Sports Betting Terms Guide

As we’ve covered many times before, I’m not a betting man. It happens so rarely, in fact, that I forget what different kinds of bets and terms actually mean. As I’m preparing to get back on the wagon for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, I figured it was time to write this guide for myself. I’m writing it as I’m learning, so there might be errors! If you spot any, please let me know so I can correct them.

As with everything I write, please don’t trust it blindly. If you lose your house, wife, and kids to gambling, you’ve only got yourself to blame.


So, no, I don’t actually forget what odds are. I’m including it here because some of you might be totally new to gambling, and to explain different ways odds are presented. Odds are basically numbers telling how likely it is that an event occurs. The higher the odds, the less likely it is that a particular event occurs. But the less likely it is - the higher the odds are - the more money you’ll win. There are several ways to present odds, and how they are presented depends on which bookmaker you’re using to place your bets. We’ll cover the three most common ways here: Decimal odds are used in Australia, Canada, and in continental Europe. Fractional odds are used in the UK, while US bookmakers use their own weird format.

Here’s a table with examples (conveniently lifted from Wikipedia):

DecimalFractionalUSImplied probability
1.501/2-2001 in 1.5 = 67%
2.00Evs (1/1)+1001 in 2 = 50%
2.506/4+1501 in 2.5 = 40%
3.002/1+2001 in 3 = 33%

Decimal odds

Decimal odds are the ratio of the full payout to the stake, in a decimal format. To find out how much the potential payout is, you simply multiply your wager with the decimal odds. Using the example in the first row, if you place $100 on the 1.50 decimal odds bet, you get $100 * 1.50 = $150 back (your wager plus another $50 you won).

Fractional odds

Fractional odds tell you the amount won to the stake. This means that when you multiply your wager with the fractional odds, what you get is only the amount you’ll win. The result doesn’t include the wager. Using the same example as before, if you place $100 on a 1/2 fractional odds bet, you win @100 * 1/2 = $50. The bookmaker will of course return your wager as well. The fractional odds format is, in my opinion, horrible. Most people don’t understand fractions, and it shouldn’t take a degree in mathematics and probability to place a bet.

US odds

Last, but not least, are US odds. They tell you the amount won on a 100 stake when positive and the stake needed to win 100 when negative. So relax, you don’t lose money if you win a bet with negative US odds. Using the example from the first line, the odds tell that you have to place a $200 bet on a -200 US odds bet to win $100. The US odds format doesn’t make a lot of sense, to be honest, since as soon as the odds get positive, it tells you a completely different thing. Using the example from the last line from the table above, the odds tell you that you’ll win $200 on a $100 bet.

So do yourself a favor, and stick to decimal odds. They are non-nonsense, easier to understand, and most gambling sites will let you use the decimal format.


Converting between different types of odds thankfully isn’t something you’ll have to think about much. But if you’re using decimal odds or US odds, and want to play each way bets covered later, you might find yourself in need of a little converting.

Here’s a convenient table of formulas you can use to convert between the different formats:

FromToDo this
DecimalFractionalx-1, then convert to fraction
FractionalDecimaldivide fraction, then x+1
USFractionalx/100, if x>0; -100/x, if x<0
FractionalUSdivide fraction, then 100*x if x>=1; -100/x if x<1

Note that you don’t have to make these calculations yourself, they are done by the bookmaker. But it’s good to know what happens under to hood.


An over/under bet is a wager in which a bookmaker will predict a number for a statistic. The statistic can be everything from the number of throw ins during the first half of a football match, to a basketball player’s total assists during a match. You place your bet on whether the number of throw ins or assists will be over or under the number waged by the bookmaker.

Let’s look at a real-world example. In the first 2018 FIFA World Cup match, host nation Russia plays against Saudi Arabia. Betfair’s markets for the game include several over/under bets, like the total number of goals scored during the match.

(European) Handicap

In handicap betting, sometimes called European handicap, you’ll place a bet on which player is the first to be injured and dragged off the pitch.

Oh, I kid, I kid… Handicap bets are modified by the bookmaker in such a way that certain competitors are given a virtual advantage or disadvantage. This is done to level the field, in practice making the bet an even money bet. Here’s an example taken from Betfair’s explanation of handicap betting:

If Leeds United were favourites to beat Manchester United, the bookmaker might give Manchester United a 0-2 handicap advantage.

If you place a handicap on Leeds to win the game, but they only win 1-0, you’ll lose the bet since Leeds lost the game 1-2 in the bookmaker’s eyes. Similarly, the game will be a draw if Leeds wins it 2-0, meaning that Leeds has to win 3-0 for you to win your handicap bet.

Asian handicap

Asian handicap betting is, as the name implies, similar to handicap betting as described above. The only real difference is that a draw isn’t a valid result in Asian handicap betting. If that happens, you get your money back (also known as a “push”). Asian handicap betting can also use two-way handicaps, which we will not cover here.

For an in-depth explanation of both European and Asian handicap, see this guide. Wikipedia also has a good article explaining Asian handicap.

Each way

Each way bets aren’t that common in football matches, but they are usually available in horse racing. I’ll include each way betting because I tend to tip my toes in a little horse racing every second year as well. Some bookmakers might also offer each way bets during the World Cup, since it’s a championship.

An each way bet is a wager offered by bookmakers consisting of two separate bets: a win bet and a place bet. For the win part of the bet to give a return, the selection must win, or finish first, in the event. For the place part of the bet to give a return, the selection must either win or finish in one of the predetermined places for the event, such as first place or second place. The odds paid on the place bet is usually a fraction of the of the win odds.

Let’s say you place a $5 1-2-3 EW bet on a given horse in a horse race. The bet will cost you 2 * $5 = $10 since the each way bet is actually two bets. Both the win odds, and the place odds fraction is determined by the bookmaker. In this example, we’ll use 8 as the win odds, and 1/4 as the fraction for the place odds. This means the win odds are (7/1 * 1/4) + 11 = 2.75. If the horse places second or third, the returns will be $5 * 2.75 = $13.75. Not a lot of money, but at least it covers the entire cost of the each way bet, which was $10, and you get a little cherry on top.

If the horse wins the race, however, it looks a lot better. You can cash out for the win bet ($5 * 8 = $40), and the place bet at $13.75. Nice!


A “back” bet is a bet that an event will occur. This is basically the kind of bet you’d normally make. A “lay” bet, however, is a bet that an event will not occur. Back/lay betting happens at betting exchanges, like Betfair and Matchbook.

When you place a “lay” bet, you take the role as the bookmaker. If your bet doesn’t work out as planned, you need to pay out as a traditional bookmaker would. This means that if you place a “lay” bet, you have to cover the opposing “back” bet winnings if you lose your “lay” bet. This is your liability on the bet.

It’s perhaps easier explained with an example. Say that you place a $100 lay bet, and the odds are 2.5. Your liability is now $250. Someone else backs the bet with $100. If the event occurs, i.e. the “back” bet wins, your $250 are gone. If the event does not occur, on the other hand, you win you “lay” bet, and the “back” bet stake of $100. Matchbook has a back/lay explanation that makes more sense. In any case, I wouldn’t recommend going all in at a betting exchange unless you’re an experienced gambler.

Onward from here

With the basic knowledge in place, it’s time to place your first bets. How you do that, and exactly how legal it is to do it, depends on where you live. A good place to start can be a DuckDuckGo search for online sports betting. There are a gazillion betting sites out there, and I’m sure you’ll find one that match your needs. Also, if you’re into statistics, tables, and graphs, is a great place to keep track of your bets and most crucially, your ROI.

If you want to dive deeper into the world of sports betting terms and jargon, Wikipedia has some good articles like Sports betting, Glossary of bets offered by UK bookmakers, Asian handicap, and Spread betting.

Good luck, and please gamble responsibly.

  1. We need to convert the decimal odds to fractional odds before applying the EW fraction, and then convert back to decimal odds. See the section on converting for an overview of the formulas used. ↩︎


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