There have been a number of moments in history that have changed the bookmaking industry as we understand it. The Betting and Gaming Act of 1960, which legalised off-course bookmakers and allowed them to have shops on the street, for example, or the advent of in-play betting. Another such shift in the accepted wisdom occurred when Andrew Black and Edward Wray formed Betfair in 2000. Since then the company has gone on to become the biggest online betting Exchange in the world, with over a million active users helping them turnover more than £50 million every week.
If you don’t know what an Exchange is then don’t worry, I’ll explain it in a bit more detail shortly. Such has been the success of the company, though, they’ve been able to launch a traditional sportsbook, as well as the usual things that a successful bookmaker gets involved in once they’ve launched their platform. These include the likes of a live casino, slots, poker, bingo and virtual sports. Betfair merged with another bookmaker, Paddy Power, in 2016 and created a new company called Paddy Power Betfair. They’re run as two separate operations, however, which is why I’m telling you about Betfair in their own right.
With most of the other bookmakers I’ve told you about I’ve limited the ‘features’ category to the likes of live betting and Cash Out. The reason for that is that most bookies are much of a muchness on that front, so it’s how they deliver the feature that matters rather than whether they offer it at all. I’ll still be telling you about those things with Betfair, but there’s no question that I have to first talk about the thing that helped them get their name.
The Betting Exchange
At first glance an Exchange can seem like a complicated thing. You see terms like ‘Lay’ and ‘Back’ and think they’re not what you’re used to with a normal bookmaker and you’d be right. There is a difference between how things work on an Exchange and how they work with Fixed Price bookies. With a traditional bookmaker you bet on one specific outcome, such as ThisHorseIsMadeUp to win the race. With an Exchange you can ‘Lay’ that horse, which means betting on any of the other horses in the race to win.
If you head to the Exchange then you’re essentially playing the part of the bookmaker, as someone else takes up your bet. So by ‘Laying’ a horse you’re saying you don’t think it will win and you’re willing to bet £10 on that. Someone else may ‘Back’ the horse to win, which means that they disagree with you. If the horse does indeed lose, as you predicted, you’ll have won the bet. However what you need to remember is that the ‘Backer’ took odds, meaning that if the horse wins and your bet loses you’ll have to pay out those odds.
Say the odds of the horse to win that you decided to Lay were 10/1, if it went on to be victorious in the race then you’d have to pay £100 to the Backer as you bet £10 against that 10/1. That is known as your liability and it’s something you’ll have to watch out for when you do your betting. You won’t be able to Lay a bet unless you’ve got enough money in your account to cover the liability, so do bear that in mind. If you win your bet then you’ll need to pay a commission to Betfair, which is normally 5%. If you bet quite a lot then this can be negotiated down to around 2%, but if you win a lot then it might go up.
Betting on the Exchange is actually nowhere near as complicated as it might seem and there numerous reasons why you might want to do it. For starters, some people consider the odds to be fairer than with a more traditional bookmaker, as Betfair take their cut from the commission rather than an edge. The Betfair site has plenty of different videos and things to explain how it all works, so don’t be afraid to have a look at them and get your head around what’s going on. I was surprised at how quickly I figured it out! Sufficed to say, as a feature Betfair’s Exchange is one of the best around.
One of the big things about an Exchange is that it allows you to bet on plenty of things that a traditional bookmaker might not. All you need is someone willing to take your bet up and you’re away. Obviously this comes into its own most clearly when we talk about live betting. There’s also the slight complication when discussing Betfair that there are essentially two different worlds we’re discussing, the Exchange and the traditional sportsbook. From now on you can assume I’m talking about the traditional side of things as I will mention the Exchange if there’s something particularly different about how it works there.
Having said that, I should just say that live betting on the Exchange gives you more options. Say you are convinced that a match will not finish goalless but don’t know what score it will be or how many goals there are in the match, you can Lay a 0-0 and it can then finish any other score and you’ll win. To get that from a traditional bookmaker you’d have to bet on every single other option, which would be nigh on impossible. On both the Exchange and the sportsbook you’ll find all of the events that you can bet on split up until their various sports, separated by tags to make them easy to find.
On the main page you’ll find the usual Win, Lose or Draw options for each event. You can place a bet quickly from within the page or you can click through to see the bets you can place on the event in more detail. At the time of writing there are 39 different in-play events, including 32 different tennis matches, two football games and a cricket match. Not bad for a Tuesday lunchtime. I could also bet on around fifty football games that are coming up over the next day or so, meaning the ante-post market on that sport is more than healthy.
The development of Betfair and the Exchange actually drew attention to one of the controversial issues surrounding live betting; namely the fact that it often isn’t actually ‘live’. There can be a delay of a few seconds between when you’re placing your bet and when someone else is placing theirs, owing to things like your internet speed, where the other person is and so on. You could be betting against someone on the Exchange who is live at an event whilst you’re watching five seconds or more behind. They’ve done their best to mitigate this, but it’s an interesting thing to mention nevertheless.
It’s not quite as easy to find the live streams on Betfair as it is with some other bookmakers. When you look at the bets on the main page you’ll see a small TV like symbol that indicates Live Streaming is available. Click on it and you’ll then see a ‘Watch Live’ tab within the betting page. With horse and greyhound racing you need to place a bet of at least 50p to be able to live stream the event. With other sports, such as tennis, you simply have to be logged into your account with a positive balance.
Because Live Streaming is so integral to making the most out of certain aspects of betting on the Exchange, you’ll find it’s also accessible from that side of the website. Again, you’ll be looking for the small TV like symbol from within the main betting page of the event. Personally I’d like to be able to see a list of all of the events being live streamed as I normally pick an event I can watch and then bet on it, rather than place a bet then wonder if I can watch it live. That’s just me, though.
When talking about the Sportsbook, there is a Cash Out tab at the top of that explains how the whole thing works. If you scroll down the page that comes under that tab you’ll see a list of events where Cash Out is an option, meaning that you don’t need to worry whether or not you’ll be able to take advantage of it. With both the Sportsbook and the Exchange, you’ll know whether you can Cash Out a bet because there’ll be a small orange square next to it to inform you.
Betfair also offer you the chance to take a Partial Cash Out, meaning you can withdraw some of your bet but also leave some of it in play. It’s a good way of hedging your bet if you’re not too sure which way an event is going to play out. One thing that is particularly noteworthy about Betfair’s Cash Out is that it’s available on certain horse races in-running, so if you can see that your horse is nowhere near the front of the pack then you can Cash Out and hope to mitigate some of your losses.
I know I keep banging on about the Exchange, but I can’t tell you how much it’s changed online betting for those that use it. It has come into play for a whole host of reasons, with in-play betting on the football being one of the main ones. Here’s some more info about how they deal with the most popular sport in the world:
I think Betfair’s football coverage is some of the best around. Clicking on the ‘Football’ tab at the top of the sportsbook homepage will then present you with a page where you can either jump straight to the event, league or tournament you’re hoping to bet on, or else you can scroll down and see all of the matches in one big chunk. The former is handy if you know exactly which game it is that you’re looking for, whilst the latter is handy if you know you want to place a bet but aren’t totally sure what it is you’re wanting to bet on and are just looking for the odds.
From the main page itself you’ll be able to select a winning team or whether the match will end in a draw, with a click on an arrow taking you to the full page of betting options for any given match. You won’t know how many bets are available until you get there, which is a bit disappointing, but once you’re in the game’s own page you’ll be able to select whether you want to see all markets, just the popular bets or one of numerous other individual markets. These include things like the score, which player will score or when the next goal will go in.
Because of the Exchange there is a really large amount of coverage of football matches. Right now, for example, I could place a bet on GKS Jastrzebie v Sleza Wroclaw in the Poland III Liga, which is a division I’d never heard of before just now and two teams I wouldn’t be able to pick out of a lineup. That’s the sort of thing you get all of the time from Betfair, as if someone wants to bet on a match then it will be covered. You can’t complain about the depth of their coverage, put it that way.
The company claims that they offer better odds than traditional bookmakers around 20% of the time. I’ve got nothing to back that stat up with, but it seems about right on my own research. They’re often there or there about with their odds for football matches, competing with the big boys and having plenty of options within any given event to keep you interested.
Betfair are one of few companies that doesn’t seem to have a preference for one sport over another. Their horse racing coverage is easily on a par with their football coverage, for example, rather than one being more popular or seemingly preferred.
At the time of writing I can bet on five meetings from the UK and Ireland, the same number from the US and one in each of France, Sweden and South Africa. Look forward in the week and I’ll be able to bet on racing from the United Arab Emirates or Australia, should I wish to. The point of saying that is to outline the fact that we’re not just talking about the big races that we’ve all heard of here. You can bet on them too, of course, with excellent ante-post markets to be found if you want them.
Chepstow, Wetherby, Yarmouth, Fontwell and Southwell are all on offer today from the UK, with Finger Lakes, Louisiana Downs and Fort Erie examples of the courses you can bet on in America. That said, the options you’ll get for the UK course are a lot more interesting that with their counterparts in the US. As well as TimeForm guides, you’ll also be shown previous odds and their recent form. For a lot of the American races you’ll only really be offered a bet on their Starting Price. So whilst you’ll be able to bet on plenty of different races with Betfair, you might not be able to place the type of bets you’re after.
When I was looking at my betting options earlier today I noticed that Betfair had the best price less often than I might have thought. Don’t get me wrong, they were never too far off the pace of their rivals, but they weren’t setting the pace as much as I’d hoped and I sometimes had to turn to the Exchange to try to find the odds I was looking for. Just something to think about.
One area where Betfair does disappoint is when it comes to their coverage of other sports. They’re not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, covering very similar things to most of their competitors. Yet if you were hoping for a range of strange and wonderful sports being covered then you’d be disappointed. Here are some of them:
- Ice Hockey
- Winter Sports
Chess is an interesting one to have thrown into the mixer, covered by some but not all other bookmakers. Other than that you can see that they’re not exactly the most uncovered of all sports in the world. You can bet on the likes of current affairs and politics, but they’re not sports so I don’t really consider them to be overly surprising or interesting. There are some more options on the Exchange, including yachting, snooker and financial betting.
On the 8th of September 2015 Betfair and Paddy Power came to an agreement over the structure of a merger. Paddy Power shareholders would get 52% of the shares of the new company, with Betfair’s shareholders retaining 48% of them. The whole thing wasn’t official until February of 2016, but once it happened it created one of the biggest bookmaking companies in the UK. As far as operations in the UK and Ireland and Italy were concerned, it would be as though the merger never happened. Both Paddy Power and Betfair would continue to operate as separate and distinct brands, though the 600 on-street shops would now be rolled into the one company.
The merger with Paddy Power wasn’t the first time that Betfair had lost a little bit of control of the company. In 2006 the Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank Group bought over 20% of the company, valuing it at £1.5 billion. Betfair have been equally quick to buy up other companies when it’s suited them. Such occasions include the 2006 purchase of TimeForm, the racing publishing company, and the 2005 takeover of PokerChamps. As I’ve mentioned more than a few times, the Exchange was the reason the company took off so much in the first place, but the 2012 launch of their fixed odds sportsbook helped them go to another level.