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What is matched betting?

Matched betting is a betting strategy that allows you to benefit from bookmakers’ free bet bonuses, offers and incentives by using Smarkets’s betting exchange to make a low-risk profit. We explain what matched betting is, how it works and how to make a matched bet.

Matched betting explained

Nearly all bookmakers offer sign-up and reload bonuses in addition to specials on big events such as the Cheltenham Festival, Champions League and Grand National.

Unlike traditional betting - where bettors are required to predict an outcome - matched betting takes advantage of these bookmaker incentives.

To implement a matched betting strategy, you simply place a bet with the bookmaker who offered you the free bet and then lay, or bet against, the same outcome on the Smarkets betting exchange - learn how to make a lay bet.

This allows you to cover all potential outcomes, eliminating your risk, and lock in a profit irrespective of the final result.

Matched betting calculator

How to use the matched betting calculator

Using the matched betting calculator is simple. Just follow the below instructions:

  1. Choose the type of matched bet you are making (qualifying, free bet stake not returned/stake returned).

  2. Enter your stake, the odds and commission (if using an exchange to back with) for your initial back/lay bet.

  3. Enter the lay odds available on the exchange and the commission they charge.

  4. This will then display your required lay stake, the amount of liability that is needed, the amount the bookmaker bet would win and the amount the exchange lay would win, depending on what the specified minimum and maximum stakes are.

  5. The slider allows you to underlay or overlay the bet if you wish.

How to qualify for matched betting offers

All matched betting offers - sign-up bonuses, free bets and reload offers - will require you to place a ‘qualifying’ bet. By making your qualifying bets, it ensures you are eligible for the offer.

However, make sure you read the bookmaker bonus small print, and ensure you meet all requirements before placing your matched bet. For example, you may be required to bet at certain odds or on a specific event.

When matched betting you should make your bets on outcomes with close back and lay odds, which enables you to reduce your qualifying losses and maximise profits.

Here’s an example to show you how to qualify for matched betting offers.

Let’s say you have been offered a £50 sign-up bonus with a bookmaker, and to receive this you must place a £50 qualifying bet.

You have chosen to place your qualifying bet on the Championship game between  Leeds United and Rotherham. The odds for Leeds are 1.53 (back) at your bookmaker and 1.57 (lay) on the Smarkets exchange.

You now place a back bet of £50 on Leeds to win with the bookmaker. To calculate your optimal lay stake on the Smarkets exchange, you use this simple equation:

Lay stake for an even profit = back odds / (lay odds – exchange commission) * back stake

For our example that's: 1.53 / (1.57-0.02) * 50 = £49.35

To complete the qualifying bet lay Leeds for 1.57 on the Smarkets exchange and enter your stake as £49.35, which will mean your liability is £28.13 - learn how to calculate your liability on a lay bet.

You will need to ensure your Smarkets account has £28.13 in to cover the liability if Leeds win - but remember you will have won with the bookmaker if that happens.

The table below shows all outcomes for your qualifying bet.



Smarkets exchange


Leeds win




Leeds don’t win


+£48.37 (includes 2% commission)


So if you placed this qualifying bet, you would lose is £1.63. However, you will receive your free £50 bet - now you can make your matched bet.

How to make a matched bet

Now you have been credited £50 with the bookmaker, you can make your matched bet and guarantee a profit. It’s important to check the bookmaker terms and conditions again as free bets can either return or not return your stake. For this example, we will say the stake will not be returned.

The process is similar to the qualifying bet above - back the outcome with the bookmaker and lay on the exchange - however this time you should:

  • Find closely priced back and lay odds
  • Place at high odds to enhance your profit (determined by your bankroll)

Let’s say you have chosen to place your bet on Utterly Charming to win the 18:00 at Sandown. The odds on Utterly Charming are 7.00 (back) at your bookmaker and 7.50 (lay) on the Smarkets exchange.

So like before you place a £50 back bet on Utterly Charming to win at odds of 7.00 with the bookmaker, and workout your lay stake for an even profit on the Smarkets exchange using the calculation below:

Lay stake = (back odds – 1) / (lay odds – commission) * free bet value

For our example that's: (7 - 1) / (7.50 - 0.02) * 50 = £40.11

To complete the matched bet lay Utterly Charming at odds of 7.50 on the Smarkets exchange and enter your stake as £40.11, leaving you a bet liability of £260.71 - learn how to calculate your liability on a lay bet.

Once more you will need to ensure your Smarkets account has £260.71 in to cover the liability if Utterly Charming wins - but remember you will have won with the bookmaker if that happens.

Note: You can reduce your liability by finding similar back and lay bets with smaller odds, it just means you will reduce the amount of profit you can get from your matched bet.

The table below shows all outcomes for your matched bet.



Smarkets exchange


Utterly Charming wins




Utterly Charming doesn’t win


+£39.30 (includes 2% commission)


So no matter what the outcome is, using a matched betting strategy just turned your free £50 bet into £39.30 profit.

Why Smarkets is the best exchange for matched betting

Matched betting is all about extracting as much profit from the initial bookmaker bonus as possible. Unlike bookmakers who build a margin into their odds, betting exchanges charge a commission.

Understanding how this commission affects your overall profit in the long run is key -  so using Smarkets, with our industry-low 2% commission on net market profits only, is vital to maximising your overall matched betting profit.

Don’t believe us? Let’s show you how differing commission structures on a betting exchange can affect your overall profit.

The table below highlights how using the same Utterly Charming example as above with a betting exchange that charges 5% commission can impact on your return.

Exchange commission


Smarkets 2% commission


5% commission


This may not appear a huge difference, but it will soon add up to a considerable amount if you do regular matched betting.

It's also important to understand that Smarkets only charge commission on net profits per market, compared to some other exchanges who charge commission whether you win or not and on every bet you place.

So if you lose your bet on the Smarkets exchange you pay nothing, however, with some exchanges you would have to pay a % of your lay bet stake.

Apply this to betting

Now you know what matched betting is and understand how simple it is, you can complete the sign-up bonuses. Once you have taken advantage of all the matched betting offers, you can then move on to reload offers - which bookmakers use to incentivise their customers.

These offers allow you to constantly use this low-risk matched betting strategy - and remember Smarkets is the best betting exchange for matched betting as we offer an industry-low 2% commission on net market wins only.

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