Sports Betting Odds Explained

Sports betting odds explained

Betting and gambling can be traced back to some of the earliest civilizations. At first, attempts were made to keep gambling out of sports. Organizers feared that greed would sully the innate competitiveness embedded in sports.

These attempts proved fruitless and today avid sports fans can place bets on just about any sports type, whether it’s team or individual sports, single events, or tournaments. It is, however, important to have an understanding of sports betting odds before jumping in and hedging your bets.

Have you ever found yourself at a loss among jargon and sports betting lingo and wondered how to read sports betting odds? In this article, we take a look at the background of sports betting and explain all the terms and concepts related to understanding betting odds.


Background of sports betting

Sports betting can be traced back to the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. The Greeks were sports fanatics and invented the Olympic Games more than 2,000 years ago. Historians believe that the first sports bets were placed on these athletics competitions. Sports betting spread from Greece to Rome, where people placed wagers on gladiator contests and chariot races.

This being the case, it makes sense that some illegal betting practices were present and might even have originated during these times. Rome initiated legalized sports betting and took the practice with it on its conquering exploits of the civilized world.

The church, however, tried to put an end to gambling, which included sports betting. This gave rise to underground betting shops and other illegal gambling ventures. Backstreet bookies and black-market gambling grew in popularity, instigating several pleas to have these practices legalized.


Development of modern-day sports betting

Horse racing in England opened the modern-day doors for legal sports betting. This favorite English pastime soon spread to other corners of the world, including the US. 

Betting on horse races constituted the ultimate in sports betting during the early 19th century and established the precedent that instigated betting on other sports. Professional baseball, with the founding of the National League in 1876 and the American League in 1901, brought sports betting into the limelight. Game fixing occurred as early as 1877 when the Louisville Grays threw games in favor of gambling odds. During this time, sports betting was seen as entertainment rather than a serious gambling enterprise. Back then, even sports managers such as Cap Anson, manager of the Chicago Colts in 1894, wagered on games.

Sports betting continued to gain footing and popularity in the US until the Black Sox Scandal in 1919. It came to light that eight players on the Chicago White Sox team accepted bribes to throw the 1919 World Series. The nation’s puritans and lawmakers frowned on sports betting practices. Despite these developments and the illegal status of sports betting, it grew in popularity and extended to an increasing number of sports.

The 1920s and the Great Depression marked an era when college football and basketball joined the sports betting arena. Football pool cards were popular in these economically difficult times because people thought that they could make some quick and easy cash with them.

Nevada legalized sports betting in 1931. This state was, however, the only one in the US where legal bets could be placed. The other states remained vague and non-committal on the issue of legal sports betting. Organized crime syndicates, such as the New York and Chicago crime families, saw a gap in the market and scrambled to provide bookmaking services and lottery-like games. Lawmakers compiled and implemented the 1961 Interstate Wire Act to put an end to these illegal activities. It only served to push illegal sports betting and other gambling operations more underground and limit operations to regions instead of across state borders.

During the 1970s, other states followed in Nevada’s footsteps by legalizing sports lotteries, select sports betting pools, and wagering on fantasy sports. As more states indicated leniency towards legalizing sports betting and other gambling operations, lawmakers intervened and established the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (also known as PASPA). This law prohibited sports betting in the US, except for states in which sports betting had already been legalized. At this stage, Nevada was the only state that offered real sports betting. The other states, such as Delaware, only offered lottery-type, pull-tab, and bingo-style sports betting games.


Sports betting in the US today

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act managed to put a lid on sports betting for 25 years. The US Supreme Court overturned this act in 2018, effectively opening the legal portals for sports betting in the US.

Today, sports bettors can bet on every sport imaginable in both national and international markets. Several states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana, have approved and legalized sports betting. The number of states joining these increases year by year.

Apart from the traditional points spread, sports fans can now choose between a wide selection of straight and intriguing betting options. The invention and development of the World Wide Web provided sports betting and other gambling operations with virtual platforms. This enabled sports betting to ‘break through’ the brick-and-mortar confines of land-based bookmakers and casinos. The start of the 21st century marked the appearance of online sportsbooks in the US.

Lawmakers once again intervened with the introduction of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. This law didn’t explicitly prohibit online sports betting, but it did prevent and restrict certain internet payment methods. Many online sportsbooks withdrew from the US online industry in the wake of this act.

After numerous legal battles, sports betting now enjoys full legal status in many states and Americans can place bets with renowned sportsbooks such as William Hill, DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM. However, as stated, it is important to know how betting odds work to ensure that your wagers are informed.


Types of sports betting

Sports betting pivots on the probability of a specific outcome in a sports event. This probability is the odds of one team or individual triumphing over the opposing team or opponent. When you place a bet on a sports match or tournament, you are wagering on the chances of a win, a loss, or some other outcome such as a draw.

Wrapping your head around weighing the odds in sports betting can be daunting. However, you’ll need an understanding of how sports betting odds work. Keep in mind that sports betting odds are often expressed as varying decimals. This will be discussed later in this review. This guide provides you with an explanation of odds in sports betting so that you can confidently navigate your way through the industry-specific terms and place your wagers.


Win bet/moneyline wagers

A win bet or moneyline wager is the same thing. In the US, sports bettors prefer the term ‘moneyline bet’, while ‘win bet’ is used almost everywhere else. Some regions around the world also refer to this sports betting type as a ‘straight bet’. However, in the US, a straight bet pertains to point spreads, so be sure to clarify that you understand your betting type before putting down any money.

Moneyline bets are the easiest bets to place in sports betting. You simply back your chosen team or player with your bet. Some, but not all, sportsbooks will also offer you the option to place a bet on a draw result. Betting on a draw outcome mostly applies to European football, boxing, or mixed martial arts matches.

Expressed as sports betting decimal odds, moneyline betting options apply to both individual and team sports. For example, the tennis betting odds between two players will be indicated as 1.60 to 2.50. The lower odds, being 1.60, indicates the favorite players to win the match. This is the same for team games. If you place a $100 wager on the first player with odds of 1.60 and your wager wins, your winnings will be $160. This means that you get your original wager back and make a profit of $60. Now, if you place your $100 bet on the underdog at odds of 2.50 and win, you’ll receive $250, earning you a profit of $150.

Your payout, should your wager win, is therefore paid out in correlation with the odds offered. As stated, this is the simplest or most straightforward sports betting format. If you are a beginner, we recommend testing the waters with moneyline bets.


Point spreads wagers

In the US, point spread bets are the most popular betting type. As mentioned above, a point spread wager is commonly known in the US as a straight bet. Sports bettors frequently opt for this betting type when placing wagers on football and basketball games. Point spreads are, however, not limited to these sports. Both local and international bettors favor this betting type for a number of different sports.

In terms of a sports betting odds comparison, this betting type, unlike a moneyline bet, does not involve a win, loss or draw. A point spread bet hinges predictions on the margins involved in winning and losing. In this instance, the sportsbook equalizes the playing field by awarding and deducting points to place teams or individual participants on more equal footing. Therefore, the favorite will ‘lose’ points, while the underdog ‘gains’ points.

This betting option aims to compare the relative competitive strength of opponents. Betting on the favorite to win means that you are wagering on a win greater than the presented spread. The same applies to the least favorite opponent, meaning that you are placing your bet on a chance that this team or participant will lose by less than the present point spread margin. Wagers are therefore placed on predicted margins of victories or losses.

Handicap wagers

Handicap wagering resembles the point spread betting format in some ways. Although points, often expressed as goals, are added or deducted, the purpose is not to equalize the playing field. Handicap betting specifically aims to increase the options that bettors have when placing wagers.

Higher odds and the deduction of points or goals naturally make a wager riskier. When the odds are lower and more points or goals are added for a game win, the bet carries lower risk. Therefore, a handicap of +1:1.30 on a European football (soccer) match means that this team is awarded an extra point or goal in terms of this specific bet. This increases the betting chances of winning with the extra point or goal.

A bookmaker will therefore give the least favored team an imaginary lead by adding points or goals. This betting type gained popularity in European football (soccer), but sportsbooks offer handicap bets on all kinds of sports today, including American football and basketball. You must keep in mind that these points or goals are added to the match points or goals, but they are fictitious or imaginary.



Totals and overs-unders refer to the same betting type. Globally, these terms are used interchangeably and apply to a wide selection of sports types. Totals or overs-unders are highly popular and are fairly easy to understand.

Sportsbooks will estimate the total goals, runs or points to be scored during matches and games. These estimates are established per team and expressed as lines. Once the lines are established, you can decide whether to bet under or over the totals on the line. A higher wager is known as backing the over and a lower wager is known as backing the under.

For some sports, the odds will be similar or closely related, while bookmakers set several different lines for other sports with significantly varying odds. Let’s take cricket as an example. The bookmaker set the total runs for the match at 750. The under odds are 1.50 and the over odds are 2.80. The lower odds predict that the total runs scored during the match will most likely be less than 750. Placing the over bet constitutes a higher risk but also a higher payout if the wager wins.


Prop bets/special bets

Prop is the abbreviation for proposition. Prop bets and special bets are two different terms describing the same betting type. Many serious sports bettors consider this betting type to be frivolous and a waste of time as it is mainly directed at fun rather than serious sports betting. Regardless, a real-money bet is a real-money bet, no matter what you bet on.

A prop or specials bet refers to a wager on an aspect of a match, game, event or tournament that does not necessarily have an effect on or impact the end results. This can be something like which team will score the first touchdown in a football game or which player will hit the first boundary in a cricket match.

Bookmakers can devise prop or special bets for all manner of things and one game or event can feature an array of prop or special bets. As these bets can be placed on basically anything, they are often inventive and imaginative. Prop or special bets also vary from sportsbook to sportsbook and can include:

  • The time during the game when the first points will be scored.
  • How many penalties will be awarded during the game.
  • Which player will score the first points.
  • The team that will score the first points during the match.

Future/outright bets

These two terms – futures and outright bets – are interchangeable and mean exactly the same. A future or outright wager is placed before the commencement of a tournament, league series or sports event, predicting the winner of the overall affair.

Futures or outrights apply to sports such as the Super Bowl Series, the US Masters Golf Tournament, the English Premier League, or the Grand Slam tennis tournaments such as Wimbledon. Bettors usually hedge their bets on the winners of these events.



A parlay or accumulator bet refers to multiple bets compiled as one wager. For instance, if you wish to bet on four basketball teams raking in wins in their next games, you would accumulate your selections as one wager.

Parlays are tricky in that all of your selected sub-bets must win in order for you to win the total bet. The loss of one of your bets (or teams) will lose you the entire wager. As you can see, this betting type carries a considerably higher risk than other betting types.

Two distinct methods are used to calculate the payouts of parlays or accumulators. In the US, the payout is usually fixed at a specific level correlating with the number of sub-bet selections made. This means that the sports betting odds do not really affect the payout values. When wins are paid out as fixed values, these are often expressed as multiples of the bet value or stake. For example, if you select four different matches or games, the payout might be calculated as x10 your overall wager or x10 on the fixed level payout.

The other payout calculation method involves multiplying the odds of each individual selection. If your bet is successful on one selection, the would-be payout is carried over to the next selection and so forth until all of your selections are played out. The payout can be potentially huge if this calculation method is followed, especially if you are betting against high odds.


Progressive parlays

The risk of progressive parlays is a bit lower than that of traditional parlays. You’ll lose your entire bet if one selection in a traditional parlay loses. With a progressive parlay, you’ll still receive a certain payout if one or more selections lose. This marginal flexibility offers you the chance to get something back on your total bet. 

Lower risks in betting imply lower payouts. Therefore, the payouts of progressive parlays are less than those of traditional parlays. You should also know that your payout is reduced with every losing selection and that you cannot bet on fewer than four selections. In comparison, traditional parlays require a minimum of two selections. A typical progressive parlay payout schedule is depicted below.




All selections correct

One selection wrong

Two selections wrong


5 x

1 x



250 x

25 x

4 x


Full cover bets

Full cover bets can also be described as combination bets and are mostly used in the UK. A full cover bet resembles a parlay or accumulator in that it pays out in multiples based on a number of selections under a single wager. This betting type does not, however, relate to single aspects in a selection. These wagers cover all possible combinations of a selection.

Bookmakers offer different variants on full cover bets, which in essence depict the different combinations on offer. An increase in the number of selections results in the exponential growth of the possible combinations. The full cover bets relating to single bet selections are:

  • Three selections covered in a full cover bet is called a patent.
  • A Lucky 15 relates to four selections.
  • Five selections are covered under Lucky 31.
  • A selection of six combination wagers under a full cover bet is called a Lucky 63.


Bettors can also access full cover bets that don’t include all the single bets. These are known as:

  • Trixie, which covers three selections.
  • Yankee, which covers four selections.
  • Canadian or Super Yankee, which covers five selections.
  • Heinz, which covers six selections.
  • Super Heinz, which covers seven selections.
  • Goliath, which covers eight selections.

In a full cover bet, all wagers usually carry the same value. In other words, a $1 wager in a Lucky 31 full cover bet would amount to a $31. You won’t typically come across this betting type in the US.


Teasers and pleasers

Teasers and pleasers are wagers predominantly found in the US. Bettors place these bets on either basketball or football games.

Whether it be a pleaser or a teaser, these bets are akin to parlays and rely on a number of selections under the umbrella of one bet. This betting type requires that the selections are either totals (overs-unders) or a point spread.

A teaser bet shifts the point spread or total in favor of the bettors and pleasers shift the same against the favor of bettors. Essentially, this means that a pleaser is more difficult to attain than a teaser. In other words, if the Boston Red Sox is one of your selections and the points spread is +3 and you opt for a two-point teaser, the points spread will shift to +5 in your favor. Pleasers work in the opposite way to teasers. They significantly narrow the margins on point spreads and totals.

Your odds on teasers are low and the payouts are not that lucrative. Pleasers, on the other hand, yield higher odds and better payouts. It is, however, quite difficult to get pleasers right and they rarely pay out. However, with the odds against you, the prize is much more lucrative. A $100 bet on a three-team teaser can deliver a $150 payout (which includes your initial $100 stake). A $100 on the same three-team pleaser can yield up to $2,500 in winnings.


If bets and reverse bets

This betting type is typically used in the US. Some consider this a complicated betting format similar to evolved parlays.

Making selections in a predetermined order is an if bet. The outcomes of the first five selections determine whether any ensuing selections will go on or if the bet will be lost. If your first choice loses, you’ll lose your entire bet. However, if your first choice wins, the next selection will become active. The good news is that you’ll be paid out for your winning first selection, and your original stake will be your wager on your second selection. Regardless of what happens with the ensuing selections, you’ll be able to keep the payout from your first selection.

A reverse bet is almost similar to a full cover bet, combining your if bet selections in all possible orders. In other words, three selections in an if bet would run as six if bets in a reverse bet when all possible selection orders are expressed. Your stake would also increase in line with the number of increased selections. Although a reverse bet is exponentially pricier, the payouts are more lucrative and you’ll receive a payout on a single correct selection.


Other betting types

It is quite a task to cover every conceivable betting type. We have, however, detailed the most important and prominent betting types. Other betting types are specific to certain sports and include betting options such as:

  • The grand salami, which is a kind of parlay specifically used in baseball and hockey. When you opt for this betting option, you’ll have to bet on all the totals (overs-unders) applicable to all games on a specific day.
  • A run line bet is the same as a points spread and will always be expressed as 1.5 runs, but the typical 50/50 expression is not implied.
  • A puck line bet is similar to a run line bet but is specifically used for ice hockey. Similar to a run line bet, the points spread is fixed at 1.5 points.
  • The correct score bet applies to soccer and involves predicting a game’s end score. This is a difficult bet to place, but as with all tricky bets, the payouts are worth it.

There are many different betting options to choose from. Our sports betting odds explained article will help you to understand and grasp how to calculate sports betting odds. One aid will be to use a sports betting odds calculator. However, it also important that you have an understanding of fractional betting odds, American sports betting odds, and a fraction to decimal odds conversion, among others.


How do sports betting odds work?

It is important to have sports bets odds explained before jumping into the arena of sports betting. An understanding of and ability to read and convert sports odds give bettors a much-needed edge in sports betting.

Odds indicate the probability of winning or losing and the payout that can be expected on winning stakes. The bookmaker’s take is commonly known as the ‘juice’, ‘vig’, or ‘cut’. There are different types of betting odds, such as American, fractional and decimal odds. We’ll have a look at each of these in detail.


American betting odds

American odds are commonly used throughout North America. This odds system typically uses a three-digit payout system relatable to $100 stakes. A plus or minus appears in front of the respective digits to indicate the favorites and underdogs in an event. The plus sign refers to the underdog and the minus sign refers to the favorite.

If you bet on a favorite at odds of -150, you’ll need to wager $150 to win $100. Should you bet on the underdog at +150, your $100 wager would make you $150 if you win.

Players often favor amounts other than $100 when placing sports bets. How do American odds work when placing wagers smaller or bigger than $100? Payouts in American odds rely on percentages, hence the standard $100 example. Therefore, if you place a $10 on +260 odds, you’ll win $26. In the case of betting $20 on -260 odds, you’ll make a profit of $7.69 if you win.

Your chosen online sportsbooks will pre-calculate your projected wins and losses before the confirmation of your wager. This enables you to know exactly how much you stand to gain. 


Fractional betting odds

Fractional odds are not very common in the US and are mostly associated with countries such as the UK. There are, however, some select online bookmakers in the US that use this odds format.

Fractional odds are indicated in fractions and expressed as 8-2, 3-1, 7-4, and so on. You’ll read these odds as eight to two, three to one, or seven to four, or whatever odds combination is expressed for your bet. 

Profit probabilities are calculated by multiplying your stake with the numerator (first number) and dividing it by the denominator (second number). For example, if you place a $20 bet on a 7-4 odds game, you’ll multiply 20 by seven and divide it by 4, giving you a possible win of $35.

Favorites to win an event are indicated by smaller numerators than denominators, whereas underdogs have larger numerators. You’ll most likely find fractional odds when placing futures bets in the US. Most of these denominators are indicated as one (1) to ease the calculation process of American odds to fractional odds and are especially used in seasonal football betting odds and seasonal basketball betting odds. Bettors also use a fractional odds table to easily perform odds conversions.


Decimal odds

These sports betting odds are not native to the US. Decimal odds betting works in a similar way to fractional betting odds but is indicated using a single number. This number indicates the profit that would be collected on a $1 winning wager. In other words, if the decimal odds are indicated as 9, the probable profits would be $8 plus the $1 winning wager.

Odds between one and two indicate favorites, with an even two usually indicating opponents that are evenly matched. Calculating projected profits on whole numbers is obviously simpler than conversions on decimals, but it also not too difficult. You multiply the odds with the value of your wager. For example, placing a $10 bet on odds of 1.85 requires that you multiply 1.85 by 10. Your projected profit will therefore be $18.50.


Converting sports betting odds

Avid sports bettors often find it necessary to convert odds to either determine a break-even percentage or other odds format to place informed sports wagers. You can always access an odds conversion calculator to perform these functions, but it is handy to have a thorough understanding of conversion methods when endeavoring to bet on sports.

American and decimal odds conversion

You can apply a simple formula to convert American odds to decimal odds. On positive American odds, you divide the odds by 100 and add one – for example, +300 is converted as 1 + 300/100 = 4. Negative American odds are converted by dividing 100 with the American odds and deducting one point. Therefore, an example formula will be 1 – (100/-300) = 1.33.

Formulas for converting decimal to American odds depend on whether the decimal is greater or smaller than 2.00. If the decimal odd is 2.00 or above, you need to deduct one point from the decimal and then multiply it with 100 to get the American odds. For example, (2.10 – 1) X 100 = American odds. If the decimal odds are lower than 2.00, you have to deduct one point from the decimal odds and divide this number by -100 to get the American odds. For example, -100 / (1.10 – 1) = American odds.


Betting odds fraction to decimal conversions

Converting decimal odds to fractional odds is quite simple. You take the decimal odd and deduct one point to get the fractional odds. If you want to establish the reverse conversion – fractional to decimal odds – then you need to divide the numerator by the denominator and add one point. This will provide you with the decimal odds.

Sports bettors also use a betting odds converter fraction to decimal and decimal to fraction odds when these conversions come into play. These converters automatically calculate the applicable conversions. You only need to enter a few simple fields such as your betting amount and betting type.



What are odds in betting?

Betting odds are an expression of the likely results of a contest. These can be team or individual competitions such as football or tennis. The perceived chances of each team or individual competitor are expressed in odds. Even odds are indicated as similar numbers.

Who sets the odds for sports betting?

A linemaker, employed by a bookmaker, typically determines the betting odds for sports betting options offered by a sportsbook. Linemakers are experts in their respective fields, and bookmakers may employ the services of more than one depending on the expertise of the linemakers.


This article has provided an in-depth look at sports betting and how sports betting odds work. If you are aiming to bet on sports, you would be wise to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of sports betting types and sports betting odds.



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