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Betting Odds Explained - How do betting odds work?

Understanding betting odds to beat them

Understanding Betting Odds - © moodboard - Fotolia.com

It’s hard to be a serious sports investor if you are still in the dark when it comes to understanding betting odds. It is critical to know the main types of betting odds, how to understand them and above all, how to play them correctly. Without that knowledge, it’s hard to be anything more than an idle punter throwing away money as a way to pass the time of an evening at the pub. Fortunately, understanding betting odds can be as simple as getting a good grip on the three main types of odds in use.

The three main types of odds that you will see when you place a bet are fractional, decimal and American. The names describe how the odds are written. Depending on where you are playing and what sports you are betting on regularly you may have to be comfortable switching between odds formats. However, understanding betting odds will make it easier for you to compare bets, place bets properly and go home with money in your pocket.

Decimal odds are the most popular odds currently in use. They are offered by almost all bookmakers around the globe. Understanding betting odds with a decimal odds system is simple. The decimal odds state clearly how much money will be gained from a bet of 1 unit. Do watch as a 1 unit stake can mean 1, 10, or 100 – just check to be sure you know the bookmakers unit stake of preference. Most decimal odds go out to 2 decimal places for greater accuracy of the odds. It is worth remembering that decimal odds include the return of the unit stake as well. So decimal odds of 3.00 for example, returns £30 which is £20 profit and the £10 return stake.

The next most common type of odds offered are fractional odds. Fractional odds are the odds most commonly used by UK bookmakers. These odds follow the same base as decimal odds in that they are figured from a 1 unit stake, but unlike decimal odds they express a different meaning. Fractional odds tell a punter how much profit will be returned from a 1 unit stake as opposed to how much in total will be returned from a 1 unit stake. An offer of 2/1 fractional odds will pay out two times per unit stake. At 5/1 fractional odds, a punter would be paid out at five times per unit stake. If a unit stake was £10, it would translate to £50.

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The final kinds of odds in common use are American odds. These are quite different from the others, and may also be referred to as money lines. American odds are based on a 100 stake, and tell a positive or negative outcome.

If it is written positively, then American odds tell how much profit you will make on a 100 stake. If it is written negatively, then American odds tell how much of a stake is needed to make 100 on the bet.

Of the three, decimal odds are the easiest to use, which is one of the reasons they are the most commonly used. Understanding betting odds across the different systems isn’t difficult, but adopting decimal odds as a baseline for most of your bets will help you make good comparisons.

How do betting odds work?

To make the text a bit clearer let’s compare specific odds in a odds table between decimal odds, fractional odds and american odds (moneylines).

Decimal odds Fractional odds American odds
1.01 1/100 -10000
1.10 1/10 -1000
1.40 2/5 -250
1.50 1/2 -200
2.00 1/1 (“evens”) (-)100
3.00 2/1 200
5.00 4/1 400
10.00 9/1 900
101.00 100/1 10000


If you are a bettor you have to know how the odds unfold and the terminology associated with betting odds. It can make the difference with what you do with your stake. To get an understanding of the best odds, you need to compare odds as published online by the various bookmakers. One way of easily computing odds that appeal to you is by calculating how much you need to wager in order to win a hundred pound.

You should be aware of the terms used when talking of betting odds; they are explained below. Odds: This is the probability of an event occurring, it is calculated by the bookmaker and he accepts bets against these odds. The odds are a dynamic entity and can change as the bets come in. If a bookmaker sees more people betting for a given team, he may try and make the odds more attractive for the other team to draw some traffic there.

Stake: This is simply the amount of money that you are wagering.

Odds Against: This means that the returns are more than twice the money wagered. For example, a 2/1 (two-to-one) odds would see you win £2 for every £1 wagered; thus you take home £3. The odds against bets are usually placed for weaker teams as the odds are stacked against them.

Evens: A simple to understand idea, you wager £1 and if you win you get one more £1, you take home £2. Odds on: When your winnings are less than double of what you wagered, you have bet on an odds on event. For example, a two-to-one on bet, represented as 1/2, will give you a total of £1.5. This means that your winnings are £0.50. Long odds: The likelihood of an event occurring is low.

Short odds: The likelihood of an event occurring is high.

Odds are represented as fractional odds or decimal odds. Fractional odds are popular in the UK and are also known as British Odds. In the UK, they are also referred to as Traditional Odds. Representing odds as decimals is a common practice in continental Europe. Betting exchanges too favor decimal odds as they are considerably easier to work with. In the UK, decimal betting odds are called Continental Odds or European Odds. In the United States, odds are quoted as a figure with positive and negative values. These are termed as Moneyline Odds.

Online betting sites allow their users the option to check the odds in a format of their liking, so depending upon what you’re comfortable with, you can view the odds as fractions or decimals. The type of odds placed on a given event can help you decide the kind of bets you want to place.

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