How to Read Sports Betting Lines

For many novice sports bettors, the first time they enter a betting site, they notice a lot of confusing numbers and concepts. 

While the information may seem overwhelming initially, putting everything in order doesn’t take much time. Sports betting lines are easy to understand once you have a handle on the data and knowledge of the sports information.

Sports Betting Odds

The odds in sports betting represent the probability that an event will happen (both positive and negative). They’re created to help bettors deduce their possible winnings and the favored team.

The bet lines are another way to know the bet’s odds or probability. Once you know what they work for, learning how to use them to your advantage will be very simple.

Although everything remains a probability when betting, your expertise and the strategic way you think will help you hit the results and, of course, obtain profits from it in many cases.

To read the sports betting lines, you must first consider the three most used types of odds – decimal, fractional, and American. The latter is most used in U.S. sportsbooks, and the fractional system is the least common.

Difference Between Decimal and American Odds

When learning how to bet on sports, decimal odds most closely represent the possible profit when betting on your favorite team. Multiply the decimal odds shown by 75 to show the profit.

American odds have a reputation for being difficult to understand, although it isn’t that difficult. The odds are represented by a minus (-) and a plus (+) number. The minus is the favorite to win, and the plus is the underdog. 

It’s also possible to see both teams with a negative or a positive number. In these cases, the lower number represents the favorite, and the higher number represents the underdog. 

In order to get the possible earnings with American odds, the standard number of these bets is $100, either as an investment or as winnings. 

If you bet $100 on the favorite, the number shows how much you will win. If you bet on the underdog, you must bet on the amount shown to win $100. 

For example, there’s an NFL game with the following odds:

  • Kansas City Chiefs (-120)
  • Philadelphia Eagles (+110)

If you bet $100 on the Chiefs and they win, you will win $120 plus the initial bet. If you bet on the Eagles, you must bet $110 to win $100 (plus the initial bet) and hope Philadelphia wins. 

This doesn’t mean bettors have to bet $100 – all sportsbooks take bets of varying sizes. Many allow bets as low as $1, showing the potential winnings before you place the bet. 

Line Movements

Something that many hear about is the movement of the lines. Some think that the line moves because of the fees, others because of the weight of money, and others because the bookmaker changed something. However, the lines move because the sportsbook allows it.

If a lot of volume is trained on a line, it will be forced to move and lose value. But it only moves when the house makes it move.

The house has several strategies to block the market, and although a lot of money enters a line, the bookmakers sometimes block these. Generally speaking, when the line moves, it moves in favor of the houses. When the houses react like this, you already have several advantage factors, and the juice of the bets is one.

In summary, when a line moves and the house allows it to stretch to the limit of the market, you are betting without value. This is because the juice is very high in the lines around what the houses launched at the market’s opening. The market or odds will lead to those with a solid betting model and strong analysis of the game backing down from betting.

Different Types Of Bets


If a team is favored, they are perceived to have a better chance of winning. If that is the case, you will make less money betting on them. The opposite is true for underdogs. They are less likely to win, meaning you would get a higher payout if you bet on them (and they won or covered).

As the numbers grow, the small numbers get smaller, or the positive numbers get bigger. This indicates that the odds of a team or athlete winning are becoming more or less probable. 

Point Spread

The point spread focuses on a winning margin between the two teams; again, you are looking for the minus and plus signs. A minus sign (-) next to a team’s number suggests they are favored and have to beat the other team or cover by that amount. If there is a positive sign (+), that team is the underdog.

For example, the Kansas City Chiefs are taking on the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chiefs are -5.5, and the Eagles are +5.5 on the spread. A bet on the Chiefs only wins if they beat the Eagles by six or more points to “cover” the spread. However, If you bet on the Eagles, the bet wins if Philly loses by less than five points or wins the game.


When considering a totals (or over/under) bet, the only consideration is the final score. It doesn’t matter which team or athlete wins or by how much – you’re betting solely on a number.

For example, the Miami Marlins play the Tampa Bay Rays, and the run total is 6.5. If the two combine for seven runs, the “over” would win. If they only have six combined runs, the “under” wins. 

Asian Handicap

The name Asian Handicap originates in Asian betting markets, specifically in Indonesia. This is a really attractive variant that is gaining popularity and is widely used by professional bettors.

Betting using the Asian Handicap has a lot of appeal in soccer, as it is the only major sport where a draw is common. If you bet with an Asian handicap, the possibility of a tie is ruled out. 

Put simply, the sports betting operator assigns a handicap to both teams at the beginning of the match to level the match. The main advantage for you as a bettor is that it gives your bet extra appeal even if there is one of the contending teams that starts as a clear favorite.

While Asian handicap betting is traditionally more common among Asian bookmakers, its popularity is rising with European and North American betting sites. However, it’s only beginning to enter the American market, and many sportsbooks haven’t caught on. 

How Bookmakers Calculate Odds

In understanding how to bet on sports, it’s important to know that betting odds are not scientific equations that 100% reflect reality. Instead, they’re approximations of a possible outcome considering many elements. 

Sportsbooks consider the general perception of an event, user preference for certain teams or players, and the importance of attracting bettors, among other pieces of sports information. All this forms a balance that translates into the share for a specific market.

As each operator has its own criteria to decide the odds for sports betting, sometimes you will find very big differences between one and the other. It is normal for houses to start with a number and change it depending on market movements. It is a game of probability to protect the house’s interests without discouraging the players’ intentions.

Today, bookmakers have their own team of analysts to determine the odds for each event. Some services are used for this purpose, both to define quotas and to compare and adjust on the fly. 

Multiple factors are considered, not related only to the event but also to climate, geography, or other factors to arrive at the betting lines. The specialists are not foolproof; occasionally, you will see a flashy odd that presents excellent earning opportunities.

Where To Find Betting Lines

Basically, sportsbooks will offer betting lines on almost all sports.

There may be variations, but the following are common:


  • Game winner
  • Punts performed by a team
  • Field goals
  • Total touchdowns by a player or team
  • Passes completed by the quarterback of a given team


  • Total points scored in the game
  • Point difference between the teams at the end of the first, second, third, or last period
  • Game winner
  • Number of rebounds for a given player
  • Number of points scored by a given player


  • Winning team
  • Total runs
  • Number of runs by a single player
  • Stolen bases
  • Number of runs scored at the end of an inning
  • Strikeouts or walks by a pitcher


  • Team to win the match
  • Goals scored in the match
  • Total corners
  • Yellow or red cards
  • Goal difference at the end of the first period
  • Penalties committed in the match
  • Number of free kicks

Reading Sports Betting Lines FAQs

The lines will be similar and the same, but it’s common to see different lines at different books. This is why sports bettors must compare the lines before placing their bets to get the best deal.

The lines can change before a particular event for several reasons – an injury, weather changes, etc. In addition, if bettors start placing a lot of money on a particular team, the sportsbooks will often change the lines. 

The vig, vigorish, or juice is the percentage the sportsbook makes off a losing wager. The sportsbook only collects it if the bet is unsuccessful.

A particular team in a contest is the underdog because sportsbooks don’t believe that team will win. However, they sometimes get it wrong, and an underdog bet will always pay more than a bet on the favorite.

Under most circumstances, it isn’t possible to cancel a bet once it’s placed. However, many sportsbooks provide an option that allows bettors to configure a bet to not accept changes. This would, in essence, allow them to cancel the bet.