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What is back and lay betting? A guide to lay betting in 2022 and beyond

By Charles    |    Updated 24th March, 2022

Confused about what back and lay betting is, how it works and what to use it for? You’re not alone.

In this guide for beginners, we’ll cover what back and lay betting is, how to use it in your betting strategy plus we share our top back and lay tips to help you maximise your profit in 2022 and beyond.

Let’s get started.

Betting exchange introduction

What’s this nonsense about betting exchanges, I sense you thinking…

Stick with me!

Before we get into the bulk of this guide and look into back and lay betting, we need to clarify what betting exchanges are and how they work.

An exchange may be a new concept to any beginners out there so this section is for you. However, if it’s not and you’re already confident with betting exchanges, skip ahead to the next section.

What is a betting exchange?

A betting exchange, for example, Smarkets, is an online marketplace where punters can bet against each other rather than with a bookmaker.

Smarkets £10 free bet

These peer to peer platforms allow the punter to act as a traditional bookie and sell a bet, otherwise known as laying a bet (more on this later).

Think of a betting exchange as a place to trade bets, much like you would on the financial stock market.

Betting exchanges make their money a different way to traditional bookmakers in that they charge a commission on player’s net winnings. This commission varies between different exchanges but ranges from 1.5% to 5%.

Typically a betting exchange offers the true market price (odds) whereas bookmakers add their profit margin into the odds, which means less value for you, the punter.

As with any market, for a bet to go ahead, there needs to be a buyer and a seller, similar to eBay, Amazon and any other marketplace for that matter.

In the betting industry, a buyer is someone looking to back a bet and a seller is someone looking to lay a bet.

You may have worked out that punters can place both back and lay bets at a betting exchange. This makes them incredibly versatile and popular betting platforms.

What is back and lay betting?

Now you know more about betting exchanges, let’s look into back lay betting in more detail.

What is back betting?

So, what exactly is back betting?

Back betting or backing is the traditional and most common type of betting format. Most high-street bookmakers are built around this concept so you’ve likely seen or placed several back bets at some point.

Placing a back bet on a horse simply means you are staking money on it to win. If the horse wins, you win the bet, if it doesn’t win, you lose the bet.

As simple as that.

The bookmakers set the odds according to the likelihood of an outcome, taking into account the current market price and their margin, as I mentioned above.

Back betting example

Here’s a back betting example to help explain:

If you place a £20 back bet on Horse A at odds of 5.0 (4/1) and the horse goes on to win, you’ll receive £100. Your stake (£20) multiplied by the back odds (5.0).

Back bet calculation

If Horse A doesn’t win, you’d receive nothing.

If you’ve ever wagered money on horse racing events like the Grand National or Royal Ascot, you likely placed a back bet without even knowing it.

So what about lay betting?

What is lay betting?

Lay betting is comparatively new in the betting world, however, it’s had a huge impact on the industry since Betfair opened the first betting exchange back in 2000 and made lay betting a possibility.

Nowadays, there’s more competition in the exchange industry from the likes of Smarkets and Matchbook. However, Betfair still leads the way in terms of size and popularity.

Anyway, back to the important stuff.

A lay bet is the opposite of a back bet. Lay bets are the same as saying an outcome won’t happen.

Placing a lay bet on a horse simply means you are staking money on it NOT to win. If the horse doesn’t win, you win your lay bet. If the horse does win, you lose your bet.

This may seem counterintuitive but it makes more sense if you just look at lay bets as the reverse of back bets.

As I mentioned above, lay bets haven’t been around for as long and are certainly less common than back bets, however, they’re just as important for certain betting strategies such as matched betting (more on this later).

Back and lay betting examples

Below are a few back and lay examples to help explain and show the difference.

Back bet: England will win the Rugby World Cup in 2023
Lay bet: England will NOT win the Rugby World Cup in 2023.


Back bet: Leicester City will win the Premier League this season.
Lay bet: Leicester City will NOT win the Premier League this season.

As you can see, back and lay bets are the direct opposite of each other. Let’s check out another comparison when betting on horse racing.

Back and lay betting comparison

The table below shows a comparison between back and lay bets.

Back and lay betting comparison

If Horse A wins, your back bet will win and your lay bet will lose.

If Horse A doesn’t win, your back bet will lose and your lay bet will win.

When you’re first starting, it may be a good idea to print off the table above so you can familiarise yourself with the back and lay betting process.

I know there’s a lot to take in, but once you’ve got it, it becomes second nature.

Back and lay odds

In this section, we’re going to check out back and lay odds and what you can expect to find when you open your betting accounts.

Whatever betting market you look at, the odds are generally not the same between different bookmakers. This is especially the case when it comes to back and lay odds.

There’s usually a difference in price when you compare odds at a betting exchange and a bookmaker. This is clear to see in the example below:

Back odds at Coral for a tennis match:

Coral betting odds

Lay odds at Smarkets (betting exchange) for the same tennis match:

Smarkets lay odds

You can see the back odds are 3.25 in the first screenshot and the lay odds are 3.35 in the second screenshot.

A discrepancy like this is quite typical and is sometimes bigger than this. In such scenarios, it’s possible to use back to lay arbitrage to make a guaranteed profit irrespective of the outcome.

Speaking of making a guaranteed profit, many punters use a betting strategy called matched betting that uses the back lay process mentioned above.

We’ll check this out a little later in our guide. In the meantime, let’s look at placing back and lay bets.

Placing back and lay bets

In this section, we’ll check out how easy it is to place back and lay bets at your favourite betting companies.

If you’ve placed a bet or two before, you’ll find the following process incredibly easy. If you’re new to betting, not to worry, you’ll have the method nailed in minutes.

Step one – Open your exchange account

The first step is to head to your favourite betting exchange. In this example, I’m going to use Smarkets as they’re my preferred choice.

Step two – Find the right market

Next, find the market you want to bet on. You can place back and lay bets on any category or sporting event, as long as it’s available at the exchange. I want to place my bet on the fourth Ashes Test.

Back and lay betting with Smarkets

Step three – Back or lay bet?

This is the important bit. Once you’ve found the market, you need to choose between a back or lay bet.

Betting exchanges differentiate between the two by using different colours. At Smarkets, green represents a back bet and blue represents a lay bet. Another way to distinguish between the two, the lay bets are always on the right-hand side.

Betfair and other exchanges use a different colour scheme but you can find out more about that in our betting exchange guide.

In my example, I’m placing a lay bet on a draw. In other words, I’m betting that the game is NOT going to be tied.

Step four – Enter your stake

Next, enter your stake (how much you want to bet). I’m placing a wager of £10.

Smarkets odds

The bet slip updates in real-time so you can see how much you’ll win or lose depending on your stake.

Step five – Place your bet

The next step is to place your bet.

Once you’re happy with your selection and stake, go ahead and click place bet. It’s that simple

In the next section, we’ll check out a betting strategy called matched betting. We’ll look at what it is, how it works and most importantly how you can get started in 2022.

Back and lay in matched betting

No risk matched betting may be a new concept to some of you so we’ll start right from the beginning.

Match betting is a way of making a guaranteed profit from bookmakers’ free bets, bonuses and other promotions.

There are thousands of individuals across the UK and further abroad using this betting strategy to earn up to £1000 each month risk and tax free.

Where did it all start?

A few years ago, as online gambling became more appealing and more bookies sprang up, so did the competition in the betting industry.

Nowadays, there are so many different betting companies customers can choose, it’s hard to know which one to go for.

The only way for bookies to attract and keep new customers is to offer them incentives to keep them betting much like this Smarkets free bet. It turns out, some of the larger firms are willing to spend up to £300 to gain one new customer.

That’s where matched betting comes in!

Bettors take advantage of these free bets and bonuses and make a guaranteed profit in the process.

So, where does back and lay betting come into this?

Enter back and lay betting

Back lay betting is the main concept behind matched betting and other low-risk trading strategies. It allows punters to make a guaranteed profit without putting their own money at risk.

This concept can be quite challenging for matched betting beginners so bookmark this page and come back to it, if necessary.

The video below will help you understand how the back and lay process works in matched betting.

For almost every matched betting offer you complete, you place two bets. One back bet and one lay bet, on the same market. In this scenario, one bet will always win and one will always lose.

By using this back and lay betting strategy, your two bets effectively cancel each other out making matched betting completely risk-free.

Before you access a free bet or bonus, you often need to stake a certain amount of money. So an offer may look something like:

Bet £10, Get £30

In this scenario, you need to stake £10 to unlock your £30 free bet. Matched bettors use the back and lay process to achieve this risk-free.

When it comes to the free bet, you complete the same process only this time you’ll make a guaranteed profit.

Check out this article for more information on how matched betting works.

Back and lay betting tips

So we know what back and lay betting is and we know how to use it. Now let’s check out some top tips to increase the profitability and success of your betting in 2022 and beyond.

Tip #1 – Tight back and lay odds

Our first tip relates to matched betting.

When it comes to matched betting, you can select any market to place your bets. However, some markets are better than others.

Our first tip is to select a market where the back and lay odds are close together. The tighter the odds, the more money you make. As a reminder, you’ll back a bet at the bookmaker and lay a bet at the betting exchange.

This tip has a significant impact on the profitability of your matched betting in 2022 and beyond.

Here’s what you should look for:

If the back odds were 5.3 at the bookmaker, you should look for lay odds around 5.4 at the betting exchange. Any greater and you’ll be losing valuable profit from the offer.

Ultimately, you should look for lay odds that are lower than the back odds. As I mentioned above, this would allow you to make a guaranteed profit irrespective of the outcome. However, these markets are quite rare in today’s world of online betting.

Since there’s a small difference in price between the back and lay odds, you usually lose a small amount of money when placing your qualifying bets.

Aim to lose no more than 5% of your overall back stake when completing qualifying bets.

So for a £10 back bet, you don’t want to lose any more than £0.50. If this is the case, I suggest you move on and look for another market to place your back and lay bets.

Similarly, you should aim to extract at least 80% of a free bet in cash. If the odds don’t allow you to do this, look for tighter back and lay odds.

You can work out the exact numbers using our lay betting calculator (more on this below).

Tip #2 – Always place the back bet first

Our second tip also relates to matched betting: always place the back bet before the lay bet. I can’t stress the importance of this tip enough.

When and if you make a mistake using the betting calculator or you enter the wrong figures into the betting slip, it’s much easier to fix any issues if you placed your back bet first.

Hopefully, this is something that never happens to you, but we’re all human…

By placing the back bet first, you have a greater chance of salvaging the situation. There’s more scope for recovering. Check out this article for more information on common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Betting calculator

The back and lay betting calculator is one of the most important tools for matched bettors.  Punters use this tool to work out the qualifying loss, overall profit, liability and pretty much everything else to complete their matched bets.

No risk matched betting calculator

For more information on how to use the lay betting calculator, head to the tool itself.


Liability is another aspect you need to consider before placing any back or lay bets. Liability stands for the amount of money you need to have in your betting exchange account to cover any potential losses.

In other words, it’s the amount you stand to lose (at the exchange) if your lay bet loses. However, if you’re using matched betting you’ll win this amount back at the bookmaker using back and lay betting.

You can work out the liability of your bets by using our calculator.

Back and lay betting conclusion

That’s it for our back and lay betting guide.

Hopefully, it’s given you a better understanding of what back lay betting is, why it’s so popular and how you can use it in your 2022 betting strategy.

It’s certainly the most important concept to get your head around before you start placing any wagers at a betting exchange and one that I suggest you spend some time on.

I recommend you place your first few back and lay bets slowly until you’ve got the process nailed. Do this and you’ll be a pro in no time.

What are your thoughts on back and lay betting? Let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

Further reading

If you’d like to learn more, here are some awesome articles:

Learn matched betting
What is a betting exchange?
What are mug bets?