As punters, we strive to get the better of the bookies by any means possible. Some like to crunch numbers and look at previous trends while others prefer, simply, to go with their gut feeling. No matter if you listen to your head or your heart though, scoring a tidy net win is always the main aim.
Are some of us missing out on a net wins though because of an unwillingness to shop around for the best odds? After all, there are so many bookmakers available today that you would assume that odds between them must vary a fair bit. Maybe there is one bookie that consistently offers better prices than its competitors? Or do some sites offer great odds in some markets but poor ones in others? Or do prices just vary on a bet by bet basis? Or, truth be told, is there really not all that much difference to make it worth switching from your favourite online bookie? These are the questions we will be answering as we thoroughly investigate if it really matters where you place your sports bets.
Which Bookmaker Has the ‘Best Odds’?
As much as we would love to give you a straightforward answer here, unfortunately, there isn’t one. No bookmaker can make a convincing claim that they have the ‘best odds’, partly because differences among many names in the industry are often so minimal. But chiefly because the oddsmakers often simply take different views about the actual probability of a particular event occurring. In addition, they may also have a different focus in terms of what sports and markets they want to be most competitive on.
Beyond those factors, a bookmaker’s prices are affected by what wagers they have already taken on a market. So, for example, if one site has had a number of sizeable bets on a particular horse, football team or whatever, their odds may well be on the skinny side as they are not keen to increase their liability on that particular outcome.
Bookies Have Different Opinions
Let us first look at the idea that different betting sites simply view a match or event differently from one another. For instance, based on the numerous variables that affect a team’s chances of winning the next World Cup, one bookie might think England have a 5% chance, another might assess their chances as being more like 10%. This is simply because they have assessed the weight of the relative factors (e.g. player quality, experience and fitness, possible future opponents, the ability of the manager, and so on) in different ways. If they were to transfer these probabilities into odds, Bookie A would price England at odds of 19/1 while Bookie B would price them at 9/1 – at least they would if they didn’t apply a margin (more of which in the next section).
The point is, bookies may deliberately offer different odds to their rivals (whether better or worse, from the customers’ perspective) based on how they predict a match, tournament or some other event will pan out. There is no reason why the people who set the odds for football for a betting firm would necessarily follow the same mechanisms as those who set the odds for horse racing or Formula 1 or any other sport within the same firm.
As such, a bookie who is consistently willing to offer very good odds in football, might not be generous in other sports. However, in reality, you are likely to find that odds differences caused by a simple difference of opinion will vary on a case-by-case basis anyway, with bigger odds found on certain specific selections rather than across a sport or market in general.
Bookie Odds & Margins
One way to effectively measure ‘the best odds’ is by calculating the bookmaker margin, also known as the vigorish or overround. This is effectively the bookie’s margin, or in casino terms, the house edge and it is most obvious when there is an event with two outcomes of equal likelihood (although it applies to absolutely all sports bets).
Without any overround, if there were two outcomes (A and B) which both had a 50% chance of happening (e.g. the coin toss before a cricket match), the odds provided for each outcome should be 1/1 (evens, or 2.0 in decimal odds). Bookmakers would not win any money in the long run with this approach though, which is why they need to have a small cut for themselves or it would be completely pointless offering odds in the first place, from their point of view. What you will find, in such situations, is that the odds offered might be 5/6 and 5/6. Assuming a roughly even amount of money is placed on both outcomes, this ensures the bookmaker will win regardless of what happens with the coin toss.
|Bet||Wager||Payout Heads||Payout Tails|
In the instance provided above, of two betting options of 5/6, the bookmaker margin would be 9.11%. Or to put it another way, if a £10 wager were placed on both sides of the coin then the bookmaker would take in £20 and pay out £18.33, keeping the remaining £1.67 for themselves.
If you had a more generous bookmaker offering 10/11 odds rather than 5/6, then the margin slips to 4.77%. The bookmaker offering the smallest margin will therefore be seen to have the best odds in general. The lower the overround a bookie has, the closer their odds are to their perceived probability of an event occurring.
Why Are Margins Significant?
It is possible, of course, that another bookie could have better odds in real terms on a given outcome (e.g. a particular team to win a certain football match) even with a higher margin if they happen to have taken a different position when assessing the chances of a particular event occurring. In reality though, for the biggest tournaments, races and matches in the more popular betting sports, most of the bookies are fairly tightly bunched when it comes to their assessments of an outcome occurring.
Also, it is important to note that you assess the bookies’ margins based on all outcomes in a given market, rather than just one outcome. So instead of trying to assess their margin on Man United to win against Man City in the match odds market, you would also need to take into account the other two outcomes in that market (i.e. Man City to win, and the draw). As such, the margins bookies take can prove significant in assessing which of them tends to offer the best odds in a given market and those with the lowest margins are the ones who are most likely to appeal to canny punters.
Note that sometimes rather than referencing the margin, an average payout figure is used instead. Bookmaker payout is simply 100% minus the margin so if they took a 5% cut, the payout rate would be 95%. In this case the higher the percentage, the better it is for the customer. Assuming of course you are comparing against bookies who are using similar assessments of the probability of the outcomes on which they are offering odds. But if you are attempting to get a general picture of whether one bookie consistently offers better odds than another, trying to work out the relative margins is as good a way as any.
The trouble you have after this point is what odds are you going to include to calculate the payouts for each bookmaker? You cannot possibly just focus on one sport because margins fluctuate significantly between sports and markets within them. Even within one sport, there are payout variations between different leagues and competitions. What about all the additional markets too? Are you only going to look at the match result odds or all the 50/100+ extra markets being offered? And don’t even get us started on live odds!
As a general rule, however, it is worth noting that the most popular sports, markets and matches will have the most competitive odds. Bookies know that the match odds of a big Champions League game between PSG and Liverpool, for example, will attract a lot of bets. Therefore they have more to gain by having the best odds for this market and so natural competition between betting sites forces the margins down and makes things more attractive for punters.
How to Calculate Bookie Margins
When calculating bookie margins on a market that has two outcomes, for instance, a coin toss or a tennis match, things are relatively straightforward. But calculating the margins across the odds offered on a horse race with lots of runners can get fairly complicated. But let’s take a middle-ground option for an example, the main match odds market for a football match.
Let us take, for example, a match between Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League. In the match odds market with one bookie, Villa are priced at 21/20 to win, Wolves are available at 13/5 and the draw is priced at 9/4. To calculate the bookie margin you first need to convert the fractional odds to decimal odds and then put them through the following equation:
Bookmaker Margin = (1/Team A Odds) + (1/Team B Odds) + (1/Draw Odds) – 1
So, in this case, we’d have the following:
Margin = (1/2.05) + (1/3.6) + (1/3.25) – 1 = 7.33%
Hence, for this bookie on this market, they are running a margin of 7.33%. Or you could flip it the other way and say they have an average payout figure of 92.67%, which is relatively high for a Premier League match. If you want to calculate the margin across a whole round of Premier League matches, for instance, you simply work it out for each match and then calculate the mean average.
How Much Do Margins Vary?
Differences between markets and sports make it challenging to draw any fair comparisons when asking which bookie has the best odds per se. Without extensive analysis that goes beyond the scope of this article and would become more of a research project, it is just not possible to give a single answer as there is so much variation. From time to time some bodies, with varying degrees of independence, have tried to look at this issue but usually focussing on a specific area of betting (often match odds in the Premier League) and for a specific timeframe (usually a single season)
The key issue is that with so many different sports and markets, no bookie is always, or even in general, going to be the best. One bookmaker could boast the highest payout for the next round of Premier League fixtures in the match result market, but end up with much less competitive prices for an upcoming tennis tournament. While this is a very common scenario, it is important to stress that most firms do operate with a set margin across sports, or at least within fairly narrow parameters. The sheer competition in the gambling business means that bookies cannot get away with offering significantly worse odds than their major competitors, at least in the absence of other benefits. Should this happen, then it would not take most punters long to realise they can get much better odds elsewhere.
We are can support the points made above using a few different examples across different sports, competitions and markets. Below you’ll find the average payout rates from nine popular betting sites which have been collated in the table below:
|Bookie||Premier League||BTTS||Championship||Mens Singles||Snooker|
Premier League Football: Match Result Market
To begin with, we calculated the average payout rates for a full round of upcoming Premier League fixtures from nine of the most popular bookies in the UK (which we called Bookie A, B, C, and so on, as the figures are just indicative). All odds were taken from the match result market and as you can see, there are no huge differences to be found.
- Average – 94.47%
- Highest – 96.17% (Bookie A)
- Lowest – 93.39% (Bookie D)
Bookie A is ahead of the rest here with Bookie H second in command (95.25%) but what happens when we change the market?
Premier League Football: Both Teams to Score Market
In the next column we took the odds, from the very same 10 matches, but instead of looking at the match result market, we opted for the very popular both teams to score market.
- Average – 93.70%
- Highest – 94.49% (Bookie C)
- Lowest – 92.72% (Bookie I)
In this instance, Bookie C ends up offering the best odds (on average) with Bookie E a fairly close second (94.24%).
Who could claim to have the leading Premier League odds, let alone best odds overall, in this case? You could, in theory, produce a figure from all Premier League markets offered but this would not produce fair results given that each brand will not offer all the same markets. It would also create the issue of much less popular markets, like ‘to win from behind’ carrying as much weight as often-selected markets like the match result.
The above two examples highlight how the difference between bookmaker payout rates is usually small, often just a percentage point or two. As a customer, this is not something you would ever really notice, especially if you are a typical, recreational gambler. Small differences will always be there though and no bookie will consistently lead the way for a particular sport, let alone most sports, as we will now illustrate.
The Championship Football: Average Payouts
Previously, Bookie A had the best Premier League odds (for one weekend) in the win only market. Let us compare this, however, to the second tier of English football, the Championship, taking the average payouts from a full round of fixtures.
- Average – 93.94%
- Highest – 96.08% (Bookie H)
- Lowest – 91.06% (Bookie D)
In this instance, Bookie H ends up on top while most other bookies are just under the 95% mark. The only noticeable outlier is Bookie D who does tail away from the rest of the pack.
A difference of 5% is something we would usually consider significant but this is only really an issue if you solely bet on Championship action. If your weekend acca covers lots of different leagues, you are unlikely to notice much difference in your expected payout. (In addition, of course, it might be something to do with the position the bookie took on that particular round of matches and might not be replicated every week.)
ATP Indian Wells Tennis: Men’s Singles Matches
Now, let’s turn out attention to another popular betting sport, tennis. For this we have compared the odds of 12 ATP Indian Well men’s singles matches.
- Average – 95.13%
- Highest – 97.18% (Bookie A)
- Lowest – 94.17% (Bookie G)
Much as we expected, a new competition in a different sport shakes up the order with Bookie A leading the way when it comes to this tennis competition. Bookie D, despite failing to impress with Championship football, did recover to offer very competitive odds. Once again, we also see a typical overround of around 5% with this being very much an industry average across most of the major sports.
Northern Ireland Open Snooker: Average Payouts
Finally, we will finish with a look at a less popular betting sport, snooker, specifically a selection of games from the Northern Ireland Open. Generally, the less prominent the sport, the bigger margin the bookmaker will take for themselves due to the smaller volume of bets. This has proved to be the case here albeit not to a great extent. The average payout for snooker here was 93.78% compared with 96.04% for the Premier League sample and 95.13% for the ATP tennis matches looked at.
- Average – 93.78%
- Highest – 95.80% (Bookie E)
- Lowest – 90.05% (Bookie A)
Bookie A, despite being one of the slightly stronger bookies generally for football, are the worst for snooker. This again exemplifies the problem of trying to figure out who offers the ‘best odds’ as brands can regularly fluctuate above and below average depending on the market.
How Much Do Odds Vary?
The examples above show that on the whole, bookmaker margins do not deviate from one another all that much. There are a couple of exceptions of course but usually you are looking at a difference of no more than 2%. Do not assume based on this though that it makes no difference where you bet though. Bookmakers can offer noticeably different odds while operating within a similar margin. To illustrate this, take a look at the odds provided for a Premier League clash involving Manchester City and Burnley.
Premier League Football: Odds, Net Wins & Margins
|Pick||Bookie A||Net Win from £10 bet||Bookie B||Net Win from £10 bet|
In this case, if you wish to bet on a draw or Burnley win, Bookie B would pay out significantly more. It is not because Bookie B are inherently more generous, it is simply that Bookie A offer a better price on the other outcome. Bookie B are far more confident that Man City will get the job done and whilst 1/8 to 1/10 might not seem like a big difference, it actually is.
This shows that a difference of opinion on the outcome is often far more important than the margin a bookie takes in determining what odds they offer. This also explains why we cannot really meaningfully say that one bookie has better odds than another overall because there will be so much variation between markets based on other factors.
Given the broadly similar margins bookmakers operate within, it is virtually impossible for them to offer the best price across three outcomes so generally much will depend what you as an individual want to bet on. Two is achievable in select cases but that is the best you are going to see when comparing odds between top UK betting sites.
We should also add that for the above example, we have purposefully selected two bookies that were some way apart for their pricing. If you look at a larger sample, you will see that most of the time bookies were offering a price somewhere in between the values originally provided. In some cases, they were even offering exactly the same odds for every outcome.
Premier League Football: Odds
|Pick||Bookie A||Bookie B||Bookie C||Bookie D||Bookie E||Bookie F||Bookie G|
Another important point to make is that the price differences that do exist here are much more noticeable thanks to the presence of two long-odds options. In more competitive fixtures, the bookmaker odds are much more tightly packed. To show this clearly, we have selected a much more even match (Northern Ireland versus Bulgaria) and converted the odds into decimal.
Northern Ireland vs Bulgaria: Football Price Differences
We could add an extra 10 or 20 bookies to the table and still you are going to be getting extremely close, or bang on, 2.8 for a Northern Ireland win and 2.8 for a Bulgaria win. A £10 bet at odds of 2.9 returns £19 net win while odds of 2.75 returns £17.50 net win so these differences are quite trivial unless you are staking huge sums.
If you end up trying to take advantage of the (marginally) best price every time you will very quickly end up with an abundance of different betting accounts. Given how many bookmakers there are in operation, they will inevitably all have the best price at one time or another on the outcome you are looking at. When looking at the Premier League top scorer odds across 16 popular bookmakers, only two names did not offer the outright best or joint-best odds for any of the leading 20 candidates.
Ultimately, what this means that over the long-term, you could well find that there is little difference in your net win/loss if you play at Bookie A compared to Bookie B. One will provide better bets half the time and the other the remaining half. This is most likely the case if you are betting at any of the larger bookies and on the most popular sports and markets. If you are someone who likes to place bets on more niche sports, then it is probably worth giving a sample of odds a quick check as payout rates can vary a little more.
To highlight this final point, we looked at 16 bookmakers offering odds on an Icelandic handball match. The lowest payout rate offered was 87.6% and the highest was 92.5%. A gap of 4.9% is more than you will find with more popular betting sports so it is worth doing a little research if you have an interest in such low-profile events.
Better Value Is Offered in Other Ways
One important thing to mention, in amongst all this focus on odds, is that odds are not the only measure of ‘good value’ at a bookmaker. Some names excel at giving customers access to various promotions, some of which can end up being better for you than slightly better odds. Things such as accumulator insurance or protection (stake back if one leg lets you down), for instance, can end up being better for some punters. Regular free bets and cashback offers are another common feature which should be factored into an overall assessment of “value”.
You also have to remember that the odds listed on a website are not always the odds you will get. Many bookies, for instance, offer ‘odds boost’ or ‘enhanced odds’ deals for horse racing singles or football accumulators and the bigger the odds, the bigger the boost. Others will give selected customers odds boost tokens that serve the same purpose.
When Is It Worth Shopping Around?
We have made it clear by this stage that odds often differ by very little if you are sticking to the top betting sites around and the various bookmakers generally take a similar cut for themselves. For people only standing to win small amounts, therefore, it is not going to make any huge difference who you bet with. You could win £10.50 at one bookie or £10 at the other but for these kinds of small gains, some punters may feel it is probably not worth the hassle of registering a new account. This is especially true if you factor in that when you win another bet, the other bookie could easily be the one paying £10.50 rather than £10.
When standing to win larger amounts though, is it worth your time shopping around? The answer to this depends on the type of bet and how often you gamble. If placing an accumulator bet, you could well find that the amounts do not differ a great deal in the end because some bookies will supply a better price for some of the matches, but will be worse for the rest. Here are the expected payouts based on a £1 acca when selecting the favourite to win six Saturday Premier League matches.
Premier League Football: Expected Payouts on £1 Acca
Although, the difference between highest (Bookie C) to lowest (Bookie B) here is £15, which is not something to ignore, you will not always get the biggest payout with Bookie C. Although they might be good when it comes to football betting, if you bet on a different set of results and matches we would expect another site to give a bigger return. This is what happened when betting on a draw for four other high-profile games of football, again with a £1 stake. Here you are looking at around a £50 difference between highest and lowest although this is in the absence of any price boosts or similar promotions.
Premier League Football: Payouts
For a horse racing example, we selected the favourite from the first four races at an evening Kempton meeting. For the sake of the example, ignore the fact that most bookmakers offer a ‘best odds’ guarantee which would potentially bring the payouts even closer together. As you can see, there are differences but nothing especially large.
Kempton Horse Race Meeting: Payouts
If betting regularly with small stakes, these differences will eventually end up cancelling themselves out to a large extent because no site is consistently going to give you the best payout. Things will not work out completely evenly but for a typical bettor, you are unlikely to be looking at more than a 5% difference either way. On the other hand, if you are willing to assess the odds every time you place a bet, ultimately you will earn more (though whether the extra winnings is worth the time spent finding the better odds is debatable).
It pays to shop around however if you place infrequent wagers from which you stand to win a large amount of money (regardless of bet type), or if you like to bet on very unlikely single outcomes. In this first instance, your infrequent betting means you do not place enough volume to regress towards the mean. If you only win one ambitious accumulator a year (perhaps you bet only during a special event such as the Cheltenham Festival) then you could well record a more net wins by choosing your bookmaker carefully.
For frequent bettors, it is only when placing long-odds singles where you should bother looking around. This is because it is at the upper end of the market where you will find the largest difference between prices. Most of the time this will only apply to outright bets such as league winner or top goalscorer. At the time of writing, for example, odds on Jack Grealish to be the Premier League top scorer varied from 80/1 to 250/1. Similarly, the price of Raul Jimenez ranged from 40/1 to 100/1. If you were to pull off a bet like this, you would be kicking yourself if you did not take advantage of the much larger odds.
Horse racing is the other sport where a little browsing can pay off given that odds on outsiders are often very large. One race at Wolverhampton we examined saw odds of an unfancied outsider range from 80/1 and 150/1. Even further up the betting, on the sixth favourite, prices were anywhere between 40/1 and 80/1. Such major differences do exist with ante-post betting too so it is definitely something to keep in mind. Given it often takes just a few minutes to register a new account at a bookie, it is time well spent if you stand to earn an extra £20 to £100 in one race.
You are unlikely to get a winner straight off the bat at these odds, of course, but repeated enough times and it could feasibly make the difference between registering a net win rather than a loss.
Conclusion – Free Bets & Offers Main Reason to Join New Bookies
Odds can vary significantly when we look across all the different bookies out there but that is perhaps a reflection that some of the worst bookies around occasionally offers prices that verge on the scandalous. When we look at the main UK betting sites, the top tier bookmakers that we feature here, there is far less difference between the odds in general.
Most decent bookmakers operate on similar margins and so barring a major disagreement about a team or player’s chances, the odds typically fall within a fairly tight range. However, whilst the difference may be relatively small on the most popular markets and on favourites, on more niche sports and events, and on outsiders, differences can be quite marked.
Quite how much you want to shop around to maximise the odds you get will depend on a number of things. If you place the odd bet on the big game or race it may not seem worth the effort. On the other hand, if you make a large number of bets including ones on selections at longer odds and in more unusual markets, it will probably prove more worthwhile.
However, irrespective of whether you can be bothered to shop around to gain odds sometimes only marginally better, it is still well worth joining new bookies. In the long-term you may be happy sticking with your tried and trusted betting site, the app that’s handy on your phone. But in the short-term, it is well worth joining a range of different bookmakers to see what they have to offer.
What they have to offer will, invariably, include a welcome promo, free bet or bonus for new customers. These are well worth claiming as they help tip the odds your way and who knows, you might even find a bookie with bigger prices, more frequent offers and a better app than your usual site.