How to Read a Betting Line

Next to a craps table, the sportsbook can be one of the most confusing places to put down a bet in a casino.  It seems like it should be pretty straightforward – you just need to go in and say, “I want to put 50 bucks on Dallas!” and they hand you a ticket, right?  But that approach isn’t going to get you very far.  What sport?  Money line or against the spread?  Did you want to buy points or just go with whatever the board is offering?

And even more difficult to comprehend is that board displaying available wagers.  What the heck do all those numbers mean?  Well, worry not because this page is meant to help you decode the mystery and understand the basics of placing a wager on a sporting event.

First thing’s first: this is a game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons.  Since Atlanta is the second team listed, they are the home team for this contest.  The first number on the board identifies which team you want to bet.  That way instead of asking the teller for New Orleans and forcing them to clarify who you want, you can just say that you want your money on #205.

Now, in this game, the Falcons are favored by three points (see Point Spread in the Glossary).  This is indicated by the -3 next to Falcons.  If the Saints were favored, the -3 would be next to them instead.  So if you say to the teller, “I want 206 against the spread,” then you mean that you’re picking Atlanta to win the game by more than three points.  Remember that ten cent lines (-110) are pretty standard in sportsbooks, so you will win ten dollars for every eleven dollars you bet if Atlanta is successful.

OK, that’s the spread, but what about the rest of the numbers?  Well, “45.5” is the Total Bet, meaning the combined score of the two teams at the end of the game is predicted to be 45.5.  You can bet over or under that total and, like bets against the spread, get paid -110.

The last two numbers (+140 and -160) are the Money Lines for the game.  If you want to bet on one team winning the game without messing around with the point spread, you can bet the money line instead.  From the previous example, you could instead say, “I want 206 on the money line.”  In that case, you’d be a winner if Atlanta wins the game by any score.  The advantage is that you don’t need to worry that you’ll push or lose your bet if the Falcons win a close game.  The disadvantage is that you’d only be paid at -160…that’s $6.25 for every $10 you wagered.  On the other hand, if you correctly picked the Saints to win at +140, you would be paid $14.00 for every $10 bet.

One item to note is that if the spread is really high, there may not be a money line available.  Most sports books would rather avoid putting up bets with ridiculously high payouts (+5000, for example) because bettors could invest small amounts and win a lot of money on an upset.

So there you go…everything on the board explained.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us on! 


Category:general -- posted at: 7:26pm CDT