Mug Betting — Why Regular Punters Eventually Lose

A Mug Bet is simply betting without any advantage or ‘edge’. The vast majority of sports bettors can be classified as “Mug Bettors” or “Mugs” for short, as harsh as that sounds. But the truth is, Mug Betting relies so heavily on good fortune that the approach will inevitably lose money to the Bookies in the long run.

I wanted to know just how much regular football punters are likely to lose over the course of the season, and whether I defy the odds by turning a profit using only my personal opinion on the upcoming event. So I placed a £5 bet on every Premier League fixture for the remainder of the season, at an equal £5 stake.

How do you think I performed? Read on to find out.


The Mug Betting Experiment


Every seasoned bettor knows a guy, or follows someone on Twitter, who claims to “smash the bookies”. Now, these guys might have hot streaks. They might be smarter at betting than others. But do they ever quit their jobs and make a living from sports betting alone?

Not in my experience. 

Needless to say, I don’t always believe the extent of success stories I hear and read about within the sports betting community. Once I know that an approach doesn’t involve using a mathematically proven edge, I tend to switch off entirely.

Nonetheless, I was intrigued to find out whether I could succeed by backing one selection in every remaining Premier League fixture, equipped with only one tool: my opinion. I wanted to emulate the average gambler to test whether there’s a skill element that mpacts sports betting performance, which cannot be quantified.

Thus the “Mug Betting Experiment” was formed. I decided to use the Betfair exchange Match Odds market to ensure I obtained the best available odds at the time of betting; I wouldn’t dare use Bookmakers for this. I posted up my selections well before the match-day.

What I Hoped To Answer

  1. Just how well can I fair by relying solely on my intuition and knowledge of Premier League football?
  2. Will my knowledge of value betting prove to be advantageous to the experiment, or will it be worthless without proper analysis?
  3. What kind of expectations should Mug Punters have when betting on multiple fixtures over the course of a season?
  4. Can I remain unbiased in my selections despite my allegiance to Spurs?

What I Predicted

I predicted, in my original version of this blog post, that my Mug Bets would break even. The reality could’ve been a lot better. Or much, much worse.

This might sound pessimistic. But I had, and still do, have faith in the efficiency of the betting markets. I’ve never had faith in my own ability to beat those markets using guesswork alone.


The Results Went Exactly As Expected

It’s spooky just how accurate my prediction for the Mug Bets experiment was.


The result of all 270 bets yielded a 0.00% ROI, once the Betfair commission of 5% was applied. The profit ended at just +£4.33 by the end of the experiment.

Think about that for a second. After 270 Mug Bets, I was almost exactly even.

the running pnl graph of the Mug bets:

Chart by Visualizer

By all means check through the Week-by-week updates published here, if you find it a little hard to believe.

The 270 bets placed was enough to gain a reasonable insight into my performance. To put things into perspective, I placed the equivalent of 2 bets every weekend for 2.59 years (assuming no summer break). It’s safe to say I had no edge in my “strategy”.

How Did I Predict The Outcome So Accurately?

Before the experiement I knew from experience that by using the betting exchange and sticking to a fixed  stake, I’d stand a good chance of breaking even or losing only a small percentage of the total stake (after commission).

So it seemed logical — opposed to pessimistic — that I wouldn’t lose or gain much profit over a sample of 270 Mug Bets. I was right.


What The Results Prove

The Need For Value

With any type of gambling there’s an an ‘edge’ — usually in favour of the Bookmaker or Casino. You absolutely need a way of picking the odds in your favour in order to earn a profit.

It’s not about “picking winners” and it’s not about good fortune. It’s about achieving value in the bets/wagers you place, so that you will eventually come out on top. Most people simply don’t have this advantage — I didn’t have this advantage.

Ultimately, even a seasoned sports bettor cannot succeed without a proper betting model to back up their selections.

I just backed what I thought looked like value, or what I ‘felt’ was a good bet. The approach wasn’t sophisticated enough. And despite the peaks and troughs of my running PnL, the overall conclusion is that I couldn’t beat the accuracy of the odds on such a liquid, busy marketplace.

To learn more, read my page on Value Betting.

The Superiority of Betting Exchange Odds

Quietly, I am quite proud of the result I achieved in the Mug Betting Experiment. But I have the betting exchange to thank for that.

If I’d placed all of these bets at Bookmakers, the results would’ve been significantly worse — in a hefty loss, in fact.

Bookmakers have much lower odds than the Betting Exchanges. Precisely how much lower depends on the site, markets, size of the odds, and liquidity/demand, among other factors. Reasonably speaking you’d expect the odds at the Bookies to be 5-15% lower than Betfair for Premier League fixtures.

So if we take the best and worst case scenarios I’d have the following results:

  • 5% lower: -£35.63 (-2.64% ROI)
  • 15% lower: -£115.57 (-8.56% ROI)

Big difference.

The experiment is truly testament to how much better off sports bettors are for using the betting exchanges.


Challenges Posed By The Experiment

The experiment created the types of challenges bettors will face on regular basis.

When Is It Safe To Raise The Stakes?

Look at the results up until 80 bets in. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a winning trend.

Up until 80 bets in 
Chart by Visualizer

If I had raised the stakes here (as many bettors would) I would’ve have convincingly lost money from the experiment. The PnL was almost entirely downhill from this point onward (apart from one enormous win when Watford beat Arsenal at the Emirates).

To tackle this problem, I suggest that you constantly monitor your current ROI and always stay realistic with your expectations. You’re looking to achieve 5-10% ROI, that’s all. This sample was sitting well outside my expectations, at +35.37%. That ROI couldn’t possibly hold steady. It was inevitable that the results would ‘even out’, and I predicted the downfall several times throughout the Mug Bets week-by-week updates.

The moral: It doesn’t matter if you’re winning or losing now — it matters where you’ll be in the long-run. Raising the stakes after a short winning streak is very dangerous. You can learn more about Betting swings from my post on variance.

Why Did My Profit Drop Off?

Well, one theory I have is that I was doing a good job to begin with — but I lost my edge.

There were a number of predictions on my Best Tips For Premier League Football Betting 2016/17, which I used to support my selections. For example, I thought Man United and West Ham (relatively speaking), were hugely over-hyped by the media during the summer. I also believed Chelsea would bounce back from their poor 2015/16 campaign. These ideas helped me to find price inaccuracies in the early half of the season.

But I felt the odds were becoming increasingly sharp as the season went on. As the public sussed out the rough standings of the 20 teams, my once ‘wise‘ ideas were now held by the majority. The odds became more accurate, and I lost my ability to identify value. I needed fresh ideas to maintain my edge — but I didn’t have them.

The other thought I had was that I was just very lucky to begin with, and variance eventually evened itself out.

Either way, the positive start was never going to continue in that fashion.

Was I Biased Towards Spurs?

No, actually. In fact, I didn’t have enough faith in them.

Of the 27 Spurs games during the ‘Mug Betting Experiment’ I backed Spurs to:

  • WIN 16 times (Correct bets: 11)
  • DRAW 9 times (Correct bets: 0)

And I backed their opponents to:

  • WIN 2 times (Correct bets: 1)

The obvious downfall here is that I incorrectly backed the Draw far too many times (9). Of those instances, Spurs won all 9 times. If I’d have been more biased/faithful, then I wouldn’t have suffered a crippling -£45 loss on the ‘Draw’ selections alone.

Arguably, I may have overcompensated when it came to Spurs. I was aware that I could be unintentionally biased. Perhaps I subconsciously avoided backing them too often.

Chart by Visualizer

Based on this small sample, it looks as if I started to gain more faith in Spurs as the season went on. But I wasn’t rewarded for this — because the odds evidently didn’t have much value. This suggests the majority of others also agreed that Spurs were going to win most of their remaining games and finish high in the table.


Could I Have Done Better?

Perhaps I’d have done better if I didn’t bet on every remaining fixture. I often found it restrictive choosing a selection from a fixture where I didn’t see value in any of the 3 outcomes. If I allowed myself to skip matches, I would have been more selective.

But if I seriously wanted to improve my results and earn a profit from the Premier League betting markets, then I’d need something more than just my opinion. That’s for sure.

The bottom line is: you and I may know more about football than others do, but we still need to know something more than the crowd in order to be profitable. So I hope this article prevents you from being too much of a Mug going forward!


Toby @ Punter2Pro
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