Betting Experts Answer: How difficult is it to beat the betting markets? | Part 1

Welcome to the sixth article in our series:“Betting Experts Answer The Industries Biggest Questions.”

This week we opened up the debate on the accuracy of sports betting markets, as we asked 11 experts the question:

Q6: How difficult is it to beat the sports betting markets? How efficient are the odds?

Check out Part 2 of our answers here, where we get the opinions of former odds compiler - Matthew Trenhaile, host of the Business of Betting Podcast, author - True Poker Joe & Nenko from The Church of Betting.

Check out Part 3 of our answers here, where we get the opinions of Pete Ling from Smart Betting Club, Toby Aldous from Punter2Pro & football trader - Alex Ong.


Hugely difficult. There's an age-old myth that 97% of punters lose. On its own this doesn't mean very much. It tells us nothing about how long a punter has been betting, and what sorts of risks they have been taking along the way. Out of 100 punters, 99 would expect to be in profit after one bet priced a 1.01. Over a quarter of them will be still in profit after betting 1,000 even-money wagers with a 2% margin. This happens because of luck. But that's not really what we are being asked about. We want to know how many punters can make a profit over the long term after the effects of good and bad luck cancel each other, that is to say what proportion of punters have enough skill to consistently overcome the bookmaker's margin. All my works point to that figure being no more than 1 in 100 and more probably 1 in 1,000 or smaller.

Joseph Buchdahl

It's a hugely difficult task precisely because the odds are so efficient. Again, all my work points to this being true. Efficiency is really a misused concept. At the extremes, markets are both perfectly efficient and perfectly inefficient. On the one hand, the average price of something happening in 2-way events is 50% (leaving aside the margin) and this matches exactly the average outcome probability. But that's not very informative, since it hides all the individual price errors. At the other end it might be argued that every price is wrong because things either happen (100%) or they don't (0%) and no price reflects that. However, this is a false interpretation of the true probabilistic, rather than deterministic, nature of reality.

Efficiency as a concept is useful at scales in between. Unfortunately you can never know individual true probabilities, you can only guestimate them from sample averaging. The smaller the sample size where you can match expectation with observation, the more appropriate it becomes to describe a market as efficient. The more efficient a market is, the more that probabilities implied by the odds reflect the underlying true outcome probabilities, and the fewer the pricing errors.

Some bookmakers, like Pinnacle, make it their business to set very efficient markets, with few price errors. That's how their model works. They are the hardest to beat, even though they have the smallest margins. Other bookmakers, typically in the UK and Europe have less efficient markets, but they are intentionally so to attract new customers. They are easier to beat (evidence suggests perhaps as many as 5% know how), but consequently harder to maintain an active account with. Such bookmakers will not accommodate people who know how to beat their odds, so restrict them to irrelevant stakes or close their accounts altogether. They would prefer you treat betting as a form of entertainment only. In the UK at least, this is now the basis of the regulatory framework where you are no longer permitted to promote betting as a means of making money or the idea that there is a market or bookmaker to be beaten.

Beating the bookmaker is a very difficult thing to do. They have the best data analysts with access to the best software models and the most data. They have a margin on their side to protect them against errors. And most of them can simply stop you betting if they think you might just happen to be better at it than they are.

Follow @12Xpert on Twitter & check out the 12Xpert website here.


Winning difficulty is directly correlated with higher betting limits. The lower a bookmaker takes on an offering, the easier it is to beat. I advise anyone starting out to solely focus on these small limit markets. Prove you can squash a bug before attempting to slay Goliath.

Spanky's workspace

Follow @Spanky on Twitter & check out the article The Ringer wrote about him here.


I think if you do a bit of research then it isn't that hard to beat the sports betting markets. Matched betting, value betting and arbitrage betting are all proven ways of doing so. The trouble with these methods is longevity. Beating the sharp markets and betting exchanges is something that not many people can do.

How efficient are the odds?

Depends on the markets. Markets with greater liquidity are going to be more efficient generally. However even large markets can have a lot of fluctuation between opening and closing odds. There is a lot of data to suggest that in higher liquid markets the closing odds are very efficient.

Follow @SmSportstrader on Twitter & check out the Smart Sports Trader blog here.


Beating the sports betting market on a consistent basis is hard work. It takes a lot of effort and time to apply yourself to the market with a winning approach, and if we bet into the market without a sound plan in place, we can expect to lose to the market over time. However, if a proper strategy is set in place, it is definitely possible to beat the market and become very skilled at it too. Leveraging essential resources (real-time odds software, multiple betting accounts, fast sources of information, etc) could help you get one step closer to beating the market.

Unlike most other casino games, where pay tables are fixated, the odds in the sports betting market are dynamic. The market is subject to new information; player injuries, lineups, weather, or anything else that could affect the true probabilities of a match. As this information enters the market, bets get placed until the market becomes efficient again. These opportunity windows are where inefficiencies are captured by sharp bettors, so the market doesn’t have to be completely out of line for a bettor to take advantage of an inefficient situation. Sports betting is a game with thin margins, so even the slightest inefficiencies that you bet into can and will add-up over time, adding serious profits to your bankroll in the long-run.

As the life of a market comes to an end, we reach what we call the “closing line”. The closing line in the top betting markets (Top Soccer, NBA, NFL, etc) is a good implication of the true probabilities of a match because all the information pertaining to the match have been turned over. The closing line is going to be efficient 997 out a 1000 times, but as I mentioned above, there are multiple ways to capture inefficiencies before that point.

Follow @BetLikeHarout on Twitter here.

Check out Part 2 of our answers here, where we get the opinions of former odds compiler - Matthew Trenhaile, host of the Business of Betting Podcast, author - True Poker Joe & Nenko from The Church of Betting.

Check out Part 3 of our answers here, where we get the opinions of Pete Ling from Smart Betting Club, Toby Aldous from Punter2Pro & football trader - Alex Ong.

Love getting the opinions from experts in the betting industry? Then subscribe to the Trademate Sports Podcast, where we interview the most important people in the sports betting industry.

Here are the other questions we have got our industry experts to answer so far:

  • Q1: Top 3 tips for betting beginners? Part 1 & Part 2.
  • Q2: How do you define “finding value” in betting markets? Part 1 & Part 2.
  • Q3: How do you determine whether your betting results are based on luck or skill? Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.
  • Q4: Kelly criterion or flat staking: Which stake sizing strategy do you consider to be the best and why? Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.
  • Q5: What is the best method to use to make money from sports betting? Part 1 & Part 2.
  • Q7: Best way to manage risk in sports betting? Part 1 & Part 2.
  • Q8: Is there a best sport to bet on? If so, what is it? Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.
  • Q9: Assuming you have an edge, at what point can you start accurately evaluating your results and say that variance has played out? Part 1 & Part 2.
  • Q10: What is the one thing you would like to see change in the gambling industry? Part 1 & Part 2.
  • Q11: Do you think emotions play a part in people's sports betting results? If so, how should they overcome this? Part 1 & Part 2.
  • Q12: What are the top 3 mistakes people make when betting? Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.

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