Beginners Guide to Free Bets and Matched Betting

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Part 1 – Before you start.

If you have never done any matched betting before, you are advised to work your way through the various sections outlined in this post before you start. The hints in these articles will potentially save (or earn) you quite a lot of money on top of what you would earn by simply diving into the bet list. Take your time to study this thoroughly, because once a bookie account is opened you can’t go back and do it again. The guides linked to in this post are all in the Help and Guides section of the site, along with others which you may find helpful.

You must be 18 or over in order to bet, and you must live in a country where online betting is legal. Bookies will check these things and you will be in serious trouble very quickly if you try to break the law.

You Will Need:

A computer with an internet connection where you have sufficient privileges to unblock access to age restricted/gambling related material

Excel or Openoffice on your computer, for using spreadsheets

A debit card in your own name, registered at your current address

Copies of documents to prove your identity and age


You don’t need any special computing skills to do this, but a basic knowledge of a few things will help you and can stop you from making elementary, avoidable and expensive mistakes. I have put together a guide here to help you with things like updates, browsers, cookies, IP address, screenshots and spreadsheets.

You might like to set up a separate email address to use for all your betting accounts. This will help to keep your day to day email free of clutter.


Your Betting Bank

Set aside a sum of money to use as a betting bank. Although you are most unlikely to lose it, you will not be able to spend it while you are using it for your betting so make sure that you can easily afford to do without it. It makes sense to keep this separate from your everyday spending, so a different bank account can be useful – see below.

Bank Accounts and Deposit Methods

Taking the time to set up a sensible banking arrangement will save you problems further down the line. There is a post with information on what to do as well as information about e-wallets such as Moneybookers and Neteller here.

ID Requirements

Many bookmakers will allow you to deposit and bet without asking for ID, but when you come to ask for a withdrawal they may ask for copies of various documents. It is wise to be armed with these before you start, to avoid delays and problems. For details of what may be required and why, see this post.

Keeping safe

While matched betting can reasonably be described as risk free, there are things which can go wrong if you don’t take care to learn how to do it properly. There are also plenty of scam bookmakers out there who look perfectly genuine and are happy to take your bets, but much less happy to give you your money when you want to withdraw.

We have a few guides to help you avoid problems, which you are advised to read before you start:

Making the most of Matched Betting

Matched betting and arbing safely

Correcting mistakes

Part 2 – Understanding Betting

The good news about matched betting is that you don’t need to know or understand anything about sport or any of the bewildering variety of bookmakers bets – yankees, lucky 15s, jackpots etc. All you need to know is what the odds mean and whether the rules for the market you are betting on are the same at the bookie and the exchange. It is best to stick to football until you are familiar with the concept and have had plenty of practise – there are unexpected problems with many other sports and the bigger football matches have plenty of money available at Betfair making the odds less likely to move. It helps if you do understand some of the terminology though, so there is a glossary of common betting terms for you here.


There are various ways that bookmakers use to display odds, but the only ones you need to know about (until you start doing US bookies) are fractional and decimal odds.

Fractional, or Traditional odds are the ones you have probably heard of, 2/1 (or 2-1) meaning that if you bet £1 and win you make £2 profit, so the bookie pays you £3 (£2 plus your £1 stake). These can get quite clumsy and difficult to work out when the traditional fractions such as 100/30 or 15/8 are applied to a £25 bet. For this reason most matched bettors prefer to work in decimal odds, which are also the default display on the betting exchanges. Most bookies give a choice between fractions and decimals.

Decimal odds are displayed as a decimal number, usually (but not always) to 2 decimal places. In this case the stake is included in the number displayed, so 2/1 is displayed as 3.00. 100/30 becomes 4.33 and 15/8 is 2.88, although technically it is 2.875 and some bookmakers may pay the fractional return even though they display in decimals. All you really have to remember is that if you back £10 at 5.0 and win you get back £50 of which £40 is profit and £10 is your stake. There is a table showing the conversion between fractional, decimal and American odds in this post.

Backing and Laying


There are 2 sides to any bet. If I want to bet on Liverpool to win a football match, then I need someone to take my bet – someone who thinks Liverpool will lose. This will normally be a bookmaker. I BACK Liverpool with the bookmaker, the bookmaker LAYS Liverpool with me. Backing is betting that something will happen, laying is betting that it won’t. Most bookmakers will only take back bets, you can’t lay something to lose with a normal bookmaker.

Betting Exchanges

While bookmakers have been going for donkeys years, betting exchanges are a relatively new invention of the internet era. On the exchanges you are not betting against a bookmaker, but against another customer with the opposite opinion to yours. This means that you can choose to either back or lay. This is extremely useful because it opens up opportunities for making money by backing and laying the same thing at advantageous prices (see Free Bets, below).

Using betting exchanges is not difficult, but because they are less familiar than bookmakers they may seem a little intimidating at first. I have written a beginners guide to betting exchanges which explains all the terminology and will help to familiarize you with the concepts involved if you have not used one before.

Part 3 – Free Bets.

Bookmakers frequently offer free bets as an incentive to open an account. This opens up the possibility of backing something with the free bet and laying the same thing at an exchange in order to lock in a profit whatever the result. The bookies are not stupid, and realise that people do this sort of thing, so they take steps to make it a little less simple than that. However, if you know what to do with the various types of free bet it is not difficult to make risk free profit from these signup offers, providing that you read any T&Cs carefully and pay attention to any warnings about safety which appear on our bookie page for the relevant bookmaker.

Spreadsheets and calculators

In order to work out how much to lay to make the best of your free bet you need to use a spreadsheet or calculator designed for the purpose. There is an article here with all the information you need to do this.

Finding Your Free Bets

You may think that signing up with Ladbrokes is simply a case of loading the Ladbrokes website and filling in a form. You can do it that way, but you won’t necessarily get a free bet, and if you do it might not be the best available deal. When I started matched betting I got no free bet from Betfair and no free bet from Ladbrokes, because I didn’t research the best offers available at the time. That mistake cost me about £125, although you would be lucky to get that nowadays – it would be more like £95. One of my aims on this site is to guide you towards the best possible free bets and offers and to help you not to make the mistakes that most people make at first.

We make finding your free bets easy and quick with our up to date bookmakers list and pages. Before you begin please take a few moments to read this guide explaining what it all means and how to use it to best advantage. These pages not only give you details of the best free bet available, but also instructions on using any affiliate link required to get the free bet and notes about any unusual aspects of that bookie and free bet or warnings that your money may be at risk. There may for example be restrictions on qualifying countries, which deposit method you can use, time limits on qualifying for a free bet or specific exclusions of bet types or odds ranges for the qualifier. Bookies can be very unsympathetic if you get this sort of thing wrong.

Types of free bet

There are 2 basic types of free bet – ones where you get the free stake back as well as the winnings if the bet wins (Stake Returned, or SR), and ones where you just get the winnings (Stake Not Returned, SNR). There are variations on the theme, but most can be treated like one of these. It is important to know which you are dealing with as they require different methods to give the best profits. Please make sure you read and understand our guide to cashing out SR and SNR free bets before you think of opening any accounts.

Because this whole procedure can seem somewhat complicated, a different perspective can sometimes help to clarify anything which you don’t understand. There is an article by Darren Hall describing exactly the same thing in a slightly different style and using a different calculator here.

Part 4 – Placing Your First Bet

Placing your first bet can seem rather daunting, so we have a step by step guide to help you through the process. Make sure that you have read and understand all of the articles and information in parts 1, 2 and 3 of this article before you decide to sign up and part with your money. Following the procedure in the step by step guide will remind you of the important points at each stage and help you not to make mistakes.

We also have a video made specifically for beginners illlustrating cashing out a free bet at Blue Square.

Our AI articles are NOT written by a real person and are provided for entertainment only. They may contain content which is inaccurate but we are hoping our AI bot, Rose, will become better over time. The AI category is the ONLY section of that has zero human input.

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