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Basketball Moneyline Explained: An Essential Guide for Bettors

Ryan Murphy

by Ryan Murphy

Updated Nov 13, 2023 · 12:31 PM PST

If you’re betting on the NBA, you’re going to encounter the ubiquitous basketball moneyline. While the moneyline can be confusing and intimidating at first glance, in reality it is quite simple.

We’ve compiled all the essential information on basketball moneylines below, along with more detailed information and advice a little further down. Using our helpful guide, you’ll be able to bet on NBA odds by understanding the moneyline with supreme confidence!

What Exactly Is a Basketball Moneyline Bet?

When you place a moneyline bet, you are merely betting on a team to win that matchup. There are only two potential outcomes, and you’re picking one or the other. It is as simple as that!

If the Detroit Pistons were playing the Golden State Warriors in a basketball game, the moneyline asks you wager on either the Pistons or the Warriors to win the game outright.

Most online sportsbooks including DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, and Caesars Sportsbook have moneylines as one of their most common types of bets. A moneyline wager is simple to understand and doesn’t have as many of the complexities and nuances as parlays or point spread betting. It’s a perfect option for people just getting into online sports betting.

The Essential Facts of the NBA Moneyline

There are only two options on an NBA moneyline, because obviously only two teams can play each other at any given time.

Depending on your sports betting site of choice, the moneyline will likely use what are referred to as “American odds.”

When looking at the moneyline, each team will have either a positive number next to it (e.g. +150) or a negative number (e.g. -125). The underdog will generally have a positive number next to it. The favorite will generally have a negative number next to it.

The bigger the favorite, the smaller the payout. The bigger the underdog, the bigger the payout.

In games that are expected to be very close, both teams may have a negative number (e.g. -105 and -115). In such cases, the team that is closer to zero is the slight favorite.

To help you understand, let’s look at a sample betting line!

Examples of the Moneyline at Work

The image above displays a sample betting line like those you’ll find at online basketball betting sites. We’ve highlighted the relevant part of the sample in red. The negative number (-110) next to Golden State indicates that the Warriors are the favorite. It also denotes how much money you would have to wager in order to win $100. 

In this case, you’ll need to bet $200 on Golden State to make a $100 profit. Your total payout from this bet would be $300 when you add the $100 profit to your $200 stake. Of course, you don’t have to wager $200. You can bet any amount of money you like, though the payout will be commensurate with the odds.

A positive number denotes the underdog and signifies how much money you stand to win if you wager $100. If you bet $100 on OKC (and they win), you ‘d earn a $180 profit. (Again, your total payout would be $280 when you add the $180 profit to your $100 bet.)

What If Both Moneylines Are Equal?

Occasionally, both moneylines will be negative, but they won’t be identical (e.g. -115 and -105). If this is the case, the one farther from zero is the slight favorite. The greater the difference between the two teams’ odds, the greater the difference between the underdog and the favorite.

Basketball Moneylines Expressed as Fractions or Decimals

While NBA moneylines are most commonly expressed in “American odds,” you may also encounter sportsbooks that use either decimal or fractional odds. Most sportsbooks allow you to switch how the odds are displayed, flipping between American, decimal, and fractional odds. Decimal and fractional odds are part of the broader language of betting and you want to be fluent!

How to Read Decimal Odds

Decimal odds, like “2.10” or “1.90,” represent a multiplier. To calculate how much you stand to win, you simply multiply the amount you want to bet by the decimal. If you bet $5 at 2.10 odds, your return would be $10.50, which includes your original bet. (So your profit is only $5.50). A 2.10 decimal is equal to a +110 moneyline, while 1.91 means a -110 moneyline.

With decimal odds, the smaller number signifies the favorite while the larger number indicates the underdog.

How to Read Fractional Odds

In brief, fractional odds indicate how often a certain outcome is expected in a specified number of trials. To calculate the number of trials, you simply add the numerator and denominator together. Then you look at the denominator to determine how often the desired outcome will result from those trials.

Fractional odds (e.g. “2/1” or “1/3”) are slightly harder to understand than decimals, which is why they are used infrequently in NBA betting lines. When the denominator is smaller than the numerator (e.g. 2/1), it indicates an underdog (or a team with less than 50/50 chance of winning).

Conversely, when the denominator is larger than the numerator (e.g. 1/3), this indicates that the team is the favorite (or has a greater than 50/50 chance of winning).

In this case, Golden State is the favorite because their denominator (3) is larger than their numerator (1). That 1/3 fraction means that they are expected to win three times out of every four times (1+3) that this game is played (1+3). Oklahoma City, on the other hand, is only expected to win twice out of every seven times (5+2) this game is played.

A 1/3 fraction is the same as a -300 moneyline. A 5/2 fraction is the same as a +250 moneyline.

If you want more detail on reading and converting odds, please visit our guide on how to read sports odds.

Best NBA Sports Betting Promos

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Why Do NBA Odds Change?

Sportsbooks often adjust the moneyline odds in the lead-up to the game. This is wholly dependent on where bettors are placing their money.

Sports betting sites want money distributed equally on >sides, regardless of probability. If significantly more money is being wagered on one team, sportsbooks change NBA odds to encourage betting on the team to lower the chance of losing money.

If equal money is bet on both teams, then sportsbooks can simply pay the winners from money wagered by the losers, while keeping the “juice” for themselves.

If Odds Change, Does That Affect Me?

Once you make your bet, it’s locked in. If the odds shift, it has no effect on the bet you already made. But if you haven’t wagered yet, then of course it does!

As more money comes in, the moneyline can vary from hour to hour. Moneylines on particular sporting events will also change from sportsbook to sportsbook. Be sure to shop around to find the best basketball moneyline for you: It matters in the long run!

Ready to Take on the NBA Moneyline?

Now that you’ve mastered the ins and outs of betting on the basketball moneyline, you’re ready to begin betting with confidence this NBA season. If you’re looking to expand your horizons to other types of NBA betting, be sure to check out the rest of the basketball articles in our sport-specific betting advice section.

Those looking for more advanced strategic considerations will be well-served by the content in our sports betting strategy section, where you’ll find articles specific to NBA betting and more.

However you choose to wager this basketball season, remember to bet responsibly and enjoy the action!

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