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Betting 101: Making Sense of the Odds

10/30/2013 12:15 EDT | Updated 12/30/2013 05:12 EST

Betting on sports can be intimidating if all you have is a betting form in your hand and dollar signs in your head. That being said, it's a great way to get into sports if you are taking a shot at the office pool or bracket. The Gal's Got Game makes things a little simpler by adding some knowledge to go along with your dreams of rolling in cash.

In every game, one team is going to be favoured to win over the other. It stands to reason then that if you were going to place a bet on a game, you'd simply put money on the favourite and wait for the stacks to pile up. However, that would mean the people taking the bet (the bookmaker, or "bookie") would lose money most of the time, which isn't a great incentive to take bets. So, instead of simple 1 to 1 betting (i.e., if Dallas wins, I get $10, if Philadelphia wins you get $10), bookmakers, government run sports lotteries, and casinos (sportbooks) offer an incentive to bet on the underdog. This is called giving odds.

There are two common types of odds you're likely to see when placing a bet, the first one being:

Ratio Style

This is the most common type of odds, and you've probably encountered them at one point in your day-to-day life (i.e. "four to one that Jerry trips over the foot stool"). For example, let's say that the sportsbook is giving odds on the 2014 Super Bowl Champion and a partial list looks like this:

Denver 5-1

New England 10-1

Cincinnati 16-1

Atlanta 28-1

Tampa Bay 250-1

This means that the bookmakers feel that Denver is most likely to win because a bet of $1 would only win $5, which isn't too much incentive to place money on them. On the other hand, a bad team like Tampa Bay is unlikely to win, so a bet of $1 would win $250. The chance at greater profit gives the bettor more incentive to place money on Tampa Bay. They'll still probably lose, but now there will be more people placing long shot bets on them, so the bookmaker will make more money in the likely event that they don't win the Super Bowl.

That's what Ratio Style odds look like and they're easily the most common you'll encounter when wagering. However, to add a little spice, there's a completely different style of betting odds, although the core concept is essentially the same. This is called:

American Style

Much like Ratio Odds, American Style Odds are meant to provide an incentive to bet the underdog by offering a better payout for placing money on the inferior team. For example, American Style Odds would be listed like this:

LA Lakers (+120)

Miami Heat (-110)

In this style, the positive number indicates the underdog. In our example, +120 means that betting $100 on the Lakers will earn you $120 in profit. Or on a smaller scale, a $10 bet on LA will earn you a cool $12.

On the other hand, the negative number will be next to the team favoured to win. In this scenario it's the Heat and the number here shows how much you would have to bet to earn $100 in profit. So with -110 odds, you would have to bet $110 on Miami to win $100. Or, an $11 bet would earn you $10 in profit.

American Style odds are trickier to grasp because there's no real life connection. Still, with practice, this style allows for more intricate bets and is the preferred choice of the experienced bettor.

But to become an experienced bettor you need to win your bets! So bet intelligently, bet responsibility, and bet intelligently. And yes, intelligently is there twice for a reason. Have fun and good luck!

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