What Is Lay Betting? — Lay Bets & Liability Explained

As soon as you begin to look past traditional Bookmakers and into alternative platforms — such as sports betting exchanges — you’ll immediately see the benefits. But you’ll also be faced with new concepts, such as the Lay bet.

A Lay bet is where you bet against a specific outcome, acting as a Bookmaker does for ‘Back’ bets placed by their customers. Via a betting exchange, you accept the ‘liability’ (risk) of paying out Backer’s bets at the odds agreed. On the other hand, if the Backer’s bet loses, you keep their stake.

To many novice punters Lay bets sound complicated. But I’m going to explain precisely how Lay bets work, where you can place them, and how to use them to your advantage.


Lay Bets & “Liability” Explained

The best way to fully understand how a Lay bet works is to imagine that you’re becoming a Bookmaker and setting the odds for a bet. By Laying an outcome, you accept bets on it, and want the outcome to lose — otherwise you’ll have to pay out winnings according to the odds set. When you place the Lay bet, your stake is matched to other traders on the exchange that wish to ‘Back’ the outcome to win.

When you place a Lay bet you take on a risk — known as the “liability” — which is the amount you could end up paying a ‘Backers’ that matched against your stake. The liability of a Lay bet is always dependent on the stake and odds agreed with the punter.


Suppose that a trader places £10 Back stake at decimal odds of 4.0 for Everton to beat Chelsea in a Premier League match.

That bet is matched to £10 worth of Lay stakes made against Everton at 4.0 by the Betting Exchange. For simplicity lets assume that the ‘Backer’s’ entire £10 stake is matched with one trader which I’ll refer to as the ‘Layer’.

There’s three possible outcomes of the game:

  1. Everton wins. The Layer loses and has to pay the Backer out.
  2. Draw. The Layer wins and keeps the Backer’s £10 stake.
  3. Chelsea wins. The Layer wins and keeps the Backer’s £10 stake.

So in 2/3 of the outcomes the Layer wins. But the big question is: how much will the Layer pay out on an Everton win?

To work this out, you simply use the formula below:

Stake x (DecimalOdds -1).

You always subtract the 1 from the odds because you only have to pay winning punters their profits — not their stake as well.

In this example it’s: £10 x (4.0 -1) = £30. 

So the Layer stands to lose £30 in this exchange, which is known as the liability, or risk, of their Lay bet.

Rather than calculating your Lay bets manually, I recommend using an online Lay calculator.


With any Lay bet the Layer can:

  • Win the amount Layed, and no more (which is £10 in the above example).
  • Lose the liability, which can be greater than the stake Layed (when the odds agreed are above 2.0).

The process of Laying is identical to Bookmakers who sell odds to the public.


How to Place Lay Bets

Placing Lay bets is easy. I’ll show you how to do it on Betfair — the leading betting exchange.

In this example I’m about to place a £10 Lay stake on Huddersfield in an upcoming fixture against Manchester United.

Lay prices are always in pink on Betfair (and most exchanges, actually). They’re always higher than the (blue) Back odds. The best (lowest) Lay odds for Huddersfield are currently 11.0. There’s up to £392 available that at price.

What's A Lay Bet? What Does 'Liability' Mean? (Laying Guide)

By clicking the pink Lay odds you’re prompted to enter your stake as follows.

What's A Lay Bet? What Does 'Liability' Mean? (Laying Guide)

You’ll note the liability is £100 for this £10 Lay bet. This follows the formula of £10 x (11.0 -1) = £100. The betting account requires enough funds to cover the £100 liability in the event Huddersfield win the match.

The stake is matched with other Betfair users who want to Back Huddersfield at that price, on a first come first serve basis. The exact same principle applies to other peer-to-peer betting sites and apps.

Placing Lay bets is essential if you want to earn risk-free profits from Matched Betting.


What To Look For In a Lay Bet

The single most important thing to consider about a Lay bet is your liability (risk).

So how can you limit your liability?

Here’s my suggestions:

Lay at the Lowest Odds Possible

Remember that when you’re the Backer you must always try to bet at the highest possible odds to maximise your value — thereby reducing the Bookies’ edge. So on the flip side, where you’re acting as the Layer (or the Bookie), you want the lowest odds possible on your Lay bets.

Always shop around at different betting exchanges for the best (lowest) Lay odds. Also request (queue) lower prices on the betting exchange in order to reduce your liability — although you won’t always get matched if your odds are too low. But overall requesting prices helps to cuts down the amount you need to pay Backers if they win.

Lay When The Odds Are Value

Whenever you place a Lay bet, look for Lay odds that imply the outcome is much more likely to happen than it really is. In other words, when the odds are lower than they should be.

So if for example you believe the true odds of an outcome are 3.0 (which implies a 33.33% chance of happening) and the Lay price in the market is 2.5 (which implies 40% chance), then you’d want to take that Lay bet. This is because the 2.5 price is great value for Layers, and poor value for the Backers.

This type of ‘value Lay bet’ situation occurs when an outcome of a sport event is over-hyped. For example there might be a bias or favouritism surrounding a football team, creating lower prices.

You can benefit from compiling your own odds from statistics to formulate your decisions.

Watch the Bookmakers’ Odds

Bare in mind that Bookmakers earn from Laying. This in itself implies that their odds are underpriced (for Backers). Therefore you want to be Laying at odds close to the Bookies’ odds.

That said, always use as much of your own analyses and expertise on a sport to determine your own target Lay prices. Contrary to popular belief, Bookmakers aren’t always right (see sports betting myths).


Where to Place Lay Bets

Traditionally, Lay bets were for Bookies only. But ever since Betfair and other sports betting exchanges burst onto the scene there’s no shortage of sites enabling regular punters to “become the Bookmaker”.

Here’s where I recommend placing Lay bets:

  • Matchbook Betting Exchange


    The User must enter Bonus Code ‘COMMFREE90’ during registration. Only available to users who deposit via credit or debit cards. New customers only.

    #ad. 18+, begambleaware.org, T&Cs Apply


Hopefully this post has helped you to understand how Lay bets work. Remember that whatever odds you Lay at — no matter how high — there’s always a chance the outcome will win and you’ll have to pay out. So limit your risk and fully test your strategy.


Toby @ Punter2Pro
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