Matched betting: the ‘risk-free’ system that can make you hundreds of pounds
It’s the easiest way to earn money we’ve ever heard of, but does it really work?
Last weekend, I put £25 on Ghana to beat Germany at the World Cup.
As this didn’t happen, you’d probably expect me to be in a pretty foul mood, cursing Miroslav Klose, the German forward who came off the bench to grab a late equaliser that denied the African side their first win of the tournament and robbed me of £250.
However, I’m not. Despite the result, I’ve still come out of the game £20 richer than I was before it kicked off.
How? The answer is matched betting, a system of playing betting companies off against each other that seasoned gamblers have been using for years.
Now, we’re here to talk you through how it works. Even if you’ve never gambled before, by the end of this article you should have learned enough to help you earn a bit of extra spending money ahead of next term.
Before we start though, an obligatory warning that gambling is dangerous, addictive, and usually a mug’s game. If you stray from these steps, or fail to understand the advice correctly, don’t blame us for any money you lose on the way. This is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme.
What is matched betting?
Matched betting means you “match” any bet you make by also betting on the opposite outcome. You make money by using the free bet offers advertised by bookmakers in an attempt to try and get you to open an account with them. Confused already? Okay, let’s make it really simple.
For the purpose of this system, there are two kinds of bet: a back bet, and a lay bet. A back bet is when you are betting money on a certain outcome being true (e.g. “I bet that England will win), while a lay bet is betting money on a certain outcome not being true (e.g. “I bet that England won’t win”). In the latter example, a draw or a defeat would win you the bet.
Back bets can be put on at any bookmakers, while lay bets can only be put on at a betting exchange (Betfair being the most well-known example).
Matched betting involves putting both a back and lay bet on a particular outcome. In the case of the Ghana v Germany game, I placed a back bet of £25 that Ghana would win, while also placing a lay bet to cover the possibility that they might not.
So how do you make money?
Most bookmakers offer an introductory free bet to new customers. For example, Paddy Power offer a free £20 bet when you sign up and bet £10.
To qualify for the free bet, I placed a £10 bet on Ivory Coast to beat Japan. However, to ensure I didn’t lose £10 if this didn’t happen, I also placed a lay bet on the same outcome with Betfair. This process involves some fairly tricky maths (we’ll break it down for you later), but essentially the idea is to retain as much of your tenner as possible.
As it is, Ivory Coast did beat Japan. My £10 bet with Paddy Power gave me winnings of £27; however, I lost £17.39 from laying my bet with Betfair, giving me a total “winnings” of £9.61.
The cleverer readers among you will have realised that this means I lost 39p as a result of this bet. However, I now have a free £20 bet I can use. This next step is where you make your money.
I placed my £20 free bet on Ecuador to beat Switzerland, and used my own money to lay the bet with Betfair. Again, there’s more complicated maths at play, but the end result is that however the game finishes, I win around £12.
Ecuador were unable to beat Switzerland, losing 2-1 to a last-minute goal, but the result didn’t matter to me. I’d won money on a football match. I’d never won money on football matches before. The one time I came close was four years ago at the last World Cup when a six-game accumulator was thrown off by Spain losing to Switzerland (the bastards!)
Matched betting meant that, although I was reducing the size of my win, there was no way I could lose.
Figuring out the maths
The hardest part of match betting is calculating how much a bet will earn you and how much you need to lay in order to make sure you still walk away with the biggest bet possible. Thankfully, most of the headache is solved by the existence of matched betting calculators like this one.
Things to watch out for:
• Make sure you tick “free bet” when applicable as it affects the calculations.
• “Stake forfeited” means when you use a free bet and you don’t have the inital free bet returned to you along with your winnings (this is the case with nearly all free bets, but double-check the terms and conditions).
• Most betting exchanges charge commission on successful bets. With Betfair it’s 5%. Make sure this is factored into your calculation.
What this calculator can’t do though is tell you what games to bet on. To figure that out, follow these fairly simple rules:
• For bets involving actual money (i.e. not your free bet), look for an outcome with odds between 1.5 and 3.0 (switch odds to decimal as it makes everything easier to track). You also want your odds to be as close together as possible. When betting on Ivory Coast, my back odds were 2.7, and my lay odds were 2.72. The closer they are, the less money you’ll lose on this bet.
• For free bets, look big for odds that are over 3.0. Again, you ideally want them to be fairly close together in order to maximise your winnings. With Switzerland v Ecuador, the back and lay odds were 3.2 and 3.4 respectively.
Handling the learning curve
Once your first matched bet is successful, it’s easy to get carried away. Buoyed by my £12 profit from Paddy Power, I moved on to open accounts with William Hill and Coral. It was time to try and do two-at-a-time I decided.
The problem with this approach is you need to spend more money upfront. Although you know you’ll get it back, it’s fairly gut-wrenching to see your bank account drift so close to your overdraft limit.
William Hill offered two free £10 bets in return for a £10 bet, so I placed a tenner on England to beat Uruguay. For years I’ve avoided betting on England games, convinced I’ll somehow jinx them. If it wasn’t for the fact that I also betted against England winning, I’d consider this to be true.
In addition to that bet, a £5 wager on Russia to beat South Korea with Coral gave me a free £20 bet. It’s at this point that I realised the first rule of matched betting write everything down so you can keep track of where all your money is.
Once multiple bookies are involved, you need the most organised spreadsheet in the world to make sure you know where all your money is, how much you’ve wagered, and how much you’re expecting in a free bet. Which leads on to another important lesson I learned: read the terms and conditions for your free bet carefully.
Turns out bookies will do anything to prevent you from qualifying for a free bet, including making it bloody difficult to tell if you’ve actually earned one. Always make sure that your initial wager will result in a free bet offer, otherwise you’re just throwing money away.
I thought I’d made this very mistake with Betbright. Having placed £30 on Netherlands to beat Australia with them, I suddenly realised that the offer I’d seen wasn’t for a free bet, but for a refund on losing bets. This isn’t the same thing.
I felt like a right tit. Okay, I’d laid the bet so I could only lose 30p from the situation, but I was annoyed with myself for messing up. This is why you shouldn’t place bets at 4am I told myself, you’ll miss things.
I’d been emboldened by my success with William Hill and Coral and had now been struck down by my own hubris. Or so I thought. A few days later, for reasons I’m still not entirely sure of, I received a free £10 bet in my account. As a result I was able to salvage just over £7 from the situation, an outcome I think most people would describe as “lovely stuff”.
So is it worth it?
Matched betting is a very peculiar experience, largely because it removes all stakes from the actual football match. As long as the game finishes, you win money regardless of the result, so rather than cheering on Ghana to find a winner against the Germans you’re just crossing your fingers in hope that the stadium doesn’t collapse.
It’s also hard to get excited over the fact the amounts you win tend to be fairly small. You’ll look at your account with a bookmakers to see you’re 80-odd quid in credit, but you know it’s not that impressive because you’ve lost £70 protecting against the opposite outcome.
So far, from five bookmakers I’ve made around 60 quid, which, given the amount of time I’ve invested, is a pretty decent amount. However, if I’d not bothered to match my bets and had the courage of my convictions I’d actually be over £200 better off, which is a pretty gutting realisation.
The temptation to stray from the system and to just start placing bets without covering the lay outcome can be hard to ignore. However, getting cocky and going rogue would probably be a recipe for disaster. Knowing my luck, I’d be left devastated and a couple of hundred quid poorer, and I don’t want to feel the horror and devastation that comes in moments like that.
I’ve already been made to feel that shit by Luis Suarez.