*Sports Free Bet Strategies

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Full details of the strategies you are likely to need for the various signup offers at bookmakers.

Please refer to this page for an explanation of the colour coding.

Strategies for:

Stake Returned (SR)

Stake Not Returned (SNR)

Refund if first bet loses



Tote odds signup offers

Stake Returned (SR)

Risk Category A

Stake Returned free bets are the simplest form of free bet, but unfortunately are extremely rare except when attached to a wager requirement. They usually appear as an account credit, which may be in a separate bonus balance pending release after completion of the WR. When the bet is placed it behaves exactly as though it has used your own money.

Any odds can be used for these (subject to the free bet T&Cs which may state a minimum), although lower odds tie up less of your money. They are matched out exactly like a qualifying bet and returns of 100% or more of the free money can be achieved if you can find an arb.

There are various calculators and spreadsheets which enable you to calculate how much to lay for an equal profit both ways. Most have options for SR and SNR free bets and can also be used for the qualifiers. The one I use is the “matcher” spreadsheet, which is very simple:

This screenshot shows a 5/4.7 arb correctly matched for a £100 qualifying bet or SR free bet. The lay stake to place at Betfair is £107.53 and the profit either way is £2.15 for an arb, or 102.15 for a SR free bet. If this was SNR you would simply put £100 in the “stake forfeit” box as well.

This spreadsheet is available to download here matcher and in the Spreadsheet Library where there are other similar calculators as well.

Many SR free bets come with a large WR which may have restricted odds and markets. Unless the bookie has arbs, a large WR will cost a significant amount of money if you have to wager through the whole thing, and therefore in these circumstances the best strategy is to underlay the first bet significantly. This only really works if you can bet your whole balance on the one bet, and the idea is to win more if the bet wins at the bookie in order to compensate for future losses during the WR, currency conversion charges or withdrawal fees. Deciding how much to underlay depends on various factors, including personal taste, the odds available, and the likely losses on the WR etc. With a small WR at a good book for arbs like Bet24 (WR 4xB) I would be inclined to simply look for an arb, at a bookie with a large WR like Balkanbet (6xD+B) I would be looking to bet the whole deposit and bonus on the first bet with an underlay that won me rather more profit if it won at Balkanbet than if it won at Betfair.

How do I work out my underlay?

One way to do it is to find as close a match as you sensibly can at the bookie and work out what would happen if you put the whole WR on that bet. Balkanbet currently have an offer of 100% to £75 free, with a 6xD+B WR = £900. Suppose I can find a match of 3.25/3.3 but nothing better, if I put these odds and £900 into the spreadsheet I find that my return on the £900 (£75 of which is free) is £855. I have lost £45 of the £75 free bet. I might therefore say that instead of matching out the first bet of £150 (deposit + bonus) for around £67.50 profit at these odds, I would underlay to be happy with around £50 profit if the bet won at Betfair. So instead of laying £150 I might lay £130 (for £48.50 profit at 5%), and that would give me £87.50 profit at Balkanbet if the bet won, but with the WR to do.

It is worth noting that underlaying is less expensive (if you lose) at higher odds, in exactly the same way as for an SNR free bet (see below).

Stake Not Returned (SNR)

Risk Category A

Many free bets return only the winnings if the bet wins, the bookie keeps the stake. So a winning £10 free bet at 6.0 (5-1) will result in your account being credited with £50. This means that you have to adjust the amount that you lay at the exchange in order to give you a guaranteed profit whether the free bet wins or loses. This is called underlaying.

Free bet calculating spreadsheets have a calculator programmed into them to calculate the required underlay to give equal returns for a winning and losing SNR free bet. For mathematical reasons it is better to choose higher odds for SNR free bets if possible, as the return falls off sharply for odds below about 6.0.

As a guide, the % return for a stake not returned will be approximately, (assuming the back and lay odds are the same):

50% at odds of 2

60% at odds of 2.63

70% at odds of 3.7

80% at odds of 6

90% at odds of 20

94% at odds of 100

The best way to see this is by using your calculator or spreadsheet. Just enter the figures to find out what the overall bets will cost and what the overall profits will be. Keep playing with various back/lay price until you find a combination that you are happy with in terms of outlay (i.e. liability on the exchange) and profit margin. Remember that laying at high odds requires a large amount of money in the exchange.

A reasonable return from a SNR free bet with no WR would be anything above about 75% of the free bet amount.

Refund if First Bet Loses

Risk Category A

Some bookmakers offer to refund your stake if your first bet loses. If you think about this, it is exactly the same as an SNR free bet (above) – if the bet wins your profit at the bookie is the winnings, if the bet loses your account balance is unchanged after the refund. Choose highish odds for these offers.

The only difference is that with a refund you must do the SNR bet on your FIRST bet, while for an ordinary SNR there is a qualifier first. Most refunds will have a WR (often 1x) on the refund before it can be withdrawn – check the T&Cs of the offer for this.


Risk Category A

Some bookmakers offer a series of free bets, for example bet £10, get £10 free, bet another 5x£10 or more, get another £10 free – this may be repeated several times. The free bets may be SR or SNR. These offers are less risky overall than the equivalent WR on one free bet of the total amount, because you can make withdrawals between the free bets, reducing the risk of running up a large balance at the bookmaker. You can also decide that the odds really are not worth the bother, or quit the offer if your account is limited, whereas you can’t do this part way through a free bet WR.

Strategy for betbaskets is basically the same as the free bet strategy, with arbing or as near arbing as possible in between. Since the free bet is earned by the number of bets, not the amount staked, and the free bet appears after the WR is finished, underlaying is not such a good tactic for these (you can’t bust out before completing the WR).


Risk Category B

There are various sorts of multiples offers which can be matched off at Betfair using their multiples section. The one you are most likely to want to do is to match off a multiple bet in order to earn a free bet (some signup offers require the qualifier and free bet to be placed on multiples).

The way to do this is to choose the lowest possible number of selections and the closest matches available on markets which are available in the multiples section at Betfair (this will be most of the bigger matches). Enter all of the selections into the bookmaker betting slip and most will calculate the odds for you. If they don’t, you can work out the odds by multiplying together the decimal odds, eg 2.0 x 1.5 x 1.7 = 5.1. Then go into the multiples section on Betfair and select All Sports in the menu, then the sport you want, and this will bring up the odds for all the matches available for multiples bets.

To place a multiple at Betfair you need to select the back odds, then change it to lay, enter any stake and it will calculate the lay odds available for the multiple. You can then use these to work out the lay stake for the multiple based on the back stake at the bookie. Then just place the bet as a normal qualifier/SNR/refund if lose as appropriate.

There is a video illustrating this procedure here.

Certain very specific matches have “accumulator” markets at Betfair. You can find these on the ordinary site (not the multiples section), by looking for example at Football>English Football>Premiership. You may then see “Saturday Acca” or similar, which will give you doubles and trebles on specific matches as an ordinary market, and you can use this to lay off your multiple on those exact selections, which saves messing about in the multiples section. These acca markets are only available on the biggest leagues and on matches played on the same day and in the same league.

For multiples offers at Betfair see the Betfair Offers section, for refund if one leg loses etc, see the If Offers section.

Note – the above method does not work for horse racing because Betfair settle horse racing multiples at SP. There is a method for tackling multiples free bet offers on horse racing in the Horse Racing Strategies section.

If you find yourself with a multiples free bet to lay, there is a suggested method along with video illustrations for doing this in this article by Howard Hutchinson.

Tote Odds Signup Offers

Risk Category B

Some sites such as Tote.ie and Zeturf only have tote pool odds. Tote pool odds are not fixed, and you cannot know how much you will be paid if you win until after the event, because all the stake money goes into a pool and is divided amongst the winning tickets. Any odds quoted by tote only sites are estimates and can be wildly inaccurate. Note that this does not apply to Totesport (The Tote), which is a standard sportsbook offering fixed odds betting as well as tote pool bets.

Although you cannot match tote pool odds accurately at Betfair, it is possible to cash out free bets from this site with some care. The closest matches will be at short odds, so you should choose a short priced favourite or a bet on the place market (but if you do this make sure that you understand the implications of non runners in place markets at bookies and Betfair – see this post). Place your lay as near to the off as possible for the closest possible match. The idea is to underlay the free bet so that you will make a profit if the bet loses but don’t lay too much if it wins. At very short odds the price can’t get much lower, since the lowest odds are 1.01, and this is where the place market can be useful.

There is a video demonstrating this method at Tote.ie here.

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