Lay betting

Lay betting is betting that something won't happen. For example, you may bet that a team won't win a match or that a horse won't place in a flat race.

lay bettingTraditional bookmakers don’t offer lay betting. Instead lay betting is possible only on betting exchanges like Betfair.

When you place a fixed-odds bet with a traditional bookmaker, you’re essentially betting against the bookmaker. You give the bookmaker the amount you want to bet (your stake) on a particular outcome, at odds published by the bookmaker. If your bet wins, the bookmaker pays you winnings calculated based on the odds. If you lose, the bookmaker keeps your stake.

On a betting exchange, this type of bet is known as a “back” bet. When you place a lay bet, you’re taking the position that a bookmaker would normally take. Other punters can choose to wager against you. If they win, you have to pay them out at the specified odds. If they lose, you win the stakes they’ve wagered.

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Lay betting terms explained

In lay betting, the backer’s stake is the amount you want to win, which is also the stake that another punter has to wager to bet against you. For example, if the backer’s stake you specify is £200, it means that if you win the lay bet, you’ll win £200 (minus a standard commission charged by the betting exchange, typically in the region of 5%).

The odds for a lay bet determine what you have to pay if your lay bet loses. The higher the odds, the greater the potential loss you could incur. Note that generally the odds published on betting exchanges are in decimal format.

Lay betting example

Say you decide to place a lay bet on Brazil winning the Soccer World Cup. In other words, you want to bet against Brazil winning. Your bet will win if any county other than Brazil wins the Cup. Your backer’s stake is £25 and the lay bet is placed at odds of 7, in decimal format. (This is the same as odds of 6-1 in fractional format). This means that

  • if your lay bet wins (in other words, Brazil doesn’t win the Cup), you’ll win £25, minus commission that the betting exchange charges on winning bets
  • if Brazil does win the Cup, you’ll lose £25 x 6 (7 minus 1), which equals £150.

Lay betting risks

With lay betting, it’s vital to know and understand the full liability you’re accepting for each bet. In other words, make sure you know how much you stand to lose if a lay bet loses, before you consider placing the bet. If the odds on a lay bet are high and you misinterpret what this means for you, the consequences could be extremely costly.

For example, suppose you lay a team with a backer’s stake of £50, at odds of 15 (or in fractional terms, 14-1). This means that if you win the bet, you’ll win £50. If you lose, however, you’ll be liable for the sum of £50 x 14 – a hefty £700.

This doesn’t mean that lay betting can’t be profitable and fun, provided you’re careful.

Lay betting strategies

Trading is a very popular betting strategy that involves using a betting exchange to place a back bet and a lay bet on the same selection, to guarantee a profit or at least minimize the possible losses that either bet could incur. If you’re interested in horse racing, also visit our article on lay betting on horses for some lay betting tips specific to horse racing.

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