Matched Betting Guide 

Published: 21st May 2018
Author: Joe Kizlauskas
Last Updated: 25th February 2021
Matched Betting Guide scales image

A Matched Betting Guide: Making Gambling Work For You

Many of you will no doubt enjoy gambling. Placing a wager on the football or a little dabble on the horses is a pastime that millions up and down the country enjoy every weekend. However, whilst you may enjoy the wins, do the losses occur more frequently?

If that is the case and you are done with losing money, then read on to find out how to maximise the profitability in matched betting and make it work for you.

The Basics Of Matched Betting

Matched betting is something that many of you will no doubt have heard of, but what actually is matched betting?

As a way of trying to gain players, many bookmakers will offer a range of free bet options to try and lure punters to their site. These often involve placing a qualifying bet in order to receive a range of free bets which is where matched betting comes in.

If you were to join the bookmaker and wager normally there is a chance you could win the qualifying bet as well as the free bets, however, there is a chance that you could lose. But in order to guarantee a profit, you will need to understand matched betting.

It is a completely legal process and when done right can give you plenty of profit as bookmakers fall over themselves attempting to woo you to their site. When you know what you are doing, this is a fairly simple process to follow, but before we dive in, we need to get to the bottom of some terminology and phrases that will help you get your head around matched betting.

Key Matched Betting Terms

Back Bet: A back bet will be something you are no doubt familiar with, even if you have never heard of the term. Put simply, a back bet is you backing an outcome to happen. If you were to place £10 on England beating Germany in the football, then you have just placed a back bet.

In this instance, if England wins, you would win the bet, whereas a draw or, heavens forbid, a German victory would result in you losing your stake.

Lay Bet: Whereas a back bet involves you thinking something will happen, a lay bet centres around you believing that something will not happen. Taking the earlier instance, if you think that England would lose against Germany, you could lay England.

A lay bet like this would see you win the bet if Germany won or the match finished level then you would win, however, if England were to get the victory, you would lose. Ordinarily, you will need to place lay bets on a betting exchange like Betfair or Smarkets, however, it is possible to place some bets at traditional bookmakers by using markets like ‘double chance’.
Betting Exchange: As we said earlier, you will need to become familiar with betting exchanges in order to fully hit the potential that matched betting has for punters like yourself.

Rather than a traditional bookmaker, where an individual simply takes a price offered by the bookmaker, you can place a bet at whatever price you like.

However, there is a catch in that someone on the betting exchange must be willing to match your bet and lay it at the price you wanted to back. With both backing and laying available to punters available on the exchanges, how do they make their money?

Well, as a traditional bookie wants you to lose, an exchange doesn’t mind at all as they simply take a commission cut from the winning punter be that the individual who either backed or laid.

Liability: Still with us? Good as this is one of the important bits. If you were to place a bet with a traditional bookie then your liability is simply your stake. For instance, you cannot lose more than £10 on a £10 bet.

However, when you lay a bet, your liability is the stake multiplied by the odds offered, an example of this is below.

£10 back bet on England to win at 5/2 – potential liability £10
£10 lay bet on England to win at 5/2 – potential liability £25

Matched betting uses a combination of laying and backing to make sure that either outcome of the bet guarantees profit for the punter.

Qualifying Bet: Now we know about backing and laying, how do you go about getting started? Well, once joining a new bookie, you will need to place a qualifying bet in order to access the free bets.

It is important to read the small print as the bookies can often be crafty when it comes to qualifying bets and you will often need to pick a selection with a minimum price – for example, 4/5 or 1.80.

Matched Betting: Step-By-Step Guide

Now we know what we are on about, it is smooth sailing from here on. Just follow these simple steps and you can’t go wrong when it comes to matched betting and guaranteeing some healthy profits.

Step 1

Before we can get stuck into any juicy free bets, the first step is to open an account with an exchange. As mentioned before the main ones are Betfair and Smarkets, though there are a number of other exchanges out there. A nice little extra bonus is that exchanges will often offer bonuses for signing up, these can involve risk-free trading or 0% commissions for signing up.

Step 2

Now we have our exchange account in place, the next step is to open an account with a bookmaker. If you don’t have many accounts then you will have plenty of options to pick from. However, if you have plenty of accounts already, then don’t worry as here at (INSERT SITE NAME HERE) we have a plethora of betting sites to choose from, simply select the one that takes your fancy and click through the link.

Step 3

This may seem like a small change, but it is important to change to the odds to decimal format on your new bookmaker. The UK bookies generally offer odds in fractions, but decimal odds (more commonly used by European or Asian bookmakers) make it much easier to compare bookies odds with betting exchanges.

Step 4

Now we have accounts with a bookmaker and a betting exchange we can officially get the matched betting party started! With the bookie, you will need to place a qualifying bet, having made sure to read the terms and conditions of the offer.

It is generally best to place the bets on a market that there will be plenty of money wagered on, for instance, a Premier League football match, a Grand Slam tennis match or a major game from the NFL.

The key thing to remember from placing a qualifying bet is that you want to try and place it on the smallest odds possible, this makes it easier to lay off on the betting exchanges and helps minimise the level of risk.

Let’s say that the bookmaker is offering bet £10 get £30 in free bets, however, in order to get the free bets, you will need to place a £10 bet at odds of 1/2 or, 1.50 when using decimal form.

For this example, you have decided to place £10 on Roger Federer to beat Andy Murray at odds of 1.50.

Step 5

Now the qualifying bet is on, we are all systems go! The next step to matched betting is to lay the bet off on the exchanges. Here the aim is to try and lay it as close as possible to the price you got it at when backing.

In a perfect world, we would lay our bet at the same price we backed at (or lower if possible). However, it is rare that we are ever able to do this and you will usually have to accept a small loss when playing with the qualifying bet.

If you go on the exchanges, you may be able to lay Federer at odds of 1.53, but what stake should you place?

This is where a lay calculator comes in handy and there are plenty of examples out there. All you need to do is enter the stake you backed at as well as the price taken. Then add the odds you wish to lay at and the commission of the exchange and a lay calculator will do all of the hard work for you!

For this example, we will presume that our lay at 1.53 will also need to factor in a 5% commission. Entering this into a lay calculator shows us we need to lay £10.14 in order to minimise the risk across both outcomes. Now, either outcome is illustrated below.

Outcome A) Federer wins.
£10 back bet wins, returning a £5 profit.
£10 lay bet loses, meaning a loss of £5.37
An overall loss of 37p.

Outcome B) Federer loses
£10 back bet loses, meaning a £10 loss
£10 lay bet wins, returning a £9.63 profit (this takes into account the commission)
An overall loss of 37p

You will note that either outcome produces a small loss. This is the most surefire way of producing a long term profit by removing as much risk as possible. That said, if you really fancied Federer to win, you could lessen the amount you layed meaning that you won more if he won and lost more if he lost.

Free Bet Time!

At the minute, you are 37p down, yet all is not lost and that 37p is a small price to pay for the opportunities which lay in front of us. Good news, Federer managed to beat Murray and the bet has been settled, which means the fun can begin.

Not only do you have the £5 winnings, but your account has been credited with a whopping £30 in free bets to be used. Usually, these will be broken up into 3x£10 free bets but it is always worth reading the terms and conditions so you know exactly what you are getting yourself into (I really can’t stress this point enough!).

Now the free bets are able to be used in much the same way that the qualifying bet was. However, there is one key difference and that is that on nearly all free bets, the stake is not returned, meaning that the only cashback in your account at the end of a winning bet will be the profit.

Most lay betting or matched betting calculators will have this functionality built-in. The main difference between the free bets and the qualifying bet is that it is better to place on slightly higher odds.

Imagine for a second it is early April and you fancy a dabble on the Grand National. You have always been fond of Tiger Roll after his 2018 success and you decide to place a £10 free bet on him to seal the deal at Aintree. However, seeing as though we are matched bettors and not plain old punters, you will lay him off on the exchange.

On this occasion you can lay at odds of 11, meaning that a lay bet of £8.22 is required. Doing this would leave you with £7.80 profit no matter what the outcome if we presume that the commission remains at 5%.

After doing this it is simply a case of rinse and repeats for the other free bets. If we were able to find similar prices to those in the Tiger Roll example then you would be looking at a profit of just over £24 once the 37p initial loss has been taken into account.

Now, £24 may not seem like a massive amount, but once you factor in how many bookmakers are out there, the profitability that is possible from matched betting is very exciting.

There Are No More Sign Up Offers, What Do I Do?!

There are plenty of bookmakers springing up all the time, so you will have to be a top matched bettor to max out all of the welcome offers, however, if you don’t want to sign up with some of the less reputable firms, then don’t fear as it is still possible to make some money.

Whilst bookmakers are keen to get you through the door, they are even keener for you to carry on playing with them and you will find, in the process of signing up with them, that retention offers are thrown at you left right and centre.

These kinds of retention offers usually revolve around big events so you could bet £10 on Liverpool against Manchester City and get a £10 bet to use in-play to quote one kind of example.

Here the qualifying bet would be the £10 pre-match stake which you would then lay off on the exchanges as explained above. Then, once the match has kicked off, you have a £10 free bet to play with which again you would lay off, or place as you wish, accepting the fact that you will make a small loss if it loses.

Now there are a few ways of ensuring that you get as many retention offers as possible, which leads us nicely on to one of the more controversial and hotly debated topics within matched betting circles: mug betting.

When Being a Mug Pays Off

Now you have read our guide, you are a lean, mean, matched betting machine, ready to leave the world of ordinary gambling behind to join a land of guaranteed profits thanks to the system you have just learned.

However, whilst it is all fine and dandy for you making all this money, you are quickly going to arouse the suspicions of those pesky bookmakers. For all their jolly persona, talking heads and celebrity endorsements, bookies exist for one thing and one thing only, to try and extract as much money from players as possible.

Behind the boosts and offers blared out during the football, they are hard-nosed businesses who don’t like to lose money, so if you are showing signs of being a successful punter, which matched bettors are, then you will quickly find your account on a watchlist.

This means that you will not be eligible for free bets and your stakes will be limited, making matched betting a much harder experience.

So how do you convince the bookmakers that you’re their friend, happy to throw £10 on the football while you are down at the pub? Well, this is where mug betting comes into play.
There are a number of tips and tricks to help avoid your account being blacklisted and keep those sweet, sweet retention offers coming in.

  • Bet on major sporting events. It is a big fat yes to the Premier League and a big no-no to Women’s Second Division Under 20 Latvian Basketball.
  • Don’t always take the best price. Bookmakers know when they are top price and if you only use them when this is the case then you will find yourself under threat.
  • Take the price boosts where available. Has Ocelot Flatbread been boosted from 5/2 to 3/1 in the 4:30 at Newbury? Take it! Doing this will make you look like a more ordinary punter.
  • Place accumulators. Now we aren’t saying to go mad on this as you can’t lay off an acca, but the odd pound on a 13-fold won’t do your account any harm, and who knows, you may even land a jackpot winner.
  • Use the other products on their site, for example, poker, casino or bingo. Again, this is something only to devote very small stakes to, but the occasional spin will keep your account off any kind of watchlist.
  • Don’t withdraw unless you need to. Now if you need the money out of your account then fine, but bookmakers will be less suspicious of you if you keep the money you have won sat in your account just waiting to be lost (or at least that’s what they will think!)

There are a number of different theories behind how bookmakers regulate our betting and our staking, but the above are a few handy tips which should see our accounts remain untouched for as long as possible.

Remember, wherever possible, lay off your bets on the exchanges to ensure you minimise your losses when playing.

Also, when it comes to point 6, be very careful if playing in the casino and always stick to predetermined limits, as matched bettors, we are here to stick it to the bookies and you can’t do that if you plough all of your money into the online slots they offer.

The best bit of advice we can give when it comes to mug betting is to think like a bookie. If you were an operator, what would you like to see your punters betting on?

Matched Betting On Casinos

Rather like bookmakers, online casinos will have offers attempting to lure you to their site, these can come in the form of massive deposit matches and hundreds of free spins. If you have been through plenty of sports welcome offers, these may seem ripe for matched betting, but the reality is much different.

Don’t get us wrong, you can make money from a casino sign up offer, but as matched bettors, we don’t like risk do we?

When it comes to matched betting on sports, you can easily lay the offer on your favourite betting exchange, however, that option doesn’t exist when it comes to casino sign up offers.

As we said, it is possible to make money from casino sign up offers, but the welcome offers can be confusing when it comes to wagering requirements and you will need a significantly larger pot of money to get going initially. In addition, wagering requirements can often mean that any win you are lucky enough to have will often get eroded away as you play through the requirements that the casinos have in place to stop themselves from getting rinsed.

The only time it may make any sense to join a casino sign up offer is if the welcome offer has some kind of ‘no wagering’ element. For example, wager £10 and get 50 no wager spins, is one offer we have seen an operator push.

Here you could wager £10 on the slots and get 50 spins with no wagering attached. Now chances are that you will not lose all of your initial £10 and you may be lucky enough to land a decent winner on either your qualifying spins or your bonus spins.

In short, though, it is a tricky business navigating the murky world of online casinos (and you thought sportsbooks were bad enough!) and our advice would be to not try and undertake matched betting with the casinos.

Spicing Up Matched Betting: Risk Management

As we said earlier, lay calculators equalise the profit and loss from across both the back and lay options of a matched bet. This is what you would call matched betting in its purest form.

However, if you like to think of yourself as something of a maverick who has the edge on the bookmaker, you can choose to slightly alter the amount you lay If you really fancied Lewis Hamilton to win the Monaco Grand Prix, then you might place your free bet on him, yet lay him off for less than you should if doing pure matched betting.

You would still work it so that the profit is there either way, but obviously, if the speedster from Stevenage were to triumph on the streets of Monte Carlo, then you would be up slightly more than if he was beaten to the chequered flag.

Altering the risk level when laying is a deviation from pure matched betting, however, it can often be a fun way of adding some spice to what remains a risk-free flutter. As long as you have nailed the maths, it is still a win-win scenario.

Matched Betting Top Tips

There are a few key points you can take away from this matched betting guide which will help take the risk out of your gambling and lead you to a situation where you can make regular profits.

  • Get familiar with the exchanges – Betting exchanges are vital to understanding how matched betting works so it is incredibly important that you understand how to operate on these platforms. If necessary read a guide online or check out one of the many videos there are on YouTube. It could be the most profitable half-hour you ever do.
  • Remember to check back here for new bookmakers – The world of online gambling is ever-changing and you need to make sure that you change with it. Here at INSERT SITE NAME we are forever seeing new bookmakers spring up and we only feature the best in the business, so if you see a welcome offer you like on-site, go for it!
  • Always read the terms and conditions – No one likes terms and conditions. That’s just a fact. But hidden away in that tiny writing at the bottom of a welcome offer landing page is all the information you need to make sure your matched betting is as successful as possible. Everything from the initial qualifying stake and minimum odds to wagering requirements will be listed here, so take the time to read them and take down a note for all the different bookies if possible.
  • Use a lay calculator – It can be complicated trying to do the maths by yourself when attempting to work out the lay stakes required, so let a calculator do the work for you. It always helps to be careful and methodical.
  • Free bets expire – There is no point doing all of the hard work to get a free bet if you just let them expire. This is another thing that will be listed in the T&Cs but free bets can remain in your account from anywhere between 48 hours to a year depending on the bookmaker. Take care not to let them expire from your account.
  • Be a mug punter – Don’t go placing your free bets on something daft like FC Dolgoprudny v Torpedo Vladimir, place them on something normal, like United to win (even if you hate them!). Being a mug punter is a key part of keeping accounts open as long as possible and avoiding the arousal of suspicion.
  • Don’t be scared – Initially, it can seem daunting when you place a large amount of money into an exchange to cover a lay bet, but remember, as long as the maths is sound, it will nearly all be covered by winnings from the back bet.
  • Have fun – At the end of the day, whilst matched betting is all about making money at the end of the day, try and have a little fun with it along the way. After all, if you aren’t enjoying it, it can be a pretty dry thing to try and get your head around.

So there we have it, after reading that, you should have all of the necessary tools to fly the nest and become the magnificent matched bettor you were always destined to be. If you stick to the tools and tips laid out in this guide, you can’t go far wrong as you take the fight to the bookies and come back with a fistful of money!

Check out our list of the best bookmaker sign up offers where there are literally £1000s worth of bonus offers just waiting to be exploited.

joe profile pic

About Joe Kizlauskas

Joe is a seasoned iGaming copywriter and speaker who has been in the business since 2015. He's written more words on all elements of iGaming than he likes to remember, and he's contributed material to a number of well-known brands. Joe may be seen playing 5 a side, at the gym or playing games on his Playstation when he is not writing.