How to Read Betting Odds and Bet on Sports with Confidence

Reading odds and betting on sports is a complex task, especially if you’re not used to it. Not sure how to go about it? You’re in the right place. Here we’ll cover everything you need to know about analyzing sports betting odds and placing bets with confidence!

The Basics

Before you begin analyzing the odds, it’s important to first familiarize yourself with some of the most fundamental principles of bookmaking. First among these is the concept of vigorish. Vigorish is basically the charge (or fee) that sportsbooks add to wagers to cover the risk of losing. For instance, if you wager $100 on a soccer game and the favorite wins by a score of 1-0, the sportsbook will charge you a vigorish of 5% to cover the risk of the game ending in a draw. The risk/reward ratio for a soccer match is typically very high, meaning there’s a lot of action in soccer matches and very little in the way of draws (the exception being group stages of tournaments, where teams frequently play each other several times in order to determine who will advance to the next round). 

Another key principle of bookmaking is the concept of juice, or advantage juice. Advantage juice is the difference in money between the two teams (or legs) in a matchup. For example, if the home team is guaranteed to win the game, but the odds favor the away team, you can calculate advantage juice as follows:

(the away team’s odds) x (the home team’s payout) – (the home team’s odds) x (the away team’s payout)

In the above scenario, the home team is the favorite and the away team is the underdog. So, if you’re sitting down to watch the game and wager the afternoon away, you’ll likely need to add $5 to your wager in order to reach the legal minimum (which is $2.50 in the US).

Odds Versus Probabilities

When it comes to reading odds and probabilities, it’s important to keep in mind that not all bets are created equal. Some wagers are simply more suited to your personal strategy than others. There is, however, a method to deciphering which wagers are the most suitable for your betting needs. For the sake of this tutorial, we’ll assume you’re reading NBA odds and, as we mentioned above, you’re sitting down to watch the Lakers play the Wizards. If that’s the case, here’s a handy guide to help you figure out which bets to make and which ones to avoid:

  • The NBA is one of the most popular sports leagues in the US and Canada, attracting lots of fans and action. If you’re a betting fan, the NBA offers some great opportunities to bet on. Aside from the usual point spread and totals, you can also bet on whether or not your favorite players will hit a shot, or if they’ll have a lapse in judgment and commit a foul.
  • The Lakers are one of the most popular teams in the NBA, and for good reason. Not only do they frequently feature some of the league’s best players, but they also boast an extremely loyal and dedicated fanbase. Many Kobe Bryant fans will tell you that their favorite player isn’t really that great, but they make up for it with their incredible willpower and loyalty.
  • The Wizards are currently one of the best teams in the NBA. John Wall (25) and Bradley Beal (22) are both extremely talented and experienced players, and they give the Wizards a potent one-two punch at the position.
  • The 76ers are one of the more interesting teams in the NBA this year. While they don’t have the talent of the other teams in the league, they make up for it with an incredible work ethic. Nerf Haynesworth is the brother of Rob Haynesworth, who plays for the Titans. Both Nerf and Rob have a huge impact on their team’s game plans.
  • The Raptors are a team that many people are overlooking this year. While they don’t have a great record, they’ve played well in all of their games this year. The thing that makes them interesting is that their star player, Kawhi Leonard, has yet to score a point in the playoffs. Not only that, but he’s also failed to register a single rebound or assist throughout the postseason. This makes people interested in the underdogs, as they believe that eventually Kawhi will click.
  • You may be familiar with martingales in online gambling, where you wager on the outcome of a sporting event with the intention of reducing your overall wager by half. The same concept applies to betting on the NBA. If you’re not familiar, martingales are used to lower your chances of losing. For example, if you bet $100 on the Lakers and they win, you would lose $100. However, if you bet $50 on the Lakers and they win, you would win $50. By continuing to bet $50 on the Lakers, you would eventually win $100 overall. This is because you are reducing your risk dollar for dollar.

In the above example, you’re obviously not reducing your risk, you’re simply adding more money to the pot, which is one of the primary reasons you should never bet on favorites. The basic concept behind betting on underdogs is that, as mentioned above, eventually your team will win. You’re simply adding more money to the pot, and that’s all. Trying to pick a winner in today’s NBA is extremely difficult, because essentially everyone is talented. You’d be better off picking a random team or a team you actively support (depending on whether you’re a fan of Alex King or Chase Utley). In cases where the underdogs have an extremely high winning percentage, you may want to consider betting on them, as it’s relatively easy to make a few extra bucks when they win. For example, the underdogs’ record this year is 22-6, meaning they win 66% of their games, which gives you 66% winning chances, all things considered. Not bad for an underdog!

Odds and Probabilities For A Team Against An Individual

The odds and probabilities for a team against an individual are generally more favorable than those for a team against the entire league. Simply put, the matchup between LeBron James and the Toronto Raptors is more enticing than the NBA’s overall matchup this year. The key takeaway from this is that you should generally avoid betting on individuals, and focus your energy on the teams they’re playing for, or the leagues they’re playing in, like the NBA. The same concept applies to individual players, such as Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, who are matched up against an opposing team or league, respectively.

Betting On The Spread

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you may have heard about the huge scandal that broke out at the end of last year. It involved the New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild, where the two teams were involved in a betting scheme that violated state and federal laws. Basically, the two sides would place wagers on sporting events, and then messengers, who were essentially intermediaries, would intervene and settle the bets, often times giving the winners an advantage. In some cases, the winners were given free tickets to the game, and sometimes they were even given the option to change the outcome of the game. All of this was done without the knowledge of the bookmakers themselves. There were even reports that some bets were placed behind the backs of the customers. While the exact details are still unclear, due to the ongoing investigation, the NHL and the New York Islanders have imposed a number of rules, including no wagering on games, and capped betting at $100 per game (more information can be found here:

One of the consequences of the scandal is that the lines and strategies surrounding betting on the spread have changed. While you may not be able to avoid it entirely, in case you’re planning on placing a bet, it’s important to be aware of the different ways you can accomplish that.