How Does Lay Betting Work? The Ultimate Guide to Lay Betting

by S. Ateljevic  ·  May 16, 2021

With betting exchanges gaining in popularity, more and more punters wonder — how does lay betting work? There’s no reason for concern, though. Even if you have never placed a lay bet before, it won’t take long before you master lay betting.

To answer all your questions regarding lay betting, we’ve prepared a short guide to tell you everything you need to know about it. Furthermore, we also included a few strategies you can use with lay betting.

10 Quick Facts

  • Lay betting means betting against an outcome.
  • You can place a lay bet at a betting exchange.
  • Betting exchanges charge a commission for their services.
  • Lay betting is crucial for strategies like arbitrage betting or matched betting.
  • It is easier to lay against an outcome than correctly predict it, especially when lay betting on horses.
  • Punters take the role of a bookmaker with lay betting.
  • Liability represents how much you can lose with a lay bet.
  • You cannot make a bet if there is insufficient money in your account to cover lay liability.
  • You can set the odds yourself at a betting exchange.
  • For a bet to be valid, another punter needs to accept it at the odds you proposed.

What Is It?

The betting world has come a long way from the days when we would bet only on a match winner. Nowadays, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home, or you can use a mobile betting app to bet while commuting. Not only that, but you can place a ton of exotic bets on all sorts of markets. However, out of all the newest innovations, lay betting is perhaps the most exciting one, and we will show you precisely what lay betting is and how it works.

Lay betting is a type of bet that allows you to wager against an outcome. When you are betting at bookies, you are backing a selection to win — usually a player, a horse, or a sports team. However, a lay bet means that you bet on all other outcomes except for that selection to win.

So what exactly does back and lay mean in betting? The easiest way to explain that would be with an example, so let’s say that Arsenal is playing with Liverpool in the next match. If you bet at regular bookmakers and wish to wager on Arsenal to win, you would place what is known as a back bet. To win the back bet, Arsenal has to win the match. If it draws or loses against Liverpool, you will lose your initial stake.

If you bet on the same match at a betting exchange, you would bet against Arsenal or Liverpool to win, which is precisely what a lay bet is. For example, if you laid against Arsenal, you would win your bet if Arsenal draws or Liverpool wins.

Betting on a match winner is not the only way you can place a lay bet. For example, you can also place an outright tennis lay bet and lay against Djokovic. In that case, you would win the bet if anyone apart from Djokovic won the tournament.

What Is Works? Explained

Back bets are generally placed at bookies, which means that, whenever you place a back bet, you bet against a bookmaker. It also means that you bet on the odds proposed by the bookie that often favours the house.

However, things work a little bit differently with lay betting. Here, you or another player acts as a bookmaker and proposes a bet, which means that a betting exchange merely acts as a medium between punters or a marketplace that allows punters to bet against one another.

One of the main reasons many punters try to make money with lay betting is because it is much easier to bet against an outcome. For example, there are usually eight or more runners in a single horse race, and it is much easier to bet on which horse won’t win than to predict which of the eight runners will win the race.

A popular lay betting strategy is to bet exclusively at betting exchanges and look for the best odds. Namely, we all know that bookies often skew the odds in their favour, which is how they make a profit. However, a betting exchange charges a commission for their services, regardless of the odds. It is usually 5%, so they neither care about the odds nor influence them.

In fact, players can set the odds themselves. However, one of the lay betting tips we have for you is not to go crazy and propose ludicrous bets. After all, for a bet to be valid, you will need to find punters who are willing to take the bet at the odds you proposed.

Simply put, as long as you have enough funds in your account to cover the bet liability and someone wishes to take on your bet, you are free to set the odds as you see fit.

Liability in It

The most important lay betting tip we have for you is to make sure how liability works in lay betting before you place your first lay. It is the most important aspect of lay betting, and it represents the amount you may lose if your lay bet is unsuccessful.

With regular back bets, you can only lose the amount you stake. However, whether you are lay betting on horses or wish to lay a football match, you should know that the amount you risk losing is represented with a liability rather than your stake. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say that you wish to lay a bet at the odds of 1.5 and stake £10. In this case, you would win £10 if your wager is successful, but you will lose £5, which is your liability. At the same time, if you bet £50 at the odds of 3.5, your stake and the potential payout would be £50, and your liability would be £125.

One of the lay betting tips we have for you to calculate your liability easily would be to multiply your stake with decimal odds and subtract it from the amount you get. In other words:

Stake x Decimal Odds – Stake = Liability

Usually, a betting exchange will not allow you to place a bet you cannot cover if there is not enough money in your betting exchange account. Regardless, whether you are horse racing lay betting or laying a bet in any other sport, always make sure to check the decimal point and enter the amount you wish to stake carefully, or you may end up making a costly mistake.

If you are unsure how betting odds work and need a little assistance with calculating them, you can always check out another guide we prepared for new punters. It will tell you everything about different odds types and help you learn how to calculate them and convert them from one format to another.

Its Systems

Now that you have a pretty good understanding of how lay betting works, it is time to put your knowledge to good use. The best way to do that is with a few betting systems that rely on lay betting, such as matched betting and arbitrage betting.


Matched betting is a lay betting system that guarantees a profit. However, it requires a free bet promotion to work, so make sure to find a bookie that offers a free bet promotion first. If you need a hand, you can always check out our list of the best bookmakers in the UK and find the one offering a free bet.

Once you have that sorted, you should carefully read the terms of the bet. In most cases, you will have to place a qualifying bet first to activate the promotion. The most efficient way to use this lay betting strategy would be to find a selection that has nearly identical odds to back at bookies and to lay at a betting exchange. For example, backing Arsenal at the odds of 1.70 at a bookie and laying against Arsenal at the odds of 1.60 at a betting exchange would be ideal.

Of course, this is just an example, and you should first check the specifics of the free bet promotion before deciding to make a lay bet and use this ultimate lay betting tactic. Most of the time, a bookie will require you to bet on a selection with the minimum odds of 1.5 to qualify for the free bet promotion, which is the reason that matched betting is most often used for punters looking to bet on football.

However, if a bookie requires you to bet on a match with the odds of 2.0 or higher, make sure to adjust your lay betting strategy accordingly. The only important bit is that the back and lay odds are nearly identical. In other words, you can even find a game with the odds of 7.80 and 7.90, for example. Of course, you would need a lot more money at your betting exchange to cover lay bet liability in this scenario.

After you have a viable game, you can finally put this popular football lay betting system to good use. The first step is to place a qualifying bet at a bookmaker and lay against the same outcome at the betting exchange. As the difference in odds is relatively small, this strategy would usually result in a profit loss. However, because you placed a qualifying bet, you will receive a free bet promotion to work with.

Once you have a free promotion, simply repeat this lay betting strategy from scratch. The only difference is that you will be using a free bet promotion this time. Since you have a free bet, you will make a small profit regardless of which selection wins.

The only tricky part is figuring out how much you need to stake at the betting exchange to make a profit in the end. Since the specifics of this matched lay betting system change based on the promotion’s terms and conditions and the odds of the matches you are betting on, we cannot tell you exactly how much you need to bet — you will have to work that part yourself.

However, another lay betting tip we have for you is to use an online matched betting calculator to work out how much you need to stake at an exchange. Simply fill in the required fields, such as how much you need to place for a qualifying bet and the odds of the selections you are betting on, and it will tell you exactly how much you need to bet at an exchange to make a profit.


Arbitrage betting is another lay betting system that relies on laying bets to work. While this strategy doesn’t require a free bet, it requires that you find a selection where the difference in odds between two bookmakers or a bookie and a betting exchange can be exploited to make a guaranteed profit.

So, how does lay betting work with arbitrage betting? Let’s say that a bookmaker gives the odds of 1.60 for Arsenal to win against Newcastle United. At the same time, a betting exchange is offering the odds of 3.30 to lay against Arsenal.

If we bet £50 at a bookie at the odds of 1.60, we would receive a payout of £80. Using an online arbitrage calculator, we can determine that we need to lay £24.24 against Arsenal at the odds of 3.30 to win the same sum.

The easiest way to answer “How does lay betting work when combined with arbitrage betting?” is with a little bit of math. Remember, we bet £50 at a bookie and £24.24 at a betting exchange for a total of £74.24, which means that we are guaranteed to make a small profit of £5.76, no matter the outcome.

As is the case with matched betting, the exact specifics of this strategy will vary, so make sure to adjust the numbers accordingly.


The easiest way to answer “What does lay mean in betting terms?” is to tell you that laying refers to betting against an outcome to happen. If you have never placed a lay bet before, it is an excellent way to deviate from traditional betting and explore new markets. Not only that, but you are more likely to find better odds at a betting exchange than you are with traditional bookies.

As you can see from our guide, there’s nothing too tricky about lay betting other than the fact that it should be differentiated from lay betting in craps. Now that we’ve answered the question “How does lay betting work?” and covered everything there is to know about it, we are positive that you are ready to place your first lay bet. Even if you have never placed a lay bet before, make sure to try it out since it is generally a lot easier to lay against an outcome than correctly predict it.