How to Read Sports Betting Odds: American Odds Explained

Betting odds can seem complicated at first glance.




Lottery odds

All of the above numbers are different ways to display odds, however they all represent the same thing.

All betting odds represent the implied percent chance you have to win a bet. The way that number is displayed is where things can differ.

Betting Odds Types

There are three main ways to display betting odds:

  • American odds
  • Decimal odds
  • Fractional odds

How to read American odds

American odds, staying true to the American way, do things differently than the rest of the world. Each bet will always have a plus (+) and minus (-) in front of a number greater than 100.

Take for example how moneyline odds would be displayed for the following matchup:

Chicago Bears -196

Washington Redskins +170

American odds can be broken down into two categories: favorites and underdogs.

How do Plus and Minus odds work?

Favorites Odds

When a bet is a favorite, it means the implied win percentage is greater than 50%. Favorites will always have a minus (-) sign in from of the odds. Ex: -150.

Favorite odds can be read as “to win $100”.

Meaning if the odds of a bet were -150, you would need to bet $150 to win $100. Note that you do not need bet in $100 increments.

This same ratio would apply to different bet sizes: Bet $15 to win $10, bet $1.50 to win $1, etc.

Underdog Odds

The other side of American odds are underdogs. Underdogs have an implied win percentage of less than 50%.

Underdog odds are always represented with a plus sign (+) in front of the number. Ex: +150.

Underdog odds are interpreted different than favorites. Underdog bets are betting $100 “to win” whatever the odds are.

In the +150 example, you would bet $100 to win $150. Again, you can bet any amount you would like. It doesn’t have to be $100. Ex: bet $10 to win $15, bet $1 to win $1.50, etc.

How to read decimal odds

Decimal odds are the easiest odds type to interpret. They are used by most people outside of America, most notably Europe. Decimal odds are also the easiest odds type to convert to an implied win percentage.

Decimal odds tell you what your return will be given your bet amount (or “stake”).

For example, if you bet $10 on the New York Knicks to win at decimal odds of 2.25, your return would be $22.50 if they won.

Return does not take into account your original bet amount. Therefore your profit, or “to win” amount, would be $12.50 ($22.50 return – $10 wager).

Note that the return aspect is the key difference between Decimal and American odds. Decimal odds tell you your return, while American odds tell you your “to win” amount.

How to read fractional odds

Fractional odds are simply decimal odds represented as a fraction. For example, 3/1 odds are equivalent to decimal odds of 4.

The biggest difference between fractional odds and decimal odds is that fractional odds return the potential profit while decimal odds give the return.

Going back to the previous example, a $10 bet at fractional odds of 3/1 would be $30 in profit. A $10 bet at the equivalent decimal odds of 4 would return $40. Subtracting your $10 bet from the return would give you your profit of $30.

Fractional odds can be read as the first number being the potential profit while the second number is the amount you will need to risk for that profit.

For example, fractional odds of 23/20 would represent a bettor needing to risk $20 in order to profit $23.

Fractional odds are most common in horse racing and futures markets.

Related: Find more sports betting guides here