What Does -4 Mean for Betting Odds?

In the world of sports betting, you’ll sometimes come across odds that are expressed in this way: (Bookmaker:bet365) -4 or (Bookmaker:betfair) -4.

What does this mean? Let’s take a look.

A Theoretical Explanation

In most cases, these odds will be used in conjunction with a parlay wager. (Which is a series of bets where the combined payoff is greater than the individual wagers.) For instance, if you’re betting on the Golden State Warriors to cover the spread in the NBA playoffs, you might say: “I’ll give odds (Bookmaker:bet365) -4 that they cover the spread in this series.” The meaning of this is that you believe the Warriors will win the game 4 by a count of 4, and you’re placing a wager on this outcome. If you’re correct, you’ll win $100 on a $10 wager (plus your original $10).

But what is the theory behind these strange odds? After all, -4 isn’t an ideal number to be using in any kind of formula. It doesn’t add up to anything, and it probably should be avoided whenever possible. Right?

Well, actually, no. The theory behind these odds is quite interesting, and it has to do with the fact that the number is actually a lucky number. Yep, you heard right. If you’re in any way connected to sports betting, you might already know that odd numbers are considered lucky in sports because they’ve never been bet on before in a big game. (Checking for exact betting figures is difficult because most places don’t publish them. But suffice it to say that most sportsbooks won’t touch odds that are comprised of an odd number.)

The theory goes like this: Imagine that you’re a bookmaker. You’ve got one customer who is willing to lay $5 on any given game. (This is known as a single-digit or single-play wager.) You decide to gamble on the Super Bowl and choose (Bookmaker:bet365) -4 as your payout if the spread is 4 or more points. Now suppose another customer comes in and offers to lay $10 on any given game. (A double-digit wager.) This time, you decide to go with (Bookmaker:betfair) -4 as your payout for games that reach the spread. (Including the playoff game, which might push the overall wager to double digits.)

In both cases, you’re still accepting wagers on the Super Bowl. And in theory, accepting these types of wagers should be a good thing. After all, you’re still making money off the game. But let’s suppose that the game ends up being canceled. (Canceled games never end up having bets placed on them. Ever.) In this case, you lose several thousand dollars because you committed to these types of wagers. Now, it is possible to win money this way, but it’s also possible to lose a lot of money if the theory goes wrong.

Real-life Examples

To bring some life to this theoretical explanation, let’s look at some real-life examples. First, we’ll take a look at (Bookmaker:bet365) -4.

In October 2017, the New York Jets made a bold move by trading up in the first round of the NFL Draft for Josh McDowell from Alabama. The trade was a good one, as McDowell ended up becoming a productive receiver for the Jets. As a result of the trade, fantasy football owners who were in on the act early might have had their teams completely turned around. And although the series eventually reached a Game 7, McDowell was unable to put it all together and help the Jets steal a much-needed win from the Patriots.

After the series of events mentioned above, people started flocking to (Bookmaker:bet365) to get in on the action. Specifically, they wanted to bet on whether or not the Pats would cover the spread in the game. It’s important to note that at this point, the odds had not yet been adjusted for the fact that the game was postponed and ultimately canceled. So -4 was a somewhat unpopular odds in this instance, because the sportsbooks did not yet take this fact into consideration. Had the game gone ahead as planned, the spreads for both teams would have been 6, and most likely, bettors would have been pleased with this outcome because it would have resulted in a win for their team. But as we know, fate had other plans for us.

Another example pertains to the 2017 World Series. (Bookmaker:bet365) -4 had Houston as the -4 favorite in the World Series. (Betting houses generally try to avoid betting on series where they don’t have a team.) But in Game 3, Houston’s offense completely shut down the Cubs’ lineup. And not even the arrival of Game 4 could change the fact that the Astros had a very good series.

The Moral Of The Story

So, as you might have guessed, using a negative number in odds is a risky proposition. In theory, it might make sense to use a plus number in these instances, but in practice, it’s best to avoid them. In theory, these types of odds could end up being good for the bettor, but in reality, it’s often not the case.

In most situations, using a number higher than -4 is considered safe. Most sportsbooks will move up to the 4th decimal place when doing arithmetic with odds that are higher than -4, so odds like (Bookmaker:bet365) +1.96 or (Bookmaker:betfair) +2 are usually acceptable. Of course, this all depends on the context of the situation.