In basic sports betting theory, the favorite is any team or player that is commonly expected to win a given two-way contest.
Here’s an easy example. In the 2023 college basketball national championship, four-time champion UConn played San Diego State. The favorite was UConn. The Huskies were expected to win, and they did.
For readers who want a more technical and nuanced answer, consider that sports betting terms like favorite and underdog are less about which team “should win” and more about providing roughly equal betting incentives to both sides of a market.
Let’s return to my national championship example. A majority of bettors are going to want to back UConn to beat San Diego State. That majority appetite to bet one side over another creates an uneven distribution of action and a liability for the sportsbook.
To even out this difference, online sportsbooks create additional barriers to bet on the favorite.
In a moneyline market, a favorite like UConn pays out at less than 1-to-1. Bettors are risking their money for a return smaller than their principal wager.
In a point spread market, a favorite like UConn will be given the additional disadvantage of a point spread to cover. If the favorite’s final score differential falls inside the point spread margin, then the favorite will not be the winning side of the bet, even if they won the game.
Do Minus Odds Mean a Favorite in Betting?
As a general rule, bettors can identify the favorite in American betting markets by looking for the minus sign (-).
In moneyline markets, favorite prices are represented by a minus sign and a large number. At BetMGM, UConn opened the aforementioned national championship game as a -270 moneyline favorite, meaning a successful $270 bet would have returned all $270 of principal plus $100 of winnings.
At the same rate of return, a $100 bet on UConn would have returned $37.03 of winnings.
In spread markets, bettors can identify the favorite by looking for the point spread with the plus sign. At BetMGM, UConn opened as a 6.5-point favorite, so it would have appeared as -6.5 in the sportsbook.
In rare cases, neither team is favored to win, so there is no favorite or underdog. Both sides have roughly even payouts. This kind of contest is typically referred to as a pick ’em.
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