When it comes to betting on sport, the vast majority of bets in the UK, and indeed the world, are placed using what is called the fixed odds method of betting. The name can be a little misleading as, in the case of those betting on a horse race at the Starting Price (SP), the odds are not actually fixed at the time of making the bet.
However, the “fixed” refers to the fact that the price is set once the event is underway and, with some minor exceptions (chiefly things like draw no bet and certain split Asian handicaps), the returns are known. If Team A win, you’ll win X amount, and if they don’t, you will lose your stake. Fixed odds betting is the type of wagering that most of us know and when we talk about making a bet, it is almost always this style of gambling to which most people are referring.
However, there is an alternative to this and one that many punters find hugely exciting because it allows you to make bigger profits when your predictions are, in a sense, “more right”. In addition, with many spread betting markets, the interest and excitement of the bet are maintained all the way through the match or the contest, unlike a lot of fixed odds bets that can leave you searching to place another bet if your initial wager wins or loses very quickly.
If you want to find out all about spread betting then this guide is a great starting point. Spread betting has its pros and cons but it is certainly worth knowing about and gives you another useful string to your betting bow. And, here we have the full lowdown for you.
What Is Spread Betting?
With spread betting, rather than simply betting on whether an outcome will or will not happen, you instead must, effectively, say whether the market in question will be over or under a certain value. The underlying concept of spread betting will most easily be explained with an example of a very easy to understand market.
Total goals in football is one of the main markets in spread betting. For any given game, the bookie sets a spread, a range which they think most accurately covers the number of goals a given game will see. The spread is effectively the same as the odds in “normal” betting and whatever it is, as a punter you have the option to buy or sell. Once again, this is easier to understand with a specific example.
Arsenal Versus Spurs Example
If Arsenal versus Spurs is expected to be a high-scoring clash with lots of goals, a spread betting company may set the total goals spread at 2.9-3.1. In essence, this means that they believe the game will see exactly three goals but the spread does not always work like this and you may see a total goals spread of, for example, 2.4-2.6. If you buy the spread, you are effectively saying you believe there will be more than 3.1 goals in the game. Alternatively, you can sell, which is to say that you think there will be fewer than 2.9 goals in the game.
This can confuse many spread betting newcomers because of course there can be neither 3.1 goals, nor 2.9. However, if you buy at 3.1, you are really saying you think there will be four or more goals. Whilst if you are selling at 2.9, you are predicting two or fewer. If there are three goals exactly then the bookie wins on both sides of the bet and the spread is the bookies’ profit margin.
This ultimately works in the same way that fixed odds do not directly represent the true probabilities of an outcome happening, creating an overround that means the bookie makes a profit in the long run. So, with fixed odds, a bookie offers a price of 10/11, perhaps, when they think that outcome has a 50% chance of occurring when the true odds should be evens. Similarly, if a spread betting bookmaker thinks a game will see three goals, you do not bet on over or under exactly three, but instead you must bet on over 3.1 or under 2.9.
How Is Your Profit Calculated?
Let us stick with our north London derby and a bet that is based on the assumption that the match will be a goalfest. If you buy at 3.1 and the game ends 3-3, your profit is the number of goals (six in total), minus 3.1, then multiplied by your stake. So, if you buy for £10, your profit is £29: 6 minus 3.1 x £10. On the other hand, if you get things totally wrong and the clash finishes 1-0, your loss is 3.1, minus the one goal scored, multiplied by your £10 stake, so a total of £21.
If we look now at a punter who believed the game would not be a thriller and so sold goals at 2.9, we can see how they would profit from the 1-0 game. A £10 sell at 2.9 would see them make £19 but had the game ended 3-3 they would have lost £31.
In either scenario, each goal is worth £10 to the punter (subject to any maximum loss or win limits that may exist). If the match finishes with exactly three goals then, buy or sell, a £10 bet will incur a loss of £1 (either selling at 2.9 or buying at 3.1). If you are buying, any goal over three makes you an extra £10 in profit, whilst goals before that reduce your losses by £10. On the flip side of the equation, someone selling goals sees their potential profits reduce when the first two goals go in, with losses of £10 per goal for strikes four and onwards.
Fun Keeps on Coming
This illustrates a really key point about spread betting: your interest lasts right until the final whistle with most markets. If you back over 2.5 goals with a fixed odds betting site, if the game is 0-0 in the 90th minute you essentially know you have lost. With a spread bet you may still lose but each goal will at least reduce your losses by £10 and so you are very much still involved and invested in the bet and the match.
Again, looking at things from the other perspective, if you back over 2.5 goals and the match is 2-2 after 25 minutes, your bet is over. You have won, which is great, but you no longer have the excitement of being interested in the game. In contrast, this is the dream scenario with a spread bet (assuming you bought goals) because you are already in the money but can now really cheer each and every goal, safe and happy in the knowledge that every time the net ripples, that is another £10 in your account!
With many, but not all, spread betting markets, the bet remains live for the entire race, match, tournament or other contest. That means that every second counts and every goal, corner, booking, run, shot or other action on which you have bet has the potential to earn, or sadly cost, you money.
You Can Win Big But Also Lose Big
As we have said, unlike with fixed odds betting, you do not know in advance what you might lose, nor what you might win. Of course, how much you stake has a huge impact on your potential profit or loss but so too does the result. Returning, yet again, to our north London 3-3 thriller, as we have seen, anyone who sold (went under) 2.9 goals would lose 3.1 times their stake. With a £10 bet on under 2.5 goals the most you can lose is £10 but a broadly similar spread bet you could lose far more.
What’s more, the fact that the bet remains live means that you might have to endure watching those losses increase as the game goes on. A late winner for either side would see another £10 lost and so anyone making a spread bet needs to fully understand just how much they might lose.
Once again though, we must look at the other side of the coin. Had you bought goals at 3.1, each and every goal sees you pocket another £10. An over 2.5 goals bet would simply have paid out, perhaps £7 on a £10 stake. In contrast, the equivalent spread bet would yield a greater profit whilst also keeping you thrilled in the knowledge that each and every goal adds another tenner to your balance.
Stop Loss Limits Risk
When you place a spread bet you need to have enough money in your account to cover the worst case scenario. With some markets, there is a natural limit but others are, in theory, open ended. Goals is the perfect example: someone buying total goals knows 0-0 is the worst outcome and will result in the maximum loss (3.1 times their stake in our example above). However, someone selling goals at 2.9 does not have that natural limit and in theory the game could end up 16-15 (now that would be a thrilling derby game!) or even higher.
More realistically, the highest scoring north London derby ever finished 5-4 to Arsenal but even that would be a very big loss. However, whilst history and logic tell us that very, very few games have nine goals or more (and according to one spread betting company, 95% of games have fewer than eight goals), the fact remains, that in theory there could be many more. In fact, how does 149 goals in a game grab you? How, then, does the bookie facilitate such open-ended bets?
Because the bookie must take from your balance enough to cover the worst case scenario, they install an automatic limit on such markets. This is called a stop loss and those familiar with financial trading will be aware of the term. Different companies will operate it in slightly different ways but in general most markets will have a limit at which point your bet will automatically be closed.
For example, this might be five goals in a total goals market, meaning that you can lose no more than five times your stake. As such, when you make this bet, the site will deduct five times your stake from your balance and if and when your losses for the game/market reach this amount your bet will be closed.
Note that some sites, on some accounts, will also have a stop win, limiting the most that you can win and the bookie can lose. This generally works in exactly the same way but often has a more generous limit, meaning you can still rack up some very tidy wins.
One of the most important things to be aware of when it comes to spread betting is that different markets can behave very differently. As mentioned, total goals has a natural limit at one end of the spectrum (0-0) and at the other end we know that the vast, vast majority of games see seven goals or fewer. This is an example of a market with low volatility and if there is a stop loss of five goals then you know that the most you can lose is five times your stake. For those used to fixed odds betting that may seem like a huge amount but in spread betting terms it really is not.
Total Goal Minutes
Another popular football market and one that, on the face of it, might seem very similar to total goals, is total goal minutes. If there are goals in the 4th, 28th and 60th minute, the make-up (this is the term used for result in essence) of the market is 92. A typical spread might be 129-139 and again you either buy (go higher than 139) or sell (lower than 129. 0-0 sees the make-up come in at zero, whilst the total for that aforementioned 5-4 Arsenal victory over Spurs was a massive 570!
This, therefore, is a hugely volatile market and anyone selling total goal minutes should be aware that a goal in the last minute of the game could see them lose 90 times their stake in one fell swoop. That means that if you had sold at 129 for a £10 stake in a game that had seen goals in the 60th and 69th minutes, a late winner for either side would see you move from breaking even to losing £900! The stop loss for this market may be set at 200 minutes but even if you staked just £1 that would mean you could still lose £200 if things went against you!
Understanding market volatility is key as it allows you to better control and understand your risk. It is not just about the maximum loss that could happen, but also about quite how likely such variation is and both of these vary from market to market. When you first start spread betting we strongly advise beginning with very small stakes so you can see how bets play out without risking too much. At some sites, on some markets, you can bet as little as 1p, meaning that even in a very volatile market that goes against you, you can keep losses relatively small.
Some spread betting markets operate a little more like fixed odds betting and to a degree you will know the financial outcome of the bet in advance, dependent on the result. In these markets rather than your bet depending directly on the outcome of a particular match or stat, the sporting result is converted into a points value and it is this that the spread is given for and that you are betting on.
Football Win Index
One example of such a market is football’s win index, where a team is awarded 25 points for winning the game, 10 points for a draw and 0 points if they lose. The spread on a warm favourite might be, for example, 13.75-15.25. If you buy at 15.25 then your team must win and if they do you will win 9.75 times your stake (25 – 15.25). If they draw, the make-up is 10, so you lose 5.25 times your stake, whilst a loss results in zero points and sees you lose 15.25 times your stake. In this scenario, to place the bet you would need at least 15.25 times your stake, so more than £150 if you wanted to place a bet of £10 per point.
Similar Markets in Horse Racing
There are many spread betting markets that work like this and one of the most popular is in horse racing. There are various racing spread bets you can make but perhaps the most popular sees horses awarded a points score for certain finishes. These indices vary at different spread betting sites and according to how many horses are in the race but common ones see horses awarded 50, 25 and 10 points, or 50, 30, 20 and 10 for finishing first, second and third, or first, second, third and fourth respectively.
Should your horse finish outside of the stated places they will be awarded zero points and the market basically works in exactly the same way as the aforementioned football win index. Outsiders will be offered a spread of 2-4 points, or even lower, with real no-hopers perhaps priced at 0.1-1 points. Obviously such runners have very little chance of making the places, let alone winning, but the risk is small and the potential reward is big.
If you buy at 1 on a 50-30-20-10 index, the most you can lose is the value of your stake. Thus, in fixed odds terms you are essentially getting 9/1 on them finishing fourth, 19/1 for third, 29/1 for second and 49/1 for first.
Popular Spread Betting Markets
Spread betting is nowhere near as mainstream as “normal” betting and fewer people do it. As such, most spread betting firms cover fewer sports and events. Even so, there is still a wide choice, especially for the most popular sports. What’s more, because of the often-statistical nature of spread betting, there is a truly huge range of markets available for most big events. Below is just a small selection of some of the most popular markets but be sure to have a look in more detail at all that is available when you join a spread betting boomaker.
Football certainly has by far the widest range of markets and the following are the most widely available.
- Match Supremacy – A bet on who will win the game and by how many goals. For example, if Man City are slight favourites against Liverpool the market would be Man City/Liverpool 0.35-0.55. If you buy at 0.55 City must win, with a one-goal victory yielding 0.45 times your stake, a two goal margin 1.45 times and so on. A draw would mean a loss of 0.55 times stake with a further unit lost for every goal Liverpool won by.
- Total Goals – As discussed above.
- Bookings – 10 points are awarded for a yellow, 25 for a red and 35 is the maximum a player can earn. This market covers both teams over the entire game and is great when you predict a feisty, foul-packed affair.
- Win Index – See general info above.
- Corners – Total corners in the game for both teams, with a typical spread often starting at around 10.
As well as these major markets there are many other options relating to individual players, as well as more markets covering stats, such as corners, bookings and goals.
Horse & Dog Racing
Markets are far more limited when it comes to racing, be it equine or canine. Most bets are placed on the aforementioned indices but you can also bet on head-to-head match bets between two horses (or dogs), specials covering things like winning distance over an entire card and many more.
Snooker, Cricket, Tennis, Golf & Other Sports
When it comes to other sports, there are still lots of options if you want to indulge in spread betting and we recommend checking them out. Just have a browse and see if anything catches your eye or piques your interest. As with fixed odds betting, tournament outright wagers are very popular and for these the points system is typically used. In golf, for example, there might be a 60-40-30-25-20-15-10 index, with points awarded to the top seven finishers and the rest of the field receiving zero.
How Many Frames, Sets, Games a Player Wins By
There are also many markets for individual matches that form parts of tournaments for sports like tennis and snooker. Popular ones include how many frames, sets or games a player might win by, how many aces or century breaks there might be and so on.
Cricket matches, rugby games and other similar team sports have many markets similar to the ones we have mentioned in regards to football. Total points or runs can be wagered on, as can supremacy, measured in cricket either in runs (for the team batting first) or with wickets assigned a points value for the team batting second. You can also bet on individual performances in all of these team sports, such as how many penalties a player will score in rugby, or how many wickets a player will take or how many runs they will register in cricket.
Pros & Cons of Spread Betting
There is no doubt that spread betting is not as popular as traditional wagering. Part of that is down to its relative newness (though it has been around for well over 25 years now) and its greater complexity. It undoubtedly has some downsides but equally it has lots going for it too and we certainly think it is something that any semi-serious punter should at least investigate.
Pros of Spread Betting
- It is possible to land huge wins
- Excitement of bets maintained for whole contest
- Every goal, point, run, and so on means something
- Very wide range of markets
- Lots of very specific bets available
- Extra string to betting bow
- Good for high rollers as big bets often accepted and accounts may be less likely to be limited
- Lots of in-play options
- Easy to hedge, “lay”, trade and “cash out”
Cons of Spread Betting
- Can take some adjusting to as slightly more complex than fixed odds
- Can lose many times your stake
- Can be addictive as the immediacy of bets and changing markets is more thrilling
- Effective odds are not always as good as fixed odds because there is less competition
- Fewer promotions and free bets available in general