Sports Betting Guide To Understanding Odds

Types of Bets

When looking around for New Year football bets to entertain the optimistic punter in me, I was asked by my fiancée what exactly what the 19/20 price on a Chelsea v Watford Asian Handicap bet actually meant. Maybe these are the basics of betting that are often taken for granted when it comes to talking about online sports betting, but for newcomers to the world of gambling, the list of numbers may be a little overwhelming. So, taking this on board, and realising that the New Year is when a lot of new accounts are opened with online bookmakers, I endeavoured to explain the odds. Also realising that this is the time of year when everyone looks for new things to explore, it felt like a good time to explain some of the basics of betting for the otherwise uninitiated.

To get your betting experience going in the new year, you will need an account with an online bookmaker. Explore this betting site to find plenty of good options, and take advantage of special welcome offers by bookmakers. Whether it is SportingBet, Coral, 888Sport, SkyBet or any one of the host of online bookmakers that are available, you will need an account and to deposit some money. Follow our links to get that done quickly, and once you are set up, you can use our guide to help you enjoy you new gambling experiences in 2010.

Bookmakers such as Bet365, Expekt and Betfair may use slightly different numerical systems to explain the same things. They show punters how much chance they think there is of an event happening by quoting odds. This is what you are doing when making a bet, you are wagering cash that an event will either happen, or not. For example, you can bet on England to win the World Cup. That is an event which, if it happens, you will win your bet. You are also betting “against” events happening, by proxy of placing a bet on something else “to” happen. If England were playing Spain in the final of the World Cup, by betting on England to win the match, at the same time you are saying that Spain won’t win.

A bookmaker such as William Hill needs to decide how much chance there is of something happening. Imagine a centre betting line from which every bets starts, which is the 50/50 chance. Of course, in a football match,  just to confuse this model, there are three outcomes, not two. There is a win, a draw and loss, which represents a 33.3% of each event happening. But that matters not, as the explanation here is just the method of how odds are set, so don’t worry, were not looking at betting on the outcome of game, just the likelihood of a team winning a game. A horse race for example can have 20 runners, but the odds of each horse will still be judged on it’s 50/50 (win/lose) chance of actually winning the race.

So, let’s take a look at England’s first world 2010 World Cup game against the USA. A bookmaker like Paddy Power would first decide what the USA’s chances of winning are. If it is perceived that the USA’s chances of winning the match are less than the 50/50 mark, then they will be “odds against” winning the match and represented so in the betting. England, being the stronger team, will have more than a 50/50 chance of winning the game in the eyes of the bookmaker, and will therefore be “odds on” to win. If the bookmaker were to think that England has just a 50/50 chance of winning the match, then they will be at Even Odds (just called Evens). Just because one team is represented as having a 50/50 chance of winning the game by setting them at Evens, it doesn’t mean that other team will be set at the same odds. If England were at Evens, the USA could still be odds against winning the match because they are still a weaker team than England. So everything is just a perception of the likelihood of a team winning a match.


  • Odds On: This favours an event to actually happen, and therefore the bookmaker won’t want to pay out too much. There is profit to be had, but you will need to bet bigger, essentially risking more to get a nice return.
  • Evens: Representing a 50/50 chance. You will get back whatever you stake on an Evens bet. So if you bet £10 on Evens, you will get £10 profit back if it happens.
  • Odds Against: This is where the big money is usually won with betting. This is because you taking Odds Against the most obvious outcome of an event happening. Therefore you can win big, because in all honesty the most obvious outcome of an event happening, is unlikely not to actually happen.


Fractional Odds: Betting odds are expressed in a few ways, but the most common way as seen in the UK, is fractional odds, such as 4/1. These may take you back to scary times of sitting in maths class at school, but this is more fun to understand, because these represent how much money you potentially stand to win. You will predominantly see odds presented like this at the race track, and when you walk into a high street bookmaker in the UK, such as Ladbrokes.
Going back to the example of the 50/50 chance, fractional odds where there second number is bigger than the first, say 1/5 will be an example of a bet being “Odds On”. This will generally be found on the favourite of a horse, team or player to win an event. Conversely, odds of 4/1 will be an example of “Odds Against”, essentially betting an outsider to win an event.
If you want to know your potential return at a quick glance, here is a rule of thumb without having to get out the calculator:

A 4/1 bet means that for every pound wagered, you will win 4 back. The second number is your stake, and the first number represents the chance of an event happening for you to win the bet. The bigger the first number over the second, the less likelihood there is of an event happening. When you hear the term “longer odds” it just means for example, a longer shot of something happening. So an 8/1 bet would be longer odds than a 3/1 bet. Or if you want to explain it the other way, the 3/1 bet is shorter odds than the 8/1 bet because it has more chance of happening.

A 13/2 bet means that for every two pounds wagered, you will win 13 back. Why is there a two as the second number, and not a one? This is easily explained away by the fact that half fractions are not represented in Fractional Odds. So, a 13/2 bet is the equivalent of a 6.5/1 bet, so you can work out your potential winnings for that. When you see odds like that, simply divide it by two. The second number can be anything, for example 19/20. Again simply break it down in half which would be 9.5/10, which could be broken down further to around 5/5 (or evens). (Technically half of 9.5 would be 4.75 but we’re trying to simplify things, so we’ll round up 4.75 up to 5 so that we can do the math quickly). So now you know that you need to put £5 on to win £5 back, or, if you like, you win £5 for every five staked. Again, the figures are not exact when breaking it down like this, because 19/20 is shorter odds than an Evens bet would be, but it gives a good mental arithmetic guideline.

Remember that when working out fractional odds, you are working out your profit only, and the stake will also be returned on top of winnings.

Decimal Odds: Another way of expressing odds, as favoured in Europe, is the decimal way, which will be presented a 4.00 for example. In many cases, beginners and an avid gamblers alike prefer this system, as it is somewhat clearer to understand the returns you will getting, as opposed to fractional odds. Instead of fractions, you are using units, and therefore it can be much easier to work out at a quick glance.

An example of decimal odds would 1.50. Decimal odds shows you exactly how much you will be getting back, because if you bet £10 on decimal odds of 1.50, then you just multiply them together. 10 x 1.50 = £15. That is exactly what you will be getting back, which includes the initial stake. So you just made yourself £5 profit. That’s really is all there is to decimal odds, as you see you know exactly what the payout will be coming back to you.
Some decimal fractions will be more complicated to add up quickly, like 2.38 for example. If you’re making a £5 stake on that, then you need to multiply £5 x 2.38. So simply round down the decimal to give yourself a ballpark figure. £5 x 2.00 gives ten, plus you know there’ll be a little bit more from the missing 0.38 that you left off of the equation. £5 x 2.38 actually equals a return of 11.9

North American Odds: These differ from both the systems used in the UK and Europe, and can be a little confusing to gamblers used to the above systems. North American odds are generally presented as positive or negative numbers and work in units of 100. We’ll just glance quickly at this in case you happen across them.

  • Positive American odds: (+200 for example) simply means that positive  figure is the amount profit you would get from making a bet of £100. You don’t have to bet £100 of course, that just shows the full return of what you would get if you did. So to do the math on this to see your profit, just divide the odds by 100 and then multiply by the stake. So if you bet £5 on +200 it would be 200/100 = 2 and then multiply that 2 x £5 = £10 profit (plus your stake back on top). Positive American odds are the equivalent of “Odds On”, and are used for the underdog in a match up.
  • Negative American odds: The reverse of the above. When negative odds are displayed, for example -200, then that is how much you need to bet in order to win £100. So, if you bet £5 on -200, you work out the math in a similar way to the positive, only reverse one part of the sum. To find your profit, you divide 100 by the odds, so it would be 100/200  = 0.5. Then multiply that 0.5 by the £5 stake, and it gives you £2.50. So in order to win the full £100, you would need the stake to match whatever the negative odds are (in this example -200) by betting £200.

More information:
Understanding odds
Betting explained