How to Read Las Vegas Odds

by Big Al Staff

How to read Las Vegas odds

As a sports fan, you have probably seen one of these giant display boards showing all the odds of your favorite games at Las Vegas sportsbooks.  To some, these boards might convey the needed information with the blink of an eye.  To others, it's like walking into a giant maze and not knowing where to search.  In this article, we want to describe how one can get started in the sports betting world, and educate you about betting odds.  We'll guide you through, so you can have a deep understanding!

How do odds work?
To answer this question, the definition of odds must be clear first.  Odds are a way to display the chance of an outcome of a sporting event.  The odds can provide you with a lot of information about the match:  who is the favorite, who is the underdog, will this be a competitive match, and whether the payout will be large or small?  There are tons of questions that might pop up when looking at the odds that bookies provide.  Now, when you fully understand the difference between several kinds of odds, you will have most of these questions answered before they even pop up.  We want to give you all the information you need in your sports betting career, so let's dive right in.

What kind of betting odds are there?
Let's start by distinguishing among the different types of odds.  Since we're focusing on Las Vegas (or American) odds in this article, it makes sense to point out that other parts of the world favor different types of odds.  In the United Kingdom, and throughout Europe, odds can be different than in Las Vegas.  The following odds are the most commonly used:
  • American odds
  • Fractional odds
  • Decimal odds
It should also be emphasized that the differences among types of odds is a completely separate issue from the different types of bets that one can make (e.g., straight bet, parlay, teaser).

How to read American odds?
The main type of odds that Las Vegas sportsbooks use is American (or moneyline) odds.  These odds show you straightaway which team is the favorite, and which team is the underdog.  The favored team will have a minus symbol in front of a number, while the underdog will have a plus sign.  Keep it as a rule that the negative number is the team that's most likely to win.  Also, the number alongside the plus or minus sign relates to either winning $100 (if you're betting on the favorite) or losing $100 (if you're betting on the underdog).  To show this in action, we can take a typical NFL game between the New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers.
  • New York Giants +210
  • Carolina Panthers -250
In this example, the betting lines show that the oddsmaker favors the Carolina Panthers to win the game over the New York Giants.  To calculate your winnings, you can use the following formulae:
  • If you bet $100 on the New York Giants and they win, you profit $210 above your initial stake of $100
  • If you want to win $100 by betting on Carolina, then you need to stake $250.  If the Panthers win, you profit $100 above your initial stake of $250

How to read Fractional odds?
The fractional odds are the oldest type of odds.  They originated with horse racing in Great Britain, which is why this type of odds is still popular in the United Kingdom.  The signs for the fractional odds are either a slash (/) or a hyphen (-) -- for example, 4/1 or 4-1.  This shows that, for every dollar that you wager, you win 4 dollars over and above the already wagered dollar.  As these types of odds are very popular in countries like England, we'll illustrate them with a Premier League soccer example.  A match between Manchester City and Arsenal could look like this:
  • Manchester City 7/5
  • Arsenal 4/7
You can use these odds to calculate the amount of money you win at the end of your winning bet. The examples above would look like this:
  • 7/5 - every $5 you bet would earn you 7 dollars in return.  Your total return would be $12 including your initial stake of $5.
  • 4/7 - every $7 you bet would earn you 4 dollars in profit.  Your total return would be $11 including your initial stake of $7.

 How to read Decimal odds?
Another way to display odds is in decimal form, which is commonly used by sports bettors in Europe, Canada, and New Zealand.  This type of odds can give you an indication of the chances of a team to win its game, so the decimal odds are probably the easiest to understand.  Where the fractional odds and the American odds require some quick mathematics -- including your initial stake -- the decimal odds are pretty simple to calculate.  When looking at the NBA, for example, we can put the decimal odds into an example.  First, let's take the formula that you can use to calculate your total returns:
  • Your stake x decimal odds = total return
To determine the profits you make, the formula is:
  • (decimal odds x stake) - stake = profit
When we take a look at what the Preseason odds were for three teams to win the NBA Championship in 2020, we can show the exact earnings per bet.  The odds on each team were:
  • Los Angeles Lakers - 5.44
  • Houston Rockets - 7.39
  • Philadelphia 76ers - 15.13
Now, this is where we take the formula and fill in the empty spots to calculate our earnings per bet.  In this example, we'll bet $10 per match on a specific team:
  • Los Angeles Lakers - 5.44 = (5.44 x $10) - $10 stake = $54.40 - $10 = $44.40 profit
  • Houston Rockets - 7.39 = (7.39 x $10) - $10 stake = $73.90 - $10 = $63.90 profit
  • Philadelphia 76ers - 15.13 = (15.13 x $10) - $10 stake = $151.30 - $10 = $141.30 profit

What are the most common bet types?
In the sports betting world, there are not only different types of odds, but also different types of bets.  Here, we will take you through the most common bet types and the most lucrative bet types.  After all, you're wagering here to make some money.
  • Parlay bet
  • Moneyline bet
  • Over/under bet
  • Point spread bet

Parlay bet
With a parlay bet, you do not bet on one single match, you bet on multiple games.  Your bet only succeeds when every single team wins (or pushes), and not a single match loses.  Because the odds of winning a parlay bet are often very small, you could make giant amounts of money.  A 3-team parlay, for example, usually pays 6-1 odds.  And that is why parlays are always a popular betting option.  As we all know, each sporting event is different from the other.  And even a game which might seem predictable can result in a completely unexpected outcome.  A nice example of the possible profit you could make with a parlay bet occurred in France.  A bettor made a parlay bet that stretched out over 21 games.  For each of the first 20 games, the bettor's chosen team won, which got the attention of the bookmaker.  So, for the 21st (and final) game of the parlay, the bookie invited the bettor to attend the event at the stadium.  After a thrilling match, Bayern München won 2-0, to reward the bettor with a $452,152,96.59 payout, on an initial bet of $565.  Parlay odds can be long, but if you manage to win, you win big!

Moneyline bet
The moneyline bet is one of the most popular bet types that's available in sports betting.  It's one of the most simple bets you can make as it's nothing more than betting on which team will outscore its opponent to win the match.  Many people call this handicapping -- simply picking the winner of the game.  You either bet on the favorite or the underdog to win the game.  To explain this, let's take Super Bowl 54 with the odds that were available at BookMaker:
  • Kansas City Chiefs -130
  • San Francisco 49ers +111
As you can see, the Chiefs carried the negative odds, so they were the favored team.  The 49ers carried positive odds, which meant they were the underdog in that game.  With a moneyline bet, you only win if your team triumphs at the end of the match.

Over/Under bet
When you become adept at diving deep into the analytics of a sporting event, you might gain an interest in an over/under wager.  With a moneyline bet, you only try to predict the ultimate winner of the game.  But with the over/under bet, you have to analyze the ability to score and/or play defense for both teams.  Thus, you're betting on the final score of the match to be either over or under the amount given by the oddsmakers.  For example, let's once again review Super Bowl 54.  The over/under at BookMaker was set at 53 points, and each side of the wager also had different moneyline odds attached. The odds were:
  • Over 53 -126
  • Under 53 +104
In this example again, the minus sign indicates the favored outcome, while the positive odds indicate the less probable outcome.  Since we're betting on the final score of a match, you have to pay strong attention to the relative offensive and defensive strengths of each team.  Make a good analysis of the number of points each team might score, and tally it up to determine whether the game will be high-scoring or low-scoring.  When your research is thorough, you can make a bet with confidence.

Point spread bet
One of the popular bets in sports betting is the point spread bet.  It's one of the bets that might seem a little difficult to grasp at first, but it can be really exciting.  In point spread betting, you are wagering on the difference of points between the two teams at the end of the game.  Oddsmakers provide this type of bet to make betting on both teams interesting, regardless of the skill difference between the two teams.  As an example, let's take an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Detroit Pistons.  The odds could look something like this:
  • Detroit Pistons +14.5 (-110)
  • Los Angeles Lakers -14.5 (-110)
In this example, the Lakers are the favored team to win the match, but they will have to win by more than 14.5 points for your point spread bet to cash.  If the Detroit team wins straight-up, or loses by less than 14.5 points, your point spread bet on the Pistons would cash.  When you are betting on the spread, there's a chance (if the point spread is a whole number) that the game would end up in a tie.  In this case, the bookmaker would refund your stake.

How to use Las Vegas odds to get better at sports betting
One thing any sports bettor wants is to get better, win more often, and eventually bring in more dollars.  When you manage to work with the odds the right way, you can rapidly predict how oddsmakers and sportsbooks will set (and move) the numbers.  

Sometimes, the odds might look deceptively easy for one team.  However, don't be suckered into betting on that enticing side.  Always remember that the bookmakers probably know more than you do.  Perhaps a critical player might be injured, or there are internal problems within the team, or some other unknown factor might be affecting the odds.  Always do your own research before you place a bet. If the odds look too good to be true, they probably are!

What are rotation numbers?
Since we are writing this article for all the Las Vegas sports bettors out there, we can't leave out the rotation numbers.  The rotation numbers are the numbers that are attached to a specific team in a specific game.  The numbers are displayed to the left of the team name on the tote board, or in a printed schedule.  Visiting teams would have odd numbers; home teams would be exactly one number higher, and be even numbers.  They're designed for sports bettors to make a quick bet at their favorite sportsbook.  You simply walk to the betting window, and provide the rotation number, team name, bet type, and amount of money to the ticket writer, and your bet is placed.  A couple of examples of the use of rotation numbers are:
  • "451 - Houston Texans - moneyline - $150"
  • "478 - Los Angeles Rams - point spread - $50
The above examples both refer to individual teams in a specific game.  The number 7 might be associated with a road team in an NHL Hockey game, while 102 might be the rotation number of a home team in an NFL game.  If you want to bet fast and efficiently, you should learn how to use rotation numbers!

What is the best way to read Vegas odds?
After reading this article, you have all the information you need to get started with your sports betting career.  All that's left for you to do is to find the right place for your bets.  Either you choose a physical sportsbook in your city, or join any of the available online sportsbooks.  Our current #1 sportsbook is BetAnySports -- primarily because it offers reduced juice.  So, you can lay -105 on a football or basketball game rather than -110.  But if you’re looking to bet $50,000 on an NFL game, then BookMaker would be your best option.  Or, if you’re looking for the best sign-up and reload bonuses, then BetNow would be a top choice.  

The next steps after this are different for any bettor out there, but to get you started we would like to suggest our game plan:
  1. Pick the sporting event of your preference
  2. Do a full analysis of the home team and the away team
  3. See which online sportsbook offers the best odds
  4. Pick your bet type:  moneyline, point spread or over/under
  5. Make sure your analysis is thorough
  6. Place your bet and expect to win more than you lose
That's how we approach sports betting and how you should approach your future bets.  Now, get started, and bring in the big bucks!

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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