Sports Arbitrage – What Is It?

Odds comparison websites have made it easier for sports arbitrage betting to thrive.
Odds comparison websites have made it easier for sports arbitrage betting to thrive.

Every now and again, in sports betting, conditions arise that see bookmakers disagreeing on certain odds of different outcomes. For example, one bookmaker might favor one sports team winning a contest more than another bookmaker does. This will result in the two bookmakers offering two different prices on the outcome of that team winning. In turn, this will alter the odds on the other team they are up against winning.

As a result, these conditions will give punters the chance to place a bet on each potential outcome with a different betting company for each outcome and it will allow the punter to make a profit no matter what the outcome.

Other terms used for this method of sports betting include “arb”, “miracle bets”, and “sure bets.” Punters that partake in the process of sports arbitrage are often referred to in the industry as “arbers.”

How Do People Do It?

The process of sports arbitrage is very acute. 98% of bets placed when it comes to sports arbitrage are large sums of money. They must be so because the margin of profit is so small, usually 1.2% at the maximum, that it would not be worth doing with smaller sums of money.

Punters must keep an eye on the prices offered by bookmakers for different events, and they must be aware of differences in opinion between bookmakers over the odds of an outcome in a sports event. They must then place bets with those different bookmakers and cover all outcomes in order to make that profit.

Sports arbitrage betting can work best in a head-to-head outcome.
Sports arbitrage betting can work best in a head-to-head outcome.

Is It Legal?

Sports arbitrage is not illegal but it is certainly frowned upon by bookmakers. It is usually detected very quickly by bookmakers who work together in an effort to limit its impact on the industry. Bookmakers will often either close accounts or suspend members who they suspect of being involved in sports arbitrage.

Unfortunately, even though sports arbitrage has always been around in the sports betting industry, the increase of betting online and the rise of odds comparison websites, betting exchanges, and sports betting tipster websites has given sports arbitrage more opportunity to grow, and it is becoming a more persistent problem for bookmakers online.

What Are the Negatives?

There are a number of negatives to sports arbitrage despite the practice being deemed “risk-free” by supporters of it. These include…

  • Disappearance of differing odds. The minute bookmakers realize certain betting patterns are taking place on a certain market, the odds will change. This includes punters using sports arbitrage to place bets. It is usually 10-15 minutes before any differing odds offering an opportunity for sports arbitrage betting are altered to remove the problem.
  • Error in Judgement. Due to the large scale of different odds and outcomes that need to be tracked for sports arbitrage to work, it can sometimes be a risk that punters will place the wrong bet or make a bad call. There is never an allowance for the risk of potential human error.
  • Hackers. In order to get involved in sports arbitrage, punters must realistically hold a membership account with every main stream bookmaker on the market. This can lead to one punter holding dozens of betting accounts and with each account held there comes the risk that the account is exposed to being hacked and abused.
  • Getting Caught. Bookmakers take a very dim view on sports arbitrage and if you are found to be involved in the practice then your account will become temporarily barred or even fully banned. Bookmakers also work together on this so it could eventually result in your account becoming black listed with all bookmakers.
  • Cancelled Bets. There is sometimes a situation when an outcome is cancelled for one reason or another. This could leave the punter with a heavy bet on one outcome and if that outcome does not occur then the punter will be suffering a big loss.

Is It Worth It?

There are punters out there who swear by the use of sports arbitrage. The risk of placing large sums of money to cover outcomes that offer a virtual guaranteed profit carries as much pleasure as betting smaller amounts on non-guaranteed outcomes for those who practice it.

An example of how different bookmaker odds helps sports arbitrage work.
An example of how different bookmaker odds helps sports arbitrage work.

However, despite not being illegal, the practice holds a very poor reputation in the eyes of the gambling industry and the potential consequences of getting caught being involved in sports arbitrage can be more trouble than its worth.

Despite what people say, it is not risk-free and it is certainly not liked by the bookmakers. The risks listed above simply show that it only takes one error or even one slice of bad luck for any profit to quickly turn into a heavy loss.