What is a Moneyline Bet?

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Humans have been betting on sports for a long time. How long? It’s hard to tell. However, ancient cave paintings discovered in France seem to suggest that sports such as wrestling and sprinting have been around for over 15,000 years. Surely the ancient Galatians had some skin in the game. Perhaps they were even placing moneyline bets. But what is a moneyline?

Already know the answer? Why not learn how to read odds, or try out point spread betting?

What is a Moneyline Bet?

Moneyline betting is one of the most popular ways of wagering on sporting events. It simply requires the bettor to pick a winner. Moneyline bets have only two possible outcomes, which is why moneyline bets are often referred to as two-way bets.

Think of it in terms of a coin toss. The result is either heads or tails. If you bet on heads and it comes up heads, you win. If it comes up tails, you lose. There is no in-between.

what is a moneyline

How are Moneyline Odds Displayed?

In the United States, odds are usually displayed in the American odds format. These are characterized by the use of “+” and “-” numbers.

For example, let’s say the St. Louis Cardinals are listed at +120 and the Atlanta Braves are -130. The positive number signifies the underdog and the negative number makes Atlanta the favorites. The team with the negative number is always the favorite, and the side with the positive number is always the underdog.

In Europe, odds are normally displayed in fractional odds. Using the same baseball game and the same odds, the Cardinals would be listed at 6/5 while the Braves would be around 4/5.

Moneyline odds are also often displayed in decimal form. You might see St. Louis listed at 2.20, with Atlanta 1.77. Regardless of the format, the odds are still the same.

What Do Moneylines Tell Us?

Moneyline odds don’t just indicate which side is favored, they also tell us how much that side is favored by. In the above example, the moneyline tells us that while Atlanta is favored, they aren’t favored by a whole lot. In contrast, if St. Louis was +262 and Atlanta was -290, then Atlanta would be a heavy favorite. As the gap between the two numbers grows, so do the odds of the favorite prevailing.

Another thing that a moneyline tells us is how much value a bettor is getting. Bookmakers don’t offer their services for free. They take a cut of every bet through what is called the betting margin or odds margin. Think of it as a small commission. Obviously, a bigger commission means less potential profit for the bettor. We’ll touch on that topic in a minute or so. 

Moneyline Payouts

From a bettor’s perspective, one of the most important things moneyline odds reveal is the potential payout. Referring back to our Cardinals at +120 versus the Braves at -130, a bettor can calculate exactly what the potential payout is.

Underdog Moneylines

The formula for calculating potential payout from an underdog bet is:

Potential Payout = Wager Amount x (Odds/100) + Wager Amount.

So, if you want to figure out how much you would win if you bet $50 on the Cardinals at +120, plug those numbers into the formula and solve the equation.

Potential Payout = 50 x (120/100) + 50

= 50 x 1.20 + 50

= 60 + 50

= $110

This means you would receive $110 back if you won the bet. $50 of that is your original wager amount and $60 of it would be profit.

Favorite to Win

Figuring out the potential payout for a wager on a favorite is a little different. The formula is:

Potential Payout = Wager Amount / (Odds/100) + Wager Amount

Let’s figure out how much you stand to profit from a $50 on the Braves at -130.

Potential Payout = 50 / (130/100) + 50

= 50 / 1.3 + 50

= 38.46 +50

= $88.46

This means you would receive $88.46 if your $50 bet on Atlanta at -130 prevailed. $50 of the payout is the original bet amount and $38.46 is your profit.

The calculations are much more straightforward if you bet in increments of $100 on underdogs. For favorites, bet to win $100. With an underdog, a winning $100 bet at +120 would win you $120 plus the original $100 wager for a $220 payout.

Conversely, you would need to successfully wager $130 to net a $100 profit if the moneyline is -130. Moneyline bettors need not worry themselves too much about doing the math. Today’s online sportsbooks automatically do it for you when you add a game to your bet ticket.

What is a Moneyline Betting Margin?

As mentioned, betting margins, or odds margins, essentially tell sports bettors how much value the odds offer vis-a-vis the bookmaker’s commission. To illustrate this, think of the Super Bowl coin toss. By nature, a coin toss is a 50/50 proposition. Therefore, it would make sense to think that if you won a $100 bet on heads, you would make a $100 profit. However, you must take the bookmaker’s commission into consideration.

In reality, the bookie charges a percentage to facilitate the bet. Therefore, the opening money line for a coin toss would be, as an example, -105 for heads and -105 for tails. Using the above moneyline formula for favorites, you will find a winning $100 bet would net you $95 in profit.

So, if you are the bookmaker and your two friends bet $100 each, that’s a total of $200 you are holding. When the bet is settled, then you pay the winner $195 and keep the balance to yourself as profit.

Remember that some bookies take a bigger cut than others. Maybe a competing sportsbook opens the Super Bowl coin flip at -110 for heads and -110 for tails. The same $100 winning bet would yield a payout of $191, or $91 in profit. The bookmaker takes in $200 in betting action and pays out $191 netting him $9 in commission.

See how that works? Getting the best lines can make a big difference in your success as a moneyline bettor.

What is a Moneyline 3-Way?

So far, we have discussed two-way moneylines but you should also be familiar with three-way moneylines. As the name would suggest, a three-way moneyline has three possible outcomes which are a win, a loss, or a draw. Some sports bettors prefer to bet on three-way moneylines because they tend to offer better odds due to the extra possible outcome.

There are several sports such as NHL hockey and playoff soccer that don’t result in ties. If the teams are knotted up after regulation time, they decide the winner in overtime and, if necessary, a shootout. In these cases, three-way bets are graded at the end of regulation time.

Benefits of Moneyline Betting

One of the main benefits of betting on moneylines is its simplicity. You need only pick the team you think will win. This type of bet is perfect for novice sports bettors who want to get their feet wet. Some sports such as NFL football even offer the possibility of a push.

If you bet the two-way moneyline on the Indianapolis Colts to beat the New York Giants and the game ends in a tie after the extra quarter is played, you get your original stake back.

Moneyline bettors can also take advantage of online sportsbook promotions like Bore Draw Money Back or the various offers that refund your stake if your team collapses in the final stages of a game.

The early cashout feature is also quite popular these days. Moneyline bettors have the option of closing their bets and walking away a winner before the end of the game if they feel their team is about to blow it.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of moneyline betting is the sheer thrill of it all. It’s amazing how much the excitement level increases when you place a few bucks on a game. With that said, sports bettors should do their homework so they have a better chance at winning money.