Sports Betting Plus & Minus Explained

If you are new to sports betting, one of the first questions you may have is what the plus and minus signs next to the numbers mean. It can be confusing and even a little intimidating at the start, but once you get the hang of it, you will be able to read sports betting numbers easily.

Below we’ll take you through the basics of what the pluses and minuses mean so you’ll be on your way to a full understanding of sports betting.

What do + and – mean in sports betting?

The plus and minus signs in sports betting can apply to either point spread numbers or the standard moneyline odds, which you can use to calculate payouts for a better understanding of how much money you would receive for a winning bet. Let’s take a look at each of these:

Point spreads

The point spread is one of the most popular wagers, as it aims to give each team an equal chance of winning. Basically, the lesser team will get a head start before the game even begins.

The signs for each spread number indicate which team is the favorite (minus sign) and which is the underdog (plus sign). Here is an example of an NBA point spread you might find for a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings.

Los Angeles Lakers-5.5
Sacramento Kings+5.5

With the Lakers at -5.5, that means they are favored by 5.5 points, while the Kings are 5.5-point underdogs. If you decided to bet on Los Angeles to cover the betting spread, you would need the Lakers to win by more than 5.5 points for a winning bet. And if you bet on the Kings, you would need them to either win the game outright or lose by less than 5.5 points.

How to read betting odds

We only included the point spread in the above example so as not to confuse you with too many numbers right away. This time, we’ll use the three main bets — point spread, total, and moneyline — along with the odds as they appear in a standard game listing at a CA sportsbook. Here’s a quick overview of the point total and moneyline bets:

Point total

The total is the combined points for both teams. With a line at 223, for example, you would bet the under if you believe the two teams will combine for fewer than 223 points. And if you think the opposite, you could bet the over. Another name for this bet is the over/under.

Moneyline

The moneyline is simply betting on which team will win the game, though odds will reflect that you would receive a lesser payout if you correctly bet on the favorite compared to the underdog. Here’s a full example:

 SpreadTotalMoneyline
Los Angeles Lakers-5.5 (-110)Over 223 (-110)-205
Sacramento Kings+5.5 (-110)Under 223 (-110)+170

We already covered the +/-5.5. The other positive and negative numbers, meanwhile, are the betting odds. Just like with the point spread, you can tell which team is the moneyline favorite by looking at the pluses and minuses.

With the Lakers getting negative odds of -205, they are the favorite, and the underdog Kings are at +170. You would receive a higher payout if you correctly bet on Sacramento to win because it’s much more unlikely to happen. Oddsmakers expect the Lakers to win, so a winning wager on them would lead to a smaller payout.

You will notice the point spread and point total odds are each at -110 on both sides of the bet. That’s the standard number for those two wagers, though you may see each side shift slightly in response to betting action or news that could affect the game.

Calculating potential payouts

If you are using an online sportsbook, your betting slip will likely show you what the payout would be if you won the bet, but it is still good to learn how to calculate the number.

The easiest way to calculate a winning wager with negative odds is by taking a look at how much you’d need to risk for a potential profit of $100. With the point spread and point total odds at -110, that means you’d need to risk $110 for a chance to win $100. If you decided to take the Lakers on the moneyline at -205 odds, that means a bet of $205 would stand to win $100.

A positive odds number, meanwhile, indicates the amount of money you’d make with a $100 bet. For example, if you wanted to bet on the Kings as +170 underdogs, that means a $100 wager would result in a $170 profit if they can pull off an upset.

What do odds of -100 mean?

The standard -110 odds for the point spread and point total are an indication of the vig or the juice in sports betting lingo. This is one of the main reasons sportsbooks have the advantage over sports bettors.

In a perfect world, -110 odds would not exist for spreads and totals as oddsmakers aim to give each side roughly a 50% chance of hitting. As we discussed in the previous section, you would need to risk $110 to be in line for a $100 profit when the odds are at -110. In a fair betting system where everything is equal, you would instead receive $110 with a $110 bet. That extra $10 in this example goes back to the sportsbook.

For this reason, if you bet the same amount on -110 odds for all of your bets, you would lose money if you get only 50% correct. Assuming you’re using the same dollar amount with -110 odds, you would actually need to win 52.4% of your wagers just to break even.

If you have wondered why spread and total lines often use a half-point, this is exactly why. Sportsbooks do not want there to be a tie, which is known as a push in the betting world. Let’s say the Lakers were five-point favorites in our previous example instead of 5.5-point favorites. If Los Angeles ended up winning by exactly five points, bettors would get their money back, and sportsbooks cannot make money that way.

What makes the line move?

The opening odds and line for a game could change quite a bit as it gets closer to starting, and this could happen for a variety of reasons. For example, let’s take a look at an NFL spread where the Los Angeles Rams are 4.5-point favorites over the New England Patriots.

Los Angeles Rams-4.5 (-110)
New England Patriots+4.5 (-110)

This is especially the case in football because these numbers generally come out nearly a full week in advance of a game, and plenty can happen during that time. Oddsmakers will track the latest information and will adjust when necessary.

One of the major reasons for the numbers to move is in response to betting action. Sportsbooks will generally want an even amount of action on both sides of a point spread wager, so they can take advantage of the vig and ensure a profit for themselves. If the spread comes out and most of the betting money is going on the Rams, oddsmakers may move the odds on them to -115 or something similar, and adjust the Patriots’ odds in the opposite direction. If this still doesn’t attract more wagers on the Patriots, they may even change the spread number to try to even things out.

Other reasons for adjustments would be injury news, weather-related concerns, or roster movement. This is why it can be important to get your wagers in early if you’re confident so the numbers do not start to go against you. Moneyline numbers will likely change as well from the time odds come out to the start of game time.

Line shopping and comparing odds

If you consider yourself a serious bettor, line shopping is essential to maximize your chances of winning and the payouts you receive if you win. The idea of line shopping is just like the shopping you would do anywhere else. You are looking for the best prices to give you the best value.

Given that you’ll be comparing numbers at multiple books, you’ll also need accounts at each of those books so you can bet at the one that offers you the best numbers for the wager you want to make. All books will generally have similar numbers, but they’re not always 100% aligned.

Let’s say you wanted to bet on the Los Angeles Dodgers moneyline. From there, you would pull up the sportsbook accounts you have registered for and find the best price. If DraftKings Sportsbook California is offering -165 odds and FanDuel Sportsbook California has -160 odds, you’re going to get a better return on a winning bet at FanDuel.

This may not seem like a big deal, but this can add up, especially as the sportsbooks have the advantage over you. To operate as a successful bettor, it’s all about taking advantage of the small edges you have over the books, and this is one way to do so.

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