What do Odds mean in Football Betting?



Many football fans like to add a little spice to their enjoyment of their weekend games by placing s small bet on the outcome of the match – win, lose or draw – or on a variety of other wagers that are made available by bookmakers, such as the scorer of the first goal, total number of goals scored, half-time score or even more exotic wagers such as number of corners awarded, or the amount of yellow and red cards handed out by a referee.

Yet, if they go to the website of an online bookmaker, or set foot inside the door of their local turf accountant for the first time, they are likely to see a wall of odds displayed which, to the uninitiated, can seem as intelligible as an unknown, foreign language.

Therefore, if you want to bet on football, it is important to understand the concept of odds before you lay down your hard earned money.

In simple terms, odds are a numerical expression of the likelihood of an event occurring – Arsenal to beat Southampton, for example, or Manchester City to draw with Liverpool.


Why Bookmakers Always Have the Edge

Bookmakers calculate their odds in a variety of ways, employing in-house statisticians and actuaries, and complex proprietary algorithmic models. No two computer programs are the same, which is why different bookmakers may add slightly different odds on the same football match, or sporting event.

It is important to realise that bookmakers always have the edge. They are not offering their services for free – they are commercial enterprises which have shareholders and other stakeholders to satisfy, and there aim is to make a profit. That means that, from a purely statistical viewpoint, the odds displayed by a bookmaker are not correct. They have been weighted in favour of the bookmaker.

Some may not be happy with this. However, if you object to this on ethical grounds, then you probably shouldn’t be betting at all!



Why Bookmakers Defy the Rules of Mathematics

This can be illustrated by way of an example. If you toss a coin, the chances of it landing heads or tails are 50/50. Even if the coin is weighted so that it is pre-disposed to fall on one side or another, the total of the combined odds percentage can never exceed 100%. That is a mathematical impossibility.

However, when you view the odds offered by bookmakers on a football match, when you add the percentages of the possible outcomes together, they will always exceed 100%.


This can be illustrated by an example.

Arsenal were due to travel to play Watford in the Premier League on September 15th. One of the leading online bookmakers offered the following ante-post odds:

  • Arsenal win 11/10
  • Watford win 11/4
  • Draw 14/5

This was a UK betting site so the odds were displayed using fractional odds, which allow a gambler to work out how much they could win in comparison to their original stake. So, if they wanted to bet on Watford winning, for every £4 bet, they would win £11.




Somebody based in Europe, or a country like Australia or Canada, could gain on a local site and find odds for the same match displayed in a different format. In this case:

  • Arsenal win 2.10
  • Watford win 3.75
  • Draw 3.80

The difference with this system, known as decimal odds, is that it is simpler to understand, because it shows how much a gambler will win if the bet succeeds, including the return of their original stake money (whereas this is just inferred with fractional odds). So again, using the above example, if they bet £1 on a draw and the bet succeeds, then they will get back £3.80.

Whichever system is used, the sum of the probabilities is the same though.

Arsenal to win has a probability of (1/2.10) = 47.62%

Watford to win has a probability of (1/3.75) = 26.67%

The draw has a probability of (1/3.80) = 26.32%

If the sum of the probabilities is added up it equals 100.61% (47.62% + 26.67% + 26.32%). That means that, in this case, the bookmaker’s profit is 0.61% (100.61% – 100%).

In other words, if somebody wanted to cover all the bets, they would need to spend £100.61 to recover £100.


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