How much money do I need to get started?

As little as £35 - £10 to open an account with a bookmaker, and around £25 to cover your first lay bet at a betting exchange. If a bookmaker offers to match your initial bet with a free one up to a certain value though, say £50, it is always best to use the maximum so you extract as much as possible. In this case you would need around £100. Of course, you get this back as soon as the bets are settled, so the money can be back in your bank account within around 4 days.

Is this legal?

Yes it is, as long as you are aged 18 or older. All you are doing is taking advantage of betting exchanges to hedge the risk on your bets. You are not defrauding anyone or breaking any laws.

Once I’ve signed up with all the bookmakers, isn’t that it?

Two points to make here. There are an awful lot of online bookmakers, many more than just the well known high street brands. To take advantage of the sign-up bonuses with all of them will probably take you a good 3 or 4 months. The bookies also offer occasional free bets to existing customers, which you can use in the same way as the free sign up bets. For example, one of the major bookies offered a free bets of up to £25 on the World Snooker Championship. As long as these additional free bets keep coming in, then you can keep going indefinitely.

This sounds too good to be true; is it really risk free?

Yes and no. Although you are not gambling, there are some ways you could come a cropper; however, if you are careful you can minimise or eliminate them.
1) User error. The most common mistakes people make are:

not laying and backing the same outcome, or even the same event. Make doubly sure that if you are backing Team A, you lay Team A, not Team B. Also be careful that you are comparing the same market - is the bookmaker offering odds on full time score, and you are looking at half time score on the betting exchange, for example? If the odds look too good to be true, they usually are.

laying the wrong amount. It’s easily done, particularly when you are starting out. A common mistake is to lay the same amount that you backed, especially if you’re rushing. Double check that you are entering the correct stake.

2) Not getting the lay odds you were expecting. The main reason for this is either the market is very liquid, so the odds are changing quickly, or there are not enough money on the lay side, so either your bet will be partially filled or will get filled partly at worse odds. If you are matched betting on football matches, the best time to do it is between 1 day and 2 hours before kick off, when there is enough money in the betting exchange market to take your lay bet but not so much that the odds are moving quickly.

3) The bookmaker cancels your back bet, leaving your lay bet at the betting exchange exposed. This is extremely rare, and usually because the bookie has made a mistake with the odds. Again, if the odds at the bookmaker look too good to be true, then they probably are.

I don’t have a credit card, is it still possible to open accounts with the bookies?

Yes, as long as you have a debit card, which is actually preferable when depositing money into bookmakers’ accounts. Bookies often charge a credit card handling fee, and many credit card companies treat the deposits as cash purchases and start charging interest immediately. Neither of these are the case if you use a debit card.

Will my bank start viewing me as a hardened gambler?

As long as you keep your account in the black and don’t start using an overdraft, your bank couldn’t care less what you do with your money. Also, as neither bookies nor betting exchanges allow you to bet money you haven’t deposited in your accounts there shouldn’t be any credit checks involved, so your credit score isn’t affected.