Each year, billions of people around the world gamble on games of chance, whether it’s a solo flutter on a sports game, a lottery ticket, or more communal gambling like horseracing events, card games and casinos. Statistics show that the global gambling market was worth an estimated $449.3 billion in 2018, and is expected to be valued at around $565.4 billion by 2022.
Different forms of gambling vary hugely, from more strategic-based games like slot machines to completely luck-dependent lotteries. And, aside from the means of winning, one of the main ways they differ is the odds — or the likelihood of winning — involved. In this piece, we explore how the odds of different gambling mediums differ, and how exactly they are calculated.
Overall, the sports betting industry is worth around $104.31 billion, and set to rise by a third by 2024. As with any form of gambling, the odds offered for sports bets will correspond to the probability of a particular outcome, with bookmakers relying on statistics to work this out for different scenarios. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, instead of calculating them with true probabilities, they slightly adjust these odds to be slightly in their favor. This helps to ensure they make a profit, without ripping off customers.
Take the odds offered for the outcome of a match in the NFL, where home-field advantage is a huge consideration, due to the fact home teams win an average of 55% to 60% of all games. This is illustrated by this example of a straight bet from Sports Intel, where a game between the fairly-evenly matched Chiefs and Packers has odds of:
Chiefs +3 (-110)
Packers -3 (+110)
Here, the Packers’ home team status is initially reflected in their point spread. This is essentially an equalizer that ensures an almost even chance of winning when betting on either team, despite one team being favorites to prevail in the game itself. So in this scenario, the Packers must win the game by more than three points for somebody to win a bet on them. While for the Chiefs as underdogs, their +3 point spread means that they must lose by no more than two points (or win the game) for a bet to come through. The fact that people are encouraged to gamble on a big Packers win or a narrow Chiefs defeat clearly demonstrates the Packers’ status as favorites.
This is also reflected in the moneyline — the three-digit number next to the point spread — which represents how much gamblers stand to win for each $100 staked. So in this example, you’d bag $100 for every $110 spent if the Chiefs bet came through, while you’d take home $110 for every $100 staked on the Packers. The greater potential gains for betting on the Chiefs again shows that they’re the underdogs in this scenario.
That said, home advantage isn’t the only variable bookmakers use to work out the probability of a particular NHL game. Other factors that help quantify a team’s likelihood of success are also taken into account, such as their recent form, yards per passing attempts stats, and percentage of negative passing plays. It’s also essential to note that punters can now bet on different aspects of a game other than just the overall result, including field goal scorers, whether they’ll be under or over a certain amount of goals, and who will win future competitions. These bets can be on one-off matches, whole competitions or even parlays — otherwise known as accumulators — on multiple games. And while the way betting works is slightly different from sport to sport, the principle of offering odds corresponding to the likelihood of an outcome remains the same.
Lotteries are another massive part of the global gambling industry, with the worldwide lottery market worth an estimated $166.311 billion. But unlike sports, where the probability of winning a gamble is fairly high, this certainly isn’t the case with the lottery. After all, it only takes a small outlay for a potentially gigantic payoff — for instance, a Powerball ticket costs $2, but participants stand to potentially win tens (or even hundreds) of millions of dollars. But how do the odds for lotteries work?
While sports betting involves numerous different variables, deducing the odds for a lottery is fairly simple in comparison. All you have to do is work out how many possible winning numbers there are, and divide this by the total number of possible lottery numbers — though the maths behind this is pretty complicated for the uninitiated. Again, take the Powerball draw — as Lottery Critic explains, the odds of winning the jackpot are one in 292,201,338. This figure is calculated by working out the number of possible combinations for the first five numbers, which is 11,238,513. Then, you simply divide the previous figure with the one in 26 chance of drawing the red Powerball, giving you the total odds. However, with eight other prize tiers, the probability of winning any sum of money is 1 in 25. This same logic applies to all other lotteries, and can help you work out your odds of winning for any game around the world.
Like sports betting and lotteries, casinos are big business — the worldwide industry is now worth $126.3 billion and millions of people descend on casino cities like Las Vegas, Macau and Monte Carlo each year. While the odds of winning on a casino game are a lot lower than those of winning the lottery, they also vary hugely depending on the particular game, and the skill of the player in question. It’s also important to note that all casinos have a built-in advantage called the “house edge”. This is the difference between the true odds, and the odds paid out when someone wins, which will be slightly lower, to ensure that casinos will always profit in the long run.
Take Roulette, for example, where there are 36 numbers (plus the 0 and 00), meaning the odds of winning are one in 38. Should you bet a dollar on one number and get it, you’d win $36, including your stake. However, with true odds this should be $38, which is where the house edge comes into play, working out in this instance as 5.26%. That said, if you stick to just red and blacks, you have an almost 50-50 chance of winning a prize, as is the case with games like Craps and Blackjack — though the latter does have an element of skill to it.
Were you to play the Wheel of Fortune instead, the odds of winning would be between 26% and 39%. But when it comes to more intricate games like slot machines or poker, it is extremely difficult to determine your chances of winning, especially when skill is involved. However, that hasn’t prevented one publication from estimating that the odds of winning a slot machine jackpot are 1 in 49,836,032.