We’ve all heard the saying, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” That expression applies especially well to sports betting. In sports betting the “juice” or vigorish is essentially a tax that legal sportsbooks collect on winning wagers.
Without this necessary evil, US sportsbooks would be virtually incapable of turning a profit, and thus, unable to offer its service. In other words: No juice, no sports betting.
What this means for players is that in order to break even, they’re going to have to do better than hurl darts at the wall. How much better depends on the amount of vigorish (VIG) that a book charges.
In the U.S. legal sports betting market, the juice varies widely from site to site, with some books taking just a small tax, and others really overstepping traditional bounds.
Odds and lines at US sportsbooks vary even more significantly from bet type to bet type: Totals and point spread bettors tend to get off easy compared to those who prefer in-play or 5-leg parlays.
On this page, we’ll teach you how to quickly examine sports betting lines and calculate VIG, so that when you make your next wager, you’ll be well equipped to answer if that juice is really worth the squeeze.
Understanding American Odds
By default, all retail and online sports betting sites in the U.S. use what’s known as American Odds. Lines formatted this way are fairly easy to recognize:
- Favorites are designated with a minus (-) sign
- Underdogs are designated with a plus (+) sign.
Under the American Odds system, the numerical value on every line is at least 100.
For instance, if the Green Bay Packers are a favorite over the New York Giants, the moneyline might read something like:
- Green Bay Packers: -175
- New York Giants: +140
So now that you know how to recognize American odds, how do you interpret them? This is also straightforward.
If there is a minus sign, it reads: Wager –(x) to win $100. In the example above, you’d have to wager $175 to win $100 on Green Bay. A winning $175 wager would return $175 + $100 (your original bet) = $275.
If there is a plus sign, it reads: Wager $100 to win x. So, you’d wager $100 to win $140 on the Giants. A winning $100 wager would return $100 (your original bet) + $140 = $240.
There are cases where both sides will be designated with a minus sign. Point spreads, totals and over/under props are common examples
In the example above, let’s say the point spread is -/+3.5, meaning that Green Bay will have to win by more than 3.5 points for the wager to win, and the Giants will “cover” if they lose by less than 3.5 points. For this wager, the book posts a -110 line on both outcomes, meaning you’ll have to wager $110 to win $100.
The true odds on this even money wager are +100: Bet $100, win $100. The reason why the lines are -110 is because the house is taking a cut. That’s the vigorish.
Quick tip: If the book instead offered -120 lines on each side, that represents a significantly higher house edge than if had posted -110 lines. For even money wagers, look for numbers as close to 100 as possible.
Converting American Odds
American odds are largely a product of the U.S., while international bettors are more familiar with other odds formats.
Luckily, most sports betting sites offer the option to display odds as either Decimal, used primarily in the UK or Ireland, or Fractional Odds. For the ones that do not, here are a couple quick and dirty conversion formulas:
American Odds To Decimal
- Positive odds (+): Add 1 to the American Odds divided by 100. I.e. +140 converts to 1 + (140/100) = 2.4
- Negative odds (-): 1 minus 100 divided by the American Odds. I.e. -200 converts to 1- (100/-200) = 1.5
American Odds To Fractional
- Positive odds (+): Divide the American Odds by 100, and display as a lowest common denominator. I.e. +400 converts to 400/100 = 4/1
- Negative odds (-): -100 divided by the American Odds. I.e. -450 converts to -100/-450 = 2/9
Implied Probability and The House Edge
Put simply, implied odds are the probability, represented as a percentage, that a wager is going to win. However, in sports betting it’s not a perfect representation, as it takes into account the house edge.
In reality, your picks are going to need to win at a greater clip than the books deem they’re supposed to in order for you to break even or come out ahead.
For example, a +200 wager has a 33.3% implied probability, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the wager will win 33.3%. Instead, the true probability of a win (according to the books) will be somewhat less, perhaps in the 30% – 32% range, dependent on how “juicy” the line is.
Try to remember these next two formulas, as they’re critical to your development as a sports bettor.
To calculate the implied odds on American Odds, we use the following:
- Positive odds: 100/(positive odds + 100) * 100
- Negative odds: negative odds/(negative odds + 100) * 100
Let’s clarify with a real-world example. Suppose the woeful New York Knicks are playing against the Los Angeles Lakers, and the money line is:
- New York Knicks: +500
- Los Angeles Lakers: -700
To calculate the implied probability on the Knicks, we take:
100/(500 + 100) * 100 = 16.67%.
For the Lakers, we have:
700/(700 + 100) * 100 = 87.5%
But wait a minute, if we add those two numbers together, we get 104.17%, which is obviously more than 100%. The difference represents the house edge, and the further away from 100% it is, the bigger the house advantage.
Let’s look at a more common example, like an NFL point spread where the line is -110 on both sides. In this case our implied probability of either side winning is 110/(110 + 100) * 100 = 52.38%. Again, it’s more than 100%, in this case 104.76%. The 4.76% represents the house hold, and works out to a house edge of 4.54%, evaluated by dividing the hold by the sum of all implied probabilities, or 4.76/104.76 = 4.54%
House edge = hold/(sum of all implied probabilities)
Knowing the Implied probabilities is crucial, as it represents the percentage of the time we’d have to win to break even. So in our NFL example, we need to hit 52.38% of our -110 bets to come out not a dollar ahead, and not a dollar behind for the season.
Up the lines to -120 on both sides, and our break-even point jumps to 120/(120 + 100) * 100 = 54.55%.
Removing the Juice
If we want to know how legal sportsbooks really feel about a wager, we can use this formula to remove the juice:
True probability = Implied probability / (Combined implied probabilities)
Let’s bring it all together. Say we see the following money line on an NFL game:
- New York Jets: +300
- Kansas City Chiefs: -360
The implied odds are:
- Jets implied odds = 100/(300+100) * 100 = 25%
- Chiefs implied odds = 360/(360+100) * 100 = 78.26%
Next, remove the juice:
- Jets true probability = 25%/(25% + 78.26%) = 24.21
- Chief true probability = 78.26%/(25% + 78.26%) = 75.79%
As we can see, with the juice removed the probabilities add up to 100%, so we know our calculation is accurate.
What it boils down to is the book believes the Jets will win 24.21% of the time, but the line reflects that they’ll win 25% of the time. That small difference is how online sportsbooks make money.
Critical Break-Even Points and Why They Matter
Listed below are some of the most common point spread and totals lines for major markets, along with the percentage of the time you’ll need to win to break even.
- -105/-105: 51.22%
- -110/-110: 52.38%
- -115/-115: 53.49%
- -120/-120: 54.45%
- -125/-125: 55.56%
It’s funny, because on paper, the difference between a terrific -105 line, which are typically only offered during promotions or other special events in the U.S., and a horrid -125 line, which you might find on a lottery-operated sportsbook, doesn’t really seem that big. Is it really that much harder to win 55.56% percent of the time as opposed to 51.22%? That’s only like 4% more and change, right?
Trust us, the difference is monumental. We like to use an MLB betting comparison to hammer down the point. Let’s say the New York Mets win 51.2% of their games over the course of a 162-game season. That works out to a record of 83-79, which is just barely over .500 and gives them no reasonable chance of winning the division, and only a slither of hope to make the playoffs.
Now if our beloved Mets ran hot, and won 55.56% of their games, they’d end the season with a pretty stellar 90-72 record, certainly good enough to win a wild card spot, and maybe just enough to squeak out the division. Home field advantage might be out of the cards, but the Mets are still looking pretty good to make a run.
You get the point. The difference between breaking even at -105 and -125 lines is much bigger than it initially seems. Anyone can fluke into an 83-79 or 51-49 record over the course of a season, but good luck going 56-44 or 90-72 without really knowing what you’re doing.
It is imperative that you shop around for the best lines at online sportsbooks in the United States.
This holds especially true if moneylines are your poison of choice, as two competing sports betting sites might charge a similar VIG, but the line on Team A might be more favorable on one site, and the line on Team B better on another.
A quick example:
Let’s say FanDuel Sportsbook in New Jersey offers the following moneyline on an NBA game:
- Cleveland Cavaliers: +160
- Memphis Grizzles: -190
DraftKings Sportsbook sees the game a bit differently:
- Cleveland Cavaliers: +180
- Memphis Grizzles: -215
In both cases, the sportsbook hold is roughly 4%, but if we merge FanDuel’s betting line on the Grizzles with DraftKings’ line on the Cavs, we get:
- Cleveland Cavaliers: +180
- Memphis Grizzles: -190
Using the best lines from each sportsbook we get a merged house hold of just 1.23%. It becomes pretty obvious that you’ll want to bet on FanDuel if you preference the Grizzles, and DK if you fancy the Cavs.
Lottery vs. Casino Sports Betting VIG
In nearly all instances, the juice is going to be lowest in legal betting markets that support multiple online sports betting skins, operated by land-based casinos. On the other end of the spectrum are lottery-run monopolies, where the vigorish is often so high, there’s simply no way we can see the sports betting industry remaining sustainable.
The following states allow for multiple online sportsbooks, which are partnered with brick & mortar casinos and overseen by the state’s gaming regulatory body. They all allow for remote mobile registration:
- New Jersey
Other states like Nevada and Iowa don’t yet allow for remote mobile registration but do support competitive sports betting industries.
West Virginia sort of walks the middle line, as it is regulated by the state lottery, but allows for multiple sports betting skins.
Then there are states and districts that have restricted their online sports betting markets to just a solitary, lottery-regulated operation.
- Washington D.C.: GamBetDC
- Rhode Island: Sportsbook Rhode Island
- Oregon: Scoreboard
- New Hampshire: DraftKings Sportsbook
Which is better?
In markets with multiple sports betting options, popular major market lines tend to be fair, with -110 being the norm on point spreads and totals. Moneylines are going to vary a bit more, but they’re mostly kept within reason because these markets are fiercely competitive.
That said, there is nothing truly spectacular about the frontpage lines in states with regulated sports betting but they’re hardly awful.
As we delve into in-play, prop, and futures lines, you’ll find even more deviations from site to site, with the most generous books offering noticeably lower juice than the least player-friendly. But even then, there isn’t a major difference.
For instance, we recently compared the vigorish on NFL Conference Futures for both FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook. FanDuel was charging a 13.68% VIG, and DraftKings 13.99%.
Where we do notice a sizeable gap is when we compare competitive markets against lottery-run monopolies.
For instance, Rhode Island’s sports betting app offers competitive pricing on point spreads, moneylines, and totals, but it really squeezes players on futures, where the vigorish often exceeds 20% for major markets.
The Oregon sports betting app (Scoreboard) appears to have decent pricing, but it’s become pretty well publicized that they offer alternative (i.e. poorer) lines to knowledgeable players.
At the bottom of the barrel is Washington D.C.’s GamBetDC, where the lines are just about as horrendous as the name. This site doesn’t even try to disguise its egregious hold, offering -118/-125 splits on NFL point spreads and totals, with moneyline holds as high as 10%.
GamBetDC exposes several pressing problems with lottery-run monopolies. First, the lottery clearly lacks the know-how to properly oversee the industry.
Traditionally, lotteries rely on sales from casual and uninformed gamblers, who are willing to exchange a few bucks for a dream. The hold on these games is oppressive, but its customer base isn’t very price-sensitive, so the lottery can get away with it.
By contrast, sports bettors tend to be more knowledgeable gamblers, who at the very least, can read lines and know that -105 and -110 lines for NFL point spreads are the norm.
The problem is, in states where a single sportsbook monopoly exists, customers have only two choices: either pay the high cost of admission or sit on the sidelines. Well three choices, as customers might take their business to local bookies and offshore agents, thus depriving the district of sports betting revenue. In fact, we’d say this is a common occurrence in legal sports betting markets that offer unfair pricing.
What is Reasonable Juice at Online Sportsbooks?
The sportsbook’s house edge fluctuates from bet type to bet type. Listed below are reasonable expectations of what their maximum edge should be at legal sportsbooks and mobile sports betting apps:
- Point spreads: 4.54%
- Totals: 4.54%
- Moneylines: 5%
- Yes/No props: 7%
- In-play: 7%
- Futures: 15 -20%
If you run the math, and it suggests that the house edge is significantly higher than what’s posted above, it may be time to reconsider where you place sports wagers.
On a final note, you may be wondering why our figure for futures is so much higher compared to other bet types.
The simple answer is that futures are multiway, meaning that the payouts can be much higher.
To clarify, If sportsbooks make a slight misjudgment on a point spread, they’re only paying out even money each time they’re wrong. No big deal. Mess up a futures line, and they could be paying out an inordinate number of +3000 wagers.
For efficient markets like the NFL, the vigorish on multiway futures like conference and division winners is rarely below 12%. For less liquid markets, the vig on a future might reach as high as 25%.