If you are accustomed to punting, then the idea of being able to guarantee a profit by placing bets is likely to be an attractive one. Matched betting offers such an opportunity, and if you want to find out more, the following matched betting for dummies guide should help you get started.
Matched betting terminology overview
- Backing – placing a bet on a specific outcome; for example, if you bet that Barcelona will win a match against Real Madrid, you have “backed” Barcelona
- Laying – placing a bet against a specific outcome; so if you were to “lay” Barcelona, you would be betting that Barcelona will not win – i.e. they will either draw or lose the game
- Bonus bets – bookmakers offer bonus bets alongside normal sports betting bonuses, which are sometimes referred to as free bets, as promotions to their customers. Bonus bets allow bettors to place a bet without using their own funds.
- Betting exchange – betting exchanges allow bettors to place back and lay bets effectively against one another, rather than one bettor betting with a bookmaker. There are five main exchanges available to UK bettors: Betfair Exchange, Ladbrokes Exchange, Smarkets, Betdaq, and Matchbook.
- Decimal odds. All matched betting is conducted using decimal, rather than the more familiar fractional, odds. You can usually switch your bookmaker to decimal odds in the ‘settings’ section of your account; exchanges are already set to decimal odds as default.
- Oddsmatcher. While it is possible to matched bet without an oddsmatcher, oddsmatchers do make life far easier. Oddsmatchers scour bookmakers and exchanges in order to find close odds matches. The closer the “match”, the more profit you can earn from a bonus bet.
- Qualifying bet. To obtain bonus bets, you will usually need to place a qualifying bet, on which you will make a small loss. We’ll explain this in more detail as we progress to our matched betting step by step below.
So, with that done, we can continue our matched betting guide by explaining the process in more detail.
Best betting sites for matched betting
How does matched betting work?
Now we have established the basic terminology you will need, our matched betting guide can move onto the fundamentals of how the process works. The basic idea behind matched betting explained as simply as possible is to place two bets:
- A back bet, which should be placed using a bonus bet
- A lay bet, which should be placed using your own funds
Crucially, these two bets must be on the same market. For example, if you place your back bet on Barcelona to win, then you must also lay Barcelona. Similarly, if you bet that a horse named Matchy McMatcherson will win a race, you must also lay Matchy McMatcherson – i.e. bet that Matchy McMatcherson will not win.
By placing a back and a lay bet, you are essentially covering both outcomes of a particular fixture – one of your bets (either the back or the lay) must win. If your back bet wins, you lose money in the exchange, but you profit in the bookmaker. If your lay bet wins, you lose nothing in the bookmaker – as you used a bonus bet rather than betting with your own funds, as you would if you were punting – but your exchange will show a profit.
The above is the core guiding principle of matched betting: by using bonus bets and an exchange to cover both outcomes of a particular market, you can guarantee a profit and enjoy some no risk matched betting.
However, the above is likely to be more than a little confusing, especially if the terminology is unfamiliar. In order to make things clearer, let’s go through matched betting step by step, so you can see how this works in action without having to use a matched betting automatcher.
Step #1: Finding a qualifying bet
While bookmakers do occasionally provide bonus bets at random, most of the time, matched bettors will need to qualify for a bonus bet. To find suitable offers, visit the ‘promotions’ page of a bookmakers’ website, or keep an eye on your email to see if any offers are sent to you.
One of the most common types of bonus bet offers is as follows:
- Place a £10 on a specific event and receive a £5 bonus bet for doing so.
In order to access the £5 bonus bet required to make a profit, you’ll first need to place a bet of £10.
If you are looking at the above and wondering how on earth such a scenario could be a profitable, risk-free deal, then you are not alone. On first inspection, the idea of betting £10 for a £5 free bet seems preposterous. After all, if your £10 qualifying bet loses, then even if you manage to get £4 profit from the bonus bet, you’re still £6 down.
Thankfully, there’s no need to lose that £10. Instead, you back and lay your qualifying bet. This will usually result in a small loss, but that’s okay, because you’re going to qualify for the bonus bet and convert it to profit.
So for our matched betting example, let’s say you the bonus bet conditions state that to qualify for a free bet, you have to bet £10 on El Clasico, at odds of 1.5 or above.
- You first check the bookmaker odds, and find that you can bet on the draw at 3.5.
- You check your chosen exchange and find that you can lay the draw for 3.7.
- Note: you can also use an oddsmatcher to identify close matches rather than searching manually. Most oddsmatchers are paid services, however, so we’ll stick to the basic principle for the purpose of this piece.
- Given that 3.5 and 3.7 are a relatively close match, and meet the minimum odds required to qualify for the bonus bet, you decide you will use the draw for your qualifying bet.
Step #2 – Placing your qualifying bet
Now you need to both back and lay your qualifying bet.
- You would then need to use a matched betting calculator in ‘normal/qualifying’ mode. To perform the calculation, you simply enter your back stake, back odds, and lay odds; the calculator will then tell you how much you need to lay.
- You would then place a back bet of £10, with your own funds, at the bookmaker.
- In the scenario presented above, your matched betting calculator will tell you to lay the same bet for around £9.56.
- You back the draw at the bookmaker at odds of 3.5.
- Then lay the draw at your exchange at odds of 3.7
If you follow above, the most you will lose on your qualifying bet is 54p. This is known as your “qualifying loss”. However, the qualifying loss is just the first part of the process, and our matched betting tutorial now continues with…
Step #3 – Using your bonus bet
Our matched betting tutorial now continues with the most important part of the process: turning the bonus bet you have qualified for into profit.
- You can either check manually or use an oddsmatcher to find an event with close a close odds match.
- Let’s say you find a close match on Matchy McMatcherson for the Gold Cup.
- The odds at the bookmaker for Matchy McMatcherson to win at 6.
- The odds to lay Matchy McMatcherson are 6.2
- You use your £5 bonus bet to back Matchy McMatcherson at odds of 6.
- You then run your calculator in ‘stake not returned (SNR)’ mode. This step is very important; to profit, you will need to ensure your calculator is set to SNR, or on the (very) rare occasions where you have a bonus bet that returns your stake if you win, ‘stake returned (SR)’. Do not run the calculator on the ‘normal/qualifying bet’ setting.
- You then enter your back stake, the back odds, and the lay odds into your calculator in order to determine your stake.
- Your calculator will tell you that you now need to lay Matchy McMatcherson with a stake of £4.03.
- When you have placed your backs and lays, recheck all the maths and ensure that everything is as should be.
Step #4 – Calculate your total profit
When the event you have backed and laid is complete, you should have earned your profit – though where you earn your profit depends on the result of the event you bet on.
- If your back bet wins, the profit will be reflected in your bookmaker account. Your exchange funds will be depleted, but your bookmaker balance will be up. In our matched betting example, your overall balance would be up by £4.04.
- If your lay bet wins, then your exchange will be up by £4.03. Your bookmaker funds will remain the same, as you placed your back bet using a bonus bet.
However, to calculate your net profit, you need to subtract the loss you made on your qualifying bet. So for our example…
- Gross profit: £4.04
- Total qualifying loss: 54p
- Net profit for the two bets: £3.50
Matched betting FAQ
If you’ve had matched betting explained, and want to move to trying it for the first time, you may find the following FAQ helps to answer any questions you may have…
Question: “How much profit should I look to make off a bonus bet?”
Wherever possible, aim for an 80% retention – so if the bonus bet is for £10, you’d look to make at least £8 worth of profit.
Question: “Is it possible to make more than the bonus bet amount in profit?”
Technically, yes, but this would be an arb – i.e. when the bookmaker odds are higher than the odds at the exchange. Bookmakers hate arbing and will quickly ban your account if you do it, so it’s best to instead focus on 80% retention.
Question: “Why do the back and lay odds need to be close to one another?”
Close matches help with the level of profit you achieve. You can place your back and lay bets without a close match, but this increases your qualifying loss, or reduces the profit from a bonus bet. Returning to our example:
- In the same manner, if our qualifying bet had been at back odds of 3.5 and 4 (rather than than 3.7), then the qualifying loss would have been £1.25.
- If we were to use our bonus bet on back odds of 6 and lay odds of 7 (rather than 6.2) then the profit would have been reduced to £3.57.
- As a result, the total profit would have been a rather measly £2.32 rather than £3.50
Question: “How much can I make with matched betting?”
When considering matched betting how much can you make will likely be a question at the forefront of your mind. However, there’s no simple answer to this. Your profit will be determined by a number of factors:
- How much time you have available. The more time you have, the more bets you can place.
- How large your bankroll is. The higher your exchange bankroll, the more bets you can place.
- Account health. Many bookmakers will restrict your account – known as “gubbing” – if they see signs of matched betting activity. There’s no known way to fully prevent this from happening, so it’s usually best to try to maximise your profits while your account is healthy. If you do get gubbed, try not to worry too much – there are plenty more bookmakers in the sea!
Matched betting tips
No matched betting beginners guide would be without a few tips, so here’s a few you may want to keep in mind…
- Consider using an oddsmatcher that is linked to your exchange. There are oddsmatchers online that you can link to your exchange funds, so placing your lay is a simple matter of clicking a button. By doing this, you reduce the chance of errors; the downside is that oddsmatchers tend to charge a fee.
- Check everything at least twice. Check your bets have been placed and that the odds align with the information you input into your calculator.
- If you make a mistake, you can trade out your lay. If you’ve completed your checks and have realised there is a problem, you may be able to trade out your lay – Betfair Exchange, Smarkets, and Matchbook allow you to do this automatically, simply by clicking to “cash out” (Betfair) or “trade out” (Smarkets and Matchbook). This means you won’t be able to lock in a profit if your back bonus bet has already been placed, but it’s better to trade out than risk a result that rinses your exchange – and there’s always a chance that your bonus bet will still win.
- Use higher odds for your bonus bet. When using your bonus bet, higher odds tend to result in the best profit. In our matched betting example, we used back odds of 6 and lay odds of 6.2; however, if these had been 3 and 3.2 respectively, the profit would only have been around £3.11.
Hopefully, our matched betting for dummies guide has provided valuable insight into the potential matched betting can offer. If you do decide to give it a try and follow our matched betting tips, it’s important to remember to take things slowly – the process can go awry, so make sure you check, check, and recheck every step along the way.