Arbing – Getting Started
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One of the commonest things I am asked in the live chat is where to start with arbing. The live chat is actually the best place to be, but there are things which are probably better written in an article that can be used for future reference. Here I am attempting to draw together links to all the articles that contain useful information for basic arbing. For the purpose of this article I am referring to back-lay arbing, not to backing all outcomes at various different bookies (surebets, or dutching). For simplicity I am assuming you are using Betfair as your exchange.
Everyone is different, with a different level of experience, available bank, available time and temperament. All of these factors are important.
Some experience of matched betting is useful. If you haven’t done the free bets, they provide a useful grounding in learning how to back and lay, use a spreadsheet and understand how bookies and Betfair work, with the cushion of a free bet to make things easier and less expensive if you make a mistake. You can also build up a starting bank using the free bets.
It is possible to arb with a small bank (around £500) but it is much easier if you have a few thousand to play with, and most serious arbers would have at least £10,000 and probably considerably more. The more you have available the easier it is to distribute funds between bookies and Betfair, and the fewer frustrating waits you will have while the banks take their time moving money from A to B.
While it is possible to grab a few arbs at almost any time of day or night, if you are a serious arber you are probably going to want to arb horses. During the week the odds for most races don’t appear until around or after 10am, and most of the racing happens during the afternoon, especially in winter. If you can’t get at a computer at all between 9am and 5pm you are going to find it very frustrating and difficult to make a great deal of headway. I’m not saying you can’t arb during evenings and weekends only, but it will be much more of a struggle than if you can access a computer during the day.
Some people enjoy arbing, knowing that they are earning money safely and finding the placing of the bets a sufficient challenge. Others find it deadly boring and much prefer the excitement of betting or trading, even though they know that sometimes they will lose. There are things that can be done to make arbing more exciting (eg underlaying – see below), but there is no doubt that it is repetitive, tedious and time consuming. On the plus side, it is relatively easy to understand and can be very lucrative if done properly. There is no point in trying to force yourself to arb if you don’t have the temperament, and also if you like to bet you will need to consider that arbing will soon kill your bookie accounts for ever.
Please remember that arbing is not a career. Currently a pro arber can earn a living from it, but this is getting harder all the time as bookies limit more quickly. There is good money to be made, but you should have an eye on the future and keep some options open for afterwards, or treat it as a useful 2nd income.
If you feel that having done some matched betting and built up a reasonable bank, you have the time and the idea appeals to you, the next thing you need to do is learn how to make arbing pay. There are several things you can do which will hugely increase your profits, and contrary to popular belief, they don’t involve betting enormous stakes (which nowadays will get you limited before you have really started). I recommend reading the following articles before you start arbing:
Matched betting and arbing safely
Setting up your Betfair account – 3 articles, the first of which is here
The sections on rules differences in the Knowledge Base and in particular the article on rule 4
While all you really need is a computer, there are some things which will make your life much easier, if you can manage it. A second screen, which might be a laptop, is useful (most pro arbers have 4 or more screens, but you can build things up gradually), as you really want to be able to see the bookie and Betfair at the same time.
At a more advanced level, for arbing horses at board price the two satellite TV channels At The Races (free with Sky news and events) and Racing UK (about £20/month) are fairly essential. Sky sports can also be useful for arbing some sports in play.
You can arb without the help of any software at all, but some little tools do make the job rather easier. Descriptions of those which are not linked to here can be found in the software section of the Knowledge Base.
For updating prices on Betfair (the standard 30sec refresh is much too slow for the faster moving markets) – you may find trading software helpful.
For helping keeping you logged in to bookie sites – Reload Every
For taking screenshots – Faststone Capture
Arb finding software – our arb finder is good for starters, more experienced arbers may consider other arb services
Spreadsheets – is-it-an-arb and Gentari’s Arbitrage.Underlay.Calculator are useful to help you learn what to look for and multi_odds_matcher is invaluable if you find part of your lay is unmatched and you have to move the rest up a notch. Plenty of other spreadsheets are available in the Spreadsheets library but in general you are much better off learning to arb without a spreadsheet most of the time.
You will also need some sort of system for recording bets. Most people develop their own spreadsheet for this – I used a simple page per day on which I entered the bookie, bet details (event, back & lay prices, back & lay stakes) then filled in the result, profit and loss and total profit for each at the end of the day. I know people who are content just to total up the balances in all of their bookies each day to give the overall picture, but this can lead to problems if you have unsettled bets or if there has been a mistake. Keeping a screenshot of each bet receipt is a very good idea as you can refer to it if something unexpected happens, and use it to prove that you did actually bet at those odds in the event of a dispute.
Basic Arbing Technique
Arbing is extremely simple in that all you have to do is to back something at a high price at the bookie and lay it at a lower price (after commission) at Betfair. The problem with this simple view is that there are all sorts of things that make it rather harder than that. The most important is that you are in direct competition with every other arber who is logged into the internet. Professional arbers have bots or software that finds arbs quickly, and they will have lower commission rates of 2-3% so they can take much smaller arbs. This means 2 things, first you have to be quick, and second, if you see a very big arb that isn’t disappearing fast, warning bells should ring. ALWAYSbe suspicious of a big arb that hangs around – ask yourself where the professional arbers are and why they are avoiding it. If you are in any doubt, either leave it alone, or come and ask in the chat. There may be a rules difference or the bookie may have made a mistake (eg muddled up 2 horses) or there may have been a non runner resulting in a rule 4. Live chat is invaluable for arbing – asking on the forum is much, much too slow.
Develop a habit and technique for getting the bets on fast. I am assuming you have read the above articles and understand the implications of rules differences etc. I recommend the following technique:
– Start off by being logged in to Betfair and your arbing bookie(s).
– When you find an arb, load the market at Betfair, check for non runners, load the market at the bookie, check the odds. Don’t go through odds comparison sites – this will get you limited faster.
– Load betslips at both and enter the correct stakes
– Refresh the market at Betfair to check that the lay is still there
– Place the back bet and check that you have a bet receipt, then lay. Doing this the other way round risks the bookie cutting the odds or limiting your stake, which is likely to result in a bigger loss than the odds drifting a notch at Betfair.
– Take a screenshot of the bet receipt.
You need to get really quick at this so that you get to the lay money before it disappears. The limiting factor is often the time taken to load the markets at bookie and Betfair. If you are arbing horses at board prices, have the bookie you want to use ready at the relevant race and the whole thing should take about 5-10 seconds from start to finish. This takes a lot of practise, but it illustrates the speed at which pro arbers work. It is important to realise that this is not a level playing field – the pros have the advantage of lower commission rates as well as experience on their side. Start with the slower early price arbs and practise getting bets on quickly and efficiently, but without rushing.
One of the most overlooked and misunderstood features of Betfair is their commission structure. For an arber, commission is very expensive. It takes a huge chunk of the difference between the back and lay prices, and you want to pay as little of it as possible. Betfair have a points system – the more you bet the more points you get and the less commission you pay. The system takes a little understanding, but basically it means that you want to churn as much money through the system as you can, even if it earns you no profit at all. When I was arbing I frequently took arbs for zero return simply to earn myself more points. This meant I paid less commission which in turn meant more arbs were available to me. There is a huge difference between what you can earn on 5% and 3% commission.
There is an article here explaining the Betfair commission structure and the difference it makes to profits, as well as how to find out what your current points total and commission rate is and what to do to conserve points if you are going on holiday or not arbing for a short while.
Underlaying and Value
One of the keys to making money from arbing is underlaying, but it is also the hardest concept to grasp, because it goes totally against logical reasoning. Just like SNR free bets (which you match out by underlaying), the higher the odds the more profitable it is, but in this case, only if you win. Logic tells you that if the odds are high you “won’t” win, but in fact that is not true, high odds win surprisingly often. There is a detailed explanation of underlaying and why it is a good thing for arbers to do in this article, and an article here on value betting explaining why arbs are more likely to win than they “should”. We also have a video by Gentari explaining underlaying and how to use the underlay spreadsheet.
As well as being more profitable than matching for equal profit, underlaying is faster. Once you have learned which combinations of odds are arbs at your commission, you don’t need to use a spreadsheet to underlay, because for the same bet stake, your lay stake will always be the same. For example a £10 bet will always have a lay stake of £10.53 at 5% commission. If you only pay 3.8% commission you can always lay £10.40 for a £10 bet and so on. This makes everything very much faster than having to use a spreadsheet to work out exact lay amounts for every bet.
Of course there is nothing to stop you part-underlaying, in fact I did this when my commission was lower than 3.8%, because I found it easier and faster to lay a standard £26, £52 or £104 than to worry about pennies. Nothing about arbing is set in stone, and you can develop the method and staking plan that suits you best.
Advantages of Horse Racing
There are a few unique features about betting on horse racing which don’t apply to other sports and which makes it particularly lucrative for arbers. These are rule 4, Best Odds Guaranteed (BOG) and double result.
Rule 4, when the non runner occurs AFTER you have backed and laid, is almost always your friend. Very occasionally it can cause a loss, but usually, because of the difference in the rule 4 scale and the Betfair reduction factors, it will increase the size of your arb. Some bookies also do not charge 5p rule 4s (providing there are no further non runners) and this can give you a nice windfall. Rule 4 will only make any difference if your horse wins. The best way to deal with its slightly unpredictable results is to ignore it and enjoy the increased profit when you win. Tinkering with the lay to try and squeeze out an extra profit either way can be costly if there is a further non runner later.
Best Odds Guaranteed is a gift from some of the bigger bookmakers, on some or all of the races. It means that if you take a price (as arbers always do) and the SP is bigger, you will get paid at SP. You can’t lose out from this but you can gain, and occasionally the gain is huge. Again the best thing to do is to leave things alone if your horse starts to drift at Betfair. Prices can suddenly shrink dramatically just before the off, and guessing the SP is very tricky. The list of bookies offering BOG does cahnge from time to time so it pays to check whether a bookie is offering this.
Double result, if you are lucky enough to get one, is a huge bonus. Most of the big bookies offer this nowadays, paying out on both the original winner and the revised winner if a stewards enquiry results in a disqualification. Since Betfair pay out on the official (amended) result only, this means that you win your bet at the bookie and your lay at Betfair. At high odds profits can be huge. Unfortunately there is no way of predicting a disqualification and they are fairly rare, but you can’t lose from it. If your bookie does not do double result and you arb a disqualified horse, it behaves like any other arb on a loser.
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