Countering the bookmaker’s margin - Part 1: Odds comparison
10 February, 2020

As the bookmakers are applying some margin to every bet they offer and as this consistently puts them in a position where they can buy low and sell high, it should be obvious that you as a customer are at a disadvantage. The first question springing to mind for many will be, how can I counter the bookmaker’s margin?

The first thing you should do is to decrease the size of the margin. This is done by using multiple betting companies and by making sure that you bet the best odds available to you.

To best illustrate how this will decrease the margin, we will look at the odds of some other bookmakers for the match between Leicester and Bournemouth which we used as an example to calculate Pinnacle’s hold in the article about how the bookmakers make money.

Pinnacle’s closing odds was:

Leicester 1.68

Draw 4.03

Bournemouth 5.40

 

Bwin offered:

Leicester 1.65

Draw 4.20

Bournemouth 5.00

 

Inputting these odds in our Margin calculator, reveals that Pinnacle employed a margin of 2.78% and that Bwin’s margin was 4.23%. Bwin’s margin is more than 50% larger than Pinnacle’s. However our main interest is not the margin of each of these companies, but rather what the margin amounts to if we use the best odds from both of the bookmakers for each outcome.

Using the Margin calculator we quickly learn that the margin is reduced to 1.82% if we use Pinnacle’s odds for home and away, but Bwin’s for the draw. Simply by adding the odds of one additional bookmaker, we have reduced the margin by some 35%.

What if we add another bookmaker? Betsson’s odds for this match were:

Leicester 1.71

Draw 4.15

Bournemouth 5.10

 

Inputting Betsson’s odds for home of 1.71, Bwin’s odds for draw of 4.20 and Pinnacle’s odds for away of 5.40 in the Margin calculator, gives us a reduced margin of 0.80%. Using the best odds available from these three bookmakers has reduced the margin by more than 70%.

I don’t know exactly how many betting companies offered odds for this match, but I will be surprised if it was not thousands. I have no idea how many of these would have been available for you to bet with, or how many it would make sense for you to bet with. I do however know that most punters would have access to many betting companies offering odds for this match and that by checking the odds of these companies, you likely would have been able to reduce the margin to substantially less than Pinnacle’s hold of 2.78%.

The message of this article is not that you should become an arbitrage punter, trying to find sure win situations, but rather that it is a lot easier to find bets with a positive value expectation if you are able to minimize the margin you are up against.

The easiest way to ensure that you are getting the best prices available to you is to use an odds comparison site. An odds comparison site will list the odds of many betting companies in an easily searchable manner, meaning that it is effortless to identify the best odds available to you. However not all sports and bookmakers will be covered well by odds comparison sites. If your sports betting bread and butter is a marginal betting sport, it can easily be that it will not be covered at all and you will have to do the hard work of comparing the odds yourself.

The margin has been reduced, but so what? As it is still there, are you not still at a disadvantage?

 

Yes, this is true for most betting propositions. However sometimes you will find that using the best odds available will not only reduce the margin, but provide a margin in your favor. To demonstrate this let us pretend that Betsson’s odds for Leicester were not 1.71, but rather 1.75. Now an arbitrage/sure win opportunity is available to you. All you need to do is to spread your stakes proportionally and you are guaranteed a profit of 0.53% of your turnover. Put another way, the margin is 0.53% in your favor.

Arbitrage betting is popular. There are many providers on the internet, supplying arbitrage opportunities to their subscribers. They do this by constantly running scripts grabbing the odds from a large quantity of betting companies, all the time checking which markets and bookmakers present arbitrage opportunities. As soon as an opportunity has been identified they alert their subscribers, who can try to place bets before the odds are adjusted. Arbitrage opportunities will in most cases be available only a limited amount of time, before at least one of the betting companies adjusts their odds, making the sure win situation disappear.   

In many cases arbitraging is not sustainable as most bookmakers dislike customers involved with such practices intensely and curtails the betting limits of such customers quickly. Arbitrage betting has been covered many times elsewhere and is something I have never personally engaged in, so I am I not the right person to write about this. If your are interested, I would check out this arbitrage betting guide.

The message of this article is not that you should become an arbitrage punter, trying to find sure win situations, but rather that it is a lot easier to find bets with a positive value expectation if you are able to minimize the margin you are up against. The best way to accomplish this is to bet with many betting companies and consciously shop around to make sure you are getting the best price available to you. By taking the best odds available to you, you are decreasing the size of the margin, making the task of winning more manageable.

Betting singles, randomly deciding which outcomes to bet on, should in the long term cost you the margin of the market you are betting on. If you are a recreational punter you will be able to get a lot more entertainment for your money, by betting with several bookmakers and consciously shopping around for the best prices as this will decrease the margin you are up against.

If you are a non-recreational punter, you are obviously not betting randomly. There will be good reasons why you choose to bet on the outcomes you do. To be successful you need to be able to better quantify the chances of the various outcomes than the market. If the margin you are betting in to is large, you will need to be a lot better than the market to assess the likelihood of the different betting propositions, to obtain a long term profit. If the margin of your markets is small you will only need to be marginally better. 

In other words, by making the margin smaller you are making it much easier to be a profitable punter.

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