There’s some confusion over the concept of high vs. low odds. In the world of betting, high odds mean something different than in the regular world.
When something has high odds outside of a sportsbook, that means it’s likely to happen. The same goes for low odds – usually when something has low odds of occurring, which means it isn’t likely to happen. Those meanings are completely flipped when you’re talking about sports betting.
It’s confusing, but a little bit of exposure, and some experience placing real sports bets, will clarify the mix-up for you. This post is an attempt to clear the air a little on the concept of high and low betting odds.
High vs. Low Odds – What Does It Mean?
The high vs. low phenomenon in gambling is confusing to lots of people. Just Google “low vs. high odds,” and you’ll see countless forum posts and arguments in blog comment sections about it.
To illustrate what high and low odds are, it helps to look at some other terminology used to describe the same phenomenon.
Low odds are called short because the potential profit from them is a shorter stack of cash than with a higher odds proposition. High odds are considered long in contrast to the short payout for a low odds bet.
You can also think of odds as “likelihood,” as in “This bet has a high likelihood of winning.” If a bet is highly likely to win, that means it has low (or short) odds. Bets that have a low likelihood of winning, consequently, have high (or long) odds since they pay off at a higher rate.
I’ve taught people to remember it by thinking about the words as synonyms. It isn’t perfect, but low and short have similar meanings, as do high and long. If you then think of those words as describing your money stack, it’s easy to remember that short odds produce low amounts of money while high odds produce a long line of cash.
Please don’t confuse odds with probability. These are two different concepts that the average person tends to confuse. It’s relevant to our discussion because we’re not usually talking about probability when it comes to sports betting. Odds are a combination of many different probabilities, so it’s a bit of a “square vs. rectangle” situation.
Examples of High and Low Odds Sports Bets
Let’s make up an NBA game on a sportsbook board, showing the point spread, money line, and game total:
Here’s a perfect example of a high odds and a low odds bet all in one place.
- A bet on the Cavaliers to pull off the away upset will give you +440 odds. That’s a long number, indicated by its distance from 0. That means a bet on the Cavs is a particularly high odds wager.
The book doesn’t think it’s very likely that you’ll win your bet, so they’re offering you long odds to entice you to make it.
- A bet on the Nets to win at home is a short number, -650. You also determine a number’s relative shortness based on its distance from 0. Those low odds mean the book thinks the Nets will have no problem claiming the W, so they’re not going to pay you much if you bet on Brooklyn and they win. That’s the definition of low odds.
What would it look like if the book was less sure of the game? This happens frequently in the NBA, particularly in the early season. An online sportsbook’s line on a game that’s less of a sure-thing might look like this:
You should notice right away that the odds are both relatively close to the 0 number, or even. You can’t say that either of these numbers represents long odds.
The book is only offering +105 on the underdog Wizards, which nobody would call long. Charlotte’s -120 is short, but only just so. You can tell from the numbers that the book doesn’t have a lot of confidence in their pick either way, and even the O/U number is an oddball. When you see an even number in a game total, it’s a sign that the book is trying to draw bets.
By game time, that O/U line will be a half-point number, probably something like 216.5 or 217.5. You don’t see this kind of manipulation on the more sure-thing games.
When Would I Want to Have High Odds?
Since high odds mean a large risk for a large reward, you’d want to have high odds when you had a great deal of certainty about your bet or when you get a particular thrill from this kind of betting.
That’s a clear high odds situation – the book is offering you a very long +525 to back the Magic in an attempt to balance bets on both sides. Why would a person make such a crazy bet?
Still, others believe they have some insight, some nugget of player news, or a blip on a stat sheet, that gives them an edge against the book and the betting public. A successful $10 bet on the Magic to win outright would pay out $80, a long payout for a small investment.
When Would I Want to Have Low Odds?
Low odds mean low risk for a relatively low payout.
You’d want low odds when you are less sure of your bet, when you’re protecting your bankroll, or if you just prefer to play in situations with less risk.
Imagine our Magic-Knicks game from above. Taking the New York Knicks at home against a slumping Orlando Magic squad (at -800) would be the definition of a low odds situation. A $10 bet would pay out $1.25 in winnings, a clear sign that the book has a lot of confidence in the Knicks winning.
Why would a bettor want to go through all that trouble for such a small return?
A reliable, low-risk wager that allows bettors to stretch their bankrolls across more games or more months of a particular season.
Which Is Better – High or Low Odds?
There’s no single correct answer. They’re both good, used for different reasons, often by the same bettor throughout a single day’s wagers.
It’s not necessarily better to bet on low odds over the long-term or only bet on high odds now and then.
Also, consider that a high odds bet can still be placed with low stakes, limiting the potential losses from the longer odds.
Most sports bettors face both high odds and low odds situations as part of their sports betting strategy.
In some cases, it’s appropriate to chase high odds; other times, the smart money is on low odds propositions. It comes down to each bettor’s strategy and personal taste.