Money line bets can seem a little confusing at first, especially for the bettor who has traditionally wagered their money on the point spread. The money line is actually the most straightforward bet you can have on any sport. Whilst the spread bet is on a team to win and by how many, the money line is a bet on simply a team to win.
Money Line – How it Works
Here is a typical money line for a game in the NFL:
Green Bay Packers +180
Pittsburgh Steelers -200
When a sportsbook sets a money line, they’ll base the odds on the probability of a team winning the game, and in the majority of cases one team will be favored (unless the teams cannot be split). In the above game, the sports-book has decided that the Pittsburgh Steelers warrant favoritism.
If you were to place a bet of $200 on the Steelers here, you’d make a profit of $100 if they were to win. If you were to place the same $200 on the Packers here, you’d make a profit of $360 if they were to win.
You’ll notice immediately that the two winning sums are vastly different. This is because in money line betting, the stronger the favorite, the lower return you’ll receive on that team (conversely you’ll receive a higher return on the underdog).
Here are another two examples of money line bets:
St Louis Cardinals -135
Chicago Cubs +115
Here, a $135 wager on the Cardinals would return $100, and a $115 bet on the Cubbies would see a profit of $100. As you can see, the returns on this game are not as extreme as the above game, and this is because the sportsbook have figured out that the Cardinals have an edge here, but only a small one.
Mike Tyson -5000
Buster Douglas +4000
This was a classic boxing upset from 1990 and was seen as one of the biggest shocks in sporting history. Here the books had extreme lines. A wager of $5000 on Tyson would see a profit of just $100, and a wager of $100 on Douglas would see a profit of $4000. This is an example of how extreme money line bets can be.
All money line bets are expressed in units of $100, however you should note that wagers of all sizes can be placed on money lines. As an example, if you wanted to place a $5 wager on Buster Douglas in the above example, then you’d make a profit of $200. ($5 is 5% of $100, so you’ll receive 5% of the return, – 5% of $4000 is $200).
Which Sports Use Money Line Bets?
Money line bets are on offer on all major sports. In the NFL, baseball, the NBA and the NHL, the money line traditionally goes alongside the point spread bets – in many cases being the least popular, especially in football and basketball. In many sports there is no point spread, motor sport being a good example, so in a sport like this, the money line is the only way to bet on the outright winner. Sports with small margins of victory are also popular money line wagers – soccer being an example, where point spreads are possible, but because of the lack of goals, the money line wager is preferable (the same can apply to baseball and hockey – although puck lines and run lines are a way for the gambler to enjoy point spread betting in these).
Should You Choose Money line or Point Spread Bets?
Having a choice between the money line and the point spread gives the bettor more options. Consider a scenario where there is a strong favorite for a game. You might want to guarantee a smaller return by betting on the favorite to win on the money line – or you might want to almost double your money by betting on that team to not only win, but win by more than a certain margin. Conversely by backing the dog, on the money line you’ll receive a better return for your money but by backing the same team against the spread you have the insurance of still being able to win even if the team don’t.