Most people start their betting lives making very simple bets at a traditional bookmaker. However, once you have got past backing a horse to win a race, betting on your favourite team to win a match and your top striker to score first, you may begin to realise that there is a huge betting world out there.
You can bet on just about any sport or event imaginable, be it the 100m final at the Olympic games, a reserve football game in Algeria or who will win the Eurovision Song Contest. You can also choose from hundreds of different markets, potentially combining many of these to create “bet builder” style wagers with huge odds … but that need you to predict who will score, how many corners there will be, who will get booked and possibly what the referee had for dinner (OK, maybe not that last one).
Whether you should take up these myriad options is an entirely different matter and, in general, we would strongly advise that you stick to sports, events and markets that you fully understand. However, there is one slightly more advanced betting option that you should definitely get to grips with as soon as possible. If you learn how a betting exchange works you can use this to your advantage to not just back bets but to lay them as well.
If even this basic terminology is alien to you then fear not. Here we explain everything you need to know about betting exchanges, from how the process of making a wager works, queuing for better odds, whether the prices really are that much better, why liquidity is so important and what offers you might get at an exchange. In particular, we will look at how these sites can be used to lay bets. We also explain how a similar result can be achieved at a traditional bookmaker and why you might opt for this approach instead.
What Is a Lay Bet?
You might well think that a bet is a bet is a bet but then when you first visit an exchange you will see that next to any selection there are odds to “Back” but also to “Lay”. The option to back a team, player or horse is a “normal” bet and is the type of wager offered as standard by traditional bookmakers. The second, less common option is what interests us here though.
In simple terms, if you back a selection, you need it to win, whilst if you lay it, you need it to lose. That is really all there is to lay betting. So, if you back Liverpool to beat Atletico Madrid, you want Liverpool to win, whilst if you lay Liverpool, you want them to “not win”. Note that you don’t need them to lose, just not to win, so laying Liverpool is the same as backing Atletico Madrid to win or draw (more on this shortly).
Become the Bookie
When you lay a bet you are essentially acting as the bookmaker. You are accepting another person’s wager on a given selection at agreed odds with the betting exchange acting as a third party intermediary that brings the two sides of the bet together. Whenever a selection can be backed, it can also be laid at the exchange and this can bring a whole new angle to your betting.
Let us imagine that there is a short-priced favourite in a big race but you really don’t fancy it. The traditional option would be to pick another runner or two and perhaps a longer priced each way pick to take the jolly on. With the exchange, you can simply lay the favourite. That is, bet on it not to win, or, to put it another way, bet on every other horse in the field but with a stake that means that no matter which horse wins, favourite aside, you win the same amount.
The ability to lay a bet has many applications and again we will look at these shortly. However, whilst an exchange can seem a little confusing at first, the concept is ultimately a simple one. You are betting against an outcome occurring and you win as long as whatever you lay doesn’t win. You become the bookmaker and accept the stakes of fellow punters who are on the other side of the bet and want it to win.
Can You Lay a Bet with a Bookmaker?
Technically speaking, you cannot lay a bet with a bookmaker; however, you can achieve exactly the same end result in many cases, albeit with varying degrees of effort. In some situations “laying” a bet with a bookie is very straightforward. Take our example above of Liverpool and Atletico Madrid. To “lay” Liverpool you can use at least three different markets:
- Asian Handicap +0.5 – Typically, the best option as it is simple, easy and may well offer the best odds, back Atletico Madrid +0.5 in the Asian handicap market. The hypothetical half-goal head start means that if Atletico Madrid draw or win, your bet wins.
- Double Chance – For newbies, the double chance market may appear more straightforward but occasionally the odds are not quite as good. However, back Atletico Madrid/Draw and the only way you lose is if Liverpool win.
- Match Odds – You could back Atletico Madrid and, separately, the draw, in the standard 90-minute match odds. However, this would require you to calculate the stakes needed for each bet to equalise outcomes on both. This process is known as Dutching (again, more on this later).
Another equally straightforward sort of bet you can lay is something like both teams to score or over 2.5 goals in a football match. If you do not think that both teams will score at an exchange you might lay BTTS. At a bookie, however, you could simply back, where available, “BTTS – No”. Some bookies may also have a market on either side (or both) to keep a clean sheet, which amounts to the same thing. Obviously, if you want to lay over 2.5 goals but do not have an account at a betting exchange then you can simply back under 2.5 goals instead.
Such examples highlight a fairly obvious point: “laying” at a bookie is easy when a bet is a simple binary choice or at least when the market has a small number of “runners”. For example, in a tennis match, you might not even think about laying a player because you would just automatically back the other player to win.
In betting terms, Dutching does not mean splitting the bill and in fact the word derives from a person, not the country of Holland/Netherlands. Arthur Simon Flegenheimer was a mobster from New York, better known as Dutch Schultz. He was involved in a wide range of criminal activities including running numbers and other illegal betting-based schemes. He is said to have invented the system of Dutching and, whether that is true or not, this is a tactic that is used by many advanced gamblers to this day.
In its purest form, Dutching entails backing all possible outcomes in an event in such a way that the payout is higher than the bet, resulting in a positive net win. In simple terms, and in the spirit of Dutch himself, let us imagine a bare-knuckle fight between two Bronx pugilists, Fat Nicky and Johnny “Red-Hand” Mulligan. If some mobster-bookies think that Mulligan is sure to win and others have Fat Nicky as a clear favourite, you may be able to back one of them at evens and one of them at just over evens. In such a scenario, you can back both and take home a payout no matter what (assuming the mobsters you make the bets with are honest enough to pay out!).
In looser terms, Dutching can mean any situation where you back multiple outcomes. As said, returning to a desire to lay Liverpool, you could achieve this using Dutching and backing both Man United to win and the stalemate in two separate bets. Dutching is a good technique when there are multiple runners in a given field. For example, if we imagine a horse race with six runners and one is a big favourite at odds of 1/3, you might “lay” the favourite by betting on every other horse in the field.
This is not straightforward though as you need to calculate how much to bet on each selection depending on their odds. Dutching calculators are available online that help with this but even then you would need to make five bets which is potentially time-consuming, especially if those are spread over a number of different bookies.
In a football match with three outcomes or a horse race with six that might well be fine but what about a horse race with 20 runners? Or a golf tournament with well over 100 players? In such a position laying the option you are confident will not win by Dutching at various bookmakers is not really viable, and using the exchanges to simply lay them is clearly far easier.
Benefits of Laying a Bet
Laying bets has many advantages and here we mean in general terms as opposed to in comparison with Dutching as discussed above. The most self-evident one is the one we have already detailed and the point that is intrinsic to laying in and of itself; that you can bet against a certain outcome happening.
Perhaps you are not sure who will win a race or tournament, or which player will score the first goal but you are confident which will not. This is the perfect time to lay a selection. You might not really care at all who wins in the given market, as long as your selection does not.
There are lots of “strategies” and supposedly brilliant betting plans online that involve laying selections. Most (if not all) of these are misguided at best and scams at worst. Proceed with caution if you come across such supposedly foolproof schemes, for example laying the favourite in horse racing, especially if someone is trying to sell you their idea or some tool that supposedly makes it so lucrative.
Advanced Betting Techniques
That said, laying is a very legitimate tactic when it comes to certain other far more genuine and potentially lucrative advanced betting techniques. These are not the focus of this piece but arbitrage betting, known as arbing, and matched betting, work in a similar way to Dutching. Arbing is a technique whereby punters seek to exploit price differences between betting sites and exchanges in order to win more than they stake.
In simple terms, if you can back Novak Djokovic, for example, to win the Australian Open at evens (which in decimal odds is 2.00) but you can lay him on an exchange at 10/11 (1.91), you can theoretically turn the odds in your favour. For every pound you bet at the bookie, they will give you a pound extra if Djokovic wins. However, the punter whose bet you have accepted at the exchange has taken lower odds and you will only have to pay them 91p for each pound they stake.
Hedging & “Cashout”
Another benefit of laying a bet is that it allows you to alter an existing position, either to limit losses or to cash out a win early. Using an exchange to lay a bet is akin to using a bookie’s cashout facility but often delivers better returns, in the same way that an exchange often offers better odds.
Whether used in-play or pre-match, laying a bet allows you to alter your financial returns from an existing bet. It gives you total flexibility so if things are not going your way you can cut your losses. You can close your position entirely if you want to get completely out of the bet (at a loss but not as much as you had stood to lose) or if you retain at least a little hope you can partially close your bet. Likewise, if the wager is going your way: you can either lay the selection in such a way that your payout is the same no matter what the outcome; or alternatively you can skew it however you choose so that returns are variable depending on the outcome of the game.
How Do You Lay a Bet at an Exchange?
If you want to lay a bet at an exchange it can seem a little confusing for several reasons. First, exchanges use decimal odds, so if you are accustomed to traditional fractional prices that can be off-putting. We explain about different odds formats elsewhere on the site and there are calculators and converters available online too. Once you get used to it decimal odds are actually very simple and essentially the decimal odds are just one higher than the fraction, so 2/1 is 3.0, 33/1 is 34, whilst evens is 2.0.
The other confusing issue is that, as said, next to any selection at a betting exchange you will see two sets of prices: one to back the player or team and one to lay it. In addition, rather than just one price for each option, usually you will see three different sets of odds. And as if that wasn’t enough, as well as the odds there is an amount of money! It is easy to see why this can seem very complicated to exchange newbies but it really isn’t. Remember, these sites have millions of customers and have won countless awards for their technology, so things are not as complex as they might seem.
If we imagine a typical football match and the main “to win” odds, the display might look a little like the below:
As a default setting at most betting exchanges, the odds to back a selection will be shown in blue, whilst those to lay will be shaded pink. Looking at the example above, if you wanted to back Wolfsburg you could do so at 2.5, which is 6/4 (six divided by four is 1.5 and then add one). If, on the other hand, you wanted to lay them, the odds are slightly higher at 2.52. So to lay Wolfsburg you would need to pay out £1.52 for every £1 of someone else’s stake that you accepted.
This means that to lay Wolfsburg for £10, you would need to have £15.20 in your exchange account as this would be your liability on such a bet. If Wolfsburg win, the exchange would send your £15.20 (minus their commission, of which more shortly) to whoever backed them. If they didn’t win, so they drew or lost, you would receive the other person’s £10, again minus commission.
Placing a lay bet is really very simple and is much like making a “normal” bet with a bookie. Simply click on the lay odds in the relevant pink box and enter your stake. Remember that the stake is not how much you are risking, but how much of someone else’s stake you are prepared to lay and how much you will win if that selection loses. When you enter your stake, in our example £10 at 2.52, the site will show you the liability and then, as with a normal bet you just click “Place Bet” or similar and if necessary a second click to confirm.
What Do the Numbers Under the Odds Mean at an Exchange?
The numbers, monetary values shown in pounds, beneath the odds, indicate how much money is available to back or lay at that particular price. With a traditional bookie, you can normally bet as much as you like, within reason, at whatever odds they show. However, as we will explain when we consider what is called liquidity, with an exchange, you can only bet as much as someone else is willing to back or lay against your wager.
In order for the exchange to be able to facilitate our £10 lay of Wolfsburg, they must already have someone else in their system wishing to back Wolfsburg at 2.52. In our example, this is not an issue as there is a substantial £4,987 available. Had we wanted to back Wolfsburg there is even more money available, as it is termed, with £12,098 being offered at 2.5 for anyone wanting to back the Wolves. That £12,098 means that there are lots of people trying to lay Wolfsburg not at the available price of 2.52 but at the marginally lower odds of 2.5.
Queuing for Better Odds at an Exchange
If you want to get your bet matched (as the process of the exchange bringing together two punters on opposite sides of the same selection is called) immediately, then the odds in the middle are the ones you should be looking at. The back odds are on the left, in blue, with lay on the right in pink, as standard. Click on the pink lay box as detailed above and you should instantly get your bet matched, meaning the lay is live and you can cheer for the draw and/or Red Bull Salzburg!
However, if you want to eke out a tiny bit more value, you can take the risk and try and lay Wolfsburg at odds lower than the current prices. To do this simply click the lay box but then rather than just entering your stake and leaving the 2.52 odds as they are, click the down arrow next to the odds to reduce to price. You can offer any odds you want and if you believe that Wolfsburg’s odds will drop you may even go considerably lower than the current price.
However, let us assume that here you are simply trying to lay them at 2.5 rather than 2.52. Change your odds and you will see that the liability on a £10 lay drops from £15.20 to £15. So, whilst you still stand to win £10, you are only risking £15. That might not seem like a huge amount and it isn’t but with larger stakes and bigger odds differences it can soon add up over time.
If you do decide to try and lay your bet at 2.5 instead of 2.52 your £10 will not be matched straight away but will join the “queue” at 2.5 in the blue box. Effectively it waits here, joining the £12k+ already available, until someone tries to back Wolfsburg at 2.5, with bets/money being matched in the order that they were placed.
Is the Risk Worth It?
Most of the time, most recreational punters are better off simply backing or laying at the available prices and seeing their bets matched instantly. It is an extra hassle to monitor your bet and make sure it is matched and all too easy to forget about it, think you have made a winning bet (be it a back or a lay), only to discover that the odds you were queuing for never got matched.
As well as the extra effort of monitoring the situation, that is the real danger. If Wolfsburg drift in the market, which is to say that their odds to win the game get longer, punters looking to back them will not match with your attempted lay at 2.5 but instead be backing at 2.52, 2.54 or whatever higher odds are on offer. Your 2.5 lay offer, sitting there as money available for someone else to back, will be well down the pecking order.
How Do Exchange Odds Compare to Bookies?
It is generally accepted that betting exchanges offer higher odds overall than bookies. There are a number of reasons for this that we do not need to go into but in general, exchanges will offer odds that are higher and when it comes to bets at longer odds the differences can be 20% or more.
This is not always the case though, especially where bookies have been slower to react to changes in the market. Exchanges are live markets, meaning that prices are entirely dictated by supply and demand and market efficiency means that odds change rapidly as new information becomes available. However, as a rule, it is safe to say that more often than not an exchange will offer bigger odds.
Whilst this is far from a comprehensive or fully scientific experiment, we looked at five sports and markets at random. The best odds from the leading exchange are compared in the table below with the best available price on offer at any of the top UK bookies (we checked at around 20 different traditional bookies in each case). For ease of comparison, all odds are decimal.
|Bet||Exchange Odds||Best Bookie Odds|
|Wolfsburg to beat RB Salzburg||2.52||2.50|
|Zanza to win (horse racing)||11.5||11|
|England to win T20 cricket World Cup||2.86||2.75|
|Brooks Koepka to win (golf)||44||34|
|Atalanta to beat Man Utd 2-1||13.5||12.5|
As you can see, the exchange did best on all five markets, although in truth there was not always very much in it. However, it should be noted that here we are comparing one betting exchange with the best odds from 20 bookmakers, so it is not necessarily an entirely fair fight.
The simple takeaway from this might well be that if you are prepared to shop around for the best odds then a bookie (the best on a given market) will compete quite well with a betting exchange. If, however, you want to pick just one site and make all or most of your bets there, then making that site an exchange is probably the best way to get the biggest odds overall, averaged out across your bets.
What About Commission Though?
When we look at the odds at a bookie we know that a £10 winner at evens results in £10 in your bank. At an exchange, things are different because the exchange charges a commission for its services. The odds are generally higher because there is no middleman taking a cut but is this offset by commission?
Commission rates vary from site to site and depending on how active you are but 5% of winning bets is considered normal. That means, for example, that if you make a £10 winning bet at an exchange at odds of 2.0 (evens) then you pay 5% commission on £10, or 50p, leaving you with a net win of just £9.50. Commission works the same way for both wins made from back bets and from lay bets, with the 5% charge only levied on the amount won.
|Bet||Exchange Payout||After Commission||Bookie Payout|
|Wolfsburg to beat RB Salzburg||£15.20||£14.44||£15|
|Zanza to win (horse racing)||£105||£99.75||£100|
|England to win T20 cricket World Cup||£18.60||£17.67||£17.50|
|Brooks Koepka to win (golf)||£430||£408.50||£330|
|Atalanta to beat Man Utd 2-1||£125||£118.75||£115|
Looking at our table above, a £10 back bet on Wolfsburg would yield a higher return from a bookie than the exchange. Whilst the odds are a fraction higher, the 5% commission means that overall payout (after commission) on a £10 back bet would actually be £14.44, versus £15 from the bookmaker (with no commission due). However, a £5 winner on Brooks Koepka would make you £165 at the bookmaker and a much bigger £204.25 (after commission) at the exchange.
If you are comparing the odds at an exchange and a bookie you must factor in commission. However, even allowing for that, overall exchanges typically still offer very good value for money.
Liquidity at Exchanges
As well as commission, another huge issue to bear in mind is liquidity. A bookmaker will allow you to bet as much as you want, subject to personal and market limits but at an exchange you can only ever bet, be it to back or lay, as much as someone else is prepared to lay or back respectively.
In major events like the Champions League clash we have used as our example, liquidity is unlikely to be a problem. That is especially true of the most popular markets, such as over 2.5 goals, both teams to score or, our example, the match odds.
However, when it comes to more obscure sports, competitions and markets, you may find that you are unable to make the bet you want because there is nobody else to match with. For example, if we look at the over/under 8.5 goals odds for the Wolfsburg versus RB Salzburg game, at the time of writing (which for reference was just a few hours before kick off), only £4 had been matched. If you wanted to back under 8.5 goals it was impossible because nobody was laying that whilst over 8.5 could only be backed at relatively low odds of 74/1. The best bookie odds on over 8.5 were 100/1.
The exchange only really works, for backing or laying, when there are lots of people wanting to take on both sides of a wager. Liquidity has a direct impact on the odds and in illiquid markets (ones with only limited cash to back or lay) you may often find that bookmakers offer bigger odds. This is a major issue with exchanges and whilst the vast majority of money is wagered on the biggest sports, games and markets, for those who prefer more niche areas of betting, a normal bookmaker still has a lot to offer.
Do Betting Exchanges Have Free Bets & Offers?
Another area where we have to hand it to the bookies is the promotions that they run. Whilst betting exchanges have been known to provide new customers with free bets and do occasionally have offers and promotions for existing customers, on the whole the promos from bookies are bigger, better and more frequent.
This is largely down to the two different models on which the sites run. Exchanges are third party intermediaries who take a small cut from the overall turnover. As they do not directly take bets, any cashback deals they offer or free bets or other related promotions cost them directly in cash. In contrast, a bookie can give a free bet knowing that there is a good chance it will not ultimately cost them anything at all.
Bookmakers can also balance their positions on markets by using offers and free bets to encourage punters to back certain selections and there are other similar ways in which they can mitigate the potential cost of offers that just are not available to exchanges.
In addition, to some degree exchanges do not need to give customers as many promos as they have something unique: they offer the facility to lay bets. In addition, as we have explained, in general, their odds are better, or at least always highly competitive. Ultimately, both types of betting sites have a wide range of benefits and a place in your betting arsenal.