Many bettors are familiar with traditional against the spread wagering. For example, in a football game perhaps the home team is favored by seven points. Bettors know that they can wager on the home team and “Lay the seven” or take the road team and “Catch the seven.” If the home team wins by 8 or more those backing the home team would win their bet. If the road team stays within 6 points then those with the road team would win. Any result with the home team winning by seven would result in no action for bettors of either side.
The margin of victory doesn’t matter. This is seen most often in baseball and hockey. It can also be offered in football and basketball as well in addition to traditional wagering against the spread.
Seems simple to just pick a winner, right? Not so fast. It is never that simple. Let’s take for example the NFL in it’s current state. Let’s imagine the high potent offense of the Denver Broncos playing at home against the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars. In fact this exact match-up happened in October of 2013. It would be difficult to find someone who was willing to pick that Jacksonville would win the game straight up. That is where odds in the money line come into play. You can pick Denver to win straight up but it comes with a hefty price tag. You could also pick Jacksonville to win and that comes with a great return on your investment. More on this match-up in a second.
First let’s explain how a money line functions. For simplicity purposes let’s assume a standard bet of $100 is your wager. A game where the spread is 0 (or pick em) and neither team is favored the standard money line will be -110. That means if you pick either side in the contest you must lay $110 to win $100. Another example would be a team favored against the spread by 3 points. Their money line might be -150 and the team catching the three points would be +140. That means if you bet the favorite you would have to lay $150 to win your $100 if you wager that they will just win. If you like the underdog in that particular match-up if you play them straight up for every $100 you wager you will get back $140 in addition to you original wager. The larger the number, the more the oddsmakers are saying that a particular team is likely to win or lose.
Baseball uses money lines for most of it’s action. Since there are 162 games in a season and even the best teams generally lose 60 games most money lines range from -110 to -200 with some exceptions. The same goes for hockey. In college football you might see some extreme money lines when Alabama might be -10000 vs. a division 2 school early in the season. That means that you would have to lay $10,000 to win $100. Tennis can see some extreme money lines as well where a Rafa Nadal might be -8000 against a player ranked out of the top 100. It’s best to think of money lines as the number the oddsmakers put out to assess the strength of a team vs an opponent.
Let’s go back to the Jacksonville vs. Denver scenario from earlier. The money line in that game was -3600 in most cases. That means to win $100 by betting that Denver would win you would have to risk $3600. On the flip side, wagering that Jacksonville would win would net you $3500 in some places for purposes of this discussion. Denver did cover the money line winning by a final score of 35 to 19 but not against the spread which was 28 (the largest in NFL history).
Money lines offer great value to bettors who want to eliminate margin of victory. But they can also be detrimental to your bankroll when you lay money on a big favorite and they happen to lose. Denver must hypothetically win this game 36 out of 37 times for you to show a profit. Lots of people use money lines in parlays to reduce juice. Tread carefully but understand that there are definitely profits to be made if you choose wisely.