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What causes odds to change within soccer betting markets?
How to make the most of your bets by understanding odds movements.
Published on 22 January 2019
Updated on 22 January 2019
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Considering betting odds are the cornerstone on which all organised gambling is based, it’s stunning that the clear majority of bettors still don’t fully understand odds. Of course, everyone knows they exist, but most people don’t know how they work – either how they’re set in the first place, how they subsequently change or why the bookmakers change the odds.
If you fall into this category, there’s no need to be embarrassed – you’re part of the majority, after all! You should, however, look to do something about it. The more informed you are, the higher your chances of success against a bookmaker if odds are understood.
In this article, I’ll look at what happens to odds after they’re set. I’ll explain why they change, and how you can take advantage of these changes.
Let’s get started.
How do bookies arrive at their odds?
Before you can get a good understanding why the odds might have changed, you have to know how odds are formed in the first place. Fortunately for you, I already explained how this happens here!
In short, there are a few different factors at play. Sheer probability is one of them: the bookie will calculate the chances of each sports betting outcome happening, based on a wide variety of stats. The odds will never solely reflect these probabilities, however, because bookies build an “edge” into the odds which almost guarantees them a profit.
Another major consideration – which we’ll look at in more detail very shortly – is the betting public’s opinion.
So, why do odds change?
The starting odds for any given football match are exactly that – the starting odds. They’ll be based on the factors I touched on in the last section, and are set a good while before the match actually starts; days before the match. Let's start on the bookmaker; William Hill, for example, set their odds for Premier League games two weeks in advance for online betting.
These odds will almost always change, however, particularly for games that have any kind of high profile or have a huge range of markets. As the game draws closer, and more money piles in, the changes will become more volatile when a lot of money moves in the market.
This doesn’t happen by magic. Whilst the common assertion that the betting public changes odds is indirectly true, it’s the bookmakers who make the changes.
Having arrived at prices in the first place, bookies will subsequently change their own odds, as football opponents are drawn or horse racing fields are marked. When it comes to big money markets, like the result of a Premier League match or grand national odds, the odds change almost constantly as kick-off or the start approaches.
What are the reasons for changing sports betting odds?
It doesn’t matter what the specifics are. If you’re asking why a bookmaker does something, anything, the answer will almost always be “to make money”!
In this case, by changing their odds, bookies aim to make more money overall by either inviting more bets, or protecting themselves from over-exposure.
Whilst that’s the overall aim, there are a whole range of specific reasons why odds change. Here are a few of the most important reasons, which show bookmakers play with the law and build an inherent advantage in this area, before, during and after you place a bet:
• Public Opinion
One of a bookie’s goals, when setting their odds, is to invite equal action on all outcomes of a market. Often, however, this doesn’t happen. They post up their odds, and the betting public piles a significant amount of money into one side of the bet.
This is bad news for the bookie, as it leaves them massively over-exposed on one outcome. If things go their way, then they’ll make a massive profit. If the public is proved right, however, they’ll take a huge loss.
Rather than accept this risk, the bookie will always look to play it safe. The easiest way to do this is by raising their odds on the less popular outcome. The newly-enticing odds should lead to more bets, and balance out the action across the market.
Despite having nothing to do with real-life events, or actual probability, this is the biggest cause of odds changed on a sporting occasion.
The bookmaker can also use betting exchanges and their trading arms to offset betting risk within their consumer betting division.
• Big Fish
Whilst the overall majority of betting sites take money from casual gamblers, professional gamblers – often referred to as “sharps” – hold a lot of influence over bookies. 50,000 individual £1 bets are one thing. Whilst they obviously have to be taken seriously, for the reasons listed above, they don’t necessarily represent “smart money”. A single £50,000 bet is a different matter entirely.
If a bookie receives a series of big bets on one side of a market – which, if it happens, will usually come soon after the odds are set – that can be a big clue that they’ve miscalculated their odds. Professional gamblers know what they’re doing, after all – that’s why they’re professional gamblers. They might be even better experience by continuing to improve knowledge, or have better algorithms, than the bookie. Thus, the bookie absolutely must take the smart money seriously, which is why many people monitor smart money flows before placing a bet.
If you see odds changing significantly after they’ve just been released, this is a clue that the big fish have spotted an opportunity, and that the bookies are now responding.
• Breaking News
The bookies may have a massive database of stats to draw upon, which the average punter could only dream of having access to. But even they can’t predict the future. Specifically, there’s no way to account for suddenly changing events.
The biggest example of this is injuries. When it comes to knowing who’s actually going to lace up their boots at the weekend, and whether or not a player who’s been dealing with a niggling injury will be able to play or not… well, both bookies and punters are in the same boat. Basically, most of the time, neither side knows!
Some injuries don’t really matter. Sometimes, though, they can be huge news. To give an extreme example, let’s say Barcelona are playing a knockout match in the Champions League, and it’s announced one hour before kick-off that Messi is out. The odds on the other team suddenly offer far better value than they did only a moment ago, and everyone is going to pile onto them.
Bookies naturally keep an extremely close eye on breaking news, and look to change their odds as soon as humanly possible in circumstances like this. If you saw one set of odds, and then – when you checked back shortly after – they’d changed significantly, I’d advise checking the latest news immediately. You’ll probably find an explanation there!
• Human Error
Bookies have entire departments dedicated to putting the right odds out there. Whilst the people who work there do have a ton of data and complicated algorithms to help them… ultimately they’re still only humans. Quite simply, that means they can still get stuff wrong.
Whilst this is definitely a factor, however, it’s a hard one to actually identify. If you’re a casual punter, you’ll struggle to notice when odds are simply “wrong”. As I mentioned earlier though, this is something which professional gamblers will look to exploit mercilessly, and check that the sites for slight inaccuracies.
How can you exploit these changes?
Knowing why odds change is all well and good, of course. But, as a bettor, you’ll naturally want to apply this knowledge in a way that makes you money.
Here are a few top tips for profiting from changing odds:
• Be Aware
It’s a fundamental rule of gambling that the more knowledge you have, the more likely you are to profit in the long term. When it comes to changing odds, there are two things you always want to keep an eye on.
Firstly, there’s the breaking news, which I touched on earlier. The quicker you get the news, the better your chances of catching a bookie before they’ve changed their odds.
Secondly, there’s the odds themselves. You need to be aware of how much, and how quickly, they’re changing. Doing this is as simple as identifying a market you’re interested in, then opening a spreadsheet and noting down its odds every few hours or every day, depending how far into the future it is.
• Be Patient
If you’ve got any kind of experience in sports betting football (or any other competitive sport), you should roughly know a fair price for a market. Once you’ve identified a market you’re interested in for a specific game, you should also identify the price you’d like to get it at. Sometimes a betting guide may help with that, but you should get a good opinion over time.
The odds probably won’t start at this price. But, if you remain patient and keep checking back regularly, you’ll often be able to bet the market at your chosen price before the match begins. If not, you haven’t lost anything, because you didn’t think the bet was good value at another price anyway.
• Bet Late
This isn’t a “rule”, as there are plenty of times that odds will offer good value earlier in their life cycle. It is an important piece of advice, though.
Markets are at their most volatile, by far, shortly before the games starts. This is when most of the public’s money is piling in, and the bookies are scrambling to adjust their odds in response. Accordingly, the odds are at their most liquid here, and – if you act quickly enough – this is the time you’re most likely to snag a good deal.
• Have Lots of Options
There are a number of reasons why you should have accounts with a variety of different bookies. Taking advantage of pre-market odds changes is one of the biggest.
Always remember that you’re not enslaved to one bookie’s odds. If you don’t like the price you’re getting on one site, then see if another site offers better value.
When a piece of breaking news comes out, for example, different bookies will react at different speeds. You should quickly check through all of your bookies, try to find one which hasn’t adjusted their odds yet, and swiftly put a bet down.
Final Thoughts on what makes odds change
Betting odds are not set in stone. In fact, they’re far more fluid than most people realise. From the moment they’re set, a dance begins between the bookie and the betting public, with both sides looking to find value over the other.
The house (i.e. sports betting sites) does have the edge in this contest, but always remember that bookies are run by humans too. They will make mistakes, and they can be beaten. You know why odds change, and how you can exploit these changes. Now, all you must do is go out there and execute.
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