Arbitrage betting (known as arbing) is a risk-free way to gamble profitably. It is actually very easy to make money arbing, but much harder to stay under the radar and prevent your accounts from getting closed. In this article, I will introduce you to the concept of arbing and teach you what I know about staying under the bookie’s radar.
Let me guess where you’re at. You’ve probably made a bit of money matched betting, maybe a few thousand pounds. But you’ve run out of the easy sign-up offers and are starting to get fed up with having to hunt for progressively worse bonuses. And in the depths of an internet forum somewhere, you have heard about a secretive world where people make money arbing. A technique that is very similar to matched betting, but without the need for a bonus. Still risk-free, still tax-free, still totally legal. And open to anyone with an internet connection who lives in a country where online gambling is legal.
On the surface, arbing is very simple. But in reality, it is very advanced. I was obsessed with arbing for years. It was the subject of my university dissertation and my full-time profession/biggest source of income for almost five years. But I still hesitate to call myself an expert and despite having spent three years writing this blog, this is the first time I have written about it in depth.
So before I start let me give some warnings. Do not try to make money arbing with no previous experience of online betting. You will almost certainly make a mistake that could lose you money or have your accounts closed. Seriously, if you are new to making money from bookies then I really suggest you start with matched betting (a risk-free way of making money from bookie bonuses). Here are some of the reasons why:
- When creating an account at the bookie you will want to make the most of the sign-up bonus. If you don’t know how to do matched betting you are leaving money on the table.
- If you do something too obvious your accounts will get closed or gubbed (when they set your max bet size to £0). Once that happens you have lost that account for good and cannot open another.
- If your account gets gubbed before you have finished the wagering requirements of the bonus you will not be able to withdraw. You should avoid arbing until you have withdrawn the full value of the bonus.
- Arbing requires a much higher bankroll than matched betting. With Arbing you typically make 1%-4% of turnover. But matched betting you can often make 100% or more.
Ok. Now you have been warned. On to the good stuff!
How Do You Make Money Arbing?
But first up, what is arbing?
Arbing is a slang term for arbitrage, and describes the process where a gambler takes advantage of different odds at different bookmakers to cover and profit from all possible outcomes. By definition, the gambler knows how much he is going to make when he places the bet regardless of what outcome eventually happens.
The simplest form of arbing is known as a back/lay arbitrage. It occurs when you place a back bet at a bookie and lay off the exact same bet at a betting exchange. If you have already done some matched betting you will know all about back/lay betting and how betting exchanges like Betfair works.
Here is an example:
In the above screenshot, I am placing a bet on the horse ‘Don’t Give Up’ at odds of 5 on Betfred, and laying the same horse at odds of 4.8 at Betfair. There are two possible outcomes:
- Don’t Give Up wins. I make £400 at Betfred (£500 minus the £100 stake) and lose £395.85 at Betfair. Leaving me with a profit of £4.15.
- Don’t Give Up doesn’t win. I make £104.17 at Betfair and lose £100 at Betfred. Leaving me with a profit of £4.17.
I make the same amount (almost) regardless of who wins
Now that is a simple example that I have made even simpler (I have ignored commision at Betfair, the possible impact of Rule 4 and the Best Odds Guaranteed promotion), but you get the point. You make money arbing by betting on instances where the odds are different at different bookies.
I will cover complex arbs later in this post, but for now, I want to talk about why arbing is so hard.
The hard part of arbing is not finding arbs, it is avoiding getting caught
How Bookies Stop Arbers
Bookmakers hate arbers. That is because the money we are making is coming from them. That £4.17 we made earlier hasn’t appeared out of thin air, it is coming from the bookies pocket.
Important note: The bookies are allowed to close your account or limit your betting at their discretion. But they are not allowed to seize your winnings or cancel any bets that have been placed. See the above email: they are closing the account but honouring all open bets.
When I first realised that bookies could ban smart bettors while keeping losing punters I was furious. It is so unfair. But now that I understand things a bit better I am thankful. If the bookies weren’t allowed to ban players then a few highly sophisticated arbers would take them to cleaners. They would have the option to either go out of business or get much better at monitoring their odds and not allow any arbs to appear at all. If there were no arbs, it would be impossible to make money arbing. Hence why the only people who make money arbing the financial markets are those with the most expensive and fastest computer programs.
That means that for the modern day arber the game is as much about staying under the radar as it is about finding the arbs. I will talk about how to do that in a bit, but first, let us quickly address how to find the arbs:
How To Find Arbs
There are hundreds of sports, thousands of events and millions of different outcomes that it is possible to bet on. And on every single one, there is the possibility of bookies disagreeing on the odds and allowing you to make money arbing them. But the bookies aren’t stupid and the number of arbs that appear given the number of possible bets is actually a very small percentage. You can try finding the arbs manually, but that is a huge amount of work. Most people rely on a piece of software, you can either:
Buy An Arb Finding Service
There are a lot of arb finders on the market, and there are good reasons to choose different ones. I have reviewed a few in this post: The Best Sports Arbing Software
But long story short:
Basic arb finders such as the one offered by Oddsmonkey are generally quite cheap, but also very limited. They are aimed more at matched bettors than arbers and often just cover the most basic types of arbs on just a few sports with a slow refresh rate. Oddsmonkey costs £19.99 a month and come with a lot of matched betting tools as well.
The advanced ones such as RebelBetting are often very expensive but cover a much larger array of bets and sports. RebelBetting costs €129 a month and is just an arb finder. They are solely aimed at people who want to make money arbing.
Build An Arb Finder Yourself
But even the most advanced commercially available arb finders only cover a tiny portion of all the markets available, just a couple of markets on a hanful of sports. Here is an extract from my dissertation, which built an arb finder to look for complex arbs on football back in 2009.
Each entry in that table is a different combination that can form an arbitrage opportunity. And that is only one sport! No wonder that even eight years later the arb finders on the market are still just scratching the surface.
The thing is that building your own arb finder is expensive. I estimate that I’ve spent over £30,000 on developers to help me build mine. And I have a masters in computer science and did most of the work myself. New arbers generally start with a cheap service, work up to a more expensive one and eventually build their own (or team up with a syndicate who have their own).
Now we have blitzed through that let us get on to the hard part. Stopping your accounts getting gubbed.
How To Stop Your Accounts Getting Gubbed
It is easy to make money arbing, but much harder to keep your accounts and avoid getting gubbed. And I cannot give you a recipe or formula for perfect arbing because each bookie is different. And they are constantly changing and improving their systems. If I were to lay out an exact betting pattern you can be sure some trader at some bookie would read this post and add in an algorithm to catch anyone following it.
You therefore need to decide on your own tactics. Constantly change them up. And constantly be thinking about how your betting patterns look from the point of view of the bookies.
But what I can offer are some general principles. Here are some things to keep in mind, and as always be creative and try to think up your own tactics. Arbing is a science, but not getting gubbed is an art.
Keep your bet sizes down
When a lot of people start to make money arbing they get really excited that there are often really high upper bet limits. Most big bookies allow bets of over £1,000 on large events, sometimes up to £10,000. Which on a 4% arb equates to some very easy money. But can you think of anything more suspicious than a new account holder placing a huge bet on what happens to be an arb? That could easily be the biggest bet they have seen on that market and will definitely get someone’s attention.
By all means, once you account has been going a long time with a history of slowly increasing bets then feel free to up the betsize. But going in cold with huge bets is just asking for trouble.
So what is a reasonable bet size to start with? Well that is entirely up to you and really depends on the event and bookie. As I said earlier there is no formula. Just use your common sense and mix it up. If your first bet is on the championship final then a £200 bet isn’t going to look strange. Whereas a £50 bet on Korean fourth division soccer at is going to look mighty odd.
Try to look like a normal bettor
To follow on from this, your profile at the bookie is also very important. Let me give you an example. If you place a bet on a suspicious arb instead of instantly gubbing you they will look at your history. If it looks like you’re a regular punter then they will most likely let it go. But if all your previous bets were also on arbs they will probably gub you.
There is a myth that bookies ban profitable accounts. That isn’t true. You won’t get gubbed because your account has made money, you will get gubbed if they see you consistently bet on bad odds (aka arbs) – even if your account has lost money.
So to try and not look like an arber, most arbers will build a profile around their account. This can be done by purposely betting on non-arbs (known as mug punting), or by only betting on specific types of bets.
For instance, you could build a profile as a fanatical Chelsea football supporter. You place bets solely on Chelsea or on Chelsea derived bets (see unusual arb combinations below). Small bets when it isn’t an arb. Larger bets when it is. Always sure that your net output is a profit. This may sound very limiting – and indeed it is a very limited profile that I don’t recommend – but most big football matches have at least a few arbs appear every game.
My best tip is to always try and view your betting activity as if you were a bookie. Does it look suspicious?
Avoid huge arbs
Remember how I said that the bookies are not allowed to cancel your bets? Well there is one important exception that you need to understand and avoid. That is when they make a ‘palpable’ mistake. Also known as a palp. A palp is when the bookies have made a clear mistake (for instance mixing up the odds on two different events). They can then cancel every bet placed on it. Palps are normally very obvious, for instance if you see a 50% arb then you can be sure that there is some sort of mistake. I tend to ignore everything above a 20% arb.
On top of the obviously risk of getting the attention of the bookie and risking your account getting gubbed, there is a bigger risk. If you bet on a palp then only one half of your bet is going to get cancelled. The other half of your bet ar Betfair still stands and if it loses you will be out a large amount of money.
Bet on unusual arb combinations
Every man and his dog is betting on basic football arbs (the type I showed above where you place a back bet at the bookie and lay off the same team at Betfair) and it is very easy for bookies to spot the mass traffic. But if you are the only person placing a bet on that specific arb opportunity you may avoid their notice.
That is one of the reasons why professional arb finders are so expensive. They don’t want a lot of customers. If too many people use them it would lead to a lot of arbers betting on the same opportunities, leading to lots of gubbing. The most expensive cost thousands a month and have a one in one out policy. I remember sitting on a waiting list for two years before finally getting into one of the best ones. They only allowed 20 subscribers in total!
Luckily there are lots of different combinations that create arbs (remember my dissertation above) and you don’t need to fork out thousands of pounds on an arb finder to find them. You can find them manually. Now this is normally a very slow and laborious experience, but if you stumble across an unusual combination that the bookies don’t monitor it can be quite easy to find the arbs manually. You aren’t looking for just one arb, but for patterns that can help you find lots more in the future easilly. Arb finders are a relatively recent invention and when I first started matched betting all arbers would find their opportunities manually, it is becoming a lost skill.
Which brings me on to some of the other advantages to finding arbs manually:
Look for arbs on sports that aren’t horse racing, football or tennis
99% of arb finders only focus on the most popular three sports. But other sports like golf, formula one and boxing are still massive with huge betting volumes and lots of arbs. If you can arb them you are much less likely to get gubbed than by betting on the same arbs as everyone else.
Bet at unusual or smaller bookies
Creating a bit of software to finds arbs at a bookie is difficult and expensive. And most arb finders therefore only focus on the big bookies. Meaning that a lot of the smaller bookmakers aren’t being arbed by the masses. Monitoring lots of small bookies manually is terrible, but you don’t need to do that. The smaller bookies will often just copy the odds of the larger bookies, so if you see a juicy arb why not check around to see if other places have it too?
Betting at smaller bookies also gives you more accounts, so if you lose one it isn’t such a big hit.
Avoid really small or weird markets
While a large bet on a large football match doesn’t look too strange, a similarly large bet on fourth division Korean table tennis is going to raise some eyebrows. Most arb finders don’t differentiate between the types of markets so always be aware of what you’re betting on and if it is too weird, avoid.
Bet on arbs no one else has found
Arbing is a creative business. You need to constantly be researching and looking for new opportunities. And occasionally you might just stumble across a type of arb no one else has found, including the bookies.
When I first started arbing we discovered that it was possible to arb the each way markets. Betfair and the bookies had a different rule set which created a nice opportunity to lock in some profit. The bookies didn’t realise these were arbs so for a good year we could place as many bets as we wanted without getting gubbed. Eventually, they worked it out and now each way arbs are very well understood. Even matched betting services like Oddsmonkey’s now have each way arb finders.
But if you can find a new type of arb you could be on to a real cash cow. And if you find something really juicy, that is when you create your own arb finder to scale up your betting and really make money arbing.
Place the bets in person – Sharbing
High street bookies normally have the same odds as their online websites. And while you need an account to place a bet online, you can just walk into any bookie and place a bet in person without opening an account or providing ID (unless you look under 18). So while you can be banned from a single shop, it is very hard to get banned from every store. They don’t have your name and while the manager of one shop might recognise you there are thousands of other stores around the UK.
Arbing in person like this is often called Sharbing (shop arbing). You rarely hear about it because the logistics can get very complicated and it requires you to leave the house. But it can be done. We ran a big group of bettors who would go round the South of England placing arbs at high street bookies. It was successful and worked well, but was a lot of work. If I ever struggle for money it is something I’ll look into again.
Before this site was a blog, it was the URL where I hosted all of my arbing related software. Among them was a dashboard system to manage our Sharbing (photo below).
Bet as part of a team and make money arbing together
You can only have one account at each bookie. And if you lose that one account it is terrible. You have been cut off from all those beautiful arbs with no chance of reprieve. To avoid this you could team up with a small group of likeminded arbers. Together you can pool your money and profits while each person tries a different tactic on their personal accounts. One member then getting gubbed isn’t the end of the world.
At this point many people start thinking about multi-accounting (known as gnoming). And ask is it legal to bet on someone else’s account. The answer is I don’t really know – and I’ve even commissioned lawyers to find out who also didn’t know. There is no case law on it (yet) and I suspect it largely depends on the exact circumstances. I’m not even sure if it is legal for bookies to ban accounts that are profitable. But if I was you I would very much stick to the safe side. It is fine to pool money and share winnings while you are each in full control of just your own accounts. Wheras logging in to someone else’s account and placing a bet is a grey area and I wouldn’t recommend it.
But remember that just because it is legal that doesn’t mean the bookies will like it. If the bookies find out you are teaming up they will most likely just gub all of your team’s accounts.
Obviously there are separate issues that can occur from betting as part of a team (or any trust-based business involving money). For instance, how do you stop one member running off with the winnings? And how do you deal with mistakes? Pick your teammates carefully!
HMRC still considers winnings made from a betting syndicate as tax-free. But all those transactions may pique their interest so it is recommended that you have a formal agreement in place in case you are ever asked to provide proof. The national lottery has a handy guide on setting up a betting syndicate on the lottery which you can adapt to other forms of betting.
Where Can You Learn More About How To Make Money Arbing?
I have purposely skipped over a lot of the basics about how the mechanics of arbing works because I want to discourage people from taking it up before learning matched betting. Seriously, do matched betting first. There are a lot of crossover skills and a solid knowledge of matching betting will be really valuable. Any matched betting service (I review a few here) will have a thriving forum and detailed how-to guides that can teach you the basics of how to make money arbing.
Ps. I have been invited to do a question and answer session at a matched betting conference in central London on Saturday 28th October 2017 (I’m on in the afternoon, not sure what time). So if you happen to be based in London and want to ask me anything in person about what it takes to make money arbing or matched betting, You can buy tickets here. I complained that it was so expensive (£297 for the three days) so they gave me a discount code for my guests. Type in SAM as the promotional code when you come to select a ticket on Eventbrite for £250 off bringing it down to a much more reasonable £47.
The conference itself is three-day event covering all forms of Arbing. This is the first matched betting conference I have ever been too so I don’t really know what to expect! If it’s lame we can always leave and go for a drink and chat elsehwere. It would be good to meet a few more of my readers.
If you do decide to come drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, someone has suggested we could hold an Arbing Blog social afterwards which I am very much up for.