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 & free bets. 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.
Matched Betting familiarises newcomers with using the decimal odds format, and the Betfair exchange. It’s the first major step into professional sports betting.
Mastering Matched Betting
As a starting point, check out my detailed beginners guide to Matched Betting to learn more.
However, in order to maximise your profits 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 Profit Accumulator.
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.
For a basic arbitrage bet you’ll have to apply the “Back high, Lay low” philosophy. This means backing value odds at the Bookmaker and then Laying against it with an opposing exchange bet at lower odds in order to lock-in risk free profits. It’s the crux of successful sports trading.
Finding Arbitrage Bets
Arbitrage opportunities are short-lived, so you’ll need an arb finder to frequently identify them.
Undoubtedly, Rebelbetting stands out as the top-notch and highly proficient arbing service available in the market. Its swiftness, user-friendly interface and continuous development make it the most sought-after arbitrage application today.
3. Value Betting
Once you’ve built up a bankroll from the risk-free methods of Matched Betting and Arbing, then it’s time to move onto techniques which require that you to take calculated risks.
‘Value’, in betting terms, is presented when the odds suggest that the selection isn’t as likely to win as it really is. By picking value odds, the ‘edge’ is in the player’s favour.
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.
There’s two main types of value bets:
- Odds that go on to fall (i.e they drop). If you are able to pre-empt 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”.
Finding Value Bets
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.
An alternative to subscribing to value bet feed is following a tipster service.
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?
Finding Trustworthy Tipsters
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 proofing sites such as Tipstrr — where all results are fully audited. No more fake records, or 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.
Finding value using your own betting system or model is the way to go. But it isn’t straightforward — it takes hard work. Nobody is going to just hand you a winning formula. And if they did, then those opportunities would be competitive and very short-lived.
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.
Learn the Basics of Creating a Strategy
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.
Becoming a successful sports trader is incredibly difficult. It’s estimated that less than 1% of Betfair’s customers earn a consistent profit. And this is partly because the markets are so quick to correct. In other words, they’re highly efficient.
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.
Learn the Basics of Sports Trading
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:
- 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
Where Do I Begin?
Ready to begin your professional sports betting journey?
For the maximum chance of success, I recommend that the above techniques are tackled in “phases”, where you progress according to your experience and risk tolerance levels.
Phase 1: Use Risk-Free Strategies
If you’re completely new to betting strategies (or even sports betting as a whole), I recommend that you start out with Matched Betting, and move onto Arbitrage Betting.
These two (very similar) risk-free betting strategies will boost your bankroll. They’ll also help you to grasp how the sports betting markets differ between bookmakers and exchanges, and what it takes to generate money from them.
By mastering Matched Betting and Arbitrage you’ll be equipped with the basic knowledge and skills required for taking on more complex, higher risk techniques later on down the line.
Phase 2: Find Value Bets
Unlike Matched Betting or Arbing, Value Betting carries risk — so this approach is recommended for seasoned bettors with a sizeable bankroll.
Value betting is the crux of any successful betting strategy, and it can be achieved in many ways, including:
- Following out-of-the-box value bet feeds
- Using reliable, proofed tipsters
- Analysing statistics to identify price inaccuracies
- Identifying little-known “niches” in sports
- Refining your selection method
Much of this site is focused on the logic and reasoning behind value betting, and why it needs to be at the forefront of your strategies.
Phase 3: Become A Trader
Armed with the foundations and experience of Value Betting, you’ll be in a solid position to start trading on the betting exchanges. Many of the same principles apply (e.g. odds, market movements, the importance value), but trading requires a whole new set of skills.
Sports trading markets are both competitive and efficient – so you’ll need to work hard to fight your way into the so-called “1% club” of consistently profitable traders. But the upsides in doing so are, potentially, enormous. The scope for growth and automation goes far beyond many other forms of betting.
On this site I aim to point out common errors made by sports traders, and what techniques you can use to better predict the markets. I also recommend the best trading tools available, which are essential for serious bettors!
Much like a financial investor spreads funds around in varied stocks and shares, a serious bettor should think about creating a diverse “betting portfolio” of different types of bets and approaches. That way successes from one approach will cover – or at least offset – losses from another.
You should build your betting portfolio according to:
- Profitability – what methods work best for you?
- Accounts – where can you place your bets?
- Time constraints – what suits your schedule?
- Technical skill – what limitations do you have on a mathematical/technical level?
- Bankroll – how much will your betting ‘pot’ allow you to do?
- Risk tolerance – what are you comfortable putting at risk?
It’s now over to you now to forge your career in professional sports betting! Be sure to read through the articles on this site for guidance along the way.
Challenges & Limitations Of Pro Betting
It’s not always going to be plain-sailing throughout your sports betting journey. There will be inevitable bumps in the road.
Here’s some of the main difficulties you’re likely to encounter.
Winning Isn’t Easy
Devising your own sports betting model or trading strategy is potentially very rewarding — but nobody’s going to tell you their secrets. So it’s over to you to find something that works on a consistent basis.
Creating, analysing and refining a sports betting model requires time, dedication and skill. Hence why so many bettors fail to generate a long-term profit.
Throughout Punter2Pro I offer tools, tips and words of wisdom. But outside of the proven strategies I recommend (e.g. matched betting, arbitrage betting), your continued success will comes down to how much you’re willing to push to outsmart the markets.
Bookmakers make life difficult for anyone exploiting their promotions or odds.
Taking advantage of free bets is generally tolerated up to a point. But your betting accounts aren’t going to survive long while betting on arbs or value bets. In time your stakes will be heavily reduced, or completely “gubbed” or “zeroed”, rendering your account(s) useless. In the most extreme cases, your account will be closed entirely.
I recommend plenty of “Winners Welcome” betting sites to help get around this problem.
Losing Your Edge
Whether you’re following a tipster or your own strategy, there’s no guarantee that previously profitable methods will maintain their good track record going forward.
Crucially, what’s working now doesn’t necessarily keep working in the future.
Throughout this site I reiterate the importance of adapting, improving, being critical of your methodologies and above all, keeping realistic expectations.
Some people are wiser at betting than others. Some 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 become highly 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.
Just keep in mind that the most successful bettors are the ones that have no inclination to try and “pick the winners”, nor have any interest in the actual event itself (ironically). It’s the methodical approaches to gambling that are most successful.
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 2023.
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Lots to digest! This is cool. I’m looking into Matched Betting first. Do you think that’s the best place to starts because its risk free? Or should I do arbing first?
Do Matched Betting first. You can take advantage of the signup offers, then arb there afterwards. If you wanted to take things a step further then I recommend value betting. Take a look at this page: http://punter2pro.com/value-betting
Is betfair trading a type of value betting? Or is it a totally different kettle of fish?
To profit from trading you generally need to be snapping up value on your trades. However, with volatility trading you can profit from the price movements regardless whether you found value – i.e. the price moved and you traded in/out.
The principle of value betting is essential if you’re not intending to trading out of a bet.
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Great post, it would also be great to mention the need for bags and bags of discipline.