Reading Odds & Making Bets

So after picking an online sportsbook and learning about the many nuances of online sportsbooks, you are ready to move on to the enjoyable part – betting on sports. There is so much that goes into betting on sports, but we shall start with the basics to help individuals grow their understanding of odds, lines and how to place a bet.

How to Place a Bet?

Placing a bet on an online sportsbook is quick and easy. Just select the sport you wish to wager on (usually found in the bar of the website), pick the league and find the game you want to wager. Most online sportsbooks provide spreads, moneylines and totals on the main page. For other betting options, click the number in the game box. Here you will find alternative lines, game props and other betting lines.

Stake, Winnings and Return

There are three terms you should familiarize yourself with before you begin betting on sports. The words are stake, winnings and return.

  • The Stake: The stake is the word most online sportsbook use to define the amount of money you wager. For example, if you bet $20 on Team A to win, your stake is $20.
  • Winnings: Winnings is how much money you receive when if you win your bet. If the odds on Team A to win are -110, then your winnings on a correct $20 wager total $19.09.
  • The Return: The return is the sum of your stake and winnings. From the numbers used above, your return is $39.09 ($20 stake + $19.09 return).

Also, when placing a bet, some online sportsbook will show your winnings while others will show you your return. While there is no impact on you or how much your bet is worth, it can be a little confusing the first time you wager and see a total much larger or smaller than you expect.   

Confirm Bet

After you select your bet and enter your wagering amount, all you need to do now is confirm your bet. To confirm your bet, click on your betting card (found in the top right corner of the site) and click place your bet. If there are any changes to odds, the sportsbook will notify you first before they accept your wager. Changes in odds are common when placing a bet.

Mobile Sites vs. Computer

Just about every online sportsbook we recommend has a fully functioning online site. While the interface differs from the PC version (as they condense information for the smaller screen), every betting line available on a computer is also available on a tablet or mobile phone.

Desktop and Internet Software

Some online sportsbooks offer desktop software for their customers. Desktop software is unnecessary to place a bet, and any sportsbook that requires you to download additional programs and internet add-ons to wager is rarely recommended. However, some individuals prefer to use a dedicated software program that includes a few additional bells and whistles or has living streaming (a much more common feature in the United Kingdoms than Canada).

Also, you should never need more than cookies enabled and maybe Flash to use an online sportsbook. If they ask you to download anything else, it is smart to discontinue using that online sportsbook. Some downloads contain malware, spyware or adware, all of which slow your computer and potentially steal your information.  

The Different Types of Odds

As online sportsbooks operate in dozens of countries, they provide odds in three different formats. These formats are American, fractional and decimal.

Using a standard point spread line, here are how each of the three odds formats appear on sports betting websites:

  • American: -110
  • Fractional: 10/11
  • Decimal: 1.91

While decimal and fractional odds are simply a product of mathematics, American odds come from a combination of math and the assumption of a $100 bet. American odds are either positive or negative. Negative odds mean you need to wager that much money to win $100. At odds of -110, you need to bet $110 to win $100. If the odds are positive, the odds represent how much you win if you wager $100. For example, if the odds are +400, it $100 bet nets $400 in winnings (or $500 in return).

Decimal odds are never 1.00 or lower. As decimal odds give bettors their return, odds of 1.00 net no winnings, while a number lower than 1.00 would net negative money even on a winning bet. Decimal odds are also rounded, meaning your winnings are likely a few cents more or less when you multiply your stake by the decimal odds shown. 

Fractional odds are the most complex format. However, they offer bettors the most precise betting odds. For example, the exact odds above are 1+10/11, which equals 1.90909. The difference between proper fractional odds and rounded decimal odds is minimal (resulting in a $0.10 difference on a $100 wager).

How do Sportsbook Determine Odds

Odds on online sportsbooks come from a multitude of different factors and considerations. Their bookmakers take into consideration everything to craft lines attractive to bettors while still providing a profit to the website. After explaining what goes into making betting lines, we shall explain the difference between a sharp and a square sportsbook.

Historical Data

Nearly everything in the world of sports is quantifiable by some form of historical data and metric. These numbers are sometimes simple, such as home record against the spread or historical record against the team. Other times they are much more complicated, taking into account standard deviations of point totals when the wind is blowing at a certain speed from a specific direction on Thursday evenings. As much data as possible goes into making lines.

Probability and Theory

Slightly different than historical data, probability bases odds off statistics and mathematical theory. The perfect example to use here is the coin flip at the Super Bowl. Historical data is all over the map for the coin flip. Heads and tails each have come up multiple times in a row in Super Bowl history. The thing is, there is no reason to believe that after four straight heads a fifth flip landing in heads is more likely than tails. A coin flip is 50/50 no matter what historical data suggests.

Adjusting for Vig (or Juice)

The vigorish (also called the vig or juice) is the amount the sportsbook takes off the line to make profit and cover costs. For example, most point spreads are a 50/50 wager. However, no point spread line is +100 for both options. A +100 line is the true odds of the bet, with the line moving to -110 to adjust for the vig/juice.

Other Factors

Weather, home-field advantage and team schedules all play a role in creating the odds for a game. For example, wind factors into NFL point spreads and game totals more than any other type of inclement weather. Always look at the weather, a team's schedule and which team is the home team before placing a wager. 

Sharp vs. Square Sportsbook

Not ever sportsbook set their own line. Some online sportsbooks wait and base their betting lines off other online sportsbooks. Online sportsbooks that set their own lines are sharp sports, while the ones that wait are square online sportsbooks.

Sharp Online Sportsbook Characteristics

  • Set their own lines
  • Open odds and betting on events earlier than square options
  • Moves line quicker when one side is bet heavily
  • Take larger wagers and welcome professional action

Square Online Sportsbook Characteristics

  • Wait for sharp lines to appear before setting their lines
  • Wait for sharp lines to move before adjusting betting lines
  • Favours bettors who wager more on favourites and overs
  • Changes lines to encourage betting against the public

Unless you are a professional sports bettor, whether an online sportsbook is sharp or square should not influence your decision to use that sportsbook. Quality of lines, customer service, interface and security are all more important than whether lines appear earlier or adjust quicker. In fact, if you want to use more than one online sportsbook at a time, consider using one of each type. This way you can maximum winning potential by betting on pre-adjusted square lines and adjusted sharp lines. 

Best Sharp Sportsbooks

  • William Hill
  • Pinnacle

Best Square Sportsbooks

  • Sports Interaction
  • Betway

Line Movement

When betting on sports, lines frequently move or shift. There are many reasons why lines shift in the lead up to the event. We shall touch the primary reasons for line movement below.

Public Money

Public money is the term used to define a large amount and percentage of bets coming on one option. A great example of public money changing the line is Super Bowl 50. Carolina opened the Super Bowl as a -3.5 favourite over the Denver Broncos. As the majority of bettors believed Carolina was superior to Denver, almost all early bets went on Carolina at -3.5.

Sportsbooks quickly adjusted the line to Carolina -6.5 over the Broncos, to attract more wagers on Denver. It is quite common to see movement on Super Bowl lines (than other events) as the two-week build-up to the game allows for plenty of action and line changes.


Anyone who watches sports knows injuries play a defining role in the success of a team or outcome of a game. When injuries occur, lines shift. Depending on the importance of the player will determine how much or little the line changes. An NFL starting quarterback tearing his ACL will change a line more than a role-player suffering a concussion.

Injury reports and the disabled list are a great tool for bettors. It is always a smart decision to reference them before placing a wager.  

Closed Bets

Sometimes you may wish to wager on an event that is closed for wagering. Lines are generally closed when the health of a specific player is in doubt. Closed lines are common to see in the NFL. If a quarterback’s health is questionable for the team’s game, the line will likely remain closed until the injury report is finalized.

What does “No Action” mean?

When betting on certain sports (often baseball and golf), you may see a little checkbox in your betting slip saying “No Action” and wonder what it means. The term implies that if a change occurs before the beginning of the event, you bet void and your money returns to your account.

For example, if you wager on an MLB game and the projected starter changes, selecting “No Action” voids the wager. In golf, if a player withdraws from the tournament before it starts, you receive a refund on your bet.

Winning Money

Now, this is not a tip on how to place winning picks and win money, it is a simple mathematical breakdown of how many correct wagers you need to place to at least break even betting on sports. In this example, assume the betting line is a standard -110 on every wager you make, you wager $10 every time and place 1000 wagers.

At -110 odds, your return on a wager is $19.09. Since you placed $10000 in bets, you need to win more than $10000 to make a profit. To have a positive profit betting, you need to win at least 52.4% of your bets (524 out of 1000).    

Frequently Asked Questions

In the last part of the guide, we touch on a few questions people commonly ask about betting and online sportsbook. Although these topics were not touched on early, they can help you better understand problems you may encounter (especially if you are new to online sportsbooks and sports betting).

Why are there Zero Lines Available for Betting?

What Happens if a Betting Line is Incorrect?

What is the difference between Provincial Sports Lotteries and Online Sportsbook Odds?

What are the Most Popular Betting Options?