It is actually possible to make your living by doing sports betting. This blog is not sponsored - these are my own experiences.
Betting - especially sports betting - is associated to many believes. Some of them are true but many of them aren’t. Sports bettting is risky. Sports betting drives you into a debt. You have heard these.
I describe my experiment that took couple of months. I give all the information you need to do money by sports betting and I tell why I’m not millionaire.
Sports betting and taxation
I’m living in Finland which is located in the European economic area (EEA) which is almost the same as better known European Union. This is important when it comes to tax paying. In Finnish taxation system you can keep the profits from sports betting tax free if the bookmaker is operating inside the European economic area. Otherwise the profits have to be reported to tax office and they are interpreted as regular earned income. At least in Finland the case is the same for poker players.
Inside the EEA
Outside the EEA
- Isle of Man
- Virgin islands
- Costa Rica
- Antigua & Barduba
For any sports betting strategy it’s very important to find the best odds by comparing multiple bookmakers. Some good sites for this are Oddsportal and Bm bets . So you have to create an account to many bookmaker sites - prefereably to those that offer best odds.
Deposit and withdrawal
My primary deposit method was the Master Card. Deposit occured immediately when using the credit card and it was mostly free. Withdrawing money included more restrictions and or even fees.
Apparently Master Card has a practise that withdrawal can not be made by credit card in selected countries. This resulted some challenges with money transfers from betting accounts. Only option left was often to do a regular bank transfer which was mostly free and worked without problems. But the player might had only one free withdrawal per month and the event typically took many days. Minimum transfer amount varied from 5 to 25 euros which are valued close to US dollars.
If you are going to read only some part of terms and conditions I recommend to take a look at the withdrawal rules. Usually you get money transferred from your betting account but this practise may save you from extra costs and delays.
Creating player accounts and proofing your identity
Creating accounts was easy. You just type in your email and other basic details. I advice to obey discipline when making the accounts: only one account per bookmaker and always with real name and information. Also by trying to hack the bonus systems you will shoot yourself in a leg at some point.
Most sites will authenticate your identity. This might take place at the account creation phase, after 3 months or at the moment of the first withdrawal. There exists three kinds of authentication methods. The site may require only one or all of them:
- ID: Passport, driver’s licence or other official ID.
- Utility bill: I always sent my rent bill. 3 months old maximum.
- Credit card scan: You must remain 4 first or last digits visible.
Some bookmakers have restrictions about player’s nationality. For example Interwetten didn’t allow Finnish bettors to play on their site. The company had some good odds for European soccer leagues though.
In total I researched almost 60 bookmakers. These were the sites that I actually played in:
- Marathon bet
- Nordic bet
- William Hill
1xBet and Marathon bet offered insanely favorable odds but sometimes they limited the betting amounts to small that profits would have been marginal. These two were the only two sites that operated outside the Europe. I recall that Betfair had the only deposit fee among all bookamakers. Thee fee was 1.5%.
Pinnacle offered excellent odds and by the principles of the company it didn’t limit players very much. I also liked user experience of these websites: Unibet, Nordic bet and an Estonian bookmaker TonyBet. Bet365 had quite nice feature that allowed you to watch live stream of various sports events. Youwin sometimes had funny odds which was good or bad depending on the case.
Betting types and sports
In total I played around 1500 euros during my experiment. The overall all profit ended up to be zero.
I played any kind of sports: soccer, baseball, tennis, basketball, mixed martial arts. It didn’t matter as my strategies didn’t require any sports knowledge. The most common betting types were 1x2, choose the winner and guessing whether the amount of scores will be more or less than a specific number. I didn’t play live betting as I couldn’t make data based decisions in a hurry.
All of the methods were 100-percent legal.
Arbitrage i.e. sure wins
Let’s suppose that FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are playing against each other. A bookmaker offers odds of 2 in EU odds format. This means that if you are going to bet both of the teams by 100 euros you’ll get your money back in either of the outcomes - which is 200 euros.
If the odds would be 1.95 for Barcelona to win and 1.9 for Madrid and you bet both teams again by 100 euros you’ll get back either 195 or 190 euros depending on the winner. As you invested 200 euros you’ll make either 5 or 10 euros loss. Which means you lose something anyway.
If you are wicked you check out the odds from multiple bookmakers and realize that bookmaker X offers 2.05 for Barcelona and bookmaker Y gives 2.05 for Madrid. You bet both teams with 100 euros and win 5 euros back in either case. That’s what arbitrage is - sure winning.
At this point you ask why aren’t everyone doing this if it’s sure money? Well, many people are doing it and at the end of the blog I’ll tell why I’m not doing it. When using arbitrage method you have to act quickly as the odds begin to go down when players realize the market imbalance. There might be only some minutes to send the coupon. Sometimes the odds go down before you’re ready with the bet but usually it doesn’t take supernatural skills.
The comparison sites like Oddsportal refresh their data with a delay. So when you log in to bookmaker’s site to make the bet the chance may be gone already. For this problem there are some commercial arbitrage software such as Rebelbet that are closer to real time. My arbitrages produced 3% profit on average.
In short: The arbitrage actually worked.
How to calculate the amounts for arbitrage bets?
In two-outcome arbitrages both of the odds doesn’t have to be over 2. The odds can be 1.5 for Barcelona and 3.4 for Madrid for example. By investing the same sum for both teams you would lose if the lower odds wins. This is how you should calculate the amounts for arbitrage bets.
First calculate the return ratio:
1 / (1 / 1.5 + 1 / 3.4) = 1.0408
This means that by choosing right betting amounts you will make 4.08% profit in any outcome. The amounts will be calculated like this supposing that you have 200 euros to invest:
Bet for Barcelona to win:
200 * 3.4 / (1.5 + 3.4) = 138.78
Bet for Madrid to win:
200 * 1.5 / (1.5 + 3.4) = 61.22
In both cases the profit will be around 8.16€:
Madrid wins: 3.4 * 61.22€ = 208.15€
Barcelona wins: 1.5 * 138.78€ = 208.17€
The idea of this strategy is to find bookmaker whose odds for a certain game is significantly biased compared to other bookmakers. Four different bookmakers could have these odds for winner of Barcelona - Madrid game:
Even if you would choose the highest odds from both teams you won’t make certain profit - so you can’t use the arbitrage tactic. By comparing Madrid’s odds between bookmakers we can see that the last bookmaker offers odds 9 which is 36% higher than average bookmakers for Madrid.
Accroding to my theory this kind of bets would make profit in long run but I have no proof about the concept. I tested the strategy in around 50 games and made some minor loss. But that sample size is too small to make the final judgement.
You can find a value bets section in Oddsportal if you are interested to try. This strategy resulted losses equal to wins that I gained from arbitrage.
Warning! For nerds only.
I harnessed the RStudio to my PC and downloaded game results of European soccer leagues in CSV format from previous 10 years. By creating a classification model from 9 years and testing it with the remaining one year I could calculate how much I would have won. I made the same operation 10 times by using each year once for testing. This way I got the average for the return of investment.
The soccer data was pretty good quality as the odds for the games were included. This wasn’t the case for other sports even though I found something for NHL and MLB.
I chose naive bayesian and random forest as my classification algorithms. The bayesian method is really simple but probably not as effective as random forest but it gives the same result every time being supervised kind. At this point I was busy with other betting strategies so I didn’t end up having valid results from my algorithms.
I still believe that by using correct variables it is actually possible to create a predictive model that makes money. I have understood that bookmakers’ odds go hand by hand with human behavior which is not always the same as statistical truth. And hey, even monkey gets close to zero losses by choosing the best odds among multiple bookmakers.
Data should also be updated after each event. And high quality consistent data would be a major challenge overall. Plus the historical data doesn’t guarantee wins in future if rules will change for example.
Welcome bonuses and fake accounts
I don’t recommend. Welcome bonuses are one-time shots having complicated terms and conditions. Personally I didn’t hunt for welcome bonuses but accepted them if offered. Neither did I read any betting tips because they didn’t help in any of my strategies - betting tips are mostly just guessing without any statistical or data based backup.
Sports betting and bankroll
Thanks to my student loan my bankroll didn’t go to zero during my experiment. At the peak my bookmaker accounts had a balance of more than 1000 euros in total.
With that amount it would be possible to make some pocket money. In sports betting a player has one advantage compared to other investment methods such as stock investing - there are no transaction costs. That’s why it’s easy to start even with small amounts of money. If you are interested in bankroll optimization you can learn to use the Kelly’s formula that poker players often use.
In sports betting bankroll optimization the time spans plays an important role. It’s crucial whether you are betting a game that is played today or next week. The shorter time money is attached in your bet the more times you can recycle it. Keep this in mind and you can make profits with significantly smaller bankroll.
As it’s essential to have multiple sports betting accounts to find best odds even a big bankroll is divided quickly to many sites. Money withdrawal can take days so my solution would have been to code a computer software to optimize my balances. Other options would be to accept slower betting tempo, deposit more money, choose less bookmakers or develop some other system to manage cash flow.
Making money by sports betting - Why I’m not a millionaire on my own island?
Sports betting ended up to be more time consuming than I thought. It wasn’t my thing to spend all my time alone at the laptop when the other option would be to solve real problems with other people in real companies. Sports betting profit isn’t passive income as you would imagine because every transaction needs your muscles and brains.
If you don’t have commercial arbitrage tool or self-made IT-system it’s almost impossible to screen your results. Ofcourse it’s possible to just bet and see what’s under the line after a year but it doesn’t say anything about the effectiveness. You might just be lucky.
My single most important measure was profit by strategy which I could monitor real time thanks to my customized database application. My strategies were previously mentioned arbitrage i.e. sure bets, value bets and machine learning. As a result arbitrage was only sure way to win money.
I said it’s possible to earn by sports betting but don’t imagine it would be easy. You have to prepare to work like in any other job. Profitable sports betting takes trial and error, percictence, systematic thinking and crafting your own betting strategy. Because of limitations of bankroll and restriction of bookmakers big wins are not a certainty. But profitable sports betting is possible as well as realistic goal.
If you are willing to try making money by sports betting I sincerely wish you luck and success with your efforts!