Getting the most out of sports betting takes commitment, but our guide will help you get started.
Nothing is going to make you a master of arbitrage overnight, but our guide will at least provide you with the ground work: helping you understand the jargon & teaching you how to access the best odds and betting communities.
Our guide will take you through the fundamentals of sports betting so you have a decent handle on how to bet smart.
Take a punt at our experts’ favourite online sports books!
Before you can punt like a pro, you need to learn the basics of internet bookies, bets and jargon.
Sports betting is one of the biggest contributors to the online gambling market. It is also one of the most confusing for newcomers, with lots of obscure lingo and heaps of numbers to contend with. The tricks for becoming a smart sports bettor cannot be learned from any guide – it takes years of experience and a vast repository of knowledge. However, our guide will give you the grounding to develop as a bettor.
The best online bookmakers should offer some or all of the following:
Using an online bookmaker to place bets is very straightforward, as our step-by-step overview will demonstrate:
When you place a wager at a bookmaker, you are basically betting against a company. However, with a betting exchange, you become the bookmaker. Whenever you make a back a selection, someone else involved in the exchange must take your bet by wagering against the outcome (this is called ‘laying’ the selection).
Essentially, every ‘wager’ represents a binary option where you win or lose a set amount of cash based on one of two outcomes: you cannot play ‘each-way’ bets, for instance. The exchange makes its money off a commission for every ‘contract’ (typically 5%). However, some betting exchanges will lower this commission for loyal customers.
Advantages of betting exchanges include better odds and the ability to cover your back (even make a reliable profit) via matched betting. Limitations include a restricted number of betting options, because exchanges tend to focus on as few markets as possible (in order to preserve liquidity).
Odds are the bread and butter of sports betting. As you can see in our terminology list below, the odds offered by bookmakers are not ‘true’ odds, but adjusted ‘points’ designed to give the bookmaker an advantage. Odds are expressed as fractions, ratios or decimals and set the dividend paid on successful bets.
Thus, if a bookmaker accepted a straight bet of £10 on a horse to win at odds of 5/1, that selection would pay-out £60 on winning bets (£50 profit, plus your original stake). The real big wins (and losses) come on accumulators, where cash rolls over across multiple events and selections.
Not all bookmakers offer the same odds. Fortunately, there are a number of websites you can use to help determine where you should stake your cash.
Oddschecker.com compares odds from dozens of internet bookmakers, allowing users to decide which brands are offering the most competitive odds on various events.
If you want to bet on an upcoming sporting event, this should be your first port of call before registering with a sports book.
In-play markets are a relatively new innovation by some online sportsbooks. As you might expect, in-play allows punters bets while events are on-going (although, be warned, such bets usually have a fairly low value).
A handful of companies have even fully integrated their in-play markets with social media, allowing gamblers to wager via social accounts.
One of the biggest hurdles for novice sports-bettors is the slang. Part of the difficulty is that betting jargon is sometimes nationally, even regionally specific. However, the following terms are pretty universal and feature prominently in land-based and online bookmakers.
|Accumulator:||making multiple simultaneous bets on two or more events, with winnings from the one event carrying over to the next.|
|Action:||any kind of bet or wager that is accepted by the bookmaker.|
|All-in:||where there are no refunds if competitors are withdrawn from an event.|
|Ante post/early price:||the odds on selections for future events.|
|Banker:||the favourite to win. In permutation bets the banker must win for the punter to receive returns.|
|Bookmaker/bookie/sportsbook (primarily US):||a person or company licensed to set odds and accept bets on sporting events.|
|Buy price:||in spread or index betting, this is the highest figure quoted.|
|Circled game:||an event where the maximum bet is limited, usually due to doubts about uncontrollable factors like weather and injury.|
|Combination bet:||when any number of competitors is selected to finish first and second in either order.|
|Correlated parlay:||two bets that are directly tied to one another. For instance, betting that a team will be ahead at half time and also go on to win.|
|Dividend:||the agreed pay-out on a wager.|
|Each way (primarily UK):||a bet for a team/competitor/horse to win OR ‘place’ (get in the top three).|
|Even money:||a 1/1 bet that pays exactly double the initial bet, so an even money wager of £1 would pay £2 on a win.|
|Event:||a sporting event on which bookmakers accept wagers.|
|Favourite:||the competitor that is expected to win.|
|Fixed odds:||where the dividend is fixed at the odds quoted at the time a bet is made.|
|Juice:||the bookmaker’s commission on bets.|
|Long odds:||bets with a low probability of success are described as having ‘long odds’ (usually poorer than 10/1).|
|Odds (also called lines):||a competitor’s probability of winning, according to the bookmaker; expressed as ‘points’ in the form of a fraction, ratio or decimal (e.g. 5:1, 5/1, 6.00.) Odds also determine the punter’s dividend. For instance, a 10/1 bet of £1 would pay £11.|
|Points spread:||a handicap on the favourite. Points are set by the bookmaker to level the odds between favourites and underdogs. If the favourite in a soccer match is favoured by 10 points over the underdog, the favourite must win by 11 points or more for bets to pay out.|
|Permutations:||when a punter makes three selections, they can ‘perm’ possible doubles, meaning they win more cash if any pairs of bets are successful.|
|Picks/tips:||the experts’ choice for winning competitors.|
|Selection:||a competitor: team, athlete, horse etc.|
|Spread betting:||a bet where the pay-off is determined by accuracy rather than a binary ‘win or lose’ outcome. Assume a punter took out a spread bet on the underdog. If the favourite’s point spread is 5 and the final score is underdog: 5, favourite 9, then the final outcome is 5 + 5 > 9 so the punter would win.|
|Starting price:||the final dividend declared by the bookmaker after an event concludes.|
|True odds:||the ‘actual’ odds of a particular outcome, as opposed to the bookmaker’s adjusted odds that ensure a profit margin.|
|Win only / Straight out:||a bet on a competitor to win.|
|Singles:||a bet on one selection in one event.|
|Doubles:||a bet on two selections in different events. Both must be successful for a return.|
|Trebles:||a bet on three selections in different events. All must be successful for a return.|
|Four-fold accumulator:||one bet on four selections in different events. All must be successful for a return.|
|Five-fold accumulator:||a bet on five selections in different events. All must be successful for a return.|
|Six-fold accumulator:||a bet on six selections in different events. All must be successful for a return.|
|Seven-fold accumulator:||a bet on seven selections in different events. All must be successful for a return.|
|Eight-fold accumulator:||a bet on eight selections in different events. All must be successful for a return.|
|Nine-fold accumulator:||a bet on nine selections in different events. All must be successful for a return.|
|Ten-fold accumulator:||a bet on ten selections in different events. All must be successful for a return.|
|Trixie:||a four bets on three selections in different events. A minimum of two selections must be successful for a return.|
|Patent:||seven bets on three selections in different events. One successful selection guarantees a return.|
|Yankee:||11 bets on four selections in different events. A minimum of two selections must be successful for a return.|
|Lucky 15:||15 bets on four selections in different events. If one selection wins, returns are paid at double the odds. If all four selections win, 10% is added to total returns. For the bonus to apply, all selections must win. Lucky 15 bets are offered on horse racing and greyhounds only.|
|Canadian:||26 bets on five selections in different events. A minimum of two selections must be successful for a return.|
|Lucky 31:||31 bets on five selections in different events. If only one selection wins, returns are paid double the odds. If all five selections win, a bonus of 15% is added. For the bonus to apply, all selections must win. Lucky 31 bets are offered on horse racing and greyhounds only.|
|Heinz:||57 bets on six selections in different events. A minimum of two selections must be successful for a return.|
|Lucky 63:||63 bets on six selections in different events. If one selection wins, returns are paid at double the odds. If all six selections win, a bonus of 20% is added. For the bonus to apply, all selections must win. Lucky 63 bets are offered on horse racing and greyhounds only.|
|Super Heinz:||120 bets on seven selections in different events. A minimum of two selections must be successful for a return.|
|Goliath:||247 bets on eight selections in different events. A minimum of two selections must be successful for a return.|
|Forecasts:||when the punter predicts the first and second place result in a horse or greyhound race.|
|Straight forecast:||a bet on two selections finishing in first and second in the order named. A straight forecast dividend is declared based on the starting prices of all the horses in a race.|
|Reserved forecast:||a bet on two selections finishing first and second in any order.|
|Straight forecast doubles:||staked in the same way as ordinary doubles. The only difference is that you make two selections per race.|
|Straight forecast trebles:||staked in the same way as ordinary trebles. The only difference is that you make two selections per race.|
|Reversed forecast doubles:||four individual doubles.|
|Reversed forecast trebles:||eight individual trebles.|
|Combination forecasts:||three or more selections in a race, with any two to finish first and second in any order.|
|Combination forecast doubles and trebles:||to win this bet type, you must have included the first two finishers in two races for doubles or three races for trebles.|
|Straight tricasts:||three selections in a race finishing first, second and third in the order named (horses only).|
|Combination tricasts:||three or more selections in a race finishing first, second and third in any order (horses only).|
A brief introduction to betting strategy will give you the groundwork for betting better.
Let’s get one thing clear: there is no magic guide to sports betting. Even the most experienced and respected bettors, with privileged access to insider knowledge and great track records, cannot be assured of a return on every wager. However, there are ways of betting intelligently and profitably. This simple guide will offer solid tips to help novice bettors advance their play, avoid chump bets and gamble more confidently on a variety of sports.
The following tips apply to all forms of sports betting and are relevant to every bettor, irrespective of your experience level.
When it comes to sports betting, it is critical to understand the concept of value. This is where a lot of newcomers fall down.
Consider a team that you know well – you’ve watched them play over the course of many years and they win 60% of the time. If a bookmaker is offering 2/1 odds on your team to win an upcoming match, this implies they have a 33% chance (converted to a percentage). If you take this bet, you receive 27% perceived value (60% – 33%).
This is simple enough in principle, but consistently spotting value is extremely tricky and (obviously) relies on your own probability assessment. Therefore, the accuracy of your evaluations will improve as you become more knowledgeable.
Which leads us nicely into …
We cannot stress this point enough. It is crucial that you, as a bettor, have an informed assessment of the odds in any given event.
Bookmaker odds are NOT representative of true probability. Rather, they reflect the bookies’ expectation of how the public will bet; they are designed to attract bets on either side of the odds, thus balancing liability and guaranteeing a healthy commission.
If you have a more informed opinion of which participant is a strong selection, then you will be able to identify competitive odds. This can be particularly fruitful in the case of major, international events.
Acquiring a good level of betting acumen requires graft. Tuning in to Sky Sports every night – while a decent start – is not enough. Patrick Veitch developed an edge at the races by pouring over hours over race videos and statistics, as well as forging useful contacts at the stables.
While you don’t necessarily have to go to these lengths, Veitch’s efforts demonstrate the level of commitment required to become a truly world-class punter.
There are some phenomenal books on the market that can help improve your betting immeasurably. We’d definitely advise doing your homework if you’re serious about taking your skills to the next level.
Here are our recommendations for a spot of bedtime reading:
While there are almost as many betting systems as there are bettors, the only widely respected forecasting method with sound mathematical grounding is known as ‘regression analysis.’
This statistical technique attempts to estimate relationships between variables. Regression analysis is not perfect, due to the mathematically complex nature of sporting events, which contain many thousands of variables. However, it is widely considered the most reliable approach to betting optimisation in arbitrage.
Regression analysis is subdivided into three different approaches:
This is by far the most popular form of regression analysis. It operates on the assumption that ‘what’s past is prologue,’ meaning that a bettor should look to the past to predict future results.
Here’s an example of this system in action:
There is a football match occurring between two teams. The bettor has acquired the following data:
As both teams have recorded a victory, the key variable is the presence of Player 1, suggesting that Team B is likely to win in a direct match-up if Player 1 is present. Obviously, if you were to factor in other variables such as home advantage, player injuries and suspensions you would have an even more refined statistical model.
The weakness of this approach is the potential fallacy of ‘correlation implying causation’. In short, just because Player 1 has never played in a winning match against Team B, it does not mean that he caused the defeat directly.
This forecasting technique aims to compare a ‘Margin of Victory’ (MV) between participants, i.e., the probable point difference between the winner and loser in a given event.
Bettors should begin by analysing participants’ play history to determine their individual, average MV across recent matches. These figures are then subtracted to produce the expected MV in a match-up: a low MV implies a close match, whereas a high MV suggests there will be a clear victor.
By far the most complicated form of regression analysis. This involves assessing multiple variables across a wide pool of data to identify the most important features in the outcome of an event.
For instance, a multivariate analysis by the NFL concluded that passing efficiency was the most influential factor in the outcome of American football matches. Therefore, all things being equal, bettors should always gamble on teams with a better history of passing efficiency.
Unfortunately, this kind of statistical modelling is far too complex for most amateurs to attempt, requiring vast pools of data and advanced mathematics.
Matched betting is a form of advantage gambling that exploits promotional offers at online bookmakers in order to eke out small, consistent profits. This kind of advantage play is totally legal, although it is frowned upon by some bookmakers (so don’t try it too often with the same company!)
Bookies regularly advertise free bets to punters, e.g. ‘receive £50 free if you place a £50 bet!’ Your objective is to collect the full value of the free bet by cancelling out the risk of your £50 wager. This is achieved by ‘backing’ and ‘laying’ a selection at the same odds.
Betting exchanges allow bettors to wager ‘against’ a given outcome, this is called ‘laying’ the selection.
Imagine there was a match between two football teams (Team A and Team B). Paddy Power is offering 3/1 odds on Team A to win. You take these odds and back Team A for £50.
You would then go to a betting exchange and lay the same outcome at the same odds (3/1). Therefore, no matter what the outcome of the match, your two bets will each other cancel out and you will receive the £50 free bet offered by Paddy Power (although, due to minute differences in the odds and given the exchange’s commission, you will cash out slightly less than the full amount).
While this would seem to be a fool-proof money-making method, bookies aren’t stupid and take measures to protect themselves against this kind of advantage play.
Firstly, be sure to check the terms and conditions. The bookmaker might – for instance – require you to bet on the first goalscorer in a match rather than simply backing the winner in order to qualify for the free bet. This prevents you from creating the binary you need to neutralise the odds.
In certain games (such as football), there is a higher risk that you will not end up with a simple win/lose outcome. What if the match ends in a draw, or if the game goes to penalties? For this reason, matched betting is better suited to racing (although, again, there is always the chance your selection could fall).
Bear these considerations in mind if you want to attempt matched betting.
As with every form of gambling, your first step should be to set aside a bankroll that you can comfortably afford to lose. You can find for information about managing your bankroll on this page.
The most popular and sophisticated form of money management in sports betting is known as the ‘Kelly Criterion’, named for Edward L. Kelly, who developed the method with thoroughbred horse racing in mind (although it is applicable to all types of gambling).
The Kelly Criterion is based on a formula that offers the most sensible percentage of a bankroll to wager on an event. The basic principles of the Kelly Criterion are as follows:
The formula looks like this:
Kelly % = W – [(1 – W) / R]
W = Winning probability
R = Win/loss ratio
So let’s consider an example…
Assume that we are placing a bet on a football team to win. We have determined that the probability of this selection winning is around 48%. A bookmaker is offering odds of 3/1 (4.0), so we multiply these figures together:
0.48 x 4.0 = 1.92
A 48% chance of winning also means a 52% chance of losing, so we subtract this number…
1.92 – 0.52 = 1.4
Finally, we divide this number by the odds…
1.4 ÷ 4.0 = 0.35
This is rounded up to 40%, meaning the Kelly Criterion recommends betting 40% of our bankroll on this selection.
The beauty of the Kelly Criterion is that is can optimise your long term spend, even when the odds are against you (as in the example above). While you are never guaranteed a profit – after all, this method depends on accurate probability assessments – the Kelly Criterion provides a solid foundation for managing your money.
Much of the complexity of sports betting stems from the fact that every sport requires a different approach. We have listed some info and tips for betting on the most popular sporting events:
Place selections on live events with in-play markets.
The innovation of betting exchanges has made it possible for punters to make selections during sporting events. This would be impossible for typical bookmakers, but with betting exchanges, live betting can be supported without undue risk to the operator.
In a betting exchange, the operator takes a commission on wagers between players. With in-play betting, players in the exchange back and lay on particular selections while an event is on-going. For instance, players can bet on first scorers after half-time in football, set winners in tennis and so on.
To mitigate exploitation, in-play bets usually come with a time limit and the markets are actively managed by the operator. For example, betting might be halted after occurrences that substantially alter the odds (such as injuries, cards or penalties).
In-play markets are occasionally synced with social media, creating an exciting, communal experience with thousands of players interacting and betting in real-time. Generally speaking, in-play is restricted to major events that are widely televised.
There are numerous live football score services, such as that provided by SBAT, that provide detailed game information to assist in-play bettors.
As opposed to bookmakers, who set their own odds, a betting exchange has players taking each other’s wagers. The operator simply receives a percentage commission. This model makes it feasible for gambling brands to monetise live betting as it confers very little risk on their side.
In-play markets allow players to back or lay selections during live events. Common markets include first/last scorer, next corner, set winner, knock out round etc. In-play bets usually have short odds and can only be placed on major events with extensive television coverage. These markets are also monitored to prevent exploitation.
Players can place or take wagers from an operators’ website, which usually contain a live stream of the event in question. Some operators allow players to place bets directly from their social media accounts. This helps create a more communal atmosphere.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as a free bet. Imagine this – a sports betting site that offers you free money in the form of a free bet just to sign up with their site!
This lesson will answer common questions about free bets. It will tell you how and where to claim them, and how to meet the wagering requirements.
Well, it kind of is and it kind of isn’t. A free bet is simply bonus money given to you when you open an account to use on a single bet or a series of wagers. If you’re scratching your head and wondering why you just can’t take the money and run, then … well, you can’t! Most, if not all “free” bets are bets that you can never withdraw.
If your free bet comes up trumps, then you collect the winnings! Say you spend a free £50 on Andy Murray to beat Roger Federer at 5/4 and the grumpy Scottish tennis ace wins, you’ve won £62.50! If it had been with your own money, you would be taking back your £50 stake as well, but £62.50 is certainly not something to be sniffed at.
Say England were playing Macedonia at football (not that England playing anyone at football can be said to be a ‘dead cert’!) and the bookies had offered 1/5 on England to win. By using your free £50 you’ve virtually guaranteed yourself a tenner, surely? Well, the bookies have thought of that, and your bet has to be placed on multiple wagers, or at minimum odds. Usually, the odds are not too ridiculous – usually nothing much worse than evens, so you’ll still have a decent chance of winning something.
You may have to wager the same amount of your own money as to the value of a free bet before you can claim it, or you may have to wager any winnings from the bet a certain number of times before you can cash out. When joining an online sports book to take advantage of a free bet, make sure you consult the promotion’s Terms & Conditions first.
Now you’re clued-up a little about free bets, here are some of the best free bet deals that are currently available:
|Sportsbook||Amount||Min Odds||Other Conditions|
|888sport||£88||Evens||One free £10 bet for every three normal bets made|
|Ladbrokes||£100||1/5||Awarded after real bet of £5+ made|
|BetVictor||£25||Evens||Matched free bet up to £25|
|32Red||£10||Evens||Matched free bet up to £10 + 10 free slot spins|
|BGO Sports||£10||None||Virtual sports only – first £10 in lost bets refunded|
|Paddy Power||4x £/€5||1/2||Awarded after real bet of £/€10+ made|
|Unibet||£20 + 4x £5||None||Five bets where the stake is returned if lost|
|Betfred||£25||Evens||Awarded after a £10 max bet with doubled odds|
|Coral||£20||1/2||Awarded after real bet of £5+ made|