Quick Note: How Odds Work

Legal sports betting is making its way to new markets at an incredible pace. Chances are, if you live in the midwest or northeast United States, you’ve heard talk of a new market going live recently. Maryland and Ohio are among the more recent markets to launch online sports betting. Massachusetts sports betting is on its way, too. Nobody knows what the future holds in terms of new states that will legalize, but one thing is clear: sports betting is here to stay. 

What does that mean for bettors who have never seen or used a sportsbook app before? Frankly, the jargon, the internal language of sports betting, can be really tough to understand. 

Today, we aim to remedy that. We’ll cover four of the most common bet types available at sportsbooks. Keep in mind that all of the games we use as examples have already happened. We’re just using them to illustrate how these bet types work. 

There are many guides on how to read odds, and you can read those for a much more detailed take. But for our purposes here, let’s do a quick overview. 

If you see a minus symbol, such as in -200, the number that follows is the amount you’d need to bet to win $100. So in that case, a $200 bet would win you $300 (your initial bet plus the $100 in winnings). A minus indicates a team is the favorite to win that matchup. 

A plus symbol, such as in odds of +250, means the associated team is the underdog and generally not expected to win. A “+” means the number that follows is what you’d win with a successful $100 bet. So in this example, a $100 bet on odds of +250 would win you $350 (the original bet plus your winnings). 

With that in mind, let’s look at the most common bet types. 


Ah, the moneyline! A sportsbook’s bread and butter. This is the simplest type of bet you’ll find. A moneyline bet is a wager on a single team to win the game outright. The odds might look like this:

  • Detroit Pistons +640
  • Philadelphia 76ers -950

These odds are very far apart, but they help illustrate how moneylines work. The 76ers are massively favored to win, to the point where you’d have to bet $950 to win $100. 

Meanwhile, the Pistons are expected to lose badly enough that a $100 bet would pay out $640 plus your initial bet back. 

Moneyline bets aren’t always this one-sided. For example, another NBA matchup might look like this:

  • Oklahoma City Thunder +108
  • Miami Heat -130

In this case, there’s value on both sides of the bet. 

Point Spread

Spread betting is one of the most popular bet types available at legal online sportsbooks. In a point spread bet, the underdog team is given “phantom” points while the favored team is given a handicap. Odds for a point spread bet might look like this:

  • Seattle Seahawks +10 (-118)
  • San Francisco 49ers -10 (-104)

Here, the spread tells us more than the odds. The spread is 10 points. The Seahawks either need to A) win outright or B) lose by fewer than 10 points to “cover the spread” and win the bet. On the other hand, the 49ers need to beat the Seahawks by more than 10 points to cover and win the bet. 

Because teams get a benefit or an extra challenge in the form of the spread, the odds are usually close to even in spread betting. 


Totals bets do not rely on one team beating another. Instead, they rely on the total combined score of both teams either exceeding or ending below a certain threshold. This is why it’s often called “over/under” betting. Here’s an example:

  • LA Chargers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Over 47.5 (-110)
  • Under 47.5 (-110)

In practice, totals bets are pretty simple. IF the CHargers and Jaguars combine for more than 47.5 points, the “over” hits. Fewer points and the “under’ hits. For example, a final score of Chargers 28-Jaguars 30 would see the “over” win. A final score of Chargers 20-Jaguars 12 would bring the total to 32, and the “under” would win. 

In totals betting, the odds are almost always very close to even. Sportsbooks usually have a good read on how games will score. 


Parlays combine multiple individual bets into a single wager. This gives them very high odds and a large potential payout. The catch? All of those individual bets (called “legs” in betting parlance) must win for the parlay to hit. At most sportsbooks, you can even combine bets from a single game into a parlay. You can also pull bets in from multiple separate games into a single parlay wager. Here’s an example:

  • Philadelphia 76ers -13.5 (-110)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder Moneyline (+108)
  • Cavaliers Vs. Jazz Over 227 (-110)
  • Total Odds: +658

As you can see, the odds are great if you’re seeking a high payout. A $100 bet on this parlay would pay out $758. But for the bet to win, you need the 76ers to cover, the Thunder to win, and the Cavs-Jazz game to total more than 227 points. It’s a tall order. 

Parlays are inherently risky. Though they can be fun, you should place them in moderation and be sure you’re making well-researched choices with your parlays. 

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