Despite being faced with a number of social, economic and regulatory challenges, the gambling industry in the UK continues to thrive. In fact, this market produced a gross gambling yield (GGY) of £14.4 billion in the year ending March 2018, with this number representing an increase of 4.2% on the previous year’s figures.
Sports betting is renowned as a key driver of this market in the UK, as along with casino gameplay accounts for more than 90% of the industry’s online GGY and continues to dominate the sector as a whole.
While this may highlight the popularity of sports betting amongst punters, however, the amount of money generated by bookmakers through this channel shows just how difficult it is for gamblers to wager successfully. Below, we’ll present a comprehensive guide to sports betting, while asking what strategies you can use to beat both the odds and the house.
If you’ve gambled previously, you’ll know that the term ‘sports betting’ is a nebulous one, especially in an age where there are so many markets and types of wager available.
In order to hone your betting strategy and optimise your chances of winning, however, you’ll need to understand the different ways in which you can wager on sporting events and select the one that’s right for you.
We’ll start with the win bet, which is arguably the most universally popular method of sports wagering and the easiest to understand.
Also known as a straight bet here in the UK, this type of wager requires you to speculate on the outcome of a game or match-up and place your money on who you think will win. This is applicable to both individual and team sports, and a relevant example would be backing Liverpool to beat Manchester United in their upcoming Premier League clash on 16th December.
In this instance, the success of your wager will depend entirely on the outcome of the game, while the amount that you take home will be dictated by the odds at which you placed your bet (we’ll have a little more on this later).
Sports betting enthusiasts will also be familiar with future or outright betting, through which punters speculate on who will win a specific league, tournament or competition. Wagers of this type that are placed in advance of the event are referred to as ante-post bets, while they’re also used regularly across a number of different sports.
An example of an outright bet would be backing Novak Djokovic to win the upcoming Australian Open in Australia, or putting your money on Manchester City winning this years’ Champions League. You can place this type of wager either before or during the tournament in question, although the odds will fluctuate continually and this will have a direct impact on your potential rate of return.
Handicap betting is another popular pastime in the UK, particularly in sports like football and horse racing. This is also a slightly more complex method of wagering and one which awards or deducts points from teams and runners in order to manipulate the bet and present alternative options to punters.
Let’s take the recent EPL game between Crystal Palace and Burnley at Selhurst Park as an example. If you’d backed Palace to win in a +1 handicap bet, your chances of winning would be immediately increased as the Eagles would effectively have a single goal head start in the win-draw market.
However, this would also lower the odds associated with the wager, meaning that while you’d be more likely to win your return would be lower.
In the reverse example, backing Palace with a -1 handicap bet would marginally decrease your chances of winning while creating more competitive odds. This type of wager is typically used by punters when backing heavy favourites to win a particular game, as a -1 or -2 handicap will improve the odds considerably without overly compromising their chances of winning.
Finally, we come to in-play betting, which is the fastest growing market in the industry and one that has taken football wagering by storm. As the name suggests, this type of wager is placed after an event has already started, while it has opened up a huge range of betting markets to customers in the UK.
As a general rule, punters can use in-play betting to place more accurate and detailed wagers pertaining to the outcome of the game. One study has shown that 60% of real-time bets involve the first or next goalscorer, for example, while backing teams to win by an exact scoreline is also proving popular.
This is undoubtedly a lucrative market for operators, as this type of wager usually carries higher odds and a lower probability of winning for punters.
We touched earlier on sports betting odds, which have a massive bearing on how much you’re likely to win from a specific wager.
While the odds of a bet will dictate your estimated return in the event of a win, however, savvy punters also use them to make informed decisions and determine the probability of potential outcomes.
Put simply, the odds will offer an insight into how likely certain events are likely to take place, and they’ll vary depending on the competing elements and the sport in question. Let’s look at the recent Premier League game became between Chelsea and bottom-placed Fulham at Stamford Bridge, for example, with the Blues starting as odds on-favourites on 1/7 (1.14).
In contrast, Fulham were priced at a hefty 17/1 (8.00) to win at the Bridge, with these odds highlighting the chasm between the two sides and the likelihood of a Chelsea win.
In bets of this type, punters will also be able to speculate on a draw, with this outcome carrying its own probability and associated odds.
How do Sports Betting Odds Work?
This brings us neatly onto the functionality of sports betting odds, which will usually be displayed in one of two ways.
Most UK bookmakers present fractional odds to punters as we’ve done above, for example, although there’s a growing trend for using decimal odds across the majority of sports betting markets.
We’ll delve a little deeper in fractional and decimal odds below, while exploring the key differences that separate them.
Introducing Fractional Odds
Whenever you see two numbers separated by a trailing slash (such as 17/1), this is commonly known as fractional odds. As well as helping you to understand the probability of certain outcomes, it also lets you know how much you can expect to win in relation to your stake.
In terms of the former, there’s a simple calculation that you can use to estimate probability. This requires you to replace the fractional odds with letters (so 17/1 becomes A/B), with the final probability equating to B/ (A+B).
So, odds of 17/1 can be calculated as 1 / (17+1), leaving us with a bottom line probability of 0.05. In the case of the Chelsea vs. Fulham match we mentioned earlier, this means that the Cottagers have only a 5% chance of succeeding at Stamford Bridge.
Conversely, Chelsea’s price of 1/7 is calculated as 7 / (7+1). This means that there’s an 87% chance that the Blues will prevail, and we reckon that this makes a compelling argument for punters across the UK!
But what do these odds tell us about your potential return? This is actually a far more simple equation, as odds of 17/1 means that you’ll win a whopping £17 for every £1 that you wager (excluding your original stake, of course). This calculation is reversed in the case of odds on bets, as odds of 1/7 will pay out a single pounds or every £7 that you stake.
What About Decimal Odds?
While decimal odds are still used sparingly in the UK, exchanges like Betfair present the majority of their bets in this format.
Most betting companies also give their punters the option to view odds in this format, and an argument can certainly be made for decimal prices being easier to understand.
This is certainly true in the case of your potential winnings, as this can be calculated simply by multiplying the odds by your stake before subtracting the amount that you initially lay down (odds * stake) – stake. With a decimal price of 9.0, for example, this is calculated as (9.0 * 10) -10, creating total winnings of £80 (minus your original stake) on a particular wager.
The equation is a little more complex when calculating probability, but it’s still simple enough to get to grips with after a while.
In this instance, the necessary calculation is 1/ decimal odds) * 100, and this creates an implied probability of a particular outcome. So when presented with decimal odds of 5.50 on a win bet, for example, the calculation would be presented as (1/ 5.50) * 100, leaving us with a 18.1% probability that a selected team or player would be successful.
Aside from a couple of subtle nuances and the fact that decimal odds are a little easier to understand for newbies, there’s actually little to separate these two pricing formats.
However, there’s definitely a trend towards decimal odds in the current sports betting market, particularly as the fractional format only represents winnings and does not include the punters original stake.
While you can use published odds to determine the probability of specific outcomes, however, you need to consider these in a wider context and also bear in mind that prices are manipulated by bookmakers.
More specifically, prices are always exaggerated by bookmakers, with odds-on wagers used to discourage punters from betting on outcomes that have a high probability of success. At the very least, this makes it exceptionally difficult for people to earn significant returns from odds-on prices, unless they target niche in-play markets during particular games or use handicap betting to improve their potential returns.
Aside from carefully considering odds and probability, punters should also avoid emotive betting that’s based on tribalism or support for a particular team or player. This is particularly prevalent in football betting, as partisan fans often wager on their favourite teams regardless of the odds or the challenges facing them.
These bets rarely deliver a return over the course of the season, however, and as a general rule punters are far better served by wagering on neutral events in which they have no emotional stake.
Attempting to recoup losses by increasing your stake on future wagers is another example of emotive betting and one that’s based on the idea that the so-called ‘law of averages’ holds sway in sports gambling.
This is a true gambler’s fallacy, as each bet should be treated on its own unique merits and never considered in the context of a perceived winning or losing streak.
Rather than using these emotional triggers to inform your wagers, you should instead seek out viable information from independent sources.
Team or player form guides can be extremely revealing, for example, as they’ll offer an insight into the confidence and momentum that competitors will take into certain events.
You should also consider analysing the recent performance statistics of key performers and potential match-winners in team sports, as these individuals are likely to have a strong influence on the outcome of a specific game. This can also offer an insight into unique, in-play markets such as first goalscorer, providing you with an opportunity to potentially win more in the process.
On a final note, we’d also recommend following reputable and local journalists on social media, as these individuals often cover specific clubs closely and receive key team news or information ahead of time.
This type of data can have a significant impact on the potential outcome of a specific game or match-up, and tapping into this can help you to select the best and most rewarding bets!