Here’s a question that’s regularly asked: can you make a living from sports betting?
Most of the time the answer you’ll hear is a confident, flat-out “no”. That’s often followed up by a clique such as “it’s a mug’s game”. Fair enough, it is a mug’s game for some people.
But professional gamblers do exist — so you can most definitely make a living from sports betting…
Risk Free Betting
I talk a lot about the following two risk-free approaches on this website:
- Matched Betting. This is for earning money from betting bonuses & here. . I’ve written a detailed beginners guide
- Arbitrage Betting. Following on from Matched Betting, some bettors arb sports betting companies, profiting from differences in their odds. More info
Matched Betting and Arbing are an excellent starting point for bettors looking to take a professional route. These methods teach you how to use decimal odds, and require that you become accustomed to using Betfair. For both techniques you’ll have to apply the “Back high, Lay low” philosophy, backing value at the Bookmaker to lock-in risk free profits.
Arbing opportunities extend to many different markets. Sports betting blog Church of Betting points out that arbs even exist in popular e-Sports such as, the League of Legends (LoL). Learn more here.
Are Matched Bettors & Arbers Classified as ‘Professionals’?
For Arbing or Matched Betting to serve as a full-time income you need to have specialist software or “finders” to scan for betting opportunities across a variety of sports and markets. You’d [probably] also need to share resources — such as betting accounts, time and bankroll — with other people (colleagues, essentially).
Finding Matched Betting and Arbing opportunities isn’t difficult or expensive nowadays. The following 2 posts recommend the best services available. They provide tons of value, to more than justify their fee. Both of the services considerably cut down the time and effort wasted in searching for opportunities manually:
‘Value’, in betting terms, is presented when the odds suggest that the selection isn’t as likely to win as it really is. Value betting puts the ‘edge’ in the player’s favour, meaning it’s profitable long-term. Professionals make a living from it.
We don’t hear much about value betting professionals. The fact is, the guys that are consistently winning don’t tend to talk about it too much — probably in fear of giving away their secrets.
Profitable sports bettors often operate on betting exchanges like Betfair and treat sports bets like investments in the stock market. From my experience there’s two main approaches to value betting:
- Identify odds that go on to fall (i.e they drop). Generally if you are able to correctly predict odds that 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” that’s profitable long-term. I discuss and prove this concept in my Punter’s Guide To Beating The SP.
- Identify odds that imply the chance of an outcome happening as less likely than reality. This is similar to the above point except that you aren’t necessarily predicting a fall in the odds. Instead you know that the real chance of an outcome happening is more likely than the odds suggest. For example, the odds could be 10/1 at a Bookmaker, but you’ve got the “fair” chance down as 7/1. If you’re correct, then it means that the payout on a win at the Bookmaker is profitable for the punters long-term. It’s therefore another type of “value bet”.
I've written several Blog posts which go into detail about value betting. For proof of case (1), with a full a breakdown of results, be sure to read my post: .
Finding Value is Difficult
Finding value using your own betting system or model isn’t straightforward — it takes hard work. Nobody is going to just hand you the answers. And if they did, then the opportunities would be competitive and very short-lived. Hence why professionals are secretive.
Try Google searching for the best betting strategies or formulas, the betting “holy grail”, or the best ways to model odds and predict sports outcomes. What you’ll find are a lot of suggestions and discussions — even some very detailed sports betting studies that have been carried out. You’ll also be recommended a lot of Tipsters. Essentially you won’t find anything concrete, apart from the risk-free betting techniques that i’ve listed above.
Be cautious with tipping services. For more information read about My Experience With A Well-Known Professional Sports Tipping Service.
Recommended Value Betting Software
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. To learn more, read my post on Value Betting Software, where I recommend Trademate Sports. It’s well worth the subscription fee.
Note: value betting services offer profitable bets to subscribers because the opportunities are limited. Value bettors will have the betting accounts limited or closed, which puts a ceiling on the profitability. The same goes for arbing.
I Want My Own Method for Finding Value!
In pursuit of value, most bettors try to model their own sports odds based on past data. To do this you need to study past results.
For football your betting model could be as simplistic as analysing previous scorelines. But I recommend trying to incorporate more intricate statistics — such as shots on goal, corners, possession, etc. (read on, and i’ll explain why). If you believe that the estimates you calculate are an accurate representation of chance, then this suggests that any odds available at a greater price than your calculations are value bets. This is therefore profitable long-term.
I've delved into a lot more detail on this topic in my post: The Basics Of Creating a Football Prediction Betting Model.
Do You Have Any Tips for Creating My Own Betting Model, or Probabilities?
Yes. Here’s a summary of the key points.
- 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.
- 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.
- Collect as much data as possible: don’t underestimate the importance in using a large sample size. Read more info on this here.
- 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 model is impacted by these changes.
The problem you will inevitably run into is that for the most past you won’t be the only person who’s attempted your approach. Your own odds are unlikely to beat the opinions of thousands of others combined on the betting exchange. In short: you need to be smarter, or know something more intelligent than the collective Wisdom of the ‘Crowd‘.
You’ve got to be smart to beat the crowd.
Sounds Tough. Is there any Hope that We Can Beat the Crowd?
Yes, there is hope. The betting markets have incorrect prices every single day. Here’s some tips:
- Try to react quickly to new information: you may need the assistance of a news feed, or market monitoring tool. Betfair Tools or Trading Bots are essential for helping you to get to prices first.
- Get the best price: the best value odds are almost always available on the Betfair exchange. There are however some other advantages to using Bookmakers, and these are listed here.
- 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).
- 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.
The trick is knowing when to strike. Getting there before others is essential. Once the market readjusts and corrects itself, the value betting opportunity vanishes and the price reverts back to being (approximately) correct again.
But Does it All Have to Be So… Methodical and Mathsy? Can You Spot Value from Intuition, or Knowledge of a Sport?
To bet without mathematical justification goes against everything I believe in, and write about on this site. But I haven’t ever proved that intuition alone can’t find value. I just haven’t ever seen sufficient evidence that anyone earns a living by simply backing selections formed solely on opinion. Have you?
We all know a bloke who claims to “smash the Bookies”. I can accept that hot streaks occur. I can also accept that some people are smarter at betting than others. But do any of those blokes ever quit their jobs and make long-term money from betting? Or is it purely recreational?
I’m not dismissing that some people may have a knack for identifying value. But you do need a big sample size to be sure of that. Selecting a couple of bets over the weekends doesn’t suffice.
UPDATE: I'm trialling how well I perform from placing 'Mug bets' on every remaining Premier League fixture this season. The selections are based solely on my opinion. Will I turn a decent profit from basing selections on my knowledge of the sport and 'feel' for value? Or will my intuition fail me? Monitor my progress here.
Being a Tipster
Ok, this one isn’t technically professional betting. But there are plenty of Tipsters that make a successful living by selling their selections to a gambling audience. If you’re able to build up an active Twitter following, or a gambling-oriented mailing list then perhaps you can achieve this too.
How About Betting on Tips?
Note that I haven’t suggested that you bet on tips yourself as a profession.
The concept of paying for a Tipster and instantly earning yourself money trivialises just how difficult it is to find longterm profits from betting. Punters believing that their Tipster provides ‘insider knowledge’ unknown to the public or ‘dead certs’, are probably most vulnerable to losing large sums of cash.
We all want an edge in our bets, but it doesn’t mean that we should throw money at a convenient tipping service just because it promises results. You’re a lot better off trying to find value yourself.
Are any Tipsters Genuine?
Perhaps. It’s not inconceivable that a Tipster could sell genuine knowledge at a safe, steady profit. After all, it’s unfair to presume that everyone with knowledge on a sport has a huge bankroll, a high risk tolerance and the desire to place large bets themselves. It’s therefore possible that Tipsters reduce their risk by offering their knowledge as as service.
For further reading, here’s my posts on Tipsters:
- Do Betting Tipsters Offer Value? Can They Be Trusted?
- My Experience With A Well-Known Professional Sports Tipping Service
- Betting Gods Tipping Service — It’s Not A Scam, But Does It Work?
Do You Have The Mentality To Be A Professional Bettor?
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.
Additionally, there are a number of common 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 better odds.”
There’s plenty more on my list of the Top 10 Sports Betting Myths. It might prove helpful in adjusting your mentality. Let me know if you disagree to any of my points.
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.