How to bet on sports
In this sports betting guide, we look at everything a beginner should consider. We go through the basic mechanics of what the odds mean, through to where you should be betting and in loose terms what you should bet on. We also analyse where most beginners to sports betting go wrong and what mistakes you should try your best to avoid.
QUOTE Andy Heaford
The following article is based on my (and my colleagues) real life experiences. And it is our - as Match.Center team - genuine advice to someone new to betting. We are not omnipotent, and perhaps you will read conflicting advice elsewhere. That is fine, it just means someone else has a different opinion. Here at Match.Center we say our honest opinions and we are happy to tell the truth even if it is not popular to do so. These are our opinions and they come from almost twenty years of gambling online and joining over 400 online gambling sites in the process.
How to Bet on Sports: 9 Tips for Beginners
The UK sports betting industry was worth around £14Bn in 2019 and there were reported to be 24 million adult gamblers in Britain in 2020, which is nearly 50% of the population. Despite these huge numbers of people taking part it is sobering to remember that fewer than 3% of gamblers make a long run profit and that compares to 1.4m problem gambling addicts. So please play responsibly and look at this as an interesting hobby and gamble for fun rather than treat it as a money-making enterprise as such.
Most popular betting types
The most common type of betting in the UK is actually playing the National Lottery, which is not surprising. When looking at betting online the different types can be broken down into: Sports betting, Casino, Bingo, Poker, and Other*. We will be looking at just sports betting online for this article.
In the UK in 2019 most of the sports bets placed were on Football. Since the UK's Premier League is easily the most exciting in the World, with games spread out to maximise the TV audiences, this is not really a suprise. Almost 47% of all money spent on online betting was on football in 2019. In the UK other popular sports events were horse racing with 27.3% and then a big drop to tennis in third with 5.9%.
Understanding odds and calculating payouts
Understanding odds is very important and although it can sometimes appear confusing it should not be once you master a few basic principles. There are a few different ways to express the odds but you should know that they are all the same thing, just written differently. They are all nothing more than an expression of the ratio between how much you give the bookmaker as your stake (bet) and how much you will get back from him in return (your profit).
The two main types of betting odds that you will see in UK are Fractional, as you would expect these are displayed as fractions, and Decimal, again as you would expect these are decimal numbers. If something has a 50% chance of happening, for example you are tossing a coin, then these odds will be displayed as:
Fractions: 1/1 (It may be written as Evens) or Decimal: 2.0
Fractional odds represent the amount you win (the first number) and the amount you bet (the second number), the total return if you win is both of those numbers added together. Decimal varies by displaying your total return only, and when you use decimal odds your stake amount is always represented as 1.
So if you are betting £1, using the Fractional odds system you can see that you bet £1, if you win then you win £1, so your total return is £2. It is the same with decimal, you know your total return will be 2 (£2), you staked 1 (£1) so you have £1 profit. They come to the same results just in a different way. It is like saying A+B = C, and C-B = A. It is the same thing.
Another example would be rolling a dice to get a 6. The odds of this are:
Fractions: 5/1 and Decimal 6
If it is a 6 then your profit is £5, you staked £1 originally so a total return of £6. Again with Decimal you first see your total return is £6, you know you staked £1, so £5 must be the profit.
Of course you will not always bet £1 so this is just the ratio of your actual stake amount. With fractions, you can multiply your return by whatever your stake amount is, for example betting £5 at 5/1 means you will win £5 x 6 = £30 profit, so your stake and your profit equals £35. With decimal, you can see your total return is now £5 x 6 = £30 as well. You can take off your stake amount of £5 to see that the net profit is £30.
For large odds bets fractions are quite convenient but in recent years decimal (originally popular in Europe) has taken over due to being more specific and more accurate for odds on sports wagers. To see why look at the comparisons look like:
Possible Fractional Odds
You can see there is no easy way to bet at 1.24, or 1.22, or 1.23. or 1.24 using Fractions, but with Decimals, it is as easy as 1,2,3! Of course, you can get close but it requires ever more complex fractions and decimal is just a much easier way to calculate potential payouts.
(There is also American Odds, where the chances of rolling a 6 would be expressed as +600 but this is very rare to ever see at online sportsbooks for UK customers and it certainly won't be your only option.)
Choose the sports you want to bet on
We would suggest placing sports bets initially on something you enjoy watching and that you have good background knowledge on. This means that even if the bet loses you hopefully enjoyed watching the game, and since you know a lot about it there is some chance that you may actually win. It is better than betting on sports you know nothing about anyway.
There are a massive number of sports betting options available for you to choose from. This list is not exhaustive but at a minimum you can consider:
American Football, Aussie Rules Football, Baseball, Basketball, Boxing, Cricket, Cycling, Darts, Esports, Football, Gaelic Games, Golf, Greyhound Racing, Handball, Horse Racing, Ice Hockey, Mixed Martial Arts, MotorSports, Politics, Rugby League, Rugby Union, Snooker, Tennis, Volleyball.
Those are the staples, you would also have "Special bets" which could span from who will win an Oscar through to will it snow on Christmas day! Then you also have Chess, Surfing, Petanque, Athletics, and Triathlon. The amount of events you can place a sports bet on is surprisingly large and you are free to bet on just one or you can bet on them all, it is up to you.
Read the news and features of the sport you want to bet on
This is good advice because it is true that knowledge is power. Being aware of what is happening on and off the pitch is a great tool for analysing what is likely to happen in the future. It is therefore the key to finding value bets.
Having said that, do not read too much. We recommend that you set a limit of two hours a day, and that is the MAXIMUM, less than that is usually fine too. There is more information available these days than you can possibly digest and the modern standard of journalism relies on sensationalist headlines and clickbait so that you will quickly find yourself more confused than before you started.
How Much to Bet
There is an old adage "never bet more than you can afford to lose" which is certainly good advice. We go a step further than that and suggest never betting "more than you care about". You should be able to lose and not care, doing so is the best way to stop the red mist from descending and you from going on tilt.
A more specific answer, once the above is a given, comes down to your bankroll management. It is advisable to have a betting bankroll separate from your main finances, that way you are not dependent on a win to pay your bills, and you do not accidentally spend the rent money this month! Once you have ringfenced these funds, either into a separate bank account or into an E-Wallet like PayPal or Skrill, then setting a few ground rules is a good idea.
There is no right and wrong to these rules and you must pick what feels sensible for you but we can tell you when we place bets online we never place >1% of our bankroll on one sports wager and we never have over 5% of our bankroll in one bookmaker.
Those are the maximums. Having established that 1% of the maximum, it is quite common to then divide that by 5 (each being 1pt), and depending on how strongly you feel about the bet you can place either 1pt through to a max bet 5pts on it. You will notice that by doing this your bet size will naturally raise as you are winning, making you win money more quickly, but also naturally apply the breaks and lower your bet size when you are losing, making it virtually impossible to ever bust out completely.
Where to place a bet
This is a good question and there are a number of things to consider. Firstly we are assuming that the question relates to online sports betting because if you are looking to do in-person betting at either the race course or at a bookmaker on the high street then the answers will be different.
For sports betting on the internet, you are in the very luxurious position of having a huge number of bookmakers to choose from and you can even bet at them all if you wish. There is little reason to be loyal to one site when sports betting on the internet, instead you should be comparing odds and going to the one offering the best value at the time.
Things that you will want to consider before joining anywhere though do include what payment method you will be using. Some bookmakers only accept certain deposit methods full stop, and even more have attached payment restrictions to their Welcome bonuses. If the bookmaker has banking methods convenient to you then they pass the first hurdle.
The next thing to consider is the Welcome bonus on offer, and would the first bet you are intending to place be an acceptable qualifying bet for this? If it would (double check what the min odds needed are) then placing the bet here where you get a bonus of some kind makes a lot more sense than betting somewhere with no reward.
You want to be betting on sports at places that have the markets you are looking for, these could be point spreads, the exact score, handicap markets, over / under goals, and even the total number of corners. You want as many types of bets to choose from as possible AND you want competitive odds. They do not always HAVE to be the very best, but they should always be there or thereabouts.
There are finally other things to consider specific to your circumstances, if you are going to be betting on the move a lot then check the quality of their mobile App. If you are going to be live betting then do they have live streaming of the games and races so you can watch along? Are there boosted odds on the markets that you are interested in and do they have the proposition bets that you want?
You could also check what responsible gambling measures they have in place if this is something that you feel you could need. If they have none then this may not be the bookmaker for you.
Improve your betting skills
It is best, in our opinion, to keep it simple when you start betting and just bet on who will win the game outright (This can sometimes be called placing a "Moneyline bet"). There are so many potential things to bet on that new bettors can become overwhelmed at the start. Some football matches can have as many as 1000+ sports betting options including who will score first, the correct final score, point spread, how many points will be scored either individually or from the teams combined, the list goes on and on. Just place straight bets on who will win the game.
As time goes on with practice sports betting gets easier. It is always hard to actually win money but losing it slower is a realistic goal for everyone. You will soon see when there are good opportunities to make a profit and also recognise when betting on sports should be completely avoided. This is one of the main tools punters have and hardly any of them correctly use it. The bookmakers have to price up (accept bets) for every game, and dozens of markets, and they need odds that compete with their rivals. They have to do this every day. Punters on the other hand do not have to bet on every game, so learn to pick your battles. If there is no reason to bet then do not do it!
As your betting skills improve you will naturally stop placing so many bets and instead learn to focus on the ones that really are in your favour. We know of several professional gamblers who think nothing of placing just one bet a week, and sometimes not even that!
Track and score your statistics
There are lots of reasons to think that this is a good idea. Maybe it is a good idea. It is not something I personally do though.
For some time we would win money week in and week out and never kept track of it. At the same time we had associates who would religiously record in an excel spreadsheet every bet, the odds, the result, the profit, the return on investment, a screenshot of every bet slip, it was remarkable. They did once ask why we didn't and I replied that the main reason they do not make as much as me is that they spend all their time doing data entry into their spreadsheet rather than finding value bets.
I added that I would rather have no idea whatsoever how I made £200 than know exactly how I made £180.
Set some rules and restrictions
It is a very good idea to have some rules when you are sports betting that you stick to. I actually sellotaped a bit of paper to the top of our monitor that had "Have a plan and stick to it" written on it. That was the golden rule, it did not actually matter what the plan was but what was essential was that if the plan was a good idea before you started then you should stick to that plan, rather than start trying to think and make decisions in the heat of the moment when emotions may be running high.
The restriction which you decide on are entirely up to you, but a few good ideas are listed below in the next section.
What not to do as a beginner?
Not just as a beginner but universal good advice is:
Number 1 is common sense. Numbers 2, 3, and 4 are the reasons behind 90%+ of the mistakes people make when gambling and are the reasons for some horrific losses being taken. They are losses that probably would not have occurred if 2, 3, and 4 had not applied.
Things not to do as a beginner specifically is not to try to reinvent the wheel, and by that we mean do not think that you will discover a magic formula for sports betting that nobody else has discovered before. There is nothing that you can do that has not been tried already and no matter what system you have either invented (or read about on Twitter, or worse still a private Telegram channel) we promise you the only way you can win is by betting on value. That is it.
Betting on value means that if the odds are higher than the chance of it happening, then, in the long run, you win. Betting on things that are not value, no matter what you do with your bet stake or which markets you use, or when you cash out, none of it matters, you won't win in the long run! Do not believe anyone who tells you differently or says they have a system. There is a good quote from a Las Vegas Casino owner:
Find me a man with a system to beat us and I will pay for the taxi to get him here
The same would be said by every online sports betting company owner!
Do not increase your bet stakes when you are losing (this is a common problem). The only time you should ever raise your stakes is when you are consistently winning. Until then bet the same amount for each bet (known as flat betting) or even decrease the size as you start to lose.
Frequently Asked Questions
Football was the most popular type of sports betting in the UK in 2019 (the last year reliable data is available) if popular is defined as the number of people doing it. If it means the total bet amount then Horse racing had the most money wagered on it.
Well, it depends who for, profitable for the bookmaker or profitable for the punters? For the bookmakers, it is probably Horse racing or Football simply because those are the sports that have the most wagered on them. For punters, it is more niche sports where they have more knowledge (and therefore an edge) than the bookies, maybe Esports or Athletics.
Well, it is entirely up to you but we would narrow down the sports betting options by asking the following questions... What sport do I enjoy watching? Does that schedule fit in with my lifestyle? What sport do I know a lot about? What sport would I like to learn more about? The answers to these questions are going to give you your answer.