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Sports betting for beginners
Sports betting can be intimidating and confusing if you are new to the game. It has its own jargon that takes time to decode. Making sense of everything happening on a betting website can also be confusing.
Placing your first bets from that place of confusion is probably going to waste your money and take the fun out of the betting experience.
With that in mind we've put together this guide to sports betting for people who're completely new to sports betting and looking to learn the basics.
You'll find an overview of everything you need to get started, along with links and further reading to learn more about each betting topic.
With that said, let's get started.
Where do you live?
Before you get started with sports betting, you first need to find out the legal status of sports betting in your country.
Some countries prohibit any form of online sports betting, others allow a selection of licensed bookmakers to offer their services in the country. Some countries only allow betting at state-owned operators and a few countries have very liberal sports betting rules and allow most bookies to operate.
If you're unsure whether or not sports betting is allowed in your country, you're going to have to get started with doing some research on whether or not sports betting is legal, and which bookies are licensed to operate there.
Needless to say, betting while under the age of 18 is strictly prohibited by all bookmakers.
Additional reading on betting laws:
Choosing a bookmaker
Before you place a sports bet you'll need to decide which online bookmaker you want to use for your sports betting. To start with you want to choose a provider that has a good reputation and offers extra value to its customers when getting started.
Typically this will be one of the big name bookies, some of whom also run high street betting shops. These bookmakers have been in business for decades and tend to have strong customer support, website features and promotions that smaller providers struggle to match.
Recommended bookmakers to start with include:
This list is by no means complete, but gives you a good starting point in the world of sports betting without having to spend too much time researching and vetting bookies. Keep in mind that you can try out other providers once you have a solid handle on sports betting.
Additional reading on choosing a bookie:
- UK Licensed Bookmakers
- Blacklisted bookmakers
- Betting exchanges are a popular alternative to fixed odds bookies. Find out why.
Opening a betting account
Once you have selected a bookie that is licensed to operate in your country and has a rock-solid reputation, you're ready to get started.
Opening a betting account is straightforward, but also quite important. If you provide incorrect or fraudulent information while setting up your account this will probably lead to an account suspension at some time in the future.
With this mind you should have the following available when opening your betting account:
- Proof of ID and age.
- A residential address and proof of address.
- A payment method that is accepted by the bookmaker - using the payment account of a friend or relative is not allowed.
The sign-up process itself is simple. You will need to click on a 'sign up' or 'open account' link on the website and follow the information prompts for the registration process.
Be prepared to pass through an age and identity verification process when opening your account. Bookmakers put a lot of effort into preventing underage gambling and fraudulent activity.
Additional reading on opening a betting account:
Free bets explained
Free bets, also called no risk bets or open account offers, are incentives bookmakers use to attract new customers. These can range in value from a few pounds to hundreds of pounds.
The principles behind every free bet are basically the same:
- Make a deposit into your account.
- Place one or more qualifying bets (make sure you read the free bet T&Cs before placing this bet).
- Once you have met the requirements for your free bet, a free bet coupon will be credited to your account.
- Select the free bet on the betting slip to pay for a bet while the coupon is still valid. If your bet wins you will receive the winnings as cash. The free bet stake won't be credited to your account.
Depending on where you're betting redeeming a free bet can be a simple, affordable process, or a lengthy process that requires you to play through your balance several times before your free bet is credited to your account. Often, the bigger the free bet, the more hoops you'll need to jump through to claim it.
As with everything else you'll face as a rookie punter, you'll want to keep it simple to start with. Don't focus on the big free bet offers from new bookies - instead go to established bookies and claim free bets that can be easily redeemed by placing just one qualifying bet.
Additional reading on free bets:
Making a deposit
During the account sign-up process you are likely to be prompted to register a payment method and make a deposit into your account.
Once again, this process is simple as you will be offered a selection of payment methods and then be prompted to submit your payment details and make a deposit.
There is one important thing to keep in mind during this part of the process, and that is the conditions of the open-account offer from the bookmaker you have chosen.
To qualify for the open account offer you will often need to meet a minimum deposit requirement for your account, as well as a minimum wagering requirement.
So make sure that you read through the terms and conditions of your open account offer and deposit the correct amount during this stage of the process.
Additional reading on making a deposit:
Choosing what to bet on
Major bookmakers cover dozens of sports around the globe, and thousands of daily sports events. There is nothing wrong with browsing what's available on the bookie's home screen once you have registered and logged in, but if you randomly pick events to bet on you're probably not going to benefit much.
Before choosing a sport and event to bet on, consider the following questions:
- Which spectator sports you follow most closely?
- Which tournaments or teams/players in these sports you typically follow?
- Do you follow any blogs, pundits or news sources related to these events?
The more you know about a sport, the more educated your bets will be. While betting on horseracing might seem like fun, horse racing betting is the equivalent of playing the lottery if you know nothing about the sport.
Additional reading on what to bet on:
Football betting tips for some basic tips on betting on football.
Golf betting tips for some basic tips on betting on golf.
Cricket betting tips for some basic tips on betting on cricket.
Rugby betting tips for some basic tips on betting on rugby.
Tennis betting tips for some basic tips on betting on tennis.
A betting market is a specific category of bet type available for a sports event. Punters can select potential outcomes within that market - for example football match betting involves picking either team to win, or the draw, in a football match.
Betting markets are where the action happens in sports betting, and are usually ordered according to the following structure:
- The sport - i.e. football.
- The event - i.e. Premier League.
- The fixture - i.e. Manchester City vs Chelsea.
Many bookies display betting markets for high profile tournaments and fixtures prominently on their home pages or the landing page for a specific sport. If you are looking for something specific you will usually need to drill down to your event and available markets.
Once you find the betting markets you will notice that there can be dozens of them available for even a simple second division football match.
If you're a beginner many of these won't make sense to you right away, and you should avoid them and instead focus on the basic betting markets that make sense up front.
These markets will ask you to answer simple questions like:
- Who will win the event (win or match betting)?
- What the score will be (final score betting)?
- What the winning margin will be (winning margin betting)?
If you have a good handle on your sport and the tournament you are following you should have no problem making educated guesses at what the outcomes of a fixture should be.
There is no shame in starting off in sports betting with simple bets like this. In fact, you'll find that experienced punters often focus on a few simple markets rather than spreading their bets over a variety of different bet types.
As you learn more about sports betting you can read up and test out the other types of betting markets and expand your options when betting on any event.
Additional reading on betting markets:
Odds are the basic building block of betting. The odds are the 'price' a bookmaker is willing to pay if you place a winning bet.
You will find that most betting markets, with the exception of certain racing markets, offer numerical odds besides each option in the market.
If your bet wins, the bookmaker will multiply your stake (the amount you bet) by the odds you selected.
UK bookies offer odds in a couple of formats, including:
- Decimal odds, which are presented using a decimal point, i.e. 3.0. When you calculate a return on a bet using decimal odds it includes the amount you bet in the first place.
- Fractional odds, which are represented as fractions, i.e. 2/1. When you calculate a return on a fractional odds price it excludes the stake amount that will be refunded to you.
How odds work
Odds are correlated with the probability of a given bet winning. If there are high odds on a bet, this means the bet is unlikely to win. If the odds are low, it means the bet is more likely to win.
Bookies have to perform a fine balancing act when they set odds. On the one hand their odds have to accurately represent the probability of a bet winning and attract bets.
On the other hand, the odds have to be high enough to create a profit margin for the bookie. This profit margin is known as the 'overround'.
To begin with all you really need to know is that odds give a fair reflection of the probability of any bet winning.
When you select higher odds, you put yourself in a position where you can earn potentially larger payouts, but where your risk of losing is also bigger.
When you select lower odds, your chances of winning your bet improve. However, you'll earn less when your bet does win.
Important reading on odds:
How to place a bet
In the old days placing a bet involved filling in your bets on a paper betting slip and handing it to the operator at a betting shop.
Today's punters have access to sophisticated online betting slips that not only allow you to register your bets, but also calculate the potential winnings from your bets.
Betting slips are very user friendly and make it simple to place bets:
- To make a selection (i.e. back a potential outcome in a betting market) click on that option in the betting market.
- Your selection will appear on your betting slip, which will usually open automatically on your screen.
- You can make as many additional selections as you like - these will all be added to your betting slip.
- Once you have finished making your selections you can enter the amount you want to stake (or bet) on each selection.
- Once you have entered your stake, all you need to do next is confirm your bet by clicking the 'Place bet' button or equivalent on the betting slip.
- If your bet wins, your winnings will be deposited into your account shortly after the event you bet on is completed. If your bet loses, you will lose your stake.
Placing a bet on a betting slip is about as hard as falling out of a tree. However, there are a couple of things on a betting slip that can trip a newbie punter up.
Each way options
When you bet on any event that has a finishing order you will be given the option to back your selection each way - often abbreviated as e/w on the betting slip.
If you choose this option the stake you place on your selection will automatically be doubled, and half of it will be put on a place bet on your selection - i.e. a bet on your selection finishing as one of the runners-up in the event. The number of runners-up places paid by the bookie will depend on the event.
While each-way betting is not complicated, you can ignore this option until you are comfortable using a betting slip and placing regular bets on the winner of an event.
Accumulators and combination bets
As soon as you add more than one selection to a betting slip, it will give you the option of tying your selections into a single bet. These bets are called accumulator bets, and give you the option of getting bigger payouts by potentially stringing together a series of wins in a single bet.
While basic accumulator betting is quite straightforward - for example placing a single bet on two different Premier League teams winning their matches - these bet types can become complex. Particularly when they are combined into combination bets.
So, to begin with you want to keep things simple and place one bet at a time, and leave accumulator and combination bets until you have a bit more experience betting.
Additional reading on placing a bet:
The basics of responsible gambling
While betting can be a great way to add spice to sports events and test your sporting knowledge, it can be very financially destructive if abused.
Getting the most out of betting involves sticking to some basic principles:
- Never bet more than you can afford to lose.
- Never chase your losses. If you're on a losing streak, stop betting, accept that losing is part of the game for even the most experienced punters and take a break.
- Bet for fun. If you're betting large sums of money you can't really afford, you're going to find sports betting very stressful and increase its addictive potential.
- Bet on what you know. Ultimately sports betting is a competition between you and a bookmaker to better judge a potential event outcome. The less you know about a sport or fixture, the less likely you are to beat the bookie.
- Avoid any and all proven 'systems' or get-rich-quick schemes. The few systems that do work, such as arbitrage, will get you instantly banned by bookies once you are found out - and you will be found out.
Strategies to avoid
Not only do many strategies do little more than enrich the people flogging them, but some can even bankrupt you in a few hours.
Here are some betting strategies you want to steer clear of:
- The Martingale System. This involves doubling your bet every time you lose, in the hope that you'll recover all your losses when one of your bets finally wins. One problem with this theory is that every event you bet on is independent of the previous one, and your odds of winning an event do not increase the more often you lose. The other problem is your stake will need to increase exponentially. Start off with a £2 stake, and you'll be betting £1024 by your 10th losing bet.
- Buy-in Systems. Some individual somewhere claims they have discovered a system that guarantees a profit on tennis, football, horse racing or any other sport. All you need to do to start cleaning up is pay once-off to access this winning system and you'll become rich overnight. If you fall for this expect two things: firstly to lose money and on the system, and secondly to never see a cent of the money you spent on the system ever again.
Generally avoid systems that promise to guarantee you a profit or consistent wins. What you may find is legitimate is expert punters who run subscription services where they provide tips to their audiences.
These services require the experts to deliver winning tips frequently because of the subscription model used, and can be used to help you improve the quality of your bets and win more often.
Additional reading on responsible gambling:
Taking the next step
Ultimately there will be some trial and error involved in getting the hang of sports betting, and you'll learn the most through experience.
With this in mind it doesn't hurt to dive in once you have touched on the important points in this guide and refer to the more in-depth resources we offer when you get stuck or have a question.
If you have any questions about getting started with sports betting, or would like to see any topics covered in this guide, please feel free to get in touch.
Sports betting for beginners FAQ
What is the easiest thing to bet on?
The easiest thing to bet on is whichever sport you know the most about. For the majority of people this will be football, tennis, golf, cricket or one of the other major sports. For any of these sports, predicting the match winner is usually the simplest bet to understand and place.
What is the most difficult thing to bet on?
It will be difficult to bet on any sport you don't have a good handle on. For example if you never watch baseball, baseball betting markets are going to confuse you and you won't have enough knowledge to make an educated bet.
When it comes to difficult bet types, there are massive combination bets like the Super Goliath that need to be manually set up and can be almost impossible for even experienced punters to put together.
What is the easiest bet to win?
The easiest bet to win is going to be the one placed at the lowest available odds. The lower the odds, the higher the probability of your bet winning. For example, if you bet on a horse that is priced 1/2 to win its race you have a pretty solid chance of winning your bet. However, the ease of winning the bet will be reflected in the lower payout you get when it wins.
What's the best thing to bet on?
The best thing to bet on is the sport you know best. For most people this will be football, as it is the world's most popular sport. However, if you're into ice hockey then that's going to be the best sport for you bet on.
What is the most common bet?
The two most popular sports for betting in the UK and Ireland are horse racing and football. For horse racing the win market, where you bet on the race winner is easily the most popular. For football, match betting, where you pick one of the teams as a winner or the draw, is the most popular market.
What sport is the most profitable to bet on?
Whether or not sports betting is profitable doesn't depend on the sport you bet on, it depends on your knowledge of the sport in question, luck and what opportunities bookmakers give you to lower their margin (for example money back specials).
Do people actually win sports betting?
Most people will win occasionally in sports betting. However, bear in mind that betting markets and odds are set up to guarantee a profit for a bookie, which means that most punters will lose money in the long run as they're up against the house edge. A small minority of punters make long term profits from sports betting, which is why it's best to approach sports betting as a form of entertainment, rather than as a way of generating an income.
Is there a secret to sports betting?
There are some basic things you can do to improve your sports betting results:
- Compare odds between bookies when placing your bets and always pick the highest available odds.
- Always be on the lookout for betting specials. Regularly using money back specials and place specials can reduce your losses and impact your long term winnings.
- Never ever chase your losses. This is a sure fire way to lose money.
What are the best sport betting sites for beginners?
The best sports betting sites for beginners belong to the major bookmakers. These include bet365, Paddy Power, William Hill and Boylesports.
What are some sports betting tips for a complete beginner?
Here are some sports betting tips for beginners:
- Bet on sports you know and follow.
- Keep your bets simple and focus on basic markets (like win markets).
- Take advantage of free bet offers and daily specials/promotions.
- If you're losing, don't try win back your losses. Take a break.
- Never try to use systems like the Martingale system to win bets. This can cause serious financial losses.
- Never bet more than you can afford to lose.
- Bet for fun not for an income.
All the basics you need to know to place and manage your bets online.
Access betting calculators that can help you work out your returns from different kinds of bets.
Find out about the different categories of bets offered by bookmakers on particular events.
Bookmakers and betting exchanges – how they work and tips on how to avoid the unscrupulous.
Arm yourself with some rock-solid betting strategies and see your bets yield consistent profits.
Learn about all the combination bet types, from basic bets to complicated full-cover bets like the Goliath.
Find out about the five different forms of sports betting that exist.
What to do and who to contact if you have a problem.
Tips on how to manage your betting accounts and the different payment methods you can use.
Use our simple guides and never be confused by different odds formats again.
A collection of guides and tips for betting on specific sports.
Articles on sports betting and the law, both in general and by country.
- Are free bets for real? How you get them and what strategies you can use to turn them into profits.
- A detailed explanation of how to open an online betting account.
- An objective look at the pros and cons of all the main payment methods accepted by bookmakers.
- A step-by-step guide on how to place sports bets online.
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- Find out which bookmakers let you place bets over a phone call.
- Find out about which bookies instant mobile payments through Boku.
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