How do Betting Odds Work?

When new people get into sports betting, even though they have their money and bets ready, the environment often appears complex at first glance. One of those things that make sports betting look really complex is the betting odds feature.

Betting odds are a very important part of online betting, but for a person without any betting experience, they will definitely look confusing. If you are interested in understanding what betting odds are and how they work, keep reading this article.  

What are Betting Odds?

Betting odds are a representation of the possible outcomes of a sporting event. The bookies set the odds as a prediction of the final result or what will happen in the game, and punters wager on the game based on those odds. 

The odds tell you how the bookmaker predicts the events are likely to happen. Where the odds are low, it means the bookie predicts that the outcome is likely to happen. Where they are high,  the bookie predicts the event is not likely to happen. Higher odds offer big rewards, and small odds offer low rewards.

Betting odds are not always presented in the same format because sports betting is a global practice, and different regions have their own way of presenting odds. The popular formats are the British, European, and American formats. While you are using UKGC-licensed bookies, you will only need to understand the British odds format.

British Format

This is the most popular format worldwide, and it is the only one you will need to interact with while you are betting in the UK. Here, odds are represented as fractions, separated with a “/” or a “-”. It is a representation of the ratio of the amount you get for every bet you make against the amount you need to wager to get it. Basically, the right digit is the amount you get for making a bet with the amount on the left.

In this system, if the odds are represented as 4/1, it will mean that for every £1 that you wager, you will get £4 from the bookie.

European Format

This is also called the decimal format because it represents the betting odds as a figure with a decimal point. Here, the amount that is represented with the decimal point is the amount you will get for every £1 wager you make.

For instance, if you wager £4 on a 2 odds bet, you will get an £8 reward from the bookie based on this system.

American Format

In the American format, the odds are either represented with a “+” or a “-” symbol in front of the number. This symbol ahead of the number determines what the odds mean in the game. Where the sign is the minus symbol, it means that the team is predicted to be the favourites, and the amount given is the amount that must be wagered to win £100. On the other hand, where the symbol is a plus sign, it means that side is the underdog in the event, and the amount is what you will win for every £100 wagered.

To illustrate this, let’s assume the odds on a game is +140 and you wager £100 on it. If it comes through, you will get £240 as total returns. The £240 here is a sum of your initial wager of £100 and a profit of £120.

How to Read Betting Odds

To read the odds, you first need to identify what format the odds were written in. This applies to punters that are betting in international markets using foreign gambling sites because all local bookmakers use the British format to display odds. 

If it has a slash or dash in between two numbers, then you can tell that it is represented in the British format. Where the odds have only one figure that has decimal places, you can tell that it was written in the European format. Finally, once you notice that the numbers have a plus or minus sign before them, you will know that they use the American format.

Earlier sections of this article have covered how to read the odds. Thus, immediately after you identify what format the odds were written in, you should be able to interpret them accurately and make your wager with the bookmaker.

Sometimes, you might be using an accumulator or some betting type that is best interpreted with decimal fractions. This happens a lot for gamblers that explore different betting types. In this case, you need to convert the fractional odds to decimal odds with a simple process. Just divide the number on the left by the number on the right and add one(1) to the result.

Probability and Winning Percentage

Since betting odds are a representation of the bookie’s prediction of the game, punters can use them to get an actual figure representing the probability of an event happening in a game.

To get this figure using the British odds format, start by adding both numbers that make up the fraction. Now, divide the result by one(1), and you will get a percentage representation of the probability of a result happening based on the bookie’s odds.

With the American and European odds formats, you can easily read the probability the bookie is predicting by just looking at the odds, so no calculation is required here.


Understanding betting odds is essential for achieving any success in sports gambling because this is how you make wagers and understand the bookie’s perspective of the game. Thankfully, the concept is not complex. It only appeared confusing because you had not seen them before.

As you have read through this guide, you have taken the right step to understand sports betting. By now, you should have a good understanding of what betting odds are and how they work. However, this is just the first step, if you are interested in getting involved in sports betting, then you still have a lot to learn about how the game works. The key to progress here is to keep reading, learning and practising with games.

Ian Brown

Sports Betting & Casino Expert

With more than twenty years of experience writing about the online gambling industry, Ian likes learning and sharing her knowledge with players in the UK and beyond.

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