How Do Odds Work in Football?

What's all this fractions lark about then?


If you’re looking to improve your football bet choices then a great place to start is understanding how odds work in football, both before and during games. Football odds are some of the most reactive in any sportsbook thanks to the millions of data points that are available on every match.

Here at Paddy Power we want to maximise the knowledge potential of our punters, so you can make smarter bets. It all begins with understanding football betting odds, why they look like they do, and how they change.


Football betting odds explained

Football betting odds show you how much money you will earn if you place a bet on an outcome that wins. They also show the likelihood of that outcome happening.

Now, your potential winnings depend on how much you stake. The more you risk, the more you win. Here’s an example of football odds in action:

You bet £1 on England to beat Italy at odds of 3/1. In this example, you will win £3 profit for every £1 you bet. If you decide to bet £10 then you would win £30 profit. If the odds were higher, say 5/1, then you would earn £5 profit for your £1 bet.

How do odds work in football?

There are two main types of football odds: fractional and decimal. You can choose which one you prefer. They both do the same thing, which is namely to show you the likelihood of an outcome.

Fractional odds

Fractional odds show you how much profit you’ll earn from the stake you place. Your potential profit is on the left of the slash (/) relative to your stake on the right. So, odds of 4/1 means you’ll earn £4 profit for every £1 you bet. Of course, you also get your stake back!

When the number on the left is smaller than the right, this means the price is ‘odds on’. For example, at odds of 1/4 you will only win £1 if you bet £4. A team such as Spain could be 1/4 to beat Serbia in a Nations League game.

Decimal odds

Decimal odds work slightly differently to fractional. Whereas fractional show you the profit you make from a bet, decimal odds show you your total return (profit + stake) from a £1 wager. So, odds of 4.00 shows you’ll get £4 back from every £1 staked. Your profit is £3 and your returned stake is £1.

When the decimal number falls below 2.00 then this is the same as ‘odds on’ in fractional odds. For example, odds of 1.83 show that you’ll earn £1.83 for every £1 staked. Your profit is less than your stake, but your total return is of course more.

Remember, no matter what odds type you use, you can always check your bet in the Paddy Power bet slip and check the risk and reward before placing your wager!

How to calculate betting probability

Odds are a reflection of probability. They reflect the perception of the probability that the odds makers have for that outcome. We can show this as a percentage of the chances of something happening.

These are the probability percentages for common odds found in football.

The shorter the odds, the more likely an event or outcome is going to happen. But it also means your potential profit is smaller. If the odds are longer, the maths and calculations assume that the outcome is even less likely, which is you win more profit from a long-odds bet.

What is a football acca?

Football accas are short for accumulators, and are bets where you combine a series of small wagers into one mega bet. The aim of the acca is the increase your potential profit without needing to increase your stake. So, you can bet 10p and potentially still win thousands of pounds.

Of course, to do this you need to add a lot of outcomes together into an accumulator. With each selection you make, the odds accumulate and grow. But so does your risk, which is why the chances of winning a mega acca are so small. Here’s an example of a football acca.

You want to bet on five World Cup games:

  • England to beat Iran at 1/4
  • Scotland to beat Italy at 3/1
  • Germany to draw with France at 1/1
  • Poland to beat Saudi Arabia at 1/3
  • Mexico to score first against Korea at 2/1

If you bet £1 on each game, you’d win £6.58 in profit. But, if you created an accumulator and wagered £5, you’d win £195 profit. See the difference? The only issue is that if one leg on your acca loses then the entire bet falls apart.

Why live football odds change

Live football odds change all the time because they are tracking games in real time. Bookmakers like Paddy Power use software providers and odds setters who monitor games and constantly recalculate possible outcomes. This means bet types from match winner and correct score wagers, right the way through the next goalscorer and corners, witness constant price changes.

For example, if England score early in a game against Argentina then their odds to win will fall, while Argentina’s will rise. Say you want to bet on England to win the first half, those odds will be even shorter.

Football betting in play 

In play football betting is when you wager on live odds during a game. These odds are in constant flux and there is a time delay of a few seconds when you stake a bet, just to make sure no-one is earning an advantage by, for example, betting live at a game.

Here are some of the most popular in play football betting markets you can find in the Paddy Power sportsbook:

  • Match winner
  • Correct score
  • HT/FT
  • Next goalscorer
  • Total corners


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