Sports Betting 101: How to read sports odds

Sports Betting 101: How to read sports odds

Ten to one, you’ve heard about sports odds at least once. Odds are, you’ve also heard various ways to express them. There’s at least a 50/50 chance you’ve spotted them in this very paragraph. But what do they mean?

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Sports odds are easily the most important thing to understand when it comes to sports betting. Understanding what they are, what they mean, and how to apply them, is pretty much the essence of sports betting. They are what shows you which player, team or participant to bet on, their chances of winning, and how much money you can expect to make if your bet wins.

Regardless of which format they’re presented in, odds indicate two crucial pieces of information: first, the probability of your desired outcome being successful; second, the winnings value attached to the bet.

These odds are calculated by taking into account a wide variety of factors, which we go into more detail about in our article, Sports Betting 101: How bookmakers generate odds. To summarise, bookmakers consider many factors, using complex statistics and mathematical formulas to work out the best outcomes. They look at not only the track record of the team or player, but also at how people are betting, current industry trends, and a whole lot more.

The three main types of sports odds are fractional, decimal and American.

Fractional odds

Even if you’ve never placed a bet on any sporting event, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this type of odds expressed by friends, family or in media. By simply saying: there’s a ten to one chance you’ve heard of this, we see this type of odds in action.

Fractional odds are usually written as two numbers separated by a line: 10/1. Each of the two numbers represents a probability factor – one positive and the other negative. In other words, there’s a positive probability of 10 that you have heard this, and a negative probability of 1 that you haven’t. This would indicate an extremely high probability of a beneficial outcome.

As another example, if two teams are competing, the fractional odds might be 7/4 in favour of team A. That would mean that, if the teams played 11 hypothetical games, team A would win 7 times and lose 4 times, and vice versa for team B. To calculate the probability of team A winning in percentages, you divide the number of probable wins by the total number of games to find a decimal (7 ÷ 11 = 0.63) and multiply by 100 (0.63 x 100 = 63%).

To calculate how much you would win if you placed a bet on team A, you multiply the bet amount by the percentage, or by the decimal. If you bet R200, for example, you can work out your expected winnings like this:

R200 x 63% = R126


R200 x 0.63 = R126

On the flip side, the odds for team B would be:

Decimal: 4 ÷ 11 = 0.36

Percentage: 36%

Winnings: R200 x 0.36 or R200 x 36% = R72

Decimal odds

Decimal odds are hands-down the easiest odds to work with and are usually presented like this:

Player 1: 2.7

Player 2: 1.9

If you place a bet on player 1 and they win, your payout will be your bet multiplied by the decimal odds: R200 x 2.7 =  R540. To calculate your winnings, subtract the original bet amount: R540 – R200 = R340.

American odds

American odds are the odd ones out – they don’t use a percentage or decimal system to indicate probability. They instead show you either how much you have to bet to win R100, or how much you would win by betting R100, differentiated by a + or -. Let’s illustrate by looking at a race with three participants. Their odds are:

Competitor 1: -150

Competitor 2: -110

Competitor 3: +115

Negative numbers are used to indicate a favourite while positive numbers indicate underdogs. Betting on a negative number shows how much you need to bet in order to win R100, while betting on a positive number shows how much you will win if you place a bet of R100.

The way different sports and different bookmakers will use these types of odds varies depending on geography, trends, prevalence, and many other factors. If you are giving serious thought to getting into sports betting, it’s important to familiarise yourself with these types of odds and get used to the various methods of betting. Switching back and forth between them can get challenging, and you could end up making a mistake if your head isn’t in the right odds space. This is often at least one reason why people tend to stick to the same bookmaker, or get involved in a limited number of sports – it’s easier and more manageable if you have to think about only one type of odds, especially if you’re placing multiple bets.

We have a whole range of articles covering the intricacies of sports betting in our Sports Betting 101 series. Check them out here.

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