Can you Make Money Betting on Sports?

Mon 11 Sep 2023

The Reality of Sports Betting Profitability

Time to Read: 10 minutes

Can you make money betting on Sports? TLDR: Possibly, but not very much.

If you're reading this and have a strategy that enables you to bet profitably, one of three things is happening:

a) you're expriencing a short term period of profit but will ultimately revert to losing money ;or

b) you're in the minority of gamblers who are profitable, although you're probably not winning very much (nevertheless, well done, every little helps!) ;or

c) you're among the incredibly small group of gamblers who are able to make a contribution to their income, and possibly even live off their efforts.

This is perhaps not the view you were expecting, particularly on a football stats and bet tracking website. Well let's clarify the above statements further and then look at some possible options (spoiler alert: the conclusion above does not change).

This is a stats site isn't it?

Yes, stats is what we do, so let's first give this a cheeky little Stat Attack! Google isn't much help unfortunately - a lot of websites indicate that 3-5% of sports bettors are profitable, but none of the sites I visited provided any citations.

Luckily, the UK is undertaking a review of gambling legislation at the moment and this means we have a few good and legitimate sources that we can use to pull out some useful data. Stat heaven!

First off, before looking at the stats, we have to understand the context in the UK. The legislative review is driven largely by concerns about the effects of problem gambling. The reports referenced tend to look at behaviour and public health. Two particular reports are of interest: "Gambling-related harms evidence review"[1]from Public Health England and "Gambling behaviour in Great Britain"[2] by the National Center for Social Research (NatCen). Despite the difference in focus, the reports do offer insights and stats that are valuable.

Secondly, I should note that the review of the stats here is in no way related to the proposals of the Gambling Commission regarding legislative changes. For our present purposes, this is irrelevant and I won't be commenting on it further.

Both of the reports provide us with details of their methodology and in the case of the NatCen report it was based on one year's gambling data from 139,152 accounts from seven major UK online gambling operators (from 01/07/2018 to 30/06/2019) which represent 85% of the UK market. The accounts were chosen using a stratified random sampling methodology, so can be considered a good representation of accounts. The data gave details of every bet, stake and winnings/losses plus payments in and out of accounts.

The dataset was anonmyized so cannot idenfity holders that have multiple accounts. This does impact conclusions. Other limitations of the dataset are that it does not include bets on exchanges; and is only a snapshot of accounts for one year, so we need to be a little bit cautious in terms of extrapolating this to the long term. Nevertheless the stats are interesting and do shed some light on the gambling landscape in the UK.

70% of accounts placed bets on football and this accounted for 50% of Gross Gambling Yield (GGY - revenue before operational costs and tax), so football is clearly an active and important sector for bookmakers. 84.5% of accounts spent less than 200 GBP per year. For 64% of accounts, on active gambling days, 3 bets were placed on average, so it seems the majority are having a small flutter occasionally [4] Let's look at what the reports say about profitability.

"21% of accounts made a net gain, 60% lost less than £200, 13% lost between £200 and £1,000, 5% lost between £1,000 and £5,000, and around 1% lost more than £5,000."

That actually doesn't sound too bad, does it? 21% is far better than the 3-5% figure that is widely quoted. Maybe the Brits are just excellent gamblers? Let's dig a little deeper. What were the actual winnings of the accounts considered profitable?

NatCen Betting Profitability
Distribution of total spending (wins and losses) across accounts[3]

It should be noted that, rather unhelpfully, and despite separating gambling from gaming in the report, the above chart combines the two, however, the authors indicate the figures do not differ significantly and this is confirmed by picking out some of the figures cited elsewhere in the report.

In the 21% of profitable accounts (above in blue) we can see that only 0.44% actually made more than 2k GBP. Maybe, we could say that many of these people probably had multiple accounts and similar success in those too. It would be a pretty decent return, but - and it's a BIG but - only a vanishingly small number of people are in this category. It's likely that professional gamblers are not with high-street operators so the "big boys" are probably betting elsewhere. This would affect the figures and perhaps push the stats upwards - either way it's still a very small proportion of accounts.

The good news is that 21% of accounts were breaking even or turning a little profit. Again, if we assume that people hold multiple accounts, there are plenty of people out there who may be making a small profit. But the important take-away is that these are not significant amounts. It re-enforces the view that it's very unlikely that you can give up the day job any time soon. It's just not proftable enough, for most, to be considered a good way to earn an income. Further, the stats demonstrate that for the majority, you're likely to lose rather than make money.

The reports give a fascinating view on gambling and I definately recommend taking a quick look at them, particularly the powerpoint presentation from NatCen (links at bottom). The focus of these reports, that is problem gambling, should serve as a caution for us when deciding when and how to bet. Bankroll management, self-reflection and tracking the status of your accounts have to be fundamental parts of any strategy.

Well, where does all this leave us? Some good news, some bad?

Let's have a look at some options and approaches to betting. I should reiterate that this website does not offer advice, although, in this blog we do offer opinons - but that is all they are - opinions. Before we move on there's one bit of wisdom I can offer (and it's not mine).
"Wear sunscreen....

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth."

Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen). Baz Luhrmann.

Professional Bettors

It's clear that some people are able to gamble profitably and are even able to make a living doing so. It's possible, but incredibly difficult. It requires years of dedication and learning to develop the skills to be able to achieve long term profitability. There are also personal attributes that professional gamblers possess that most of us mere mortals simply do not have.

Professional gamblers are able to profit due to their in-depth knowledge, not only of how gambling works and the mathematics behind it, but also by possessing detailed knowlege of the specific sport(s) on which they focus. They are also able to employ strategies that enable them to be profitable, such as understanding how to manage their bankroll and how to control emotions and bet effectively.

As mentioned before, it's doable, but just very very hard. It also takes years to master. Unfortunately, it's highly unlikley that you'll end up in the small percentage of accounts that make decent money. That said, if you want to give it a go - go for it, I wouldn't want to rain on anyone's parade - just do so with eyes wide open.

It is worth noting, that there are aspects of professional gambling from which we can learn. Bankroll management being one of the most useful, but also recognition that it's not easy - we need to do our homework, understand the markets and appreciate some of the mathematics involved - that is the statistics related to betting.

There's also learning in terms of how professional gamblers reflect on their performance. Keeping a log of bets can help in this regard (see, there is a reason for this site after all!).

Value Betting

This appears to be one of the approaches where there may be a genuine opportunity to make a profit. It's is premised on the idea of identifying 'value bets' where the odds offered by a bookmaker are higher than the true probability (odds) for a given outcome.

The main downsides to this approach would be the number of bets one must make (lots), the variance one might encounter and whether this can realistically provide a reasoanable return for the effort involved. Bookmakers would also likely notice such behaviour and most high-street operators would likely restrict accounts that are seen to be taking away value.

It may become a game of cat and mouse trying not to be detected and therefore may not be a long term proposition. There are some bookmakers who accept such 'sharps' - just not most high-street names.

If you're interested in this area, I would recommend the work of Joseph Buchdahl who has a number of excellent books on this subject. Both links below are to his books on Amazon. There is no relationship between the author of the books and this site. I bought them and genuinely think they are excellent - be warned they do contain some pretty scary maths at times.
Monte Carlo or Bust / Squares & Sharps, Suckers and Sharps

In any case, value betting does seem to be a legitimate and reasonable strategy. There are many sites, including this one, built to provide comparison of odds based around such a strategy.

Matched Betting

Matched betting is a risk-free betting strategy used to profit from the incentives, promotions, and free bets offered by bookmakers or betting exchanges. It involves placing multiple bets on different outcomes of a sporting event, ensuring that you neither win nor lose money on the bets themselves. The goal is to unlock and retain the value of the promotional offers or free bets provided by the bookmakers.

In matched betting, there are typically two main types of bets: a "back" bet, which is placed on a particular outcome occurring (e.g., a team winning), and a "lay" bet, which is placed against that same outcome happening (e.g., a team not winning). By carefully calculating the stake amounts for these bets, matched bettors create a situation where they lose a small amount for the initial "qualifying" bet. They can then use a freebet or offer to make an overall profit.

Matched betting requires the use of online tools and calculators to determine the exact stake amounts needed to ensure a risk-free outcome (some are available for in our main site for registered users).

Matched betting used to be very popular but has declined significantly in recent years as bookmakers reduce the amount and type of offers available. This is a relatively short term strategy as bookmakers will generally be able to identify those that are engaging in this practice and will either restrict or close accounts.

Matched betting remains a viable option and can be a good short-term, and risk-free, way to make at least 500-1000 usd. The downside is that you may not have any bookmaker accounts by the end as they tend to get restricted.

This type of betting is valuable in terms of getting a good understanding of odds and how exchanges work. It's also a good vehicle for understanding value and to learn about betting in general without exposing yourself to risk.

In general, irrespective of how you bet and what strategy you employ, if there is value from offers then why not take advantage of them? Learn how they work but don't over do it.


Trading strategies on betting exchanges involve taking advantage of fluctuations in odds and market movements to secure a profit - similar to trading in financial markets.

Traders on betting exchanges aim to buy and sell bets, just like trading stocks or commodities. They back (buy) a selection at one set of odds and then lay (sell) it at lower odds, or vice versa. The key to success lies in predicting how the odds will move. For example, if you back a football team before a match at odds of 3.0 and then lay them at odds of 2.0 during the game when they're winning, you've secured a profit regardless of the final result.

These strategies often involve using betting exchange software and real-time data to monitor odds movements and market sentiment.

There are myriad Youtube videos and sites offering "profitable trading strategies" and this is a genuine area for betting. Although not a scam, one does have to question whether: if you have a profitable trading strategy why would you advertise it? In reality, most of the strategies advertised will simply no longer work - even if they did in the past.

In general, I expect this to be a very difficult area in which to be profitable. You're betting against others in a largely zero-sum-game. The bots, automations and professionals out there make this a very difficult area in which to be profitable.

One advantage trading does offer is that you are free to bet in the exchange and won't encounter any of the difficulties with bookmaker restrictions.

Gambling as a Hobby

To conclude this article, I offer an alternative approach to gambling. Don't bet with the expectation to make money. And, as echoed by gambling commissions worldwide, don't gamble more than you can afford to lose.

I like golf. I probably spend about 150-200 usd a month on this hobby. I spent a similar amount some years ago when I was into scuba diving. Like any pastime there's a certain expediture for a certain amount of fun.

The problems arise, to some extent uniquely for gambling, when people enter with expectations of making money. This is not helped by those inferring that you can realistically earn an income from it. As mentioned before; yes, it's possible - but unachievable for the vast majority of people.

Instead, treat gambling as a hobby or pastime. There's lots to learn, it can get very techincal in terms of the statistics and maths. Concentrate on your favourite sports - it provides the perfect opportunity to learn more about the sports you enjoy and bet on. With a bit of knowlege it's also possible to enjoy gambling while signficantly reducing risk and possibly break-even or end up with a (small) profit.

Finally, and most importantly, trust me on the sunscreen.

Footnotes and References:
1/. Conoly, Davies et al. 2018. Gambling behaviour in Great Britain in 2016. Evidence from England, Scotland and Wales. National Centre for Social Reserch. Online powerpoint presentation from the same report available at:
2/. Gambling-related harms evidence review. Quantitative analysis of gambling involvement and gambling-related harms among the general population in England. Public Health England.
3/. Figure 5 from High stakes:gambliing reform in the digital age [website, accessed 5th September 2023].
This chart is friendlier version of the data from the NatCen report above slide 40 in the powerpoint presentation

4/. Online powerpoint presentation from NatCen, Pages 17 and 50.

Betting 101 provides a range of statistics to help you analyse football matches / soccer matches. Statistics include standings, recent form, goal times - scoring and conceding, Overs for goals and corners. BTTS, clean sheets, first team to score plus many more. .
Upcoming matches can be filtered using our in-built fixture finder. Filters can be saved for easy re-use in the future.
Our layout designer enables you to design your own statistics page layouts for leagues, teams and matches using a wide range of in-built widgets so you access only the stats you need.