To a newcomer, online bookmakers could all seem to be much of a muchness.
They might look a little different, but apart from that and the few minor differences such as payment methods perhaps, it can be difficult to spot anything obvious that sets one online bookie apart from another.
Of course, anyone who has been using online bookies for a while knows that each of them has their quirks, their tricks, and their habits, and we have all decided which of them we like the best.
Most punters have a stable of what they think are the best online bookies for them, and will use each one for specific things, but what exactly should you be looking for when sizing them up?
The answer depends on what type of bettor you are to a point, but there are also some staple must haves that pretty much any punter should expect to see from their bookies of choice.
For example, features like live streaming are not a deal breaker if you only ever watch sport on TV or don’t tend to bet live, but the ability to cash out is useful whoever you are.
What constitutes the best bookmaker will vary depending on who you are, but we have built a list of what we think are the best bookmakers in the industry, from which any punter should be able to find a couple that suit them.
Does it Matter Which Bookie You Choose?
If you only bet once a year on the Grand National then putting in the leg work to find the best bookie for you probably won’t be worth the effort. However, if you plan to bet more regularly and want to get the best out of your betting, then yes, it does matter which bookie you choose.
A quick list of considerations would include:
- Market availability
- Odds value
- Offers and promotions
- Payment terms
Some are seen as specialists in certain sports and so will have greater depth of market there, meaning anyone with an forensic interest in the lower leagues of Albanian Ice Hockey would do well to find a bookie that offers good depth of market in Ice Hockey.
Some online bookies focus solely on bookmaking and don’t offer any other products, which is great if the cross selling so many bookies attempt annoys you, but not so great if you actually like a session on the slots or the roulette sometimes.
The odds themselves are one of the most important factors of course, but there is no one bookie that is ‘the best’ for giving good odds. Some rank well historically in certain sports – for example BetVictor offered the best odds overall on Premier League football for a long time – but that doesn’t mean they will always be the best in every single football market. It just means that, across the whole range of football markets, they came out on top.
Plus, odds move, bookies change their tactics and shift their margins, or they throw in offers and promotions to sweeten the deal which in effect creates better odds.
Some bettors find it annoying to have to go through the promotions page to get the best odds, they would rather the bookie was straight with them in the first place; but other people enjoy the fun and flexibility of using promotions.
For example, a punter who loves a weekend ACCA would do well to find a bookie who offers regular acca boosts, so any wins get extra payouts. Or you might like a bookie which allows the punter to use a daily odds boost on any market they like, so you can direct that bonus to where it suits you best.
The betting features you use are another consideration. If you know you enjoy live streaming sport for example, or you use cash out all the time, then you better make sure your new bookie offers these features or chances are it won’t be a relationship that lasts very long.
On a more practical level the payment methods offered might be important to you, especially if you don’t like using your bank card for gambling transactions. What else do they accept?
Tied in with this are the withdrawal terms and the win limits. If you bet big or at long odds, you will need a bookie with higher limits which will probably mean a more established name.
All of the best licensed bookies are secure of course, but some go the extra mile by properly ring fencing their customer’s money so it is not at risk in the case of insolvency. Does this matter to you? Are you likely to be leaving vast quantities of money in your account that you might lose sleep over if the betting company was to get into financial difficulty?
Lastly, there is the betting platform itself, the interface that you will use every time you bet. You’re going to be looking at the thing every time you log on, so you better make sure it doesn’t annoy the hell out of you before you deposit and make a bunch of season long bets on the football.
It can take time to settle on a handful of bookmakers that are the best for you, but these are all the sorts of things that will help you make your mind up.
We mentioned odds in the section above, but this could do with expanding on because it’s a fairly complex topic as well as being one of the most important aspects of betting.
At the risk of pointing out the blindingly obvious, the odds offered by the bookie are a numerical representation of what you stand to win should you successfully bet on that outcome.
The idea makes perfect sense, but the execution can confuse newer punters sometimes, especially since there are different ways of displaying the odds.
In the UK, you will usually only see 3 different types of odds on display:
- Fractions (3/1)
- Decimals (4.00)
- American (+300)
There are other options sometimes, but these tend to be aimed at the Asian market and will never be displayed by default; where available they need to be selected by the bettor so don’t worry about them.
You are most likely to see fractions or decimal odds at the best bookies in the UK, although the odd US focussed brand may try and use American odds as a default, but it’s very rare.
The odds displayed in the list above are all actually the same in terms of the price being offered on the market, but as you can see, the way they are displayed is very different.
Each type comes with its own complexities, so we will go through them one at a time.
The traditional ‘English’ way of displaying betting odds, used at the race tracks of Greta Britain for over a century.
The simplest fractional odds to understand are those that are ‘odds against’, like 2/1, 5/1 etc. If you imagine the number on the right is your stake and the number on the left is what you get paid out, you pretty much have it nailed.
So if the odds were 5/1, then for every 1 betting unit you stake, you would get 5 betting units back. So if you made a £1 bet at 5/1, you would get £5 back on top of your stake if the bet won. So a £6 return in total.
This is fairly easy to get your head around, and if you are betting more than £1 then you just multiply your stake amount by whatever the number on the left is:
|Odds||Stake||Winnings||Payout Inc Stake|
|5/1||£1||5 x £1 = £5||£5 + £1 = £6|
|5/1||£2.50||5 x £2.50 = £12.50||£12.50 + £2.50 = £15.00|
|5/1||£5.00||5 x £5 = £25||£25 + £5 = £30|
|5/1||£7.50||5 x £7.50 = £37.50||£37.50 + £7.50 = £45|
|5/1||£10.00||5 x £10 = £50||£50 + £10 = £60|
You get the idea.
Where things get more complicated is when the market is priced with odds like 4/5, 9/4, or 11/2.
The principle is exactly the same, but it’s mentally more challenging to work out because you have to turn the fraction into a decimal first.
The calculation for a £10 bet at 9/4, for example, is:
- 9÷4 = 2.25
- 2.25 x £10 = £22.50
- £22.50 + £10 stake = £32.5o total return
So you get £9 back for every £4 you stake. The calculation is the same for any set of odds, just divide the first number in the fraction by the second number and then multiply the answer by your stake to get your potential winnings, then add the stake on to get your total return.
Essentially though, if the number on the left is bigger than the number on the right then the bookmaker thinks the outcome is less probable, known as ‘odds against’, and if the number on the right is bigger than the number on the left then the bookmaker thinks the outcome is more probable, known as ‘odds on’.
The simplest of all the odds formats, decimal odds are sometimes known as European odds, and if you bet with a bookie that comes from Europe rather than the UK, you may well see decimal odds being used by default on their website.
We explained that you need to convert fractional odds to decimals to calculate a return, so using decimal odds in the first place just cuts out a lot of the work.
Basically, decimal odds show you what you get back for every 1 betting unit staked including the stake. So odds of 6.00 would translate as 5/1 in fractions – £5 winnings and £1 stake returned.
Therefore, odds of 2.00 is the same as evens or 1/1, so any odds lower than 2.00 (1.93, 1.5, 1.05 etc.) will return less than the stake amount in winnings and can be considered odds on.
If you want to bet more than £1, you just multiply the odds by your stake for your potential return:
|Odds||Stake||Payout Inc Stake|
|3.5||£1||3.5 x £1 = £3.50|
|3.5||£2.50||3.5 x £2.50 = £8.75|
|3.5||£5.00||3.5 x £5 = £17.50|
Since the odds include the stake your answer is all there after one very simply calculation, and if you want to know what the return is minus the stake, simply deduct it from the total.
Event though decimal odds are clearly the best way forward, it’s in our nature as Brits to refuse to change, so we still march forwards using fractions in spite of ourselves.
American odds are displayed as if you were betting $100 at a time, although you don’t have to of course, the system can scale up and down.
You will see a + or a – before the number in American odds, and this is just their way of showing whether a market is odds on or odds against. So odds of -150 mean that you need to risk $150 to win $100, while odds of +150 mean you stand to win $150 for every $100 you risk.
Basically, a + means the outcome is less likely (odds against) and a – means the outcome is more likely (odds on), so just like with the other odds formats you need to risk more to win less when odds on and risk less to win more when odds against.
This means that 100 is the same as evens, 1/1 in fractions, or 2.00 in decimal.
With fractional and decimal odds, we use £1 as the starting point which makes it easier to digest, whereas with American odds they use $100, but we can easily scale down to $1 to make things easier – just take a zero off and put a decimal point in.
So odds of $150 (+ or -) become $1.50 instead.
To calculate returns for a favourite (-300 for example) you need to divide 100 by the odds, then multiply the answer by the stake:
|-300||£1||100 ÷ 300 = 0.01 x 300 = £0.33|
|-300||£2.50||100 ÷ 300 x 100 = 0.025 x 300 = £0.83|
|-300||£5.00||100 ÷ 300 = 0.05 x 300 = £1.66|
To calculate returns for an outsider (+300 for example) you need to divide the stake by 100, then multiply the answer by the odds:
|+300||£1||1 ÷ 100 = 0.01 x 300 = £3|
|+300||£2.50||2.50 ÷ 100 = 0.025 x 300 = £7.50|
|+300||£5.00||5 ÷ 100 = 0.05 x 300 = £15|
You would need to add the stake back on to all of these amounts to get the total return of course, since this just shows your winnings not including your stake.
Why Odds Matter
A punter should always be looking for the best value bet they can find, and this inevitably means trying to find the best possible odds available for the bet they want to make.
The degree to which you search for the best odds will depend on who you are as a person and how much you are betting – the difference in returns between 5/4 and 6/5 on a £5 bet is just 25p, for example – but as a general rule, you want the best odds you can get.
They can sometimes vary an awful lot too, so a quick bit of research, even if all you do is go to an odds comparison website, could make a big difference to what ends up in your pocket.
Look at the difference in prices for this longshot from a meeting at Ayr:
The difference in payouts between a bet on this horse at bet365 and at Betfred would be huge, even if you weren’t betting very much.
Look at the table below to see the difference in returns between these bookies at a few alternative stake levels:
In this same race the favourite and second favourite were both priced the same by all three bookies though, so there isn’t always such a huge gap between prices, but it’s certainly worth checking, and of course, the bigger the bets you are making, the more financial difference it will make to your payout.
So does this mean that we should always use bet365 over Betfred? Well, no.
Just because a bookmaker is miles ahead in one market, it doesn’t mean they will be in another. It doesn’t even mean they will be from one horse to the next.
Some operators are known for being the ‘best’ bookies in a particular sport, but even if that is true overall, it won’t be true for every single betting market within that sport.
Perhaps one bookie has very low margins on popular tennis markets like match winner, for example, but if you wanted to bet on something like the set winner, you might find the margins much higher.
If we look at the next race at Ayr on the same day as our previous one, we see another horse with prices much closer together, but bet365 don’t even feature in the top 3 in terms of best odds:
bet365 ranked 4th with odds of 20/1, behind PaddyPower, Betfred, and BoyelSports.
Now the gap between the bookies isn’t quite so wide here, but it’s significant enough in terms of potential returns, especially if you were wagering larger amounts:
Had you just assumed that bet365 would be the best because they were on the last horse, you would have lost out on extra potential returns.
So just because a certain bookie was the best for you last time, or even the last five times, it doesn’t mean they will be this time.
Bookmakers are also constantly trying to balance their books, so depending on how much money they have taken on one side of the bet, they may well inflate or reduce odds in order to encourage or discourage further bets on one particular outcome.
Betting odds are fluid, in a constant state of change, so it’s always best to do a little bit of research at the time you place your bet.
Features Every Bookie Should Have
If you are under the age of about 30, you probably won’t remember the days when our betting options were limited to simple markets within just a handful of different sports.
The internet changed all of that, with new sports to bet on and much greater market depth and market variety within them, but even then, some of the fancy features we have now were only just being invented.
There was a time not so long ago, when certain features would be what separated the best bookies from the average bookies, but as technology has advanced these features have gone from being exciting extras to pretty much expected.
In fact, certain betting features that were once only available via the biggest and best bookies would now be seen as bog standard even at some obscure white label.
There is no doubt that these features enhance the betting experience, but the punter’s expectations of what the betting experience should be have changed, so if you find a bookie without these options, it’s probably going to be rubbish.
Now a staple of the online betting scene, the ability to cash out is an absolute must for any bookmaker that wants to be considered one of the best.
Cashing out allows the punter to settle their bet early with new odds given that reflect the situation in that moment in time; so if your team is 2-0 up at 70 minutes and you have a bet to win, the bookie can save themselves a few quid by paying out a slightly smaller amount if you accept the price they are offering, and you get to win some money without the risk of the opposition pulling it back for a draw in the last 20 minutes.
Equally, if your team is 2-0 down and you think they have no chance of coming back, you might end the bet early to save a few quid which you can bet on something else.
The bookie likes cash out because it essentially lets them build in another margin on top of the margin that was built into the initial bet, but it’s not totally one sided because it gives the punter much more flexibility with their bets too.
Cash out was invented by Betfair, but pretty soon all the big guns had adopted the idea, and nowadays even new start ups have it built into their platforms.
This was actually available in a limited capacity before the dawn of the internet, although online betting turned it into something much much more, with brand new markets and features being designed alongside.
It’s the ability to bet on an event that has already started, with the odds reflecting the current state of affairs. This means in-play odds change very quickly.
In-play betting also opened the door for new betting markets such as ‘Goal in the next 5 minutes’ or ‘next player to get a card’, that sort of thing. It made watching and betting on sport much more interesting.
Many bookmakers introduced in-play features to enhance the experience further, such as a digitalisation of the game, or a running written commentary, and match statistics that were built into the interface.
Again, an online bookie without the ability to bet live is hardly a bookie at all.
Streaming is the only item on this list that could be considered a luxury, but if we are talking about the best bookies then they will all have at least some live streaming.
The reason some smaller brands don’t have it, is because it is an expensive service to run and not everyone likes to use it anyway, so if they are going to cut costs anywhere it is usually here.
Live streaming is just a feature that shows the event in question within the betting interface as though you were watching it on television, so you can keep an eye on it in real time (there is a delay of a few seconds) while also browsing betting markets and then react accordingly.
Often, in order to access the stream you will need a funded account at the very least, but sometimes a minimum bet of something insignificant like 50p on whatever it is you want to stream.
Where live streaming is not available, there should at the very least be a digital representation of the game like we have already described. It doesn’t have to be flashy, but something that keeps you up to date with what is going on in real time.
A bet builder is more or less the same as an accumulator, whereby you select a number of different bets and group them all together into one big bet.
This has the benefit of creating larger potential returns, but it also increases your chance of losing because you need every single ‘leg’ of the bet to be correct in order to win.
If you bet on a team to win, a certain player to score first, and for there to be at least 7 corners in the game, then you would only win the bet if all 3 of these things happened. Even if the player scored the second goal of the game, the bet is a loss.
With an acca you are selecting the results from different teams or races, but with a bet builder, you are usually selecting outcomes from within the same event.
You can even use cash out with them at some bookmakers, but not all.
Bookies can squeeze a much higher margin from bet builders so they are happy to supply them as an option, but punters love them too because they can make the exact bet they want to make an benefit from larger payouts if they win.
Interesting Features to Watch Out For
While the features above are must haves, the features mentioned below are ‘nice to haves’ – although depending on who you are as a bettor they may well be non-negotiables for you.
Some are inconsequential really, while others are a whole different way to bet entirely.
Certain bookmakers offer pool betting, which is a slightly different way of betting on horse racing.
What happens, is that all bets made are put into a pot, and after the bookie takes a cut, the rest is paid out as winnings in the form of a dividend per pound bet.
So the bookie sees how many winners there are, then divides the pot so that every £1 bet staked gets a payout. Then, each winning bettor is paid out according to how many pounds they wagered.
The fewer winners there are, the more money each winner will return.
You can bet in this way on winners, placers, each way outcomes, as well as on multi-leg bets where the winners/placers etc of several races must be predicted.
These can create huge pools especially around big events in the horse racing calendar, and if there is an upset that huge pool can end up being split between just a handful of people, dwarfing odds available from a fixed odds bookie, which is what makes pool betting so exciting.
It’s available at a few of the best bookies, but wouldn’t be considered a regular feature.
A betting exchange is an online marketplace in which punters bet peer to peer, so against each other rather than again a bookmaker.
The bookie makes their money at an exchange by charging a small commission to all winning bettors, usually between 2% and 5%.
It’s a completely different way of betting, whereby one punters offers an amount of money at a price they are hapy with, and another punter can come along and take some or all of their bet. This is called being matched.
The exchange platforms are clever enough to be able to take fractions of someone’s bet so make it easier to get them matched too; so if one person wanted to lay £100 against Man Utd to win the league, that bet could be taken by 5 other people all wanting to back United at £20 each, rather than needing one single person with an equal amount of money on the other side of the bet.
Hardly any bookmakers also have betting exchanges. Betfair is the biggest but they were an exchange before they also became a fixed odds bookmaker, and this is the case for Betdaq too. Ladbrokes did have an exchange for a while (it was actually Betdaq but built into their platform), but it didn’t work out for them.
Exchange betting is seen as quite specialist, so you can’t expect your average bookie to have one, not even the best bookies.
This feature seems to have been dying off in recent years for some reason, but anyone who loves doing some deep dive research before placing their bets would do well to find a bookie with a statistics feature.
These vary from one bookmaker to the next, but in general they have lots of in depth information on popular sports and the bigger names within them, and less on niche sports or smaller players/clubs in popular sports.
Nevertheless, when they are good they are very very good, often going back ten years or more with information on previous meetings between teams, player stats, head to heads, league tables, recent results, all sorts of stuff.
This sort of information is available elsewhere too, but it is useful to have it all in one place.
Would you trust tips from a bookie? Would you bother reading their blog if they had one?
These are questions only you know the answers too, but plenty of good bookies offer both.
Bookmaker’s blogs are more like general sports blogs really, but with an obvious leaning towards betting on the topics being discussed, although they are often written or guest written by famous faces from within the world of sport.
They can sometimes give you ideas for what to bet on.
Tipsters too may end up being employed by bookmakers, so even though they are technically working for the bookmaker the tips aren’t coming from the bookie themselves.
You could always follow a tipster for a while without betting and see what you think of them before deciding whether to trust their judgement or not.