Lay Betting Explained - Find Out How it Works at BettingOnline

Lay Betting Explained

Lay betting is an interesting proposition and something that often catches the imagination of everyday punters. We know there’s serious money to be made if playing the system wisely, we also know it can be used on all major sports and is more exciting than betting with a traditional sportsbook firm. So, what puts most of us off?

The facts remain, despite how tempting lay betting may appear on paper, the majority of the gambling public don’t fully understand how it works or even what it is, and the risks seem to far outweigh the rewards. There are too many question marks hanging over lay betting and punters are worried they could lose a hefty sum while dipping their toe in the water.

The reality is, lay betting does have its risks and you can lose much more than your initial stake, so you must be fully clued-up on what you’re doing before getting involved. You could also win much more than betting with a sportsbook, however, and that makes it a type of betting well worth finding out more about.

Our team of sports betting experts return with the latest in their series of gambling information articles to explain to you, as quickly as easily as possible, some of the more important facts connected to lay betting. What it is, how to lay a horse, liability and everything else you need to know to go in with confidence.

Traditional Betting

Let’s start by looking at what traditional sportsbook betting is, how the bookie profits from accepting these punts and how lay betting differs for the punter. Let’s take a coin toss as a good example of how bookies make their money. Here we have two options – heads or tails. You’d expect the odds on each to be even money as you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right and there’s no form or skill involved, it’s just a toss, heads or tails. That’s not how it works, however.

Check the odds on a coin toss in any cricket match and you’ll see the prices are set at 10/11 heads v 10/11 tails, meaning the bookmakers turn a profit whatever the outcome as they take the difference. The same applies to sports betting and you’ll see the betting percentages don’t add up to a 100%. The house will nick a little on the home win, draw and away win, regardless of the result. That’s how they stay in business and that’s what punters must contend with. It’s easy to dislike bookies for that but, remember, if there were no betting firms there would be no legal gambling.

Some aim to limit the amount they take as a percentage to, in turn, offer better odds to their customers, but there’s never too much in it. That’s the reason you’ll see some give better odds than others, it’s all about the margins and the level they are willing to go down to in order to entice punters into betting with them.

Three-Way Bets

If you’re betting on the winner of a football game you have three options – home team, draw, away team. You have a one in three chance of winning, so the odds aren’t as high as, say, a horse racing field or a golf outright market. Another, more accurate, way to look at it, however, is you have a two in three chance of losing. The punter has one in three v the bookie who has two in three.

That doesn’t sit well with many and it led to the growth in popularity of the draw no bet market or Asian handicap betting where you’ll get your stake back if the game ends level. That evens up the score a little and you now have a one in two chance of winning, the same as the trader. The likes of tennis betting continues to prove popular with punters as it’s a straight win or lose, with no chance of a draw.

The bookie has it good in both instances, right? With the win or lose they take a profit regardless of the outcome, with the win, lose, draw they also take a profit regardless of the outcome but also have a two in three chance of winning more money. It’s good work if you can get it. Well, now, thanks to lay betting, you can get it.

Betting Exchanges

Betting exchanges take the bookmaker out of the running and instead of punter v bookie, they set-up punter v punter, where users set their own price and bet against others or lay bets to others. With no bookie there is also no bookie’s profit margin, so that results in a better price for all concerned. It gives everyday backers the chance to jump the counter and play trader for the day, maximising the chances of you raking in a profit.

How do exchanges make their money then? Well, that comes through charging commission. There are many ways to do this, some don’t add it to losing bets, some add more to winning bets. So, a profitable punter will, in turn, create more income for the exchange. A traditional bookie wants a losing punter, an exchange value a winning one more. That’s the reason exchange betting sites are crammed with useful information, betting tutorials and stacked FAQs pages.

Betting v Laying

Betting is having your money on a selection to win, laying is having your money on a selection not to win. It changed the game forever and changed the way we bet across the board. It also opened up the risk of people abusing the system and we’ve heard many times in the past of jockeys doing their best to stop a horse winning, greyhounds not looking in peak physical fitness and even cricket and snooker players making faults on purpose. There have even been allegations of football players at certain clubs being sent off on purpose.

With lay betting on a football match, you’d swap places with the bookie and start accepting bets from other punters on matches. In a Chelsea v Arsenal match, for example, you’d offer better odds than the bookies on an Arsenal win and collect the stakes of everyone who played with you as long as Chelsea won, or it was a draw. By taking bets you now have that two in three chance of winning.


A great way to prove just how attractive lay betting can be is with horse racing. Let’s take a six-runner field and say the favourite is 4/9, second favourite 2/1, third favourite 3/1 with 12/1 bar. If you offer even money on the jolly, you’re going to see a lot of business come your way. If the favourite wins you will have to pay everyone out at the enhanced price of even money – probably having laid some of it off yourself – but if any other runner than the favourite takes the prize money, you’ll collect everyone’s cash.

Laying as a Punter

You don’t have to accept bets from punters to lay a selection, however, you can do this in every race, contest or match with betting available. Let’s stick with horse racing and we’ll talk about laying a selection as a punter.

Look at the field for any race – the more runners the better – and beside every selection, you’ll see a price to back and a price to lay. The odds are always in decimals, so please ensure you understand how they work, and their fraction equivalent. Let’s say we’re going with the favourite in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, Presenting Percy. Do you think he’ll win and aim to support his chances with cash, or do you think he’ll lose and end up just another name on a long list of Cheltenham favourites who let punters down?

Once you’ve made up your mind you can click back and add your stake to take him at a better price than you’ll get with the bookies. If he wins, you’ll be paid out, ending up with more than your friends who went down the traditional route. That’ll open the door for some serious gloating.

Backing to Lose

If you lay him, however, you are, in other words, backing him to lose. It then doesn’t matter who wins the race, as long as it’s not Presenting Percy you will come out of the contest with more money than you went in with. In a 14-runner race, the second favourite can win, the rank outsider can win, it really doesn’t matter, as long as it’s not the horse you laid. Laying a horse in a 14-runner field gives you a 13 in 14 chance of making a profit. Suddenly, lay betting doesn’t sound so daunting.

Other Sports

This can be done in football, or on any number of sports. Antepost Premier League betting, for example. Man City started the 2018/19 season as red hot favourites to defend their crown with bookmakers offering odds-on across the board. Back that and you’ll be sitting on a 4/6 shot for the best part of a year. What’s the point? Do your research and you’ll see the stats are dead against teams winning two-in-a-row.

You can follow that clue and lay Man City. It then doesn’t matter who wins the league – Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd or even Cardiff, as long as it’s not Man City you will end the campaign quids in.

Sports is all about opinions and sports betting is all about how highly you value yours. That’s one of the reasons exchange betting has taken off. If you are determined Man City will win the league, you can back them to do just that at a better price than the bookies are offering. If you think there’s no hope and would happily put money on it, you can lay Man City. You are then on 19 of the 20-team field and it’s difficult not to be inspired by those numbers, regardless of what the final result may be. The more chances you have of winning, the better, surely.


If accepting bets, it’s vitally important you understand what liability is as it could prove to be a fast-track to the poorhouse if you don’t. With sports betting if you bet £10 on a losing selection you will lose £10. It’s that simple and there are no nasty surprises. There are more ways to win with lay betting, but you could lose more if it all goes wrong.

The liability you’ll see when accepting bets is how much you stand to lose if your thinking proves to be incorrect and everyone with their money down on your bet wins. Often, there are a number of safeguards in place to ensure you don’t get in over your head and end up losing thousands. The standard practice is the liability can’t be more than is in your account. This allows you to deposit and set out how much you are willing to risk when accepting bets. The exchange will stop you from taking bets if the liability is more than your balance can afford.

Watch Your Points

Also, when taking bets, be very careful of where you put the decimal point as a bet at 3.0 could end up seeing you accept bets on a favourite at 30. Trust us, that’s not something you want to be doing too often. Before confirming anything it’s the best idea to check the liabilities attached to your punt and make sure it fits with what you wanted.

Some firms give a calculator that tells you what will happen if your bet wins at the current numbers, as well as how much you will lose if it doesn’t go to plan. It’s extremely important that you do your homework and think every bet through thoroughly before confirming.

How Do I Lay a Bet?

In every market, such as a horse race, you’ll see all runners with the option to bet at a price and the option to lay at a price. If you think the horse will win then you can back it, if you think it’ll lose you can lay it.

Don’t forget to read up about other betting basics, such as ArbitrageOver/UnderIn-Play bettingCash-OutAccasAsian Handicap and more in our betting basics guide.