What is Moneyline Betting?

With real, honest-to-God single-game sports betting in Ontario, there will be many new types of betting to check out. Chief among them is the moneyline bet, which might be the wager that you end up placing most often. Even if that’s not the case, it is an underlying part of so many other wagers that it’s important to know how the moneyline works, even if you never place a moneyline bet.

The question at the heart of every moneyline bet is as basic as they come. So what is a moneyline bet? Quite simply, a moneyline is a bet on which side will win the game. The final margin of victory has no bearing on the payout for the moneyline. How the team prevails doesn’t matter, and other factors like injuries or suspensions are irrelevant.  In a way, the moneyline is the easiest bet to digest since there’s nothing to track aside from the score of the game.

Moneylines and their payout format show up all over the place in sportsbooks. Every single Ontario sportsbook to launch will have them from the very first day of service. Let’s discuss exactly how they work, both in Ontario and elsewhere.

Which bet is the moneyline?

Moneyline betting at DK Sportsbook
From DraftKings Sportsbook 

When you peruse an online sportsbook, you will see a series of bets next to each game. The column with three-digit numbers and nothing else will be for moneyline bets. For the most part, there will be a positive and negative number in each pairing. In this case, the moneyline is a bet on which team will prevail — the Toronto Blue Jays or the Chicago White Sox.

What do the three-digit numbers mean?

While the basic notion of the moneyline is easy enough to understand, the listing for it is not intuitive at first glance. The issue is that very few games are a 50/50 proposition in terms of which team will win. One side almost always has an advantage on paper heading into the game.

Since a moneyline bet itself is a binary choice, however, the sportsbook has to adjust something to account for this imbalance. That’s where the three-digit numbers come in. What you are seeing are the payout ratios associated with a winning wager on each team. Common names for odds displayed in this format are moneyline odds or American odds. The number and the sign (positive or negative) tell us what we can expect to win if we choose the winner correctly.

Let’s take a look at the example from above. The moneyline for that game is as follows:

  • Toronto Blue Jays +125
  • Chicago White Sox -143

The positive number in a moneyline listing indicates the underdog. In other words, the sportsbook in this case has judged the Blue Jays to be less likely to win the ballgame than the White Sox. A positive number like +125 indicates how much the sportsbook will pay in profit for a winning $100 bet. In this example, a winning $100 wager on the Blue Jays would result in a $125 profit and $225 total return (the profit plus the original bet).

The negative number, meanwhile, indicates the favourite. In this case, the sportsbook believes that the White Sox are more likely to win the game. In recognition of that belief, the odds indicate that you would need to risk $143 if you want to profit $100 from a White Sox win. The negative number in a moneyline listing is always the amount that you would need to bet to position yourself for a $100 profit.

Moneyline sports bets will always have at least one team with a negative number. Occasionally, you will see a moneyline with two negative numbers, which indicates that the sportsbook views the game as likely to be extremely close. However, you can still determine which team is slightly favoured by which negative number is farther from zero. So, if a contest had two teams at -110 and -115, the team at -115 is a very slight favourite.

Finally, note that you do not have to bet exactly $100 or the amount specified by the negative number if you are betting on the moneyline. That would be a bit silly. The numbers are just ratios. The sportsbook will adjust the amount you stand to win based on the size of your bet.

How do you convert moneyline odds to win probability?

It may take some time before you are comfortable with the moneyline odds format. Even when you get the basics of what the numbers indicate, you still might not know what they mean, at least in actionable terms. In order to help with that learning process, let’s talk about the relationship between American odds and the more traditional fractional odds. We’ll also talk about what win probabilities we can glean from the moneyline. For this discussion, we will use the following example game:

Moneyline betting at FanDuel Sportsbook
From FanDuel

Fractional odds

In this example, we see the moneyline for the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves in the middle column. The Braves are favoured to win at -130, while the Giants are slight underdogs at +110. Let’s do some conversion to delve into what those numbers truly represent in terms of likelihoods.

First, let’s start with the underdog Giants. To find out the fractional odds for underdogs, simply divide the three-digit number by 100 and simplify. In this case, we divide 110 by 100 to find out that the Giants are an 11/10, or 1.1/1, underdog in the game.

By contrast, the favoured Braves are sitting at -130. To get their fractional odds, we must divide 100 by the three-digit number, first removing the minus sign. Atlanta, then, is 100/130 to win the game or 10/13 favourites. With our two fractions so close together and so close to 1, we can estimate that the game is likely to be a tight one.

Win probability

However, sometimes we want an even better understanding of what the forecast is. If we’re talking about the chances that one team will win over another, most of us prefer to use a percentage. Fortunately, there is also a way to convert moneylines into percentages and estimate each team’s chances of winning — at least, each team’s chances according to the oddsmakers.

Let’s start with the underdog again. In order to find the underdog’s implied probability of winning from the moneyline, here’s what you should do:

  • Add 100 to the moneyline number.
  • Divide 100 by that new number.
  • Multiply the result by 100.

For the Giants, here’s what we get:

  • 100 + 110 = 210
  • 100/210 = 0.476
  • 476 x 100 = 47.6%

So, in this example, the oddsmakers are estimating that the Giants have a 47.6% chance to win the game. Now, let’s calculate the percentage for the favoured Braves. For favourites, you use the following procedure:

  • Remove the minus sign from the listing number.
  • Add 100 to the listing number.
  • Divide the original listing number by the new number.
  • Multiply the result by 100.

For the Braves in this particular game, it looks like this:

  • 100 + 130 = 230
  • 130/230 = 0.565
  • 565 x 100 = 56.5%

So, in this case, the sportsbook thinks that the Braves will win 56.5% of the time. However, if you’re alert, you may have noticed that there is a problem with these figures. Namely, 47.6% and 56.5% do not add up to 100%. Instead, they total 104.1%. What you are seeing is known as the overround. It’s the total percentage chance that either team will win the game (100%) plus the sportsbook’s profit (or “vig”). In order to get the true probabilities of either team winning, we must strip out the vig portion by dividing both percentages by that 104.1 number. If we do that, we get the following:

  • Giants: 47.6/104.1 = 45.7%
  • Braves: 56.5/104.1 = 54.3%

Finally, we have two percentages that add up to 100%. However, we need to weigh this knowledge against the fact that our own estimates have to take the first percentage (the chance plus the vig) into account, not this true percentage. In other words, you have to estimate that the true percentage chance of winning surpasses the number with the juice, rather than the one without it.

What are puck lines and run lines?

Although we wouldn’t make the assumption that literally everyone in Ontario is a hockey fan, there’s no doubt about the popularity of hockey in the province and, for that matter, in Canada as a whole. So, you may be gearing up to commit yourself to betting on the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators or whatever your favourite team may be. However, you may give yourself pause when you look at hockey moneylines because you’ll see something called the “puck line.” With the word “line” involved, you could be forgiven for thinking that this bet is another type of moneyline wager. It’s not.

Puck lines are, in fact, the hockey version of a point spread bet. Because hockey does not have nearly as much scoring as basketball or football, the numerical separation between the winning team and the losing team might be too small to set a point spread effectively. Instead, sportsbooks offer the puck line as a hybrid of the moneyline and point spread.

In a puck line, the spread is a standard of 1.5 goals. In other words, each hockey game features a team favoured to win by 1.5 goals or more. However, since no game ever ends at a 1.5-goal margin, sportsbooks must then vary their payout ratios in order to insert their vig and establish a market for bettors. Consider the following:

Moneyline betting at BetMGM Sportsbook
From BetMGM

Here we see a puck line in which the Edmonton Oilers are favoured to defeat the Vancouver Canucks by 1.5 goals. A successful $165 bet on the Canucks pays $100, while a successful Edmonton bet will provide those who bet $100 with $140 in profit. Fundamentally, the puck line is a spread bet, rather than a moneyline.

However, note the discrepancy in signs between the spread number and the odds. In this case, even though the Oilers are favoured overall, they are underdogs when you take the puck line into account. Essentially, the sportsbook is estimating that the Oilers are more likely to win, but not by more than one goal.

Baseball games are similar to hockey games with regard to scoring. Although the total number of runs scored in MLB games generally continues to increase, there is no guarantee that a game won’t end with a one-run margin and thwart oddsmakers’ attempts to set the spread. For this reason, sportsbooks use the “run line,” which is essentially the same as the puck line.

Do you lose a moneyline bet on a tie?

With a couple of notable exceptions, a tied game results in a push for moneyline bets. So, if your chosen game ends without a definitive resolution, the sportsbook will return your bet. Ties are either impossible or quite rare for most sports. At the highest level, games for sports like basketball and baseball will continue until a winner emerges, no matter how long it takes. NFL games can end in a tie, but even after 2017 rule changes made that more probable, only 0.39% of regular-season games have concluded without a clear winner. So, for the most part, don’t expect to have too many situations like that.

However, there are a couple of sports that are (or were) notorious for their frequent ties. The first and most obvious of these is soccer. Although the statistics vary from league to league and country to country, draws are always a possibility for soccer games. Few sports can match soccer for its ability to end with the score knotted, and 0-0 ties are a marvel for both their defensive exhibitions and their inherent futility. Nevertheless, the frequency of draws in soccer presented a challenge for oddsmakers, who did not want to return wagers between 10% and 20% of the time. Thus, the three-way moneyline was born:

Three-way moneyline bet
From DraftKings

As you can see from this example, it is possible to wager that either Crystal Palace or Tottenham Hotspur will win. However, the notion that the game could end as a draw is also a possibility. In fact, even though Crystal Palace is more than a 4:1 underdog, the odds of a tie between the two teams are less than an estimated 3:1.

This means that you don’t always have to bet that there will be a winner in a soccer game. If both goalkeepers are on their game and the fullbacks are on patrol, goals might end up being quite sparing and difficult to achieve.

The other sport where you might see a three-way moneyline option is hockey. Now, with regard to NHL betting, ties have become nigh-impossible to achieve since the introduction of the penalty shootout in 2005. However, because they used to be a reasonably common occurrence, a book might retain the three-way moneyline for hockey betting from time to time. In this case, a bet on a draw would reflect a tie at the end of regulation, regardless of the outcome in overtime or a shootout. On a related note, soccer games that use shootouts for a resolution (such as tournament games) also use their draw option in the same way. Don’t expect to find the draw option on hockey games as the standard, though — for the most part, you’re picking one squad to win outright.

Can you live bet on the moneyline?

Yes, in a manner of speaking. One of the biggest changes from the sports betting of times past is the advent of live betting, or in game betting. As the name implies, these bets occur after the game has already begun. And if you check, you will see options for betting the moneyline while a game is in progress.

However, it’s important to realize that this version of the moneyline is fundamentally different from the pregame moneyline. Before the game begins, oddsmakers have used their best statistics, calculations and intuition to come up with how they believe a game will proceed, but all of those elements are still just supposition.

Savvy sports bettors, therefore, may come up with wagering opportunities if they can find perceived inaccuracies in the oddsmakers’ estimates. A pregame wager on the underdog, for instance, might become much more favourable if, say, the favourite loses its star to injury during the training week. These inefficiencies in the market are a big part of the reason why sports betting is one of the few gambling activities capable of returning a long-term profit to the bettor.

With live betting, those inefficiencies dry up quickly. The oddsmakers (or, more accurately, the sportsbook software) can recalculate the effects of game events on the fly and create a much more accurate estimate of the game’s outcome. So, you can bet on the moneyline as a live bet, but you need to be careful and understand that it’s a proposition bet, rather than a true moneyline, and you’re probably not going to have the same advantages you did before the game started.

Is the moneyline a good bet?

In general, yes. Of the common types of sports bets, moneylines are some of the best that you can make. Aside from point spreads, there are probably no safer options available in Ontario sports betting. Both futures and proposition bets come with extra risks and concerns, and parlays are prime examples of high-risk, high-reward bets. However, if you are torn about whether to bet the moneyline, consider the following reasons why you might want to do so:

  • Simple to understand: No other sports bet needs less explanation about its core question than the moneyline. It is a bet about which team will win the game, pure and simple. Your study and research in order to make an informed decision about a moneyline bet is nothing more arcane than choosing which team will prevail, so it’s easier to get your head around what you need to do.
  • Available for every game: Unlike point spreads or some of the less common types of wagers, there is always a moneyline on every game. If you can train yourself to be a moneyline specialist, you will never run out of options for placing a bet. Even if it’s a sport that you’ve never encountered, heard about or are even sure how to pronounce, there will be a moneyline on its games.
  • A shared goal with casual fans: Because the moneyline only cares about which team wins, you don’t have to concern yourself with the numbers behind the win. Instead, you can sit back and watch the scoreboard. As it turns out, that’s what most fans do, too, so betting the moneyline can preserve your experience as a sports fan, rather than turning you into a handicapper with no actual interest in the game.

At the end of the day, whether a bet is good or not will depend on your own personality and preparation. Obviously, your entire work to get ready for betting on sports might consist of flipping a coin. However, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t give the moneyline a look as a primary option for your wagering.

Moneyline betting mistakes to avoid

As with every type of sports bet, you are going to lose some of the time. Professional sports bettors usually win only about 60% of the time, so it’s not easy to do.

Given the difficulty, you’ll want to avoid making a few common mistakes when you bet. When devising your moneyline betting strategy, there are several actions you can take that are like unforced errors in tennis. The sportsbooks do not need any help taking a share of your money, so you should avoid these mistakes to try to minimize their opportunity to succeed.

  • Don’t bet because it’s your team: Despite what we stated above about the fact that moneylines can allow you to root for teams to win, you should not automatically bet on the teams that you like. Betting based on factors other than the relevant statistics and numbers is a recipe for losing, and nothing would sting worse than seeing your team lose and growing lighter in the wallet in the process.
  • Don’t bet right away: Like all sports bets, moneylines evolve and change as the game approaches. The changes can be quite instructive about which way the “smart money” is betting on a particular game. So, don’t immediately place a wager on the opening moneyline of the week. Make a note of it, come back later, and see if the field is thinking the same way that you are. Then, you can decide if you still want to bet.
  • Don’t count on a sure thing: In that baseball example above, the two teams (Giants and Braves) showed probabilities of 46% and 54% to win the game, respectively. So, the Braves are favoured to win, but that doesn’t mean that they will. In fact, there’s an excellent chance that they won’t. Even in cases where a team is a 3:1 underdog, it still could prevail a decent amount of the time. Make sure not to conflate a statistical advantage with a sure thing. Sports are never sure things, or else there wouldn’t be a reason to play the games.

Final thoughts

If you bet on sports, you will encounter the moneyline everywhere you go. In many ways, the moneyline underpins every other type of sports bet that you will find. The sooner that you can become comfortable with this type of wager, the easier it will be to understand the other bets, too.

However, like all gambling, moneylines present a real possibility of loss. In fact, losing is a certainty for even the most accomplished sports bettors a large chunk of the time. Therefore, betting the moneyline is no time to get lazy or apathetic. Make sure to make intelligent decisions about which team will win and have reasons for the way you’re betting. You should also avoid wagering on the moneyline if you are angry, sad or otherwise emotional because winning is hard enough without having to fight against life outside of the sportsbook.

Above all, remember that all gambling, including sports betting, is supposed to be fun. If it’s not, then you need to call it a day. Nothing makes a bad day worse than ending up with less money in your pocket.