The Complete Guide to Sports Betting Odds

The Complete Guide to Sports Betting Odds

Sports betting isn’t easy, but you can be successful if you are right 55 percent of the time, give or take. Don’t worry about being perfect. Knowing common mistakes can help you avoid obstacles. Take the first step by educating yourself on the basics of betting lines here with our guide.

What Are Betting Lines?

How do betting lines work? A betting line is the margin of difference between two teams set by Pennsylvania sportsbooks at to encourage as close to a 50/50 split on betting for a given event. That is the optimal situation for a PA sportsbooks looking to manage its risk and maximize its take. The line is intended to give both sides an equal chance of winning, which is why they typically have equal payouts (usually about -110) .

There are a variety of betting lines, though most people think of point spreads when they think of how betting lines work. For example, if the Philadelphia Eagles are playing the Dallas Cowboys, a sportsbook might make the Eagles a 6-point favorite. They would be listed at -6 while the Cowboys would be +6. That means if you bet on the Eagles, they need to win by more than 6 points for you to collect. If you bet on Dallas, it must lose by less than 6 points or win outright. If the Eagles win by exactly 6, it would be a “push” and bets on both sides are typically refunded.

It’s important to remember that the betting lines do not predict the outcome of a game as much as risk management. Bookmakers create betting lines to appeal bettors for both sides, with the idea of seeing equal betting from each group.

Other common types of betting lines include moneylines and point totals. Moneyline betting involves picking an outright winner. There can be more (or less) risk depending on the side you take and the payouts rise and fall depending on that risk. Point total betting involves wagering on whether the final score, when combined, goes above or below a total set by the sportsbook. Odds for either scenario, like in spread betting, are typically the same.

Who Creates Sports Betting Lines?

Sportsbooks such as those that set lines for Pennsylvania sports betting employ experts known as bookmakers. Those bookmakers create betting lines. Many factors impact how bookmakers determine their number, including injuries and recent trends. The No. 1 goal remains the same: Maximize the action while minimizing the risk.

If bookmakers know that Joel Embiid is hurt and will not play for the Philadelphia 76ers, the betting line will shift down for the 76ers based on that knowledge.

Another example of how betting lines work: If Jacob deGrom is pitching with an ERA under 2.00 but the Mets have only won two of his last eight starts, then bookmakers may decide to play it safe with a betting line that doesn’t heavily favor New York (despite its top pitcher starting).

Betting lines can vary depending on the type of wager one is making. That is especially true when looking at prop bets.

For instance, the betting line for the 76ers beating the Atlanta Hawks by 16 points will be less than Philadelphia winning the first quarter by five points. This is because, in the eyes of the bookmakers, winning by 16 points is more difficult than winning the first quarter by five points.

Even if a bookmaker believes the Eagles are more than a touchdown better than the Cowboys, the book must determine what will actually spur all potential bettors to back their side. The bookmaker might decide that six points is that number and set the opening line there. Once bets start coming in, the line can shift.

Do Betting Lines Change?

They can and often do. “Opening lines” set early will shift for various reasons. But sportsbooks want to balance the betting. If a preponderance of money is bet on one side, the odds could shorten for that team and lengthen for the other. Odds will obviously shift with late-breaking injury or roster news, too.

Let’s use the Embiid example. If the Sixers announce a few hours before tipoff that Embiid will miss that night’s game, then the betting line for Philadelphia could lengthen. The oddsmakers could change the Sixers from a 5.5-point favorite to a 3.5-point favorite based on that news.

Betting lines can change slightly if the public is betting heavily on one side.

Let’s say Villanova opens as a 5-point college basketball favorite against Seton Hall. The public can bet one team so much to the point that bookmakers move the betting line. If the public bets heavily on Seton Hall, then the betting line will move to make Villanova a 4-point favorite to encourage more money on the Wildcats.

Just because the public bets heavily one way doesn’t mean you should. Betting a team solely based on the public betting percentage is one mistake to avoid when betting. Many experienced or “sharp” bettors know when to “fade” the public and go against public sentiment.

Will Betting Lines Change For Already Placed Bets?

No. Once a bettor locks in a pick, it’s set in stone. Therefore, it’s also good to check betting lines early if you are looking to bet on a popular choice. You can get a better value for a game before the public jumps in and changes the betting line. But if you are thinking of fading the public, wait for the line to shift.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers enter a game as a 10-point favorite against the Cincinnati Bengals, the public may bet Pittsburgh up to a 12- or 13-point favorite. Bettors who took Pittsburgh early at -10 got the better value.

This can be risky though. If the Sixers are an 11-point favorite against the Cleveland Cavaliers, some may take the early betting line before it rises. However, again, the line might drop to 7 points or fewer if Philly announces that a couple of stars will sit out that night.

Timing is everything.

Why Are Some Sportsbook Betting Lines Different than Others?

Competition. As the bettor, you are the customer and sportsbooks are the business. It’s just like shopping for anything else when looking for a deal, you are shopping for the best betting lines.

It’s always a good idea to look at which sportsbooks provide the best betting lines for any given event. Different sportsbooks will offer different promotions and betting lines to get you to bet with them. Some will offer odds “boosts” on marquee games to draw you in.

As the customer, it makes sense for you to find the best value on a bet. That’s why we recommend setting up accounts at multiple sportsbooks. With more choices, you can take advantage of multiple welcome bonuses and simultaneously shop around for the best odds on a specific event.

How to Read Betting Lines

You can’t make an informed bet if you do not know how to read betting lines. Using the Sixers as an example again, let’s break down what it all means:

PHI -11.5 (-110) -835200.5o (-110)
CLE +11.5 (-110)+540200.5u (-110)

First Column: Point Spread

The first numbers you see on the left side (11.5) is the point spread. This number reflects the betting line, with bookmakers installing Philadelphia as an 11.5-point favorite over Cleveland.

The favored team is always minus (-) and the underdog plus (+).

For some bettors, seeing Cleveland getting 11.5 points is tempting. The Cavaliers don’t have to win, they just have to lose by 11 points or fewer to cover. Another reason the point spread is popular among bettors: it is less expensive, as noted by the second numbers listed (-110). This number indicates the cost for taking the point spread bet.

Anytime a number is minus (-), then that’s how much it will cost to win back $100.

If bettors want to take Cleveland at +11.5, it will cost $110 to win $100, $11 to win $10 and so on. It’s far less risky than betting on them to win outright (but also far less profitable if they do).

Middle Column: Moneyline

The moneyline represents how much money you it would either cost you to win $100 (if picking the favorite, represented by a negative number) or how much you would win on a $100 if you bet the underdog (represented with a positive number). For a bettor that wants to pick Philadelphia, it will cost $835 to win back $100 in profit.

However, if a bettor feels like Cleveland can pull an upset, a $100 bet would win back a whopping $540. Higher risk but a much higher reward.

Last Column: Totals or Over/Under

Point total betting is another option bettors may pick, trying to predict the total amount of points each side will combine to produce. The fun part of this kind of bet is that you don’t care who wins, just whether they score more than the posted number of points (if you bet “over”) or fewer (“under”). Overtime is always included in totals betting unless the sportsbook explicitly states it is “in regulation.”

In the betting line above, the bookmaker has 200.5 set for the point total. It will cost bettors $110 to win back $100 if the teams combine for 201 or more points. For under bettors, it will cost $110 to win back $100 if the final score adds up to 200 or fewer points.

Where to Find the Best Betting Lines?

Here at we compare and review all the best sportsbooks at Pennsylvania’s online casinos so we can serve as your one-stop information source. You don’t need to hop from sportsbook to sportsbook trying to compare offers because we do it all in one place. We review both the features and top bonus offers from each sportsbook available in Pennsylvania and help you with a hassle-free way to sign up and play.



Jim has more than 20 years of experience in sports journalism and covers sports, gambling and the intersection of those two industries for He has worked for publications such as the Tampa Bay Times,, and He is passionate about getting Pennsylvania sports betting fans in the know and finding the latest PA sportsbook promos.

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