The basic principle of arbitrage betting is a simple one. The idea is to place a series of bets on all the possible outcomes of an event, using a combination of odds and stakes that ensures you are guaranteed to make a profit regardless of what the actual outcome is.
You might think this is too good to be true, but arbitrage betting is a real strategy that does work. In the right circumstances it is entirely possible to make guaranteed returns from your bets. It's not quite as simple as it sounds though. Many bettors have made the mistake of thinking that this betting strategy is an easy route to untold riches, but the reality is that it takes a lot of hard work and patience.
In this article we'll explore arbitrage betting in more detail. We'll explain how it works and why it's possible, and also teach you all the calculations you need to use this strategy. We'll also look at its advantages and disadvantages, provide some tips and advice for using this strategy, and answer some frequently asked questions about arbitrage betting.
It helps to understand the methods that bookmakers use to set their odds before learning about arbitrage betting. If you're not familiar with these, or just want to refresh your memory, please read our article on how bookmakers make money.
How Arbitrage Betting Works
As we've already explained, arbitrage betting involves placing bets on all the possible outcomes of an event in order to guarantee a profit. In a tennis match, for example, you would place two bets – one on each player to win. In a soccer match you would place three bets – one on each team to win plus one on the draw.
You're probably already aware that placing such bets with a single bookmaker would actually guarantee a loss, not a profit. This is because of the way that bookmakers set the odds to give themselves a built in profit margin. For a simple example, let's imagine there was an upcoming tennis match where a bookmaker thought both players had an equal chance of winning. They might set the odds as follows.
Andy Murray v Roger Federer
A winning $100 bet at odds of 1.91 would return a total of $191.00, including the initial $100 stake. So if you bet $100 on each of the two players, you'd be wagering a total of $200 to get a return of $191.00 regardless of who won. This would represent a loss of $9.
Arbitrage betting is therefore not as simple as just betting on all the possible outcomes of an event. If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it and there wouldn't be any bookmakers in business. What you have to do is find opportunities where the odds with different bookmakers make guaranteed profits a possibility. Such opportunities are often referred to as arbs.
Using the same hypothetical tennis match as above, it's possible that another bookmaker would take a different view on the likely outcome. They might make Murray the favorite to win, and set their odds as follows.
Andy Murray v Roger Federer
This has created an arbitrage opportunity. We'll show you some calculations you can use to highlight when an arb exists later, but please just take our word for it at this stage. You could make a guaranteed profit by betting on Murray with "Bookmaker A" and Federer with "Bookmaker B".
It's important to note at this stage that you have to work out the optimal stakes when arbitrage betting. We'll shortly show you the necessary calculations for this too, but we'll keep it relatively simple for now and use some round figures. The two bets you would want to make here are $107 on Murray at 1.91 and $93 on Federer at 2.20, again for a total of $200 of wagered.
As you can see, you would make a profit here regardless of which player wins. Although this is only a hypothetical example, it should help you to understand just how arbitrage betting works. We've already mentioned that similar opportunities do occur for real, and we'll now explain why.
Why Arbitrage Betting Is Possible
Arbitrage betting is only possible when the right circumstances present themselves. The odds available on sporting events regularly vary from one bookmaker to another, but there needs to be a sufficient difference for an arb to exist. Such a difference will typically occur for one of the following two reasons.
- Bookmakers taking differing views on the likely outcome of an event.
- Bookmakers adjusting their odds to create a balanced book.
The first reason is the one we referred to in our example above. Bookmakers tend to set their initial odds based on their views of what they think will happen in an event, so it is perfectly possible that two bookmakers will set different odds if they have different opinions about how an event is likely to turn out. If their opinions are different enough that there is a significant disparity in the odds that they offer, then an arbitrage opportunity may well exist.
Although a bookmaker's initial odds may reflect their views about an event, they will subsequently adjust those odds based on the wagers that they take. If they take a lot of wagers on one particular outcome, they will almost certainly reduce the odds on that outcome. At the same time they will increase the odds on the other outcome (or outcomes). This helps them to reduce their exposure to risk, and it can also lead to a notable difference between the odds available at different bookmakers.
There are some other reasons why arbs occur, but the two mentioned here are easily the most common.
How To Find Arbs
One of the biggest challenges you will face when using an arbitrage betting strategy is actually finding the right opportunities. Although they do occur reasonably frequently, they don't usually last very long. There are lots of bettors looking for them so they generally get spotted very quickly. As soon as a few bets have been placed to take advantage of an arb, the chances are that the odds will have changed enough for the opportunity to no longer exist.
You have three primary options when it comes to finding arbs. These are as follows.
- Websites and forums
- Software and alert services
- Your own research
There are several websites that advertise arbitrage opportunities as and when they appear, and some forums where users can post them up when they identify them. Using such websites and forums can be a relatively easy way to find arbs, but there are some downsides.
Firstly, you won't generally find the most lucrative arbs this way. People tend to keep those to themselves. You also have to be quick to take advantage of the ones that you do find. If there are lots of other people using the same sites and forums, and there usually are, then the opportunities are likely to disappear quite quickly.
There is tracking software you can purchase that will find arbs for you, and alert services you can subscribe to that will automatically notify you of them. These are relatively easy options, and very simple to use. You don't have to do much work yourself other than place the actual bets. They will cost you money though, and you may suffer from the same problem of the opportunities not lasting long.
Doing your own research is probably the best option for finding arbs. It requires the most work, but the rewards can be much greater. By finding your own opportunities you can hopefully take full advantage of them before anyone else is aware of them. You may also be able to find the more valuable arbs which don't generally get advertised, although this depends on how much time you can dedicate to your research and how quickly you can react to any opportunities you find.
The main downside to doing your own research is that you'll have to do all the necessary calculations yourself too. These calculations are not too complicated, but you do need to fully understand them and be able to apply them quickly.
Calculations Required for Arbitrage Betting
There are two calculations you need to do when arbitrage betting. The first calculation is simply for determining whether an opportunity exists, while the second calculation is for determining the size of the bets you should place. There is also a third calculation you can use to work out what your overall profit should be.
Determining Whether an Arb Exists
Please note that this calculation is based on using decimal odds. If you are working with odds in a different format you can use our conversion tool to convert them into decimal format.
To determine whether an arb exists or not you must first find the best odds available on each of the possible outcomes of an event. You must then apply the following calculation to each set of odds, with the result expressed as a percentage figure. This result for each set of odds is known as the individual arbitrage percentage, or IAP.
Using the odds for the hypothetical tennis match we mentioned earlier, the calculations would therefore be as follows.
You must then add those two IAPs together. Continuing with the same example, the calculation would be as follows.
If the result is less than 100% then an arbitrage opportunity exists. In this case we can see that an opportunity does exist, as the result is 97.81%. This is referred to as the total arbitrage percentage, or TAP.
The lower the percentage, the greater the potential profit. Ideally you want to look for 98% or less, to make the profits worthwhile, but technically anything below 100% is workable. Any result of 100% or greater means that there is no arbitrage opportunity.
Calculating Bet Sizes
As we demonstrated in our earlier example, you have to get the bet sizes right to make a profit when arbitrage betting. In order to do this you have to use the following calculation, where investment is the total sum that you are looking to stake on the arb.
For our hypothetical match between Murray and Federer, assuming an investment of $200, the calculations would look like this.
Placing the two bets using these stakes should guarantee the same profit, regardless of the outcome. Let's see if that's the case.
There's a very minor difference of a single cent, but this is just due to issues with rounding numbers to two decimal places during the calculations. The important thing to note here is that you are guaranteed to make a profit of at least $4.47 on the match.
If you want to calculate your expected profit before placing your wagers, you can use the following calculation.
If we use the same figures as above, the calculation would be as follows.
As you can see, this is the profit figure we demonstrated above.
The arbitrage betting strategy clearly relies quite heavily on math, but you don't need to be a genius with numbers to make it work. The calculations required are not particularly complex and can easily be done on a calculator. It's just a case of learning them and knowing when and how to use them.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Arbitrage Betting
There are two main advantages of the arbitrage betting strategy. The first is simply the very fact that it is possible to create situations where you are guaranteed to make a profit on a sporting event regardless of the outcome. It could be argued that this is not even gambling, as there is no risk involved once you have created such a situation.
The second advantage is that it's not really a difficult strategy to implement. Once you understand the basic principle of how it works, and the calculations involved, it is relatively easy to take advantage of any arbs that you manage to find.
However, this strategy is not without its disadvantages. It might be relatively easy to take advantage of arbs once you find them, but finding them is not actually that easy at all. There are lots of bettors out there looking for them, and they don't last forever. You need to be quick to spot them, and quick to act. To make consistent and meaningful profits from arbitrage betting you will almost certainly need to invest a lot of time just constantly searching through the betting markets.
You also need to invest a lot of money too. Most arbs offer a potential return of between 1% and 3% of the total amount staked, and this means you need a large bankroll to make any real money.
Let's assume you were able to find two good arbs a day on average, each with a return of 2%. You'd probably need to be betting full time to achieve this, and you'd need to bet a total of $5,000 on an arb to make $100 from it. That's $10,000 across the two opportunities, and you'd want a bankroll of at least twice that amount. You'd be making $200 a day, but you'd need a minimum bankroll of $20,000.
That's a sizable sum of money, and realistically you'd need even more than that. Another downside of arbitrage betting is that you need to have accounts with a lot of different bookmakers, and you need those accounts funded so that you can place a bet quickly when a particular bookmaker has the right odds that you need.
Arbitrage betting is NOT a completely risk free strategy
It's also important to note that there are some risks involved in arbitrage betting. There is no risk once you have placed the required bets, assuming you've done things properly, but that doesn't mean the strategy itself is entirely without risk. There are several things that can go wrong, including the following.
Taking advantage of an arb requires placing at least two bets at different bookmakers, and it's unlikely that you'll be able to place multiple bets simultaneously. There is always a chance that the odds will change after you've placed your first bet and before you've placed any subsequent bets, and this can result in an arb effectively disappearing. This means you have to either let the first bet run and take the associated risk with that, or place the subsequent bets anyway and make a small guaranteed loss.
You have to move quickly when arbitrage betting, and this can lead to making mistakes. It's quite possible to make an error when carrying out the necessary calculations, or even when placing the required bets. These kinds of mistakes can prove to be quite costly.
Most bookmakers do not like arbers, and if they suspect you of being one they may well limit your account or even close it. With a limited account you may not be able to stake the full amount you need to make an arb work, and with a closed account you won't be able to bet with that bookmaker at all. This can severely affect your opportunities for arbing.
In some circumstances bookmakers can cancel bets once they have been struck, and this can be disastrous for you when arbing. You'll get your stake back for the cancelled bet, but if you've already placed other bets to take advantage of an arb then you will be exposed to some risk of them losing without having the other outcome(s) covered. You may be able to place the cancelled bet again with another bookmaker, but you may not get the required odds to recreate the arb.
Arbitrage Betting – Our View
There is no doubt at all that arbitrage betting can be a profitable sports betting strategy. It is not, however, one that we can wholeheartedly recommend to everyone. The bankroll requirements are high and so are the time requirements, and you will be competing against a lot of well-organized betting syndicates looking for the same opportunities as you.
We absolutely wouldn't talk you out of using this strategy, and if you happen to come across an arbitrage opportunity then you should always try to take advantage of it. For most bettors, though, we would suggest that it's not worth spending too much time actively looking for arbs. The same time could be better spent on learning and developing other strategies that may be more profitable in the long run.
Tips & Advice for Arbitrage Betting
If you do decide to use the arbitrage betting strategy then the following tips and advice will help you to maximize your returns.
Arbitrage betting gets a lot more complicated when you use the strategy on events that have more than two possible outcomes. You'll miss out on some opportunities if you only look at events that have just two possible outcomes, but you'll make things a lot easier for yourself.
Finding arbs can be significantly less time consuming if you use alert services, tracking software or arbitrage websites and forums. There is always going to be lots of other people using them too though, and this means that the arbs that they do identify are going to disappear very quickly. If you have the time to spend identifying your own opportunities then you will probably make more money in the long run.
Getting your calculations wrong is the easiest way to lose money when arbitrage betting. Although you need to move quickly when you have spotted an arb, taking an extra moment or two to check your calculations will definitely prove to be time well spent.
Using betting exchanges can open up a lot more opportunities for arbitrage betting, due to the fact that you can lay outcomes as well as back them. Laying and backing makes the strategy a little more complicated, but can be very profitable.
You'll need accounts with several bookmakers if you want to make money out of arbitrage betting, and it's a very good idea to keep all your accounts funded. This way you'll be able to place any bets required as soon as you highlight an arb, without having to spend time making deposits.
There are a number of advantages to arbing as part of a team. Collectively you will have more time to spend looking for arbs, and also more money to maximize your potential profits. You will benefit from having more betting accounts with bookmakers too, as each member of the team can open accounts in their name. This should help you to make accounts last longer before they are limited or closed.
Arbitrage Betting FAQ
In some parts of the world it is illegal to bet on sports, which by extension would make arbitrage betting illegal. There are no specific laws making arbitrage betting illegal though, so if sports betting is legal where you live then so is arbing. Bookmakers don't like it, and take measures to prevent it, but you're not breaking the law.
Bookmakers don't like arbers because they represent bad business for them. An arber will always lose a certain percentage of his bets with a bookmaker, because of betting on all the possible outcomes, but should make an overall profit in the long run. The bookmakers are aware of this, and they don't want long term winners as customers. If they suspect a customer of arbing they will limit their account or even close it in order to protect their own profit margins.
There is no fixed amount of money required to use the arbitrage betting strategy. You can start with just a few dollars if you want, or you can start with thousands. A bigger bankroll will mean bigger potential profits, but please only ever bet with money that you can afford to lose. Arbitrage betting is a relatively safe way to bet when done properly, but things can go wrong and you can still lose money.
There is no way to accurately answer this question as it depends on a number of factors. The size of your bankroll, the number of arbs you can find, and the arbitrage percentage of those arbs will all affect your overall profitability. As a general rule you can expect to make returns of between 15% and 25% of your bankroll on a monthly basis, but this assumes that you have the time and ability to find arbs on a reasonably regular basis.
Technically you can bet on any sports using this strategy, but you'll find the most arbs on sports where there are only two possible outcomes. Our opinion is that tennis is the best sport for arbitrage betting, but others may think differently. You can find arbing opportunities on US football, darts, snooker, basketball, and many other sports too.
Arbitrage betting is certainly possible from the United States, but it's more challenging than it is in many other parts of the world. This is because US bettors are somewhat limited in terms of the bookmakers that they have access to, and the difference in odds between US friendly bookmakers is not typically that great. This makes it a lot harder to find arbs, but it's by no means impossible.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: July 2015
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