A big meme in the UK personal finance scene is matched betting. I was cynical about this for many reasons, but particularly because I assumed that this was arbitraging odds. Capitalism tolerates arbitrage, but you normally have to be very well-heeled to to do it. Your stockmarket platform uses arbitrage, hedge funds to, banks do it all the time, middlemen of all sorts. End consumers, not so much, and punters are are end consumers at the bottom of the food chain. Turns out I was wrong about the arbitrage – although that is one way people make money out of matched betting, the primary way seems to be making money out of freebie signups. Arbing odds seems to be an easy way to run into trouble. Gambling is very lucrative for the bookies, they throw zillions of promotional freebies out there, and you can pick up a few pennies from the firehose of offers to part prospective punters from their money.
By betting on both the result and the anti-result you can eliminate the risk of the result and extract some of this free cash. There are many catches – it’s time consuming, you have to prostitute your personal details to many bookies, presumably your bank looks at the string of gambling transactions and won’t even think of advancing you a mortgage. On the plus side it’s a bit of a game, and particularly interesting for me is that it is tax-free. One of the things that holds me back from taking some jobs is the problem of accounting for piddling bits of money. I don’t ever want to work for a salaried job again, but on the other hand although I quite like the idea of hit and run jobs many are small, and paperwork bores me. The taxman doesn’t tax betting income because it’s usually anti-income and people would offset it against tax from real income.
The fact that a taxpayer has a system by which they place their bets, or that they are sufficiently successful to earn a living by gambling does not make their activities a trade.
As far as how it works, I’m not going to try and describe that. Too many others who know more about it have done that – take a look at oddsmonkey for how and why.
Why matched betting isn’t gambling
The key thing that makes matched betting not the same as gambling is that you back one side and lay the other, so the risk is cancelled out. Screw that up and it’s betting. Ask TFS about the Winner offer 😉 It’s actually TFS who started my foray into this underworld, because he had the cojones to narrate how he had screwed up. Everybody else is saying it’s money for old rope, so my bullshit detector was always going off. Mind you, TFS has a little of the gambler in him anyway, as I’m sure I saw gambling costs as a line item in one of his monthly summaries. And TFS is a fellow who dreamed of becoming a professional gambler. I was about to pollute his comment stream with a cynical comment as to ‘professional gambler, WTF is that?’. But them I thought I ought to really hit up Google in case I was about to display my ignorance, and it turns out that professional gambler is a thing. These are people who do effectively arbitrage odds, theoretically through a superior analysis of the event being betted on. I suspect very Few are chosen from the Many 😉 Matched betting isn’t professional gambling either.
The weird world of gambling and casinos.
music businessgambling world is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
Hunter S Thompson could have been talking about online gambling
I’ve never been in a betting shop and I hate sports, deeply, on all levels. I just don’t give a damn. The whole betting scene is garish as hell, it’s like a wall-to-wall caricature of Donald Trump in the way it appeals to the inner monkey in us.It’s like going to Las Vegas, you kinda feel a little bit dirty on the inside and outside after you’ve tangled with this sort of trash
But using Oddsmonkey it’s easy enough to sidestep a lot of that, going straight through to the particular page wanted. I found it was worth paying them the £16 a month simply to shorten the whole process, obviously you need to be making a lot more than that for there to be any point. In the beginning, with signup offers it’s easy to do that, although I suspect making a profit will get a lot harder later on, and at some point it will fall below the can’t be arsed threshold for me, which appears to be higher than for most other people at this. The Ermine is a lazy devil when it comes to pointless makework, which is what this boils down to. There’s also the wider issue that the annual dividends on my ISA are more than I’ll probably extract from matched betting signup offers in a year, and I get that for sitting on my backside and the dividends will keep coming year after year.
Why it won’t last
Fundamentally, matched betting is extractive, it creates no value. I presume the bookies are busy working on Bayesian systems to spot customer matched betting patterns, and restricting their accounts. Because of the dreadfully onerous know your customer rules in the UK you can’t just spin up new accounts to dodge that. I’d give matched betting five years tops before it’s stamped out. It’s possible that they make so much money on normal punters they don’t really bother, but the fact that bookies limit some matched better’s accounts indicates they perceive a problem.
What it could do for you
If you’re prepared to sit behind your computer most of the evenings and particularly weekends, then you seem to be able to extract about £15,000 p.a. Go look at Early Retirement Guy‘s alter ego, MatchedBettingGuy for a fellow who has hit this hard.
What it may do for me
I’ve extracted a couple of hundred. But then I’m lazy, and I don’t really need the money. I confess to a buzz at extracting money from bookies, and it reminds me a little bit of playing computer games – but the last time I did that was in the late 1980s on an Atari 800. I stopped that for the same reason I struggle with MB – it was fun but a pointless waste of time – and I made that call on computer games when I was in my 20s ;). Some part of me despises the valueless waste of my time with matched betting, I’m not improving myself or adding any value to the world doing this. I’ve probably trashed my credit rating for a while, but then one of the delights of being FI is I don’t need to borrow money from anyone. I have no idea of how people continue once they’ve burned through the new customer offers, because getting a decent return from existing customer offers seems really hard work. So maybe an Ermine hit and run on the bookies of Britain will be good for about a thousand pounds in all. Which is worth having I suppose, but I’m very clearly missing something compared to ERG.
Keep your nose clean and keep this stuff off your main computer
Remember Hunter s Thompson. This is an ugly industry feeding off human weakness; you don’t want it anywhere near normal life.
I use a separate gmail account, and a computer booted off a Linux liveCD so it’s new-born every restart. Although I don’t see most ads due to adblock plus I don’t really want the Big G to spam me senseless. And whatever your main bank account is, where your salary and mortgage get paid, well, it would be wise not to use that IMO 😉