Is it possible to make a guaranteed profit from betting on football? That's the Holy Grail for many - especially when the economy isn't doing so well - but is guaranteed profit a fantasy or can it be done?
I'm going to look at a number of methods which claim to provide risk-free profits to get to the bottom of it once and for all.
This has exploded in recent years, largely due to the fact that more and more punters are now betting online. Bookies are desperate for business and so they offer welcome bonuses to attract new customers. Of course, their hope is that the new customer stays with them a while, continues to place bets and lose money.
There are lots and lots of welcome bonuses out there, from a free £10 bet all the way up to Bet365's £200 offer. You could go join up to them all and use the risk-free bets to guarantee a profit, but then you have the problem of withdrawing the funds. Bookies aren't too charitable in that regard and force you to play on until you have turned over a certain amount. They figure that most punters will end up losing in the end and have nothing left to withdraw.
The solution to this is to place matched bets, both at the bookie and also on a betting exchange. Ideally, the bet loses so that the bonus money ends up in your Betfair account. From there you move on to the next bookie... and the next.
Unfortunately, you will eventually run out of bookies but you will have made well over £1,000 guaranteed profit by that point. Once this happens, you can take advantage of other offers that the bookies throw at existing customers to encourage them to return.
Is it worth the effort?
It does take quite a bit of effort to keep track of all the available bookie offers, but a service such as Clear Bonus Profits takes all the headaches away.
They take you through all of the new customer bonuses and then the ongoing offers too. You can make a sizeable risk-free profit each and every month.
We tried Clear Bonus Profits out and tracked all of the available profits.
These systems have intrigued me for a long time.
The simplest way to explain stop-at-a-winner is to look at coin flips. If you back heads for £1 and the coin lands on tails, you double your stake so that if it lands on heads the second time, you get £2 back and end up with £1 profit - just as if the first flip had won. If the second flip loses you are £3 down, so you double the stake again to £4 then, if the third flip wins, you get £4 back to make your £1 profit.
This stake doubling escalates quickly so that after 10 losing flips you would need to stake £1,024!
It's perfectly possible to have 10 losing flips too; I've watched more than 20 black numbers land in a row on a roulette wheel. As the black numbers started to mount up, more and more gamblers put their money on red thinking that it "had" to come in. Eventually it did, yes, but it didn't become more of a probability as there were still 18 black numbers and the zero, so only a 48.65% chance.
Ok... so even money chances are not good. How about higher prices though?
I'm going to look at a very simple "back the draw" system to try to answer that question.
Basic back the draw system
At the start of the 2010/11 season I was offered a football betting system which, it was claimed, guaranteed a profit. I did a bit of digging, only to discover that all this amazing new system did was back the draw for every English Premier League fixture!
To be fair to the guy, if you had backed the draw every game that season you would have ended up with 26.4pts profit but it was hardly a guaranteed profit.
His thinking was that fans bet on their teams and no-one backs the draw, so it pushes the price out to the point at which the price has value. That will be true to an extent, but a number of traders use back the draw strategies with much larger stakes than fans sat watching the game in a pub.
I calculated the profit figure using Bet365 prices for every game, but shopping around for the best odds makes a big difference.
For example, one of the games had the draw priced as low as 3.25 and as high as 3.50. If that doesn't sound much of a difference, there were 111 draws in the Premier League that season and the difference in profit between 3.25 and 3.50 would have been 27.75pts over the year. That's a lot of money for spending a minute at Oddschecker each time.
But anyway, it still can't have been classed as a guaranteed profit as you'd have been relying on a certain ratio of draws over the season.
How about converting that system into stop-at-a-winner?
S.A.W. back the draw system
I went through every match for every team during the 2010/11 English Premier League season to see what would have happened. It was quite a task, but extremely interesting.
I found that with a £1 stake, you could have made a profit of at least £1,530.30 over the season.
I started with Arsenal and assumed I'd backed the draw for their opening match against Liverpool for £1 which was priced at 3.25. The match ended in a draw and I would have collected £2.25 profit.
I would then have backed the draw for their next match at home to Blackpool at 7.00 and lost £1.
For the next match, I would have increased the stake by 50% and backed the draw against Blackburn for £1.50 at 4.00. This wasn't a draw either, nor was the next match at home to Bolton with a £2.25 stake.
For Arsenal's next match at Sunderland I would have backed the draw at 3.70 for £3.38. This match ended in a draw and my profit would have been £9.12.
Onto the next match and back to the starting stake of £1. And so on through the season.
By the end of the season, my profit with Arsenal would have been £273.35 and the biggest bet I'd have had to place would have been £194.62. This would have been on the match at Wigan and I'm not sure I'd have fancied a draw there, but that's how it turned out.
I went through all 20 English Premier League teams and they fared as follows:
Note: I used Bet365 prices for all of the calculations but it would have been possible to increase the overall profit by using Oddschecker and taking the best price available each time.
The teams which ended on a loss were because the season ended during a run of no draws.
Maybe some running this system would take the overall profit for the season, while others would start the next season where they left off.
So, a guaranteed profit? Well, that depends.
Look at the profit for Wolves. It's much larger than every other team because they had an 18 match run with no draws so the stakes built up and up. In fact, the stake required reached £1,477.89. Now, we all know that Wolves will draw at some point - even Barcelona draw now and again! - but long runs can happen.
And this is the fundamental flaw with stop-at-a-winner systems.
You need to have the bank, the bravery and be able to find a bookie willing to take increasingly large bets. With their technology and teams of analysts these days, it won't take them long to figure out what you're doing and then you'll suddenly find your account restricted.
Just as a football trader locks in profit, so do bookies.
Mathematically, I'd have to conclude that it is possible to make a guaranteed profit from football, but it's going to take more than stop-at-a-winner to beat the bookies.
While they're giving out so much free cash, you're much better off stuffing as much of that into your pockets rather than try to beat them at their own game. Once they restrict accounts - or you run out of bank - there's only one winner.
I'll definitely stick to football trading for now with a little matched betting thrown in for good measure.