How to Read Betting Odds

How to Read Betting Odds
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Kelsey McCarson for Bookies.com

By Kelsey McCarson | | 4 mins

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Understanding how to read sports odds starts with knowing the various formats sportsbooks use to display betting odds. The three most common methods are called American, fractional and decimal odds.

All three of these sports betting odds explained are essentially different methods of giving the bettor the same information as quickly and efficiently as possible.

From boxing betting to NHL betting and every sport in between, knowing how to read sports odds in any of these formats is important to prospective bettors because each format indicates how much a bettor must stake in order to win a certain amount in profit.

Sportsbooks display betting odds in American, fractional or decimal formats depending on the location of the sportsbook and the preference of the bettors. Some online sportsbooks allow bettors to choose which format displays on the screen through the toggle of a setting.

For sportsbooks that limit the way their odds are displayed, there are various online odds format conversion tools that exist and are available to the public.

Understanding American Odds

As indicated by the name, the American odds format is commonly seen in the United States. American odds, sometimes called US odds or moneylines, include both negative and positive numbers. Take the following as an example from MLB betting in a World Series:

  • Boston Red Sox -125
  • Los Angeles Dodgers +150

The negative number (denoted by the minus sign) indicates the favorite in the matchup and is how much money someone has to bet on the favorite in order to win $100 in profit as a return.

The positive number (denoted by the plus sign) indicates the underdog in the matchup and is how much money a bettor will win in profit as a return on a $100 bet.

Comparing the sports odds from the example of the Red Sox vs. Dodgers above, betting $125 on the Red Sox would return $100 in profit should the Red Sox win the game. Betting $100 on the Dodgers would return $150 in profit should the Dodgers pull an upset.

Bettors do not have to bet in $100 increments when bets are listed as moneylines. Sportsbooks simply use these increments for American odds to quickly display the information. The same ratios apply for all bets in whatever increment.

Understanding Fractional Odds

Fractional odds are popular in the United Kingdom and are also sometimes used by sportsbooks in the United States. Bettors familiar with horse racing markets see fractional odds more than any other type of odds, and they are also popular options for betting futures.

Fractional odds are incredibly easy to understand but their format makes them hard to compare against each other. Take the following as an example in NFL betting:

  • Denver Broncos 5/6
  • Houston Texans 1/1

Fractional odds display the stake as the denominator and the potential return as the numerator. Using the example above from the Broncos vs. Texans game, a bettor can win $5 in profit for every $6 bet on the Broncos winning the game.

For the Texans, the bettor can win $1 in profit or every $1 bet. The ratio transfers to other betting amounts and are easy to apply because of the fractional format. For example, a $300 bet on the Broncos to win the game would return $250 in profit on a Broncos win.

Understanding Decimal Odds

Decimal odds, sometimes call European odds, are commonly used in Europe, Canada and Australia. Decimal odds are the easiest to compare against each other and are probably the most popular choice for online bookmakers across the world. Take the following as an example in soccer betting for an EPL matchup:

  • Arsenal 1.11
  • Fulham 21.75
  • Tie 9.00

Decimal odds make it easy and fast to calculate the total payout for the bet. The total payout includes the profit won as well as the initial stake (i.e. the bet).

For the example above, a $100 bet on Arsenal would return $111 in total. The profit for the bet on Arsenal (a heavy favorite) would net only $11 in profit. By comparison, a $100 on Fulham would return $2,175 should the underdog pull the upset. That’s $2,075 in profit on just a $100 bet.

Finally, at $100 bet on the teams finishing in a tie would return $900 ($800 in profit plus the initial stake of $100).

Sports Betting Odds Compared

EventBetAmericanFractionalDecimal
Yankees vs. DodgersYankees-2001/21.50
Mayweather vs. PacquiaoPacquiao+2505/23.50
Celtics vs. KnicksCeltics-5001/51.20

Can the Same Event Have Different Odds?

Yes. Knowing how to read sports odds and comparing different betting odds across various bookmakers is an important aspect of choosing betting options because different bookmakers offer different odds for the same events.

Bookmakers set odds to ensure they have an equal amount of bets coming in on both sides of the wager. In this way, a sportsbook’s odds for any given event is less about the actual probability of the event turning out the way a sportsbook predicts and more about the kind and number of bets the bookmaker receives at that location.

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