What Is Lay Betting?

Lay betting exchange

With the popularity of betting exchanges from the turn of the millennium onwards came the advent of ‘lay’ betting. Laying a bet simply means that you are betting on an outcome as usual, however, this time you’re betting on something not to happen. Laying means accepting a bet from someone who wants the selection to win, which is why we refer to bookmakers as ‘layers’. Now, punters can also be layers.

Lay betting is now very much a day-to-day activity within horse racing and there is more than way to make it pay. The most common is simply laying a single horse and leaving it at that. For example, laying Little Big Bear in the Dewhurst Stakes is the same as simply ‘backing it not to win’. While some controversies have been known, for example implications being laid that those laying horses do so because they know they cannot win, lay betting is good for punters. It gives us all the chance to play the bookmaker.

Laying on the Exchanges

Lay bet on the exchange

For those interesting only in laying a bet, exchanges essentially give you the chance to simply ‘play the bookie’. As a platform, however, a betting exchange actually offers everyone registered the chance to either ‘back’ or ‘lay’ and with that comes opportunities.

Given that a betting exchange is essentially a customer versus customer betting platform, better odds are usually on offer. This is because, to sway you away from a traditional bookie, a person wishing to lay a bet will usually offer a tasty price as they believe it will not win. After this, punters place their bets right up to the maximum liability agreed in advance, with the betting exchange then making its money via the commissions charged.


Within matched and exchange betting, liquidity is the maximum sum of money a bettor can put on a lay bet. The betting exchange will display this underneath the listed odds for the selection, with the amount changing all the time. It’s very important to keep liquidity in mind.

That said, those not used to laying bets often worry that they may end up owing out way more than they can afford if they selection they are laying in fact goes on to win. This isn’t a problem on exchanges, as you can chose to lose a pre-determined maximum amount meaning that is all punters can bet with you.

Laying a Bet Online

Lay bet example highlighted

Once you’ve joined a betting exchange, laying a sports team or a horse is simple enough. To lay, you select the horse or team in question, choose the odds you wish to lay the bet at and then how much money you are willing to risk. The shorter the odds you give out, the less money you will risk compared to your potential income. If, for example, you are laying a horse. You may wish to lay Baaeed as you don’t think he has as good a chance as backers do.

Should Baaeed be 1.9 / 1.91 then he is a strong favourite. To win £100 by laying Baaeed, you will only need to risk £91. How to lay and who to lay online depends on your reasons for getting into lay betting. It could be a one-off for you, i.e., when the media are rattling on about one horse or one football team and you believe that in fact they will not win. Some do it more regularly within racing, as they see laying horses as less taxing that backing them to win considering any position in the race other than first is a winner to them.

Sometimes, people lay bets because they think that the fixed odds on offer for the win are simply too short. They may lose from time to time, but overall, if they are right about odds being too short for certain selections then laying these bets will serve them well. Other people get into attempting to fix some net wins by laying bets. Hedging ones bets and using ‘cash out’ facilities has enabled people to lock in net wins by laying their selections on the exchanges.

Hedging Your Bets

If you’ve watched any film or TV show on the subject of stock markets and the wider financial world, you’ll have heard of ‘hedging’ and ‘hedge funds’. This is where the term originates. If you are one of the very few people who have enough information and/or enough genuine skill and knowledge to earn money from betting based on backing teams and horses to win, that will always bring the most pleasure.

Not everyone is that lucky, but there are other ways to do it with systems usually mirroring those within the financial world. Hedge betting is one such thing. This is the technique of placing two bets on the same event or market, taking advantage of any movement in the odds. Basically, you bet on a horse for higher odds and then, when possible, lay it for lower odds meaning regardless of the result you have made a net win.

Hedging Your Bets Example

  • You notice that Hurricane Lane is 10/1 to win the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe
  • You back him for £100 at 10/1
  • He is then very well backed with his odds contracting
  • You see that you can lay him on the exchanges for £100 at what amounts to 7/1

Here, it means you can choose to lay him up to an amount not reaching your potential net win. If he does win, you owe out the money on the lay bet but clinch your initial £1100 win bet. If he loses, you lose your initial £100 stake but rake in the money on the lay bet. Hedging bets then basically acts as an insurance. In effect, there is no gamble involved. Your net win is locked in.

It can be time consuming finding the bets you can hedge, of course, or you have to simply be alert and ready to jump. There is also the fact that it is utterly joyless, apart from during the moment that your account grows!

Cash Out v Laying

Cash out concept

The advent of cashing out bets online has also offered punters a different way of locking in a net win, but is it as good as laying a bet? If you have patience and a good strategy, then using betting exchanges to lay bets will be more advantageous in the long run than simply cashing out potentially successful win bets.

Waiting to get the price you really want and considering that the exchange odds can and do fluctuate means that punters can often get a little more creative in terms of how much they cash out. The 5% commission charged by a betting exchange always needs to be kept in mind. On the plus side, that 5% commission is predictable, whereas what is offered on cash out and when it might be made unavailable by the bookmaker is not.

Unfortunately, there is no single answer as to whether cashing out sports bets is better than lay betting, or whether using it conjunction with exchange betting is worthwhile. It really depends on your knowledge and your betting needs. Cashing out, although unpredictable and naturally coming at a cost, is not a bad thing, however, no matter what anyone tells you. It simply has to be used to remain in the green long term – not just when an attractive amount is offered on a single bet.