How to Beat the Bookies

Aug. 10, 2020 by SportsBettingQuant

You might ask yourself: How is it possible to beat the bookies? If you are looking for a simple answer, a strategy or recipe, I am sorry to disappoint you - there is no simple way to beat the bookies. In my opinion it is nearly impossible to beat the bookies over a long period of time for three reasons: Odds are set by professionals, the bookmaker uses a margin and bookmakers are limiting successful accounts. I would like to emphasize that I am talking about a long period of time, multiple months and years. Obviously it is possible to beat the bookie in a single bet or over a short period of time. There are also approaches to clear signup bonuses to generate income but again, this is also more of a short term thing. If you plan to create an additional and -more importantly- stable income from sports betting you want to rely on it for multiple years - otherwise it might not be worth the effort to get started.

Understand How a Bookmaker Sets Odds

In order to beat the bookie we first need to understand how a bookmaker works, how a bookmaker sets odds and what the purpose of a bookmaker is. Nowadays bookmakers employ teams of data scientists and data engineers that process, store and analyse a large amount of data. Quantitative models are constantly developed and tested by a team of data professionals with the goal to obtain the most accurate odds. A simple search on indeed will show you the jobs in the field of sports modeling along with required skills and typical responsibilities.

If you bet with a bookmaker you are basically fighting against their data science team. You need to be able to identify betting opportunities where the offered odds of a bookmaker are too large. In such value betting approach you basically need to have better models or more knowledge compared with the bookmaker's data science team. Factors that matter in the fight against the bookie's data team are:

  1. Manpower
    Unless you are able to hire your own data team it is probably a single person that fights the bookie's team having a limited amount of time available for data analysis, data processing and model development.
  2. Skill
    Whilst a bookie has funding to hire employees with university degrees or experienced professionals you might first need to develop and build the required skill set for sports modeling, mainly in the field of mathematics, programming and data science.
  3. Betting Market
    I believe that as a retail sports bettor it is possible to develop models for a specific market and in a specific sport which can beat the bookie's model. It is better to focus on a niche rather than playing all markets of the bookie.

Please don't get fooled by sports betting marketers that sell courses or success formulas. Also be careful with tipster performances, cherry picked trades shown in Youtube videos or any other get rich quick schemes in the field of sports betting. Developing models and the knowledge to set your odds more accurate than a bookie requires time, knowledge and effort - it is really hard.

Bookmaker's Margin / Overround

A bookmaker has a rather simple business model and everything is driven by profit in the end. Otherwise the bookmaker won't last very long. For that reason a bookmaker does not offer odds to the customers that reflect the true probability of their model. Odds are adjusted (reduced) which leads to a bookmaker margin (also called overround). You can look at any betting market: If you convert the odds into probabilities and sum up the probabilities for the different outcomes you will end up with a value larger than one.

Not only do you need to beat the data science model of the bookmaker but also their margin. You might have a betting system that can beat the odds that are adjusted for overround but again this is not good enough as you are unable to place bets at the adjusted odds with the bookie. Of course you can shop around, maybe another bookie is offering better odds. You can also move your betting activities to a betting exchange where there is no such thing as an overround as you are betting against other users. However, on a betting exchange you would typically need to pay a commission on your profits which again makes it more difficult to earn money on the long term.

Bookies are Limiting Accounts

If you made it so far that you are generating profit by betting with a bookmaker for some time, the bookmaker will very likely start to limit you: Bookmakers simply limit the accounts of players that win too much, or even close accounts of winning customers. Again, from the business perspective of a bookmaker that makes perfect sense: The bookmaker just wants to create profit and players that win against a bookmaker reduce the bookmakers profit.

The typical process of how a bookmaker limits an account varies but typically it starts with limiting stakes. As a user you can only place very small amounts which means you can only generate little profit, which makes it unattractive. Another form of limitation is removing access to certain betting markets so that you are unable to use your expert knowledge in a specific domain.

I have not heard of any cases where a customer got restricted on a betting exchange but also there are premium charges that apply to successful customers.

Alternatives to Using Bookmakers

Given that it is very difficult to beat the bookie, the question arises whether it is possible to create an additional income from sports betting without using a bookmaker. You can use a betting exchange instead where you can set your own odds. On a betting exchange bets are settled in between market participants and you can take over the role of a bookmaker placing lay bets. I am not aware of any cases where successful users on a betting exchange get limited but there might be other penalties such as premium charges etc.


For three reasons it is very difficult to beat a bookmaker: A team of professionals sets the odds, bookmaker margin is added and bookmakers can limit successful users. Betting on a betting exchange market might be a more viable approach towards earning money with sports betting.

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