Odds in Sports Betting

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Contributor, Benzinga
June 1, 2021

Have you ever watched a game and thought that you could have predicted the outcome? Are you looking for a new way to enjoy sports? If you answered yes to these questions, sports betting should be something you could look into. 

There is a steep learning curve when learning how to effectively bet on sports, but the most crucial concept to understand is odds. Odds are the risk-to-reward ratio that determines how much money you receive in proportion to how much you bet. Odds can be displayed in many different ways.

What Kind of Odds are There?

Even though odds can be displayed in different ways, it does not mean that the odds’ value changes. The 3 main ways odds are shown are fractional, decimal and American. 


Fractional odds, written as profit over risk, are commonly used in the United Kingdom and horse racing.

If the Number on top is Larger than the one on the Bottom

If the number on top is larger than the number on the bottom, that means you are risking less than you would win. For example, if a horse has 5-to-1 odds to win, you would be risking 1 unit to win 5 units of profit. In a traditional sport with a favorite and an underdog, this situation would represent the underdog. An example of this would be Medina Spirit having 15-to-1 odds to win the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

If the Number on top is Smaller than the one on the Bottom

If the number on top is smaller than the one on the bottom, this represents a favorite. You will be risking more than you will receive in profit. If the odds are 2 to 7, that means you must risk 7 units to win 2 in profit. You are taking on a bigger risk with the expectation that the outcome is more likely to happen.


Very popular in Europe, decimal odds are easier to understand compared to fractional odds. Decimal odds are given in terms of how much money you would get back if you bet 1 unit.

If the Decimal is Above 2

If the decimal is above 2, the odds represent the underdog. If the odds are 3.4, you are betting 1 unit to win 2.4 units in profit. An example of this is Ohio State having odds of 3.3 in the 2021 College Football National Championship, meaning you risk 1 unit to get 2.3 units in profit. You are taking home a profit bigger than what you are risking by taking a bet with decimal odds above 2.

If the Decimal is Below 2

If the decimal is below 2, you are betting on the favorite. For example, if you are given odds of 1.91, you’re risking 1 unit to win 0.91 units in profit, or rather you will be collecting 1.91 units. The favorite in the 2021 College Football National Championship, Alabama, had odds of 1.37. This means that you would have to risk 2.7 units to win 1 unit. Finding value is the name of the game when betting favorites.


American odds are the ones you will most likely encounter on your sports betting adventures. Written as a number with either a plus or minus sign in front of it, these are the trickiest to understand. 

A + Sign

If there is a “+” sign, that means that you are betting on an underdog, or rather an outcome that is not expected to happen. +120 odds can be seen as risking 1 unit to win 1.2 units. An example would be in Super Bowl 55 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had odds of +143 to win, meaning a bet of 1 unit would net you 1.43 units in profit. 

A - Sign

If there is a “-” sign, that means that you are betting on the favorite, the expected winner of the match. Odds of -430 mean you are risking 4.3 units to win 1 unit — a very risky bet in terms of risk to reward. The Kansas City Chiefs had odds of -164 in Super Bowl 55. If they would have won, you would have taken home 0.61 units, provided you bet 1 unit. 

No Sign

This means that the odds are even as the sportsbook cannot decide who should be the favorite. When the odds are even, what you bet is what you make. If you bet $250, you will get a profit of $250 if you win.  

Bets you can Make

Check out the different bets you can make.


If you are betting the moneyline, you are betting on who you think will outright win. Betting the moneyline is tricky because you have to find value in your bets. Even if you’re extremely confident in what you think the outcome will be, it doesn’t always make sense to bet it if the odds aren’t good. 


The most traditional form of betting — betting the spread — involves predicting where the score will lie. A favorite will have a - sign in front of their spread. That means in order to win the bet, the team needs to win by at least that margin. If a team has a + sign in front of its spread, that means it is the underdog. If the team loses by fewer points than the spread shows, then you win. If the team wins outright, you also win. 

A push happens when a team wins or loses by the exact number of points as the spread states. This means that you don’t win or lose anything, you just get your money back. Note that even though spreads use the same symbols as American odds, spreads and odds are two distinct things, and it is important to make that distinction. 


An over/under bet is when you bet on how many points or units of scoring will be scored in a game. The sportsbook will set a line at how many total points it thinks there will be, and you bet on whether you think the total will go over or under. Most of the time, lines are set at a 0.5 (for example 220.5 in an NBA game) because the sportsbook doesn’t want you to push. As a reminder, a push is when the final score is exactly the same as the one it set the line at, which means you neither win nor lose, you just get your money back.

Player Prop

Player props are bets in which you bet on specific players instead of teams. Player props can come in all different forms such as how many points a player scores, the first scorer, and whether that player records a certain stat. These are just examples as there are many different props spanning across all sports. These usually have longer odds as they are less likely to happen, but the payouts are much higher because of the poorer odds. 

Team Props

Similar to player props, team props are team-specific bets not pertaining to the over/under or spread. Examples are the winner of the tip-off and who leads the game after a specified amount of time. Team props usually will have odds similar to those from the spread or over/under. 


A parlay is a combination of multiple different bets. To win a parlay, all bets placed in the parlay must win. This makes the odds much longer and can result in astronomical payouts. Some sportsbooks offer the option to cash out after a specified amount of time and secure profits, but you are sacrificing the chance to make much more. A parlay can involve only 2 bets or it can span up to however many your sportsbook allows. Risky but fun, parlays are not for the faint of heart. 

Compare the top online sportsbook platforms.

A New Way to Watch Sports

Sports betting is a great way to provide a new perspective on how you view sports, but similar to trading stocks, the name of the game is managing risk. If you can do that, sports betting can provide lucrative opportunities, and, unlike the stock market, everyone can be a winner. It is not a zero-sum market, and everyone can bank. Be safe and have fun sports betting!

People Also Ask


What does +4.5 mean in betting?


This means the team can lose by 4 points or less or win outright to secure a victory for the bettor.


How do you play point spread?


Point spreads are the prediction of where the final score will be. The favorite will need to win by whatever the point spread is and the underdog will need to lose by fewer than the point spread.


Why would you bet on negative odds?


You would bet on negative odds because they are the favorite and more likely to win.

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