Football betting is big business in the UK, with bookmakers raking in more than a billion pounds annually. However, a lot of millennials are turning the tables and leveraging bookmakers’ free bet promotions to place a series of wagers that result in guaranteed winnings. They garner these “risk-free”, tax-free returns using a technique called matched betting.

Football betting giants, including Betfair, William Hill, and Coral are all aware of this twisting of the rules by savvy gamblers and aren’t too bothered. Several experts also confirmed the legality of matched betting. After all, online betting sites still make decent commissions on player winnings and also cash in on the occasional mistakes by these punters that would, otherwise, not have visited their platforms.

How Does Matched Betting Work?

Most football betting sites offer welcome bonuses to new customers, and usually you can find exclusive offers through betting guides such as bet.xyz. If you register and fund your account with real money, the website rewards you with free bets. In essence, bookies are willing to spend an average of £200 per customer to get them through the door. Such a strategy is based on the notion that you’ll enjoy betting at the platform and become a regular customer.

With matched betting, players use these free bets to bet on all the outcomes of a football match at odds that guarantee a return. This is possible if a punter places a lay bet—betting that an event won’t occur, and a back bet—betting that the same event will happen. Matched betting punters place back bets on traditional betting sites, then lay bets using a betting exchange, such as the Betfair Exchange. On betting exchanges, individuals can act as bookies, which allows them to turn a profit from the value of their free bets.

The math can get very complicated pretty quickly, but several free online calculators help you work out exactly how much you should bet. Some paid services even help punters spot bets that are ripe for the taking, how much to bet on those games, and what time to bet. For example, Liverpool may be playing against Manchester United tomorrow, and you bet £100 on a Liverpool win with William Hill at 3.6 odds. You can then lay bet Manchester United to win £98.60 with 3.7 odds.

If the Red Devils win, the bookie makes £260 and the betting exchange is down £262.20. If the opposite happens, the bookie bet loses £100 and the exchange is down £93.40. It would have been £98.60, but the exchange takes a 5% commission. On both outcomes, you lose £6.30 or £6.20. However, free bets are the trick up your sleeve.

Placing Free Bets

After the Liverpool game, you’d have unlocked around £300 in free bets that you can use to guarantee profits. You can then bet on a Chelsea game that has 3.0 games for a win, your bet costs nothing. A betting calculator would help you determine that you need to lay the Chelsea win with £195.40 at 3.12 odds on a betting exchange. If Chelsea wins, your bet at the bookies wins £600, and the betting exchange loses £414.20. If Chelsea loses, you don’t lose anything at the bookmaker, but the exchange bet makes £185.60. Either way, you win. After that, you only need to rinse and repeat.

Who’s Loses?

Betfair pioneered matched betting when they created their betting exchange website. Punters can, therefore, trade and make money, much like what stock market traders do. As such, players who make traditional bets end up footing the bill that’s created by matched bettors.

Is Matched Betting Risk-Free?

Don’t get too excited and throw away all caution—there are still numerous risks associated with matched betting. For a start, the internet is awash with rogue betting sites that won’t honour your win and fraudulent tipsters that provide erroneous odds for matched bets. Human error is yet another major risk factor. Also, matched betting can end up developing into a pathway to riskier and more addictive betting.

In any case, problem gambling is not only connected to financial losses—some players may make money but still suffer depression, stress, and anxiety. It is, therefore, vital for matched bettors to adhere to responsible gambling principles from the get-go.

Chris Darwen
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