on her opponent would win $360.
Here's how the money line would be listed: Serena Williams -400 / #102 Ranked Opponent +360
Every $400 bet on Serena nets a $100 profit if she wins (plus the return of the $400 risked). If her opponent pulls off the upset, $100 bet on the underdog would profit $360 (plus the return of the $100 risked).
Keep in mind that sportsbooks only make a commission (also known as juice or vigorish) when the favorite loses. So if Serena were to lose that match, the book pays off $360 to underdog bettors while collecting $400 from favorite bettors, for a $40 profit.
If Serena wins as expected, favorite bettors collect $100 while dog bettors lose $100 - resulting in zero profit for the bookmaker. The bigger the favorite, the less likely the underdog will win (and the less likely the book will collect their commission). To compensate for making a profit less often, the offshore sportsbook increases the spread between the favorite's lay price and the underdog's payoff, making their commission bigger when the longshot underdog does win.
When the Bulls were rolling with Michael Jordan it wouldn't be unusual for a NBA 1st round playoff series to be priced: Bulls -1400 / Overmatched Opponent +900. In such cases the books would collect their commission only the rare times that the underdog won; but when they did that commission would be quite large.
When Is the Money Line Used?
Besides sports like NASCAR and golf, where the margin of victory doesn't really matter, the money line is also the standard way to bet MLB. If a point spread were used with baseball, the smallest amount a line could be moved would be a ½ run, which would be much more significant than a ½-point move in basketball or football. Using a point spread in baseball would not allow an evening of the action with the necessary precision, so a money line is used.
Money lines are offered on football and basketball too, both college and pro. The money line is another option in those sports for bettors who choose to focus upon picking winners without regard for the point spread. If Emily would have known about money lines sooner, she might have placed a money line bet on her favorite NFL team - the New England Patriots - to win Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Patriots were 7 ½-point favorites against the Philadelphia Eagles, but -265 to win the game on the money line. Emily could have wagered $265 to win $100 on the Patriots. The Pats won 24-21, failing to cover the spread, but winning on the money line. Now Emily knows there's choices other than point spread betting, and she'll be ready for next season. Hopefully, so will you.
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