How To Read Sports Betting Odds

To bet a profitable bettor you have to win more money than you lose.  You’ll notice I didn’t say you need to win more “bets” than you lose.  No, you need to win more “money” than you lose.

That’s where odds come in to play.  The odds determine how much money you are able to win relative to how much you have to risk on a certain outcome.  It’s critical to understand how to read betting odds in order to weigh this risk vs reward, which is really what sports betting is when you get right down to it.

There are three main sports betting odds formats that are widely used: decimal, american and fractional.  The decimal odds format is the most commonly used here in Canada, but you will also see American odds and fractional odds used around the internet and depending on the type of bet so it’s important to understand all three formats when betting online.

In the examples below I will be using odds from, our top rated betting site for Canadian.  Check out our full SIA review here for more info on the sportsbook.

Decimal Odds

I personally always use decimal odds when using betting sites.  I consider decimal the best odds format because I find it very easy to understand and a quick and simple multiplication calculation will find you the potential payout of your bet every time.

To find the potential payout you simply multiply the decimal odds associated with your selection by your bet amount.  Here’s an example:

In this example I’ve taken the Ottawa Senators money line odds to win an NHL game in Toronto.  The decimal odds of Ottawa winning the game are 2.80.  To find the payout for any wager you make, you simply multiply the wager amount by the 2.80 decimal odds.  In the example above I’ve included a $200 bet at those 2.80 odds and the bet payout displayed is $560 (200 x 2.80).

It’s important to note that multiplying the decimal odds with your wager amount outputs the potential payout, not your potential winnings.  To find your winnings on the bet you would have to subtract the wager amount from the bet payout.  In the above example the winnings would be $360 on the Ottawa bet ($560 – the $200 wager).

American Odds

The American odds format is the preferred odds format in the United States and as such it creeps into Canada through television, discussions, etc.  For this reason it’s important to understand American odds even if you don’t plan to use the format at your sportsbook.

The American odds format works by using a (-) and (+) system.  The (-) indicates how much you would have to wager to win $100 on the bet, while the (+) indicates how much you would win by wagering $100 on the bet.

Let’s look at examples:

Here I’m using the same game as above, but with American odds.  In this example Ottawa’s American odds are +180.  This means that a $100 bet on Ottawa would win $180.  Notice that I’m saying “win” and not “payout” like above.  So continuing with the example a $200 bet on Ottawa would “win” $360 (2 x 180).  As you can see above the sportsbook has added back in the wager amount to show you a bet payout of $560.

Now on to the flip side of this game:

Toronto is the favourite in this game and has odds of -216 to win the game.  That means that you would need to wager $216 to win $100.  This is shown in the above screenshot where I entered a bet amount of $216 and the sportsbook displays a bet payout of $316.

The problem with American odds is that it’s very hard to calculate winnings when the odds are on the (-) side.  Try to figure out in your head the winnings on a $300 bet at odds of -216.  It’s nearly impossible (the answer is $138.89).  This is one of the reasons why I really don’t like American odds, but they are still used and thus important to understand.

If you take nothing else from this American odds section, at least understand that in a head to head game the team with the (-) is the favourite and the team with the (+) is the underdog.

Fractional Odds

Fractional odds are useful in certain circumstances, namely when you have several betting selections to choose between like in a horse race or many futures wagers (to win the Stanley Cup).

If the odds break down cleanly like (5/1) then fractional odds are also very easy to read and understand as well.  It’s when you get the odds that don’t simplify as easily like (20/27) that it gets a little bit harder to grasp exactly what the odds are telling you.

When reading fractional odds the numerator (number above the line) is the amount you will win, while the denominator (number below the line) is the amount you would need to risk to win the numerator.  Let’s look at an example:

In this example the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the favourites to win the Grey Cup in 2023.  They have odds of 19/10, which means you would win $19 for every $10 wagered on them to win the Grey Cup.

As you can see the odds can look quite messy if the fractions aren’t clean. It’s easy to see that the Alouettes have odds of 9-1 (win $9 for every $1 wagered), but the Argonauts fractional odds of 123/20 are harder to quickly understand.

Fractional odds are really easy to read and understand when the denominator is 1.  It’s a little bit harder to wrap your head around when the fraction cannot be simplified, which is why I prefer to use decimal odds for the vast majority of betting lines.