How to Read Betting Odds

You have probably seen people posting odds on various topics on social media. Maybe they’ll post that they think a certain movie will do well at the box office, or that a certain sports team will defeat their rivals.

While those odds might be intriguing, they can be difficult to understand. How do you know what the odds mean? Are they favorable or unfavorable for the bettor? How much do the odds really matter?

To save you the effort and financials required to learn all these odds, we’ve compiled a list of the most common forms of odds and how to interpret them. Below, you will learn how to read betting odds.

The Moneyline

This is what you’ll most commonly come across when reading odds on a sporting event. In the example below, we have the traditional odds (1.3), the moneyline (–500) and the bookmakers’ official exchange rate (1.3 = €1).

What does the moneyline mean? To put it simply, the moneyline is the amount you must pay (or win) to make the bet. For example, if you wager €100 on a horse race and that horse wins, you’ll earn €120 in profit (€100 + €20). But if that same horse finishes last, you’ll lose your €100.

The bookmakers will often list the moneyline for a particular betting event along with the prices. In the case of the above example, the bookmaker has chosen to display the moneyline in a simpler way, by using negative numbers. When betting, you always check the vigorish to ensure you’re not being overcharged by a fixed-odds (or rigged) bookmaker.

The Ladder

The ladder is used to show a horse’s place in a race. For example, a horse that ran second will be listed as (2). A horse that ran third will be (3) and so on. You can use the ladder to follow a horse’s place in an even race or to compare different horses in the same race.

The place value indicates how far the horse ran relative to the other horses in the race. So, a (2) next to a horse’s name indicates the horse was second, while a (4) indicates the horse placed fourth. You’ll often find place values indicated by the numbers in parentheses at the end of a horse’s odds.

The Tote

The tote is an abbreviation of ‘total outcome’, which indicates the total amount spent on each horse in a horse race. The tote board often lists the odds, the moneyline and various placings. The advantage of the tote board is it makes tracking a horse’s position much easier because all you have to do is check the number beside each horse’s name.


A trifecta is winning bets on three horses in a row. It is considered extremely difficult to place a trifecta, especially since modern day bookmakers use complex formulas to come up with the odds. The most common trifecta involves betting on the first three horses in a horse race. You’ll often hear this referred to as a ‘triple crown’ race.


If you’re a fan of horse racing, you’ll likely have come across the term ‘superfecta’. A superfecta is an entrant in a horse race that consists of six horses or more. It is considered extremely difficult to predict the outcome of a superfecta bet, mainly because the odds are so high. The most popular superfecta involves betting on the first six horses in a horse race.

The Top-Heavy Format

When trying to figure out how to read betting odds, you’ll often come across the term top-heavy format. This refers to the fact that the bookmakers will frequently list the odds for a horse or other athletic event in a form that is conducive to comparing apples to apples. For example, instead of using the moneyline, the top-heavy odds format will use a format that shows the percentage of winnings (W) vs. the percentage of losses (L).

In the case of the above example, we have (100% W – 0% L) which indicates a 100% winning percentage for a particular horse (or other athletic event).

These percentages will always add up to exactly 100% because there are no losses in this example. However, you must understand this is not always the case. If you’re not sure how percentages work, here’s a quick example. Let’s say you bet a dollar on a horse that will win a gold medal. You win the bet and the horse actually wins a silver medal. Your gain (winnings) is $2. You will have a 100% winning percentage for the bet but only a 50% gain. Don’t be fooled by what looks like a winning percentage of 100%, it may not be as good as it seems.

The Handicap System

The handicap system is used to determine the starting times for racehorses. It is based on a formula that takes into account a horse’s age, weight and gender. The objective is to make sure the favorite horses start at the same time as the rest of the field. Sometimes these formulas are difficult to understand.

In the example below, we have an Age Factor of 0, which indicates a starting time of 00:00 (midnight). The weight is also 0, so the horse is considered perfect for the task at hand. The gender is M and the odds are 8/1.

To create a perfect handicap, you simply need to add 0 to the age factor for each horse. So, a four year old horse will have an age factor of 0+4=4, a three year old horse will have an age factor of 0+3=3 and so on. You can also apply this same logic to determine the odds for a particular horse in a handicap system race.

Fractional Odds

The fractional odds system is used for decimal odds or coin-toss odds. The advantage of the fractional odds system is it makes comparing odds much easier. Instead of having to do the calculation in your head, you can plug in the odds and get the results precisely. These are, generally, the types of odds you’ll see when watching sports events on television.

In the example below, we have the decimal odds of 3.9 for a particular football team (New York Jets) to win a game versus the Chicago Bears. This means the Jets have a 3.9 greater chance of winning the game than the Bears.

Below this line of football odds, we have a row of coin-toss odds, also known as ‘push-button betting’. If you’re not sure what coin-toss odds are, simply think of the classic rock-paper-scissors game. One rock beats two scissors, two scissors beat one rock, and one rock beats two scissors (etc).

The fractional odds are an excellent tool for when you’re placing larger bets. You can use these numbers to determine your wagering strategy. For example, if the game is almost over and you’ve got a winning streak going, you might decide to keep betting or increase your wager. If the game is closer but you’re not sure which team will win, you may want to bet on both, or take a break from betting altogether.

Fractional odds are often used in combination with the Decimal Odds system to create an entirely new way of looking at odds. For example, if you’re watching a NASCAR race and see the odds listed as (4.4), this might mean the driver is Winston Lampley and the team is Furniture Row. (4.4 is the decimal odds for Furniture Row to win). So, in this case, you’d have to subtract 4.4 from 1 to get the fractional odds (–43.6). Not as easy as it appears, is it?

The Lay Language

Lay language is simply the technical terminology used by the bookmakers to describe the various forms of odds. If you’re reading odds in a foreign country or online, you’ll need to learn a little bit of lay language to understand the numbers. For example, ‘decimal odds’ is the same as ‘fractional odds’ but used in Canada and other English speaking countries. In most cases, you can use your native tongue to figure out the meaning of the numbers (with help from common sense and Google Translate, of course!).

Thoughts on Betting Odds?