Learn How to Read Sports Betting Odds and Understand the Numbers


If you’re new to sports betting, the sheer amount of information to digest can be overwhelming. 

One of the most important things to learn is how to read sports betting odds and understand their associated numbers. Knowing these terms is essential for making sense of the risks and placing smart bets. 

Common Words Used During Sports Betting Events 

Learning the vocabulary and jargon of sports betting can help you navigate such confusing events.

  • Action: This is a wager of any amount. 
  • ChalkBig chalk means the favorite in the event, whereas small or little chalk indicates the underdog. 
  • Hedging: This means placing bets with high odds to minimize loss. 
  • Moneyline: On the other hand, this term refers to the point spreads for the betting event.
  • Wager: The wager is what you place as a bet on the team/horse you are supporting. 
  • Bookie: This is someone who sets the odds. Most online casino betting books now have “crypto bookie” listed as a term too. 

What Do Odds Tell Bettors? 

During any sporting event, it literally pays to know which team, athlete, or horse wins the competition. Odds indicate the probability of one team/horse winning the event in comparison to the competitor. 

Here are two straightforward examples:

  1. If you decide to flip a coin, there are 50/50 chances of the coin landing on “heads” or “tails.” This means the odds are equal here, usually described as one-to-one
  2. On the other hand, during rainy seasons, there’s a 20% chance of the sun showing but an 80% chance of heavy rainfall. In other words, you are four times more likely to experience a downpour than see sunlight. 

However, it is important to note that the odds are constantly changing. Circumstances are spontaneous, and that’s what makes sports betting so much fun.   

Basic Things You Need to Know

When you look at a sports betting odds board, you’ll see a variety of numbers and symbols. 

The odds for a particular team or horse might be expressed as a ratio, fractional/decimal, or a completely different layout (usually known as American odds). To understand the wagers, you need to be able to decode these other formats.

  • Ratio

When it comes to ratio odds, the larger the number, the less likely the team or horse is to win. 

A ratio greater than one means the team or horse is an underdog, while a ratio less than one means they are the favorite.

  • American/Moneyline 

Such odds are expressed as positive or negative numbers. As a result, for favorable odds, the number tells you how much profit you’ll make for every $100 you invest. 

Negative odds, on the other hand, tell you how much you need to bet in order to win $100.

It’s important to use statistics, histories, forecasts, and other data to get the most out of your wagers to predict which team or horse has the highest odds of winning. 

If you place your bet on the favorite, you’ll have a better chance of winning, but the potential payout will be lower. Wagering on an underdog is riskier, but your returns will be higher if they win.

If you want to calculate your profit, divide 100 by the moneyline odd to figure out how much you will earn per dollar invested. If the moneyline odd stands at -150, you can expect to make $0.66 per dollar wagered (100/150). 

Here’s a simple example:

Suppose the New York Giants are expected to win the game for -150. By betting $90 on the moneyline, you can make a total of $150 ($90 + $90 x [100/150]). 

  • Fractional/Decimal

These two formats are more common outside of the US, but you can also find notes about them in a few American sportsbooks. 

Fractional odds are displayed as fractions, such as 7-4 or 3-1. You can multiply the bet by the fraction shown to find your profit. As a result, betting a minimum of $10 with approximately 3-1 odds will give the bettor $30 in profit plus a return of $10. 

Favorite wagers usually have a large denominator, whereas the underdog will have a larger numerator instead. 

Decimal odds show the amount you will win on a $1 bet. If the board shows odds listed as six, the winner will receive $5 as profit plus $1 from their original wager. 

What Is a “Vig?”

Also known as vigorish, the vig is the commission you are charged with for placing a wager on a team/horse. Inside the US, the vig(orish) is typically calculated as -110, similar to a moneyline bet. 

As a result, if the bookie asks for a vig of -110 from you, you have to bet $110 in order to make $100 as profit. 

Convert Odds to a Break-even Percentage

Simply figuring out the odds isn’t enough to win a wager. You need to be able to correctly convert the bets to break-even percentages. Knowing which is a good bet will allow you to make smarter sport betting decisions. 

Think of the coin-flip example mentioned earlier. The chances of getting either “heads” or “tails” are one-to-one. However, knowing the odds are higher and better than a simple one-in-two event is usually a good wager.  

Betting on sports events or horse races isn’t exactly as simple as flipping a coin – but you can apply the same principles to such competitions. It’s also more convenient if you have a reliable projection model or forecast you can use to deduce the chances of your odds winning. 

Final Words 

Reading odds and understanding the numbers takes practice, but it is an essential skill for any bettor or gambler. By understanding the odds, the risks, and the potential payouts, you can make informed bets and increase your chances of gaining the upper hand. 

Research and analysis are important. Don’t rely on gut instinct alone. Instead, use the latest data and analysis to make your decisions, and always bet with your head.

Learn how to read odds, use data and statistics to make wise choices, and embrace the vocabulary and terminology of the world of sports betting. With practice, you’ll soon be placing bets like a pro.