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Taking the mystery out of betting money lines

8th October, 15:05

With baseball playoff action looming large over the sports betting landscape through the rest of October, this off day in football is a great time to refresh everyone's memories on how to turn money lines into break-even percentages.

Beginning bettors typically have trouble adjusting from football and basketball point spreads to baseball money lines. And, even those who have absorbed a general sense of pricing still don't have a firm grasp of percentages.

Unfortunately, the explosion of sports betting media coverage hasn't helped. You're seeing a lot of pundits completely ignore break-even percentages when making playoff picks. Too many will just explain the obvious about how the favorite is superior to the underdog, then finish off with "and ... that should be enough," whether it's a -125 favorite, a -160 favorite, a -200 favorite, or a -260 favorite.

The break-even point for a -125 favorite is 55.6 percent. The break-even point for a -260 favorite is 72.2 percent. Big difference.

First, let's recap how to determine the break-even point. With a favorite, simply divide the price you see by the sum of that price plus 100. For a -125 favorite, that means 125 divided by 225. You're risking $125 to win $100 (or anything in that ratio) that the favorite will win the game. Your $125 investment is 55.6 percent of the money at stake. You'd better be thinking that your choice is going to win about 60 percent of the time for that to be a smart bet.

At higher prices, the win percentage you need is prohibitive. There are no locks in sports. Justin Verlander and the Astros lost a regular-season game to the beleaguered Baltimore Orioles at -425! Your -260 favorite will lose money if it wins the game only 70 percent of the time.

Figuring the math on underdogs is a bit trickier. But, since most of you need to learn how to bet more underdogs, it's worth the effort. Let's use +130 as an example. You think a +130 underdog has a good chance to spring an upset. What's your break-even percentage?

Here, you'll be calculating one minus your fraction. You divide your price by the sum of that price plus 100 ... in this case 130 divided by 230. Write that percentage down (.565). Then punch in 1 minus .565 on your calculator. That yields .435, which means your break-even percentage is only 43.5 percent. As long as your 'dog wins the game 44 percent of the time or more, you've made a smart bet.

Beginners, squares and too many media pundits want to phrase their challenge as "who's going to win this particular game?" Nobody could know the answer to that, any more than one could know what card is coming on the river in Texas Hold-em, what card is about to hit the table early in a blackjack shoe, or whether black or red is about to hit in roulette.