How to Read Odds on Sports Betting

People are drawn to sports betting due to the uncertainty that comes with sport. It is not always clear as to who will win, and this can make even the most routine game exciting. This is why oddsmakers have arisen, to make money from the masses who want to know the odds before placing their bets.

The Basics

Odds are percentages that reflect the likelihood of something happening. For example, a 2.5 odds (or 2.5/1) means that there is a 50% chance of something happening. Let’s say you back a horse that is 2.5/1, this means you need to wager $10 to win $5. The chances of your horse winning are therefore 2.5/1 (50% x 50% = 25%).

How To Read Odds

You have three options when reading odds:

  • Odds are usually given to the nearest whole number. For example, 3.5 odds might mean that you need to bet $15 to win $10. In this case, there is a 75% chance of winning.
  • Odds can be read as fractions, such as 2.3, which means that there is a 83% chance of something occurring. In some situations, odds may be given without a decimal point, which you should interpret as meaning there is a 100% chance of something happening. For example, a 12/1 chance means that there is a $12 chance of winning $1.
  • Odds need to be read with care, especially when dealing with long odds. This is because it is difficult to ascertain how much your money is worth. Imagine if you are reading odds on a $100,000 horse race. The chances of winning are huge, but you might only be willing to wager a small amount, given the size of the stake. This is why you should look for long odds on familiar events that you know are likely to occur. For example, if you live in Canada and you are reading odds on a Montreal Canadiens game, there is a high chance that they will win, but you might only be willing to wager a few dollars, given the uncertainty of the situation.

Why Are Odds Important?

Odds can help to make sure that you don’t end up losing money. If you back the wrong horse, for example, there is a chance that you could lose instead of win. The same applies if the game is tied after all the rounds, or if a weather condition prevents the game from being played (i.e. there is no point in placing bets if the weather is bad). In all these cases, you could end up losing money, instead of winning it. This is why they are important.

Odds vs. Probability

If you are unsure as to what odds mean, it is important to keep in mind that they do not always mean what you think they do. Essentially, odds reflect how likely it is that something will happen, but this is only because people always want to believe that something is more likely to happen than not. In some instances, this can mean that the event is unlikely to occur, but the chances of this are expressed as odds. Consider the following examples:

  • If a coin is flipped twice and one head and one tail show, what is the probability of both sides showing heads? This is given as 0.01 (1 out of 100). However, if we assume that you believe that the coin is more likely to come up tails, then the probability that both sides will show heads is actually 1/2. In this case, the coin is actually more likely to show heads than tails, even though the odds given (0.01) suggest it is the other way around. This is because you are assuming that you know more about the outcome than what is actually the case. In reality, there is no way of knowing for sure until the outcome occurs. In this situation, you are guaranteed to lose $5 if you bet $10 on tails, but you would have won $10 if you had bet $5 on heads.
  • If a certain event happens 40% of the time and another event happens 60% of the time, what is the probability that the event will happen? This is expressed as (40% x 60%) / 100% = 0.6. However, if you want to assume that the event is more likely to occur, you could say that there is a 60% probability that it will happen. In this case, if you put aside the fact that you do not have any idea as to what the outcome will be, there is a 60% chance that the event will occur. This does not mean that there is a 60% chance of winning, it simply means that there is a 60% chance of the event happening. In this example, you would have bet $5 incorrectly, as the event is more likely to occur than not. The same goes for the coin flip example above in relation to the probability of getting both heads or both tails. (0.01 x 0.01) / 2 = 0.0005 heads or tails.
  • What is the probability of your favorite team winning a certain type of game? This is always tricky to gauge accurately, but if we assume that you believe that your team will win, there is a chance that this could be true, but it is also equally likely that they might lose. In some cases, this can be determined with some simple math. For example, if you are backing the Kansas City Chiefs and you want to know how likely it is that they will cover the spread in a given game, you can use the following formula:
    • Take the total number of points that will be scored by both teams.
    • Add this number together, and divide it by 2. (Since there are two players on the field, half of the total number of points scored will be attributable to each team.)
    • The resulting figure will give you the probability of your team winning the game. In this case, you might say that there is a 85% chance that the Chiefs will cover the spread in the game.

Odds vs. Money

If you are unsure as to how much you should wager on a given event, you can use odds to determine how much you should risk, provided you have enough money to make a meaningful wager. For example, if you have $100 to wager on a horse race and the event is slated to begin at 2:00 p.m., you might want to get started early, as the odds will likely drop as the game approaches. To keep in line with today’s standards, let’s assume that you want to maximize your return and minimize the risk of losing. In this case, you can use the following formula:

  • Take the total number of points that will be scored by both teams.
  • Add this number together, and divide it by 2. (Since there are two players on the field, half of the total number of points scored will be attributable to each team.)
  • The resulting figure will give you the probability of your team winning the game. In this case, you might say that there is a 75% chance that the game will end in a tie. If this happens, you will have minimized your risk of losing $100, as you will not have wagered more than you could afford to lose. You will have, however, maximized your potential for gain.

Odds vs. Past Performance

Past performance is always an important consideration when placing bets, as it can help to give you a sense of how a certain horse or team will perform. If we look back at the previous four seasons of the Kansas City Chiefs, we can see that their performance has been somewhat volatile. They have either won or lost a majority of their games each season, but they have averaged 16.8 wins per season during this time period. Using this as a guide, let’s say you want to bet $10 on the Kansas City Chiefs this year. You can do so, provided they follow the above-mentioned pattern of previous seasons and win at least 16 games.

The Final Word

When it comes to betting on sports, odds are important because they can help to minimize risk, while maximizing potential profit. As long as you keep this in mind, and you know how to read them correctly, you should have no problem. If you take what you know about the event and combine it with what you read about the likelihood of this occurring, you will be able to construct a clear picture in your head of how the game might play out, and this will make all the difference. Just remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!