Matched betting in the news
Is this a bet you can't lose?
If you become a gambler, usually the only winner is the bookie. But hundreds of people have been beating them at their own game for years, using a supposedly risk-free method called matched betting.
Until now, this has been the preserve of internet geeks and mathematicians, but a new website promises to make it accessible to anyone with a debit card. So is there really such a thing as a ''bet you can't lose'', and if so, how much can you make?
Matched betting exploits the free gambling offers given out by online gaming companies. For example, Ladbrokes and Coral both offer a £25 free bet when you place your first wager. Ben Cleminson, from the betting industry agency Square in the Air, says bookies are prepared to spend £300 on average to gain a new client – hence the free offers.
However, seasoned users of matched betting use these freebies to bet on a certain result occurring as well as that same result not occurring, with different bookmakers. The two bookies will have slightly different odds, so a clever punter might end up making a small profit at this point, but it is the free stake that bumps up the profit. The trick for punters is to ensure that they cash their winnings, rather than use them for further bets that may lose them money.
Bookies sometimes do their best to discourage matched betting – by taking a commission, or requiring you to roll your winnings though multiple bets before cashing them. That's where www.fixtheodds.com comes in.
The site, developed by software expert Carl Scott-Brown, aims to automate the matched betting process. Mr Scott-Brown claims that someone with no betting experience could make £440 using the current offers on his site, and he hopes to add many more.
"You could make that over a two week period," he says. The site has taken £15,000 worth of bets in its first month of operation, and Mr Scott-Brown says that if there is anything wrong with the instructions on the site he'll refund the cost of the bet – although he stresses that he won't refund money if people make their own mistakes.
The website relies on a series of pop up windows, instructing you on which bets to place with which bookies. It calculates the odds for you, and uses screen grabs to ensure you put the text in the right box. For most offers, you will need to make two bets – the first of which will use your own money and is likely to make you a small loss. The second bet is where you get the cash using the free bet given to you by the bookie.
There is an example above of one of the offers from last week, which would have netted a punter £14.59. The site will instruct you to make a bet, called a back bet, on something happening.
This will be placed with a recognised betting agency which is running a ''free bet'' offer, for example Ladbrokes, Betfred or (as in the example) Paddy Power. You'll need to sign up and bet using a debit card to avoid paying extra commission using a credit card.
You will then be instructed on how to offset the bet using a betting exchange. These allow you to make something called a lay bet: betting on an event not happening. These exchanges allow you to act as if you are the bookie.
Fixtheodds walks you through the process of making the lay bet; then you wait for the matches or races to be settled before retrieving your stake. Finally you withdraw your winnings from the bookies, including the amount you've bet, plus the profit on top.
Fixtheodds makes its money by its affiliation with Betfair, one of the betting exchanges, taking a proportion of the profits it makes, so the service is free for you to use.
Most of the offers on its site will give you a profit of slightly less than the value of the free bet offered by the bookie, that is, just under £25 in many cases. You can only use each of the bookies once, since the free bets are commonly only offered to new customers.
Graham Sharpe, from William Hill, says the industry does not have a problem with matched betting. "There's no illegal element," he says. "It's a free bet and you can do what you like."
While matched betting purports to guarantee you a profit, particularly using a software site like fixtheodds, you should always attempt to mitigate any risk. Tips include only using offers from bookmakers you have heard of, and who operate in the UK or EU.
Mr Scott-Brown says his team checks the businesses offered on the site, but you may wish to do your own research, too. Start with small offers, to make sure you understand how the system works, and ensure that you follow the website's instructions carefully. Do not take risks with money that you cannot afford to lose.
Finally, there are fears that exposure to gambling websites could eventually lead to gambling addiction in those with certain personalities. If you have a problem in this area, you can contact Gamblers Anonymous on 020 7384 3040. Mr Scott-Brown says that he doesn't believe in gambling. "I don't believe it's an intelligent thing to do," he says. "This is not gambling."
The offers take a while to work through, and those who wish to take advantage should ensure that they tick the box asking not to be contacted or put onto mailing lists by bookies, to avoid being inundated by spam.
However, the money is there, and could be a welcome boost to your Christmas spending, if you're willing to follow the instructions and put in the effort.
By Rosie Murray-West
Click here to view on The Telegraph Website