What Does the Negative Number Mean in Sports Betting?

Although the bookies give the odds, they don’t tell you the meaning of a negative number in sports betting. That is what you need to know.

Meaning In General

In general, a negative number in any context means that something is lacking or missing. For example, if you have $100 and you want to add $10 more, you would input –10 to indicate that you want to go from 100 to 90. Going from 90 to 100 would require going into your pocket and taking out another $10. The last ten dollar bill you have would be the change you get back.

In the context of sports betting, the negative number simply means that the selection you made has lost. For example, if you went into the betting ring with New York defeating Sacramento by 1 point, but New York only wins by 1 point, then you would have suffered a loss of –2 because you went into the betting ring with the intention of betting on New York to beat Sacramento and the selection you made lost by 2 points.

The key in any type of betting is to ensure that you are always betting on the desired outcome. When you go into the betting ring and pick a team you consider to be highly likely to win, but they unexpectedly lose, it is important not to re-evaluate your decision too quickly as you might get trapped by regret. Instead, take a step back and look at the big picture. Did you do everything you could have done to make sure that your team won? Or, on the flip side, did you do everything you could have done to make sure that your team lost?

More Specific

When you are placing a bet on a sporting event, and the odds seem to favor your team, but they don’t, it can be a bit frustrating. Imagine that you have wagered $100 and you are on a losing streak. You are down –10, and all of a sudden your team scores a touchdown and the score is now 47-41 in favor of your team. Would you be upset or pleased with your bet?

The answer depends on how you look at it. If you consider that the score was against you all along and that you just happened to catch a lucky break at the end, you would be more likely to be pleased. However, if you had wagered $100 and your team was not going to score any points, you would not be pleased that the score went your way. In the end, it comes down to the size of your stake. If you put down a $1 bet, you are not going to be too bothered by the score. However, if you had wagered $100, you might feel that the game was rigged. You would not have wanted to lose $100, even if it meant that your team would win.


The examples below will help illustrate how to properly use the – sign when placing a bet on a sporting event. Each example will use the NFL (National Football League) as a case study.

Tiger Woods Won First Hole

In September 2018, Tiger Woods made an unusual comeback at the Hero World Challenge, winning the first hole against a field of top golf players. It was a remarkable performance from the golfer who suffered from addiction issues that prevented him from living his life the way he wanted to. Since his return to the scene of his greatest triumphs, Woods has not lost a single match.

The comeback was so great that some fans were moved to tears. Woods’ father, Jack, had died just a few days earlier and his mother, Koko, had also passed away in August. Despite the tragic losses, the golf star managed to put everything behind him and focus on winning. He started preparing for the Hero World Challenge in March and did not miss a single practice session. Woods took out his anger at the world by outclassing his opponents throughout the entire tournament. At the end, he even won the award for best player without a handicap. Woods had erased all the bad luck that had plagued his life for so long. Not only that, but he also went on to win the Grand Slam that same year.

On the first hole of the match, Tiger Woods’ team was a five-man group that included his playing partner, Bubba Watson. The group teed off together and were on the same team. On the other side of the fairway, the other group included Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, and Jordan Spieth. Since they were playing for the opposite teams, they were not paired up. For some reason, the organizers decided to mix up the hole placements and have everyone play the first hole twice. As you can imagine, this created confusion among the players and fans. When they played the first hole of the second game, which was originally scheduled to be the 18th, the TV commentators wondered aloud if they were playing the wrong hole. No one on Tiger Woods’ team had seen the green on the cart path to their right. This is because when they played the 18th green that day, they were actually on the 17th green. In other words, the teams played a practice round and a full round that day. Since they had completed their practice round before the second game, they were prepared for the actual event. This was a rare case of bad luck turned into good news for Woods. Even before the tournament started, news outlets had picked up on the story that Woods might win the title and there were signs that he might even break the all-time record for most PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) tour wins. At the end of the day, it is always nice to be proven right. It is rare that we get to experience such highs and lows in life, but that is what makes sports so fascinating.

Worst To First

Another example that perfectly illustrates how to use the – sign properly in sports betting is the 2016 NBA (National Basketball Association) opening night. On October 18, 2016, the Chicago Bulls played the Cleveland Cavaliers in a match up between two highly anticipated teams. The game itself was pretty exciting, but what happened after the game was even more interesting. In the final minute of the game, the Bulls were winning by 2 points. Suddenly, a buzzer sounded and the referees called a timeout. The officials declared that the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving was going to shoot a three pointer to send the game to overtime. According to the officials, Irving’s three point attempt at the end of regulation was the first – of a series of bad calls – that cost the Cavaliers the chance at a comeback win. Incredibly, Irving himself admitted that the call on the shot was incorrect and that he should have been awarded a foul because he intentionally tripped over the foot of Bulls’ star LeBron James. Nevertheless, it was too late for the Cavaliers. They had already missed their chance at a victory. The call on the final shot of the game caused such an outcry that the NBA eventually took steps to review and change its rules regarding shot clocks and three point lines. The NBA is a league that values precision and fairness above all else. Therefore, there are very specific rules for each game to ensure that this type of thing does not happen again.

Gambler’s Ruin

Let us now look at an example of how not to use the – sign in sports betting. This one comes from the world of football and it involves an incident that took place during the 1994 FIFA World Cup. On June 25, 1994, England played Italy in what was then the biggest sporting event in the world. The match was tied at 1-1 at halftime, but England had the better of the second half. However, the better of the second half was not good enough to save them from an embarrassing upset. After the match, it was discovered that some English bookmakers had fixed the match. They went as far as to rig the outcome of the entire tournament to make a profit. The amount of money they made would later be estimated at around £500,000 (about US$750,000 at the time). They basically ruined the lives of a lot of unlucky Englishmen who had placed bets on the correct result. The English government eventually set up a commission to look into fixing matches and gambling in general in sports. This is how the 1994 FIFA World Cup became known as the “Gambler’s Ruin” tournament.