Here’s a question that’s regularly asked: “can you make a living from sports betting?”
The answer you’ll usually find to that question is a confident, flat-out “no”. It’s often followed up with a clique such as “the bookie always wins”, or “it’s a mug’s game”.
To the majority of the public it’s unthinkable that one could consistently earn from sports betting. But while it’s true that sports betting is indeed a “mug’s game” for most punters, there’s no doubt that a small minority of professional gamblers, traders and value bettors exist… and thrive. There are certainly legitimate ways to make a living from sports betting.
In fact, you can start earning from sports betting — provided you’re willing to devote some time & effort to it. Here’s the techniques you need to learn about, in recommended order.
1. Matched Betting
I talk a lot about Matched Betting on this website. Simply put, it’s a technique for earning risk-free profits from sports betting bonuses &. It’s an excellent starting point for anyone looking to make their first big leap into professional gambling without the risk of blowing their bankroll.
And if you already know a thing or two about Matched Betting, then you’ll benefit from subscribing to a Top Matched Betting Service — which includes an ongoing calendar of current bonuses. For a relatively small monthly fee of £18-20, a specialist service ensures you’ll never miss out on any profitable betting promotions on offer. I highly recommend OddsMonkey.
2. Arbitrage Betting
Following on from Matched Betting is arbitrage betting — also referred to as “arbing” or “sure betting”. If armed with the right tools, arbitrage betting is simple and highly profitable. You can learn more about the technique from my Arbitrage Betting Guide.
Professional bettors ‘arb’ sports betting sites by covering all outcomes of an event, in order to profit from the difference in their odds.
Arbing opportunities extend to many different sports and markets. Sports betting blog Church of Betting points out that arbs even exist in popular e-Sports such as the League of Legends (LoL).
3. Value Betting
Winning and losing is all part & parcel of value betting. But your “plus EV edge” means that you’ll end up on top over the long-haul.
Profitable value bettors operate using bookmaker accounts and, in some cases, betting exchanges like Betfair. Whatever platform they use, pros treat their sports value bets as if they were investments in the financial markets.
Finding Value Bets
There’s two main types of value bets:
- Odds that go on to fall (i.e they drop). If you are able to preempt when odds will decline in value, then you’re onto a winning strategy. When odds settle (just before the start of the sports event) at a lower price to what you’ve backed, then what you have achieved is a “value bet”. I prove this concept in my Punter’s Guide To Beating The SP.
- Odds that imply an outcome is less likely to occur than reality. Rather than predicting a fall in the odds (and relying entirely on the accuracy of the market), you may already know that the real chance of an outcome happening is more likely than the odds suggest. For example, if the odds on offer are 10/1 at a Bookmaker, but you’ve calculated the “fair” chance as 7/1 then the payout on a win at the Bookmaker makes the bet profitable (assuming you’re appraisal is accurate). It’s therefore another type of “value bet”.
The easiest way to find value is to subscribe to a Value Bet Finder. This provides punters with a ‘feed’ of value odds to snap up whenever they appear at a Bookmaker. My favourite software is Trademate Sports.
I should firstly warn you that finding a legitimate tipster can be tough. There’s so many scammers out there — so you need to tread very carefully. Take the time to educate yourself on the risks involved in following tipsters by reading my post: Can Tipsters Be Trusted?
Where tipsters are concerned, finding that “diamond in the rough” is almost impossible without high levels of transparency and thorough proofing methods. That’s precisely why I recommend Tipstrr — where all results are fully audited. No more fake records, and false accounting.
Using Tipstrr you’ll connect with tons of tipsters with undeniably positive records, which will help you to build a portfolio of bets. Check out my full review: Tipstrr — Find &Follow Proofed Tipsters.
5. Strategies & Systems
While arbitrage, value betting and tipster services offer profitable selections to subscribers, bettors will have their accounts limited or closed in due course. This puts a ceiling on profitability. So there comes a point in everyone’s betting career where they’ll need to seek sustainable profits.
Professionals are highly secretive about their methods. Try Googling the “best betting strategies”, the “betting holy grail”, or the “best ways to model odds and predict sports outcomes”. What you’ll find are a lot of discussions between punters — even some pretty detailed sports betting studies that have been carried out. You’ll also be recommended a lot of Tipsters. But you won’t find anything concrete — apart from the risk-free betting techniques that I’ve listed above.
The good news is, I offer some practical advice on betting strategy creation that I haven’t seen published elsewhere. Take a look at the following:
- 10 Common Betting Strategy Mistakes. Take note of the typical errors almost every aspiring pro makes in their pursuit of a profitable, sustainable betting strategy.
- Create Your Own Football Betting Model. In search of value, bettors can model their own sports odds based on past data. For football, a betting system could be as simplistic as analysing previous scorelines. But I recommend trying to incorporate more intricate statistics — such as shots on goal, corners, possession, and expected goals.
- The Importance Of A Large Sample Size In Betting Analysis. Collect as much data as possible: don’t underestimate the importance in using a large sample size to base your decisions around.
Remember that for any winning strategy, there needs to be consistent value in your bets. So if you are able to accurately model the chance of an event occurring, and can find odds at a greater value than your calculations, then you’re onto a good thing.
6. Sports Trading
Following on nicely from strategies & systems, is trading on the Betting Exchanges. While all of the same principles of value betting apply to sports trading, it involves an even greater element of skill and discipline.
The efficiency of the betting exchange is often debated. But I have absolutely no doubt in my standpoint. I’ve collected tens of thousands of data points, and ran hundreds upon hundreds of strategies to reach my conclusion, which is:
- In an active sports trading market, the odds are (on average) an accurate reflection of the real life chance of an event occurring. Betfair prices are sharp — unlike Bookie odds.
So if you want to become a successful Betfair trader, you’ll need to be smart, dedicated, and willing to disregard poor advice such as “go with your gut”. In short: you need to be smarter, or know something more intelligent than the collective ‘crowd‘, on the exchange. This takes a highly methodical approach.
Throughout this website I offer advice on many ways you can separate yourself from the average trader. Here’s a summary of some of the key points:
- Learn basic trading strategies. The Sports Trading section of this site provides details on the techniques every sports trader needs to familiarise themselves with.
- Use Excel or better. You need to use a program capable of running simultaneous calculations on a large set of data. MATLAB is a good option.
- Request your prices. On the betting exchange you have the option to request a better price than what’s available. This is one of the main advantages to using sites like Betfair, so you should take advantage where possible.
- Learn when to strike. Through practice and data collection, you will learn to improve the timing of your bets. It’s a vitally important skill — because once the market readjusts and corrects itself, value betting opportunities vanish as prices revert back to being (approximately) correct again.
- Invest in software. Sports trading is highly competitive. You cannot expect to find an edge if you’re slow to the punch. Subscribe to a Betfair trading tool or Betfair Bot to react quickly to new information.
- Use less-popular markets. The most popular markets tend to be more efficient/accurate, and therefore offer less value to punters. Focus on ones that contain less public knowledge (represented by liquidity on the exchange).
- Be original. Search for data items or influences that the betting markets (i.e. the public) either give too little — or too much — attention to. This will help to identify a bias and give you an advantage. I recommend reading my posts on Expected Goals, and Football Data.
- Don’t let the market influence your estimates. If you refer too heavily on betting markets/odds to form your own estimates then you defeat the point in what you’re trying to achieve: beating the market!
- Be aware of changes in variables. For horse racing this could be a non-runner. In football a key player (e.g striker) may be injured in training and it affects an upcoming fixture. Consider whether or not your trading model is impacted by these changes.
The problem you will inevitably run into is that, for the most part, you won’t be the only person who’s attempted (or attempting) your approach. As pessimistic as it sounds, your view is unlikely to outsmart the opinions of thousands of others combined on the betting exchange. That’s the reality of sports trading.
Here’s a summary of every problem I’ve encountered, and overcame, in attempting to become a successful sports trader: 10 Biggest Problems Betfair Traders Face
Bonus: Become a Tipster!
Ok, this one isn’t technically professional betting.
There are however plenty of Tipsters that make a successful living by selling their selections to a gambling audience. So if you’re able to build up an active Twitter following, or a gambling-oriented mailing list, then perhaps you can achieve this too.
To prove your worth and demonstrate transparency to potential subscribers, I recommend signing up to Tipstrr where you can create a Tipster profile to publish your selections.
Do You Have The Mentality To Be A Professional Bettor?
There are a number of basic misconceptions about sports betting, such as:
- “There’s no point betting at high odds. It doesn’t ever win”
- “The Bookmaker always gets it right” and
- “Why would I use Betfair? Bookies have the best odds.”
There’s plenty more which I’ve included in my list of the Top 10 Sports Betting Myths. Make a mental note of these, as it’ll put you in good stead while you’re starting out.
You’ll need to disregard much of the common advice given by the majority of sports betting affiliate sites, and approach your project with an open mind.
The most successful bettors tend to be the ones that have no inclination to try and “pick the winners”, nor have any interest in the actual event (ironically). It’s the methodical approaches to gambling that are most successful.
But does it all have to be so… mathsy? Can’t we spot value from intuition, or knowledge of a sport?
I’ve asked these questions to myself. So I tried placing ‘Mug bets‘ on every remaining Premier League fixture for the season. The selections were based solely on my opinion. At the end of my experiment, I broke even with a 0.00% ROI (after Betfair commission was paid). The results are published in my article: Can You Earn From Mug Betting?
Yet, somehow, we all know a bloke who claims to “smash the Bookies” without having any technical knowledge whatsoever.
I accept that some people are wiser at betting than others. I also accept that some people have a great ‘sense’ for identifying value. But to bet without mathematical justification goes against everything I believe in, and write about on this site. Successful sports betting is a long-term game, backed up by a large sample of data. Hitting hot streaks from a few winners over the weekend is fun, but ultimately proves nothing.
So without a doubt, you need to be analytical to reach the highest levels of professional sports betting. And if that’s not you, then no sweat. There’s nothing to stop you exploiting several of the entry-level techniques outlined earlier on in this post. That still puts you light-years ahead of the pack.
Bottom line — you can earn a living from sports betting. Only some people will go further than others. That’s life for you.
For more information on making a living from sports betting, I recommend reading Smart Sports Trader’s Simple Guide To Making Money From Sports Betting.
Originally published on 8 November 2016, and updated for 2022.
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