The act of finding a sure bet, one where you can place wagers on all possible outcomes and still guarantee to receive a return, is also known as arbitrage betting.
With enough research, you could feasibly bet on a home win, away win and draw in a football match with different sportsbooks, making it a sure bet, as they are the only three possible results. It is possible to achieve the same effect by betting both under and over in the total points market for sports like rugby, handball and many others.
Experienced punters are able to scour various bookmakers for favourable odds and then calculate the stakes they would need to place on each bet to bring a profit. This discrepancy is caused when bookies have different views on the outcome of an event, which is reflected in their prices.
Here is a quick example: A darts match can only have two outcomes, so if there is a way of splitting your bankroll in order to profit whatever happens, you have a sure bet.
For this example, you have £100 to spend on the total bet. If Player 1 has odds of 7/10 and Player 2 has odds of 8/5 at another bookie, you could place £60.47 on Player 1 and £39.53 on Player 2.
If Player 1 wins, you will receive £42.33 plus your stake of £60.47, making a total of £102.80. If Player 2 wins, you are paid £63.25 as well as the initial £39.53, working out at £102.78. Whatever happens in the game, you will make a profit of more than two percent on your bankroll.
The best way to calculate a sure bet is to divide £1 by the odds expressed as decimals. In the darts example, Player 1’s decimal odds are 1.70 and Player 2’s are 2.60.
These figures represent the cost of the odds and, added together, they make 97.3p. This means that you will need to spend 97.3p to win £1, making it a sure bet with a profit of over two percent. You can now stake appropriately on both outcomes to ensure both bring a win.
Arbitrage betting is completely legal because you are placing genuine single bets with sportsbooks at their advertised price. However, bookmakers are understandably not happy with people exploiting the differences in odds to pick up a sure bet, and they may reduce the betting limits of players they believe may be using the practice.
The bookies don’t often get it wrong and, if you spot a significant difference in the odds that is too good to be true, it could well be. If an error has been made inputting the odds, a bookie may well not honour that leg of the bet, meaning your wager is no longer a certain winner. For this reason, some experts suggest being wary of any sure bet with a profit of more than five percent.
Bookmakers can limit your betting if they think you are indulging in arbitrage, so it is best to build up your betting so as not to arouse suspicion. Immediately lumping a large amount of cash on a random football game from the Iranian league will immediately flag you up. Playing with small amounts at first is also recommended for helping you get used to the system and not risking your entire bankroll if your maths is a little rusty. Some fans of sure bets also suggest rounding your stakes up to full pound amounts, as stakes such as £36.57 are a telltale sign of an arbitrageur.
Odds fluctuate before an event, and you could find that the magical price that makes your arbitrage bet work is suddenly no longer on offer. If you have noticed there is an overly generous bet to be made, the chances are others have too. A rush on one outcome will alert the bookie and they could shorten the odds or close the book completely. To give yourself the best chance of receiving the desired odds, bet on the outcome that fluctuates the most in price between the sportsbooks, often called the ‘volatile’ leg of the bet. This is the one most likely to disappear first.
A sure bet or arbitrage bet is still a risk, but there are many bettors who manage to make a good return from it over the course of time. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, with your return on investments usually never exceeding two percent, but once you know what to look for, you can take advantage of the huge number of sportsbooks on the market and the differences in opinion they sometimes have over outcomes.