Sports Betting Basics

Sports betting allows you to win cash amounts for predicting the outcome of, or occurrences within, sporting, political, entertainment and even novelty events. You might bet on the winner of a horse race, the total number of corners in a football match, who will be the first to be voted off Big Brother, or any number of other wagers. If you’re entirely new to sports betting, here’s a quick guide to get you started.

Betting Markets

The different bets are grouped within ‘markets’ for the event. For example, a Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool would have many markets, including one for the first goalscorer of the game. Within that, each player will be attributed odds by the bookmaker, based on their chances of achieving that feat in the fixture. The shortest odds - those with the smallest return to the bettor if they win - will be given to the players most likely to score first (usually the strikers), with the price getting longer (i.e. offering a bigger prize) for those, such as defenders, who are less likely to break the deadlock.

Betting Odds and Payments

Betting odds represent the probability of an event occurring, as well as the prize you will receive if your bet is successful. Odds in the UK are generally represented as fractions (3/1 11/2 etc.), although some people prefer using European-style decimal odds and both are usually offered at online bookmakers’ sites. Visit the Fractions vs. Decimals page for help on deciding which is for you.

In a horse race, the favourite might be 2/1, meaning that you receive £2 back for every £1 staked. If you place £5 on that horse and it won, you would be paid £10 by the bookmaker and you would also receive your £5 wager back for a total return of £15. Another horse in the same race could be rated 5/1 to come first. The bookies think it is less likely to succeed, so they offer a bigger return to tempt you to bet on that rather than the favourite, knowing there is a less chance of it winning and, therefore, of having to pay out. If you bet £5 on the second horse and it won, you would collect £25 as your prize along with the £5 stake for a total of £30.

Bookies study form, the condition of the course, information about the jockey and many other factors before they price the runners up so as to minimise their risk. They will usually get it pretty much spot on, but long-shots do sometimes win, as witnessed in the 2009 Grand National, when Mon Mone romped home at 100/1.

Betting odds for all sports will shorten and lengthen as bookies learn of factors that might affect the market, such as potential injuries, so if you see a good price, make sure you go for it before it changes.

Sometimes an outcome is deemed so likely it is what is known as ‘odds-on’. In a football match between England and San Marino, if a bookie even bothers to take bets, they might make England 1/100 favourites, which would translate into you receiving £1 in winnings for every £100 staked.

Odds-on is used for any bet of lower value than 1/1, which is also called ‘evens’. An evens bet means you receive the same amount in winnings as you spent on your stake.

To Win or Each Way?

For horse and greyhound races, you have the option of betting on your chosen runner to win, whereby they have to come first for your bet to pay out, or each way, where you will receive a return if it finishes anywhere up to fourth, although the number of winning places varies depending on how many runners there are in the race.

An each way bet costs twice as much as a win-only wager, as it is effectively two different bets - one to win and one to be ‘placed’. If your horse wins, you will receive the prize from both parts of the bet. If it places, you will lose the ‘win’ half of your stake and you will receive a fraction of the odds (check with the bookie, but it is usually ¼ or ⅕) on the ‘place’ half. If a horse was a 12/1 shot and it placed in a race where you win ¼ of the odds, you would receive 3/1 back on that half of your stake.

Where Can I Bet?

There are many ways in which you can place a bet on any manner of sports or other events. Online sportsbooks offer a huge array of markets from around the world. You simply find the bet you wish to make, enter your stake and your betting slip is kept safe until the game or race is over, with any winnings being paid directly into your player account.

Most online bookmakers have a mobile site or app, meaning you can place a wager wherever you are and even bet in-play whilst watching an event.

There are more almost 9,000 betting shops in the UK where you can place a wager in person and watch various sporting events as they happen. Read the Going to a Bookies section to find out more about this staple of the high street.

You can also bet at racecourses and dog tracks, inside sports stadiums and at large casinos.

Beginners’ Betting Tips

There is no sure-fire way to make a fortune from sports betting, but you can give yourself the best possible shot at success by following a few sensible rules.

Betting on the sports you know best is a good way to start your wagering career. If you have some knowledge of the games on which you are betting, you can make informed decisions and can tell more easily whether a bet offers good value. Wagering on a sport about which you have no understanding makes it more of a lottery when placing your stake. As you become used to sports betting, your knowledge may expand into other areas, but at first it is best to stick to familiar territory.

‘Bet with your brain, not your heart’ is another mantra for successful wagering. You might hope dearly that your League Two football team will beat Manchester City away in the FA Cup, but the chances are they will not, so it is not wise to put your mortgage on it, no matter how loyal a fan you are.

Start by placing simple bets, such as backing the winner of a race, the highest scoring batsman or the victor of the latest series of X Factor. This will give you an idea of how sports betting works without overcomplicating things. They are all markets with a clear price, so you can work out exactly what you will receive back if you win. Once you are confident in your abilities, you can move on to accumulators, Asian handicaps, spread betting and more.

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