Betting Odds

betting ticket
“Betting Ticket” by Leon Chan

My latest hobby is betting on NFL games. I spent a lot of time watching football games and digging into player news and injuries over the past few months. I figured I can turn that knowledge into profit with sports betting.

I picked up several books on gambling to aid in this pursuit.  I’ve found tons of fascinating information, especially with the math involved in gambling. I am going to share what I’ve learned in a series of posts, starting with this one. It’ll be a great way to solidify my reading.

American Odds

The first topic is the odds that sportsbooks offer. Since I reside in US, bets are offered and placed with American odds. These odds are centered around winning or wagering $100 on any given bet. For example, a sportsbook might offer the Los Angeles Lakers at -200 to win their next game. Another bet could be the Kansas City Chiefs at +150 to win the Super Bowl.

Let’s break down what these numbers mean. I’ll start with the negative numbers or what I call minus odds. Minus odds are used when an outcome is favored or more likely to happen. The number shown after the minus sign is what you have to risk to win $100.  This means the amount risked is more than the net winnings.

Let’s say I like the Lakers to win their next game at -200 from the example above. I would go to the sportsbook offering that bet and give them $200 for a ticket. If the Lakers win, I will redeem the ticket and receive $300. My net winnings would be $300 minus $200 for $100. I am risking $200 to win $100 at -200 odds.

The bet does not have be $200 but it makes the math easy for this post. I could bet $60 on the Lakers instead of $200. However, if they win, I would receive a net winning of $30 instead of $100.

On the other side, the positive numbers or plus odds indicate an outcome is unlikely or an underdog. The number after the plus sign indicates the amount won per $100 risked. This translates to the net winnings being more than the amount risked.

Once again using the example from above, I want to bet on the Chiefs at +150 to win the Super Bowl. I would go to the sportsbook and hand over $100 for a ticket. If the Chiefs end up winning the championship, I would cash that ticket for $250. My net winnings would be $250 minus $100 for $150. I am risking $100 to win $150 at +150 odds.

However, if the Chiefs do not win, the ticket is worthless and I would have lost $100. The same situation also applies in the Lakers’ example. However, I would have lost $200 in that bet as I paid more for the minus odds.

Implied Odds

There’s more to these minus and plus odds than just conveying the net winnings of a bet. The numbers can also be translated to a probability. This probability can be used to evaluate whether the bet is a good one.

Let’s start with minus odds. Remember, these are favored outcomes, so the probabilities should be higher than 50%. To calculate these probabilities, take the odds and divide it by the odds plus 100. For the -200 Lakers bet, the implied probability is:

200 / (200 + 100) = 200 / 300 = 67%

I would need to believe the Lakers are going to win the game more than 67% of the time if I want to be profitable with that bet. Another way to think about is: if the Lakers played this game 100 times, are they going to win more than 67 times?

The implied odds for plus numbers are calculated with a similar equation. These outcomes are unlikely, so the probability should be less than 50%. To calculate these probabilities, divide 100 by the odds plus 100. For the +150 Chiefs bet, the implied probability is:

100 / (100 + 150) = 100 / 250 = 40%

I would need to trust that the Chiefs win the Super Bowl more than 40% of the time to make money with this bet. Another way to put it is: if the season was played out 100 times, would the Chiefs win it all at least 40 times?

Its that easy?

As shown in the examples above, understanding the odds and the implied probabilities makes it easier to evaluate a bet. However, you won’t beat the sportsbook with only that information. You’ll need to come up with your own probabilities to compare it with the sportsbook’s lines. And this is hardest part of profitable sports betting.


NBA Breakups

broken basketball
“Broken Basketball” by Leon Chan

This past week, one of the weirdest NBA story lines came to a conclusion with the trade of two All-Star players. One of my favorite players, Kawhi Leonard, was traded for DeMar DeRozen. Kawhi only played 9 games this year due to injury. However, there were rumors of his discontent while he was on his former team, the San Antonio Spurs. After the season, he demanded a trade. He didn’t want to be in San Antonio anymore and preferred to play in his home state of California.

When the trade finally happened, the reporters with ESPN, The Ringer, Bleach Report, and all the various blogs were ablaze with their “hot” takes. They talked about which team won the trade, how the players would fit into their new teams, and whether the teams got better. Some writers noted how weird this entire NBA season was for the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard. They made the comparison to a bad breakup. Kawhi didn’t want to be there but the Spurs didn’t want to just let him go. And who could blame them? How do you just let a top 3 talent walk away for nothing? But once they knew the relationship couldn’t be reconciled, the Spurs accepted their fate. They looked for a way to get something in return for their best player.

If the analogy to this whole situation is a breakup, then I care more about how the people in the relationship were dealing with it over how it affected their careers. So this week, I’m sharing articles with reactions from the coaches and fans of the Spurs.

What I’ve Read:

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs coach, says with Kawhi Leonard traded it’s ‘time to move on’ | ESPN – Coach Popovich’s comments on the situation feel like they were pulled straight out of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. They ooze with the tenets of Stoicism, particularly the beliefs of control and perception. One of the main thoughts in Stoic philosophy is that we should only focus on what we can control and let go of the rest. Popovich can’t change the past, so he’s choosing to move on and focus on integrating the new players on his team. He also practices perspective by viewing basketball as a child’s game and acknowledging that there are much bigger issues in the world. His reactions to this unfortunate situation provides an example on how to act like a person with good character.

Farewell, Kawhi: A Spurs Fan Reflects on a Star’s Inevitable Departure | The RingerShea Serrano has quickly become one of my favorite writers. I admire his ability to pull in references from pop culture and apply it seamlessly to basketball. His use of The Beach and how it related to his feelings about Kawhi’s departure was a fantastic analogy. It gave me the inspiration to use the same event to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned. And the lesson from this article is that there’s relief in doing what needs to be done. So instead of “hanging around and pissing people off”, it’s better to just do the action.


Wall-E & the Seahawks

“Wall-E & Seahawks” by Leon Chan

I’m sharing all reads this week and, surprise, surprise, none of them are on romantic relationships! Sorry, I wasn’t creative enough to come up with a theme for this week. But as always, these reads are fantastic, especially Mina Kimes’ piece for Slate. Mina Kimes first started as an investigative reporter for business and finance publications in 2007. She got picked up by ESPN in 2015 after they discovered a version of the essay shared below.

What I’ve Read:

Me, My Father, and Russell Wilson | Slate – I first heard about Mina Kimes when my friend sent me a clip of her on ESPN’s Highly Questionable. I was intrigued and followed her on Twitter ever since. On father’s day, she re-posted the above essay. It was an absolute joy to read. As I’ve written in past updates, my favorite articles comment on the intersection of popular culture and professional sports. This essay goes a step beyond that and dives into how professional sports can shape personal relationships.

Every Pixar Movie, Ranked | The Ringer – I brought up this ranking of all 19 Pixar movies at a dinner party last week. There was a general agreement among my friends until we got to the top 3. One of my friends did not think that Wall-E deserved a top 5 spot, much less be placed over Finding Nemo. I wholeheartedly disagreed with her and believe Wall-E earned its place at second. This led to a lively debate between the two of us. To make sure I wasn’t totally biased, I watched Wall-E again over the weekend. I feel completely justified in my defense of the movie; it’s such a great film. The warnings about screen addition, consumerism, and human waste were way ahead of its time. I love Finding Nemo but Wall-E is an absolute gem.

How to do what you love and make good money | Derek Sivers – Derek Sivers’ blog offers book notes and advice in the fewest words as possible. He pares down his sentences to just the core message. And the central theme of the post above is to separate what you do for money and what you do for love. This is an interesting counterpoint to all the advice about finding a job that you are passionate about. It made me pause and rethink my career plan. I’m unsure about what I want in the long term but for now I’m going to stick with my 6 month plan while I figure it out.


Digging Deep

“Digging” by Leon Chan

I was planning to clear some of the older links on my reading list this week. So I scrolled to the bottom of the list and started browsing the titles of the articles. The two posted today were ones that grabbed me after the first couple of paragraphs and didn’t let go until I was done reading. I had to dig deep into my list for these pieces but they were well worth it.

What I’ve Read:

Thresholds of Violence | The New Yorker – Malcolm Gladwell pens this very insightful and chilling piece on gun violence in American schools. He paints a complicated picture of the issue through the use of statistics and personal narrative. Throughout the article, I kept picturing one of my former student with Asperger’s Syndrome in the place of John LaDue. I could imagine him going through the same thought processes with the same lack of emotional awareness. It’s frightening to think about how glorified and widespread school shootings have become.

World Elephant Polo Championships | Outside – This story tells the tale of the New York Blues in their quest to claim the World Elephant Polo Championship. The outlandish and extravagant event is matched only by the colorful characters involved. From beginning to end, the intrigue of the sport and the outcome of the matches make for a fascinating read.