How to Read a Baseball Betting Line

HRI SportsContributor IJune 15, 2007
NCAA brackets and NFL point spreads are easy to understand, even for the casual investor.
But baseball betting—like betting for hockey, NASCAR, and tennis, among other sports—is a bit more complicated. 
Why use a money line instead of a point spread? A baseball point spread, simply stated, wouldn't allow for an evening of the action with necessary precision. If a point spread were used in baseball, the smallest amount a line could be moved would be a 1⁄2-run—which would be much more significant than a 1⁄2-point in basketball or football. 
Reading a money line is actually quite simple.  Take a recent example:SD (-115) @ TB (+104).
To bet the favorite, the San Diego Padres, an investor would have to wager $115 to win $100 (plus the return of the $115 risked). In betting the underdog Tampa Bay Devil Rays, that same investor could wager $100 to win $104 (plus the return of the $100 risked). 
The numbers scale appropriately based on the actual amount of the wager—but the listed line is always based on a $100 benchmark.
Keep in mind that sportsbooks only make a commission (also known as juice or vigorish) when the favorite loses. In this example, if the Padres were to lose the game, the book would pay off $104 to underdog bettors while collecting $115 from favorite bettors, for an $11 profit.

If the Padres were to win, on the other hand, favorite bettors would collect $100 while dog bettors would lose $100—resulting in zero profit for the sportsbook.
The heavier the favorite, the less likely it is that the underdog will win—and the less likely it is that the book will collect its commission. To compensate, some offshore sportsbooks increase the spread between the favorite's lay price and the underdog's payoff, thus making their commission bigger when the long-shot underdog actually does win.  That's why comparing online sportsboook odds with Vegas odds will often show a difference.
As with most things in life, the more you learn about money lines, the more you need to know. Is it more profitable to wager online or offline?  What does the +- 1.5 mean?  Are money lines more profitable than point spreads when both are offered on the same event?  At, we can answer those questions for you—and help you work wonders on your sports investing profit margins.
And in case you were wondering: The Padres won 7-1.