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Is arbitrage betting legal? Does arbitrage betting work?

Don’t fear soccer betting arbitrage. Learn the real facts behind the hype and make arbing work for your bankroll?

Published on
Updated on 12 October 2018

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Soccer betting has never been more popular than it is right now. Thanks in part to widespread advertising, it’s become an integral part of the beautiful game.

Hundreds of thousands of people – at least – bet on games most weekends. In the last comprehensive survey, sports betting in the UK alone was valued at up to £625 million per year, with soccer betting responsible for 70% of that.

I can guarantee you one thing. The vast majority of those bettors think their strategy is the right one. The one that – given enough time – will pay off big. Needless to say, most of them are wrong.

Most sports betting plans are under-thought and under-researched. Today I want to talk to you about one of the safest and most reliable betting strategies on the market: arbitrage betting.

What is arbitrage betting?

Arbitrage betting – also known as arbing – is a betting strategy in which you place wagers on all outcomes of a particular event.

In theory, arbitrage betting guarantees a profit. Whatever happens in the contest itself, you still win.

How does it work?

Arbitrage betting sounds pretty simple, right? Well, there are some pitfalls to be aware of.

Most importantly, you need to know that arbitrage betting revolves around exploiting price differences in different places. Those places can either be multiple bookmakers, or a single betting exchange.

Note: If you’re not sure of the difference between a bookie and an exchange, I’ve given a full explanation of that in the next section.

How do these price differences arise? There are a few possibilities.

Different bookies might use different data to arrive at their odds. They might simply take different views on certain markets. The differences can even come down to pure chance – bookies are run by humans, after all. Plenty of simple judgement errors have been made on markets before, and this will continue to happen in the future.

However, when price differences present themselves, you need to identify them and use them to your advantage.

Let’s say you’re signed up with three bookies: A, B and C.

If Bookie A has the highest odds for Team 1 to win, Bookie B has the best odds for a draw, and Bookie C has the best price for Team 2 to win… then you’d simply take each of those bets in turn. Whatever the result of the match, you’ll win one of your bets, and make at least some profit.

The odds in the chart are exaggerated to indicate a point, but hopefully, you can see how placing multiple bets across bookmakers could potentially yield a profit

Arbitrage betting on an exchange is even easier, because you can simply take all three results on that same platform.

There are plenty of arbitrage examples on the Internet, so we’ll skip the mathematics, but you can understand that you would again a return on each of the selections; no-matter the result.

The key would be understanding how the changing odds prices could present you with a positive return overall when you take all wins and losses into account.

Bookmakers vs betting exchanges

Before we go any further, it’s vital that you understand the differences between a bookmaker and a betting exchange.

I’m guessing you already know what a bookmaker is. The main difference between that and an exchange is that the latter is peer-to-peer. You’re betting against other people, as opposed to betting against “the house”.

Betting exchanges – with Betfair’s version probably being the most popular – typically offer higher odds, and therefore the potential for higher returns.

For arbing purposes, there’s one other crucial differential.

If you try arbitrage betting with traditional bookmakers, your account on one or more of those sites may well be suspended. It’s within a bookie’s right to do this, and there’s a high chance they’ll exercise that right when you follow this strategy.

It would be hard for them to prove you were doing it – because you’re obviously running accounts with other bookies too – but accounts have been closed for much less.

Betting exchanges, by contrast, don’t really care. They make their money by charging commissions on each bet, so that – whether you win or lose – they still make money from winning side of the bet.

The likelihood of being able to carry out an arbitrage strategy for longer, combined with the potential for higher returns, means most people choose betting exchanges for arbing.

Is arbing legal?

When you’ve brought a betting strategy that basically guarantees profits, it’s only natural to question its legality. The phrase “too good to be true” comes to mind.

Well, let me make this crystal clear – arbitrage betting is absolutely legal. There are no laws whatsoever forbidding it.

Of course, that’s not to say that you’ll be allowed to do it indefinitely. At least, not when you’re using traditional bookies.

Bookies have intelligent and proven methods of identifying questionable betting practices, and – as I mentioned earlier – if they suspect you of arbing they’ll probably suspend your account. For their part, it’s also absolutely legal for them to do this too.

Does it work?

If done correctly, soccer arbitrage betting on a result will technically always “work”, because you’ll always win one of your bets.

The connected question you probably want answered is, “Is arbitrage betting profitable?”

Arbitrage betting is actually most commonly practiced in two-outcome sports. One popular example is tennis – there are two competitors, and one of them has to win at the end. You only have to place two bets, and you’ll win one and lose one.  

When picking a football result, there are obviously three possible outcomes; home win, draw, away win. You’ll therefore have to place three bets, losing two and winning one. Naturally this means that the profits you’ll make from using arbitrage betting on soccer are lower than those you’d make on tennis.

Having said that, there are also plenty of two-outcome markets you can bet on in football – total goals over/under, both teams to score, and so on. The odds (at least on the markets you actually want to take, i.e. NOT over 4.5 goals), will be lower, so in turn your profits will also suffer.

Overall, a soccer arbitrage betting strategy – again, if you do it right – will still make you money over the long haul. It’s simply less than you might make on a different sport. Perhaps the best way to think of football arbing is as a long-term, low-risk investment strategy, which will result in a low-to-medium yield.

So, we’re talking potentially steady long-term growth

What are the drawbacks?

There’s no such thing as a perfect betting strategy. Even if you might be thinking arbing sounds as close as it gets, there are still a handful of drawbacks.

1)    Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Before you even start arbing, there’s a fair amount of preparation to do. You need to open – and fund – accounts on all the platforms you’re thinking of using. That goes for both traditional bookmakers and betting exchanges.

This is because arbitrage betting relies on exploiting price differences, but – often – these differences won’t last long. If one bookie realises their odds are way off, compared to their competitions, they might be fixed within minutes.

You won’t have time to set up an account, make a deposit, and still take advantage of the opportunity on that site. You need the account ready ahead of time, so that you’re good to go at the drop of a hat.

2)    You’ve got to do your research

If you want to succeed at arbitrage betting, you’re going to need to invest a lot of time in research.

Researching the games you want to bet on is easier said than done. Making big money in the long term from arbing is a little more complicated than just betting on El Clasico, the Manchester United vs Liverpool derby, and games of that ilk.

The biggest potential for profits is often found in more obscure matches, because the bookies have less of a feel for the teams, less data to use, and so on. You can try to find the right games yourself, or keep tabs on the arbing community to see which games they’re looking at. Either way, it takes time.

3)    You have to be in it for the long haul

In arbitrage betting, you need a huge amount of patience.

As I mentioned earlier, this is far from being a get-rich-quick scheme. You have to accept in advance that you’re only going to see small profits, and resist the temptation to give up in favour of a more “exciting” strategy.  

4)    Organisation is imperative

If you don’t like filling in spreadsheets… well, I’m afraid that arbitrage betting probably isn’t for you!

If you want to commit to arbing, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on Excel. You will have a whole series of different accounts in operation, each of which needs to be carefully monitored. Across all of those accounts, you’ll need to track every single bet you make (usually three per contest, remember), each of which is made on a different platform.

5)    A lack of liquidity

Specifically, this is a drawback to using an exchange over bookies. With bookmakers, you know that all your arbitrage bets are going to get placed. With an exchange, there’s no such guarantee.

If you’re betting on a more obscure market (which is a key part of many arbing strategies), there’s a risk that you get one bet down, and then have no opportunity to place the others. You’re therefore left simply hoping for one outcome to come in, which defeats the whole purpose of arbitrage betting.

How can you implement it?

If you’re aware of the drawbacks of arbitrage betting, and you still want to press on, then here’s a step-by-step soccer arbitrage guide to what you need to do.

1)    Open accounts

You’ll need accounts with an absolute host of bookies. That doesn’t just go for the big names, but for the more obscure ones too, who might offer exploitable odds.

You’ll also want accounts with multiple betting exchanges. Given that they tend to have better odds anyway, though, you won’t need as many of these.

2)    Fund the accounts

You’re opening all those accounts so that you have a variety of options. Those options are only useful if they can…be used!

Every account needs money in it, ready to be used the moment you spot an opportunity.

3)    Create spreadsheets

Make sure that Excel subscription is up to date, because you’re going to need it.

You’ll want a separate sheet for every single account you have, tracking the bets you’ve made on that account. You’ll also want to track its current balance, to save you having to log onto the website. Finally, have a master sheet which tracks your overall performance, including monthly and total profits and losses.

4)    Start betting

Again, don’t simply bet on the big, prestigious games. The bookies will have a closer eye on those too, and – seeing as they’ll get a ton of action anyway – there’s no need for them to juice up the odds.

Instead, try to look for more obscure matches, where there’s a higher chance that the odds are either deliberately inflated, or are simply out of line.

Once you think you’ve found a good market, it’s time to start comparing prices. Find the bookies or the exchange offering the best odds on each outcome, and place your bets.

5)    Get in early

This is one of the keys to arbing success. When bookies first publish their odds for a market, they’re complete and utter estimates, based on the data specifically available to them.

If they’ve been misled by the data, or there’s a simple instance of human error, bettors will start pouring in to take advantage. In turn, the bookies will alter the odds to correct their error and balance out the action.

If at all possible, you need to get in before they do this, when there’s still a chance to exploit the wayward odds.

Is arbitrage betting for you?

So, now that you’re armed with all the facts, should you try your hand at arbitrage betting?

The answer is ultimately down to you.

This is an incredibly low-risk betting strategy, in which – over the long term – you’re guaranteed to make a profit. Make no mistake about it, however – arbitrage betting is a slow burn. It requires plenty of effort on your part, in both research and technical execution, and you won’t see substantial returns for a while.

With all that said, if you’ve got the patience and the willpower, then football arbitrage betting is absolutely a valid gambling strategy.

Good Luck!

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