How to Read Gambling Lines

Let’s throw out a hypothetical fight that you have a chance to wager on. First off, we have Billy Badass, whose record is 10-0 and all of his fights have ended by knockout in the first round. He is up against Sam Silly, a fighter with a 0-10 record that has lost all of his fights in the first round via knockout. We are offering to bet with you on either fighter at even money, just risk $10 to win $10. Would you bet on Sam or Billy?

If you are a rational human being, you would jump at the chance to put money down on Billy and stay as far away from a bet on Sam as possible. The fact is, the chance of Sam winning are pretty small compared to Billy winning. Now ask yourself how much would a payout have to be on Sam for you to attempt a bet on him?

Well, let us try to find out. Instead of a straight bet of risking $10 to win $10, we are going to offer the following. For every $10 you risk on Billy, you will make $1 if he wins. For every $1 you bet on Sam, you will make $10 if he wins. Does that change which fighter you would bet on? You are risking a lot, $10 to only win $1 on Billy. However, a 10 to 1 payout on Sam might just entice you to place a bet on the off chance he wins.

In gambling, these different risk to payout characteristics of a bet are displayed as betting lines. For the above example, the line would look like this: [table id=3 /]

Now, these betting lines should be easy to decipher from the risk and payouts we described from above. The only difference is that instead of using a base of $10, we are using a base of $100. It can be described as thus: For every $1000 you risk on Billy, you would earn $100. For every $100 you risk on Sam, you would earn $1000.

In our simple example Billy would be known as the favorite since the odds are in his favor to win the fight. He has the better record and the history of better fighting skills. On the other hand, Sam is the underdog since the odds are heavily against him to win the fight due to his dubious record and history of not getting out of the first round.

It is actually very rare to see such odds in MMA. It isn’t impossible, and we’ve even seen odds for the favorite as high as -2000 and the line for the underdog as high as +2000. To put that into perspective, if you are wagering on the favorite, you would need to risk $20 just to win $1. Conversely, wagering $1 on the underdog would payout $20 if he wins. You could extrapolate this to any bet size. For example, risking $1,000 on the underdog at +2000 would payout $20,000.

That is essentially how lines are presented and how they can be read. The fighter with the negative number is the favorite, and the corresponding value is how much you would have to risk in order to win $100. The fighter with a positive number is the underdog and the corresponding value of that number is how much you would win for wagering $100. (This does not mean you have to use $100 as a bet size, it is just a base number that is used to present the lines. In other words, it is the default.)

Let’s look at a real line from a real fight:

[table id=4 /]

Before we continue, we want you to identify who the favorite is and how much you would win by betting $50 on him. I want you to do the same for the underdog. Identify who he is, and how much you would profit if you wagered $50 and he won.

Answer: Khabib Nurmagomedov is the favorite and would payout $31.45 if you wagered $50 on him and he won. Conor McGregor is therefore the underdog and you would win $77.50 if you wagered $50 on him and he won. Bear in mind that what you would win is in addition to the amount you risk. The $50 you put on either fighter would only be lost if you lost the bet. If you won, it would be given back to you. Therefore, if Nurmagomedov won, you would turn $50 into $81.45 (the $50 you risked plus the $31.45 you won). If McGregor won, you would turn $50 into $127.50 (the $50 you risked plus the $77.50 you won).

Converting Lines into Percentages

We all learned about probabilities and odds way back in grade school (at least we hope so). When we say probability, we mean, what is the percentage chance of Khabib winning if his line is -159? If the line was -100 (also written as EVEN), then there is a 50% chance of the fighter winning the fight. You would have to risk $100 to win $100. But that is not the case since the line is -159. Well, we have a simple way of determining the percentage odds for a given line.
We just use the following formulas:

[table id=5 /]

For our example:

Khabib = [159 / (159 + 100)] = .6139 and (.6139 x 100) = 61.39%
Coner = [100 / (155 + 100)] = .3922 and (.3922 x 100) = 39.22%

What this means is that it is believed that Khabib will win 61.39% of the time. If these two fighters fought 100 times, Khabib would come out the winner 61 to 62 times. The probability of Conor is 39.22%, so if they again fought 100 times, Conor would come out the winner 39 times.

For quick reference:

[table id=6 /]

As you can see, the lines above have mirror counterparts. -500 is 83.33% while +500 is 16.67%, and those add up to 100%. For this reason, you will never see a sportsbook have exact lines like the ones shown. They make their money by having a small spread. For our example, it is the 4 cents between “159″ and “155″, but that is a different article.

Now that you know what betting lines mean, how do you use that information to make money? Well, that can be found here.

If you don’t feel like breaking out your algebra cap in order to convert lines, you can use our Line Converting Calculator.

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