What is “Back” and “Lay” Betting?

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What is “Back” and “Lay” Betting?

If you’re just beginning your journey in online sports betting, or are dipping your toes into the waters of betting on an online exchange, chances are you’ve come across the betting terminology pair of “back” and “lay”. 

They’re two of the simplest and most commonly used betting strategies both in online exchanges and on popular sports betting websites. 

But what exactly do they mean, what purposes do they serve in online betting strategies, and which is the right one for you?

As part of our free comprehensive educational resources here at gambling.com, we have developed a simple to follow guide on what “back” and “lay” betting is and when to effectively use them to minimise your risk and maximise your profits.

“Back” Betting Explained

What you most commonly know as a ‘bet’ probably fits into the “back” category of betting types. 

Colloquially known as “backing” (e.g. “I’m backing Manchester United to win”), it involves staking money on a specific outcome occurring, whether it be something as simple as the winner of a sports match, through to something as niche as the number of points both teams score in the third quarter of a basketball game.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to events that you can back, with sports betting websites offering literally hundreds of different options to back in some major events such as English Premier League football or NBA basketball.

“Backing” involves risking a nominated amount of money of your choice, otherwise known as a ‘stake’, at odds prescribed by the bookmaker on their website or app. An example is provided below.

If your bet is successful, your stake is multiplied by the odds offered and returned to your account in winnings.

“Lay” Betting Explained

A far less used method of betting on sports and horse racing, “lay” betting to put it simply is the opposite of “back” betting.

By “laying”, you’re betting on an outcome to not happen by accepting the stake of someone who wishes to “back” said outcome.

Laying is effectively what bookmakers do every time they accept one of your bets. They take on the risk of having to return more money than they took from their clients and they adjust their odds according to the liability they amass on a particular outcome.

Whilst the “back” method is the most common if not the only method of betting on some online apps, exchanges will allow you access to “lay” betting by anonymously taking on someone who wishes to “back” the outcome you don’t want to happen, similarly to an informal cash bet between two friends!

Differences And Similarities

Other than cheering for an outcome to occur when “backing” and cheering for its failure when “laying”, there are different scenarios in which one method of betting becomes more appropriate than the other. 

When “laying”, rather than placing a stake that will hopefully be multiplied by the advertised odds, you are instead offering your own odds to a backer and nominating the maximum liability you would have to pay out to the backer. If you are successful, you receive their stake instead of a multiplication of your own funds.

That leads us to the following question: when to back and when to lay?

When To Use Each Strategy

Backing is the simplest and often the most enjoyable method of betting, because there’s no feeling quite like seeing your account balance grow significantly after backing a winner at big odds.

But laying, when used in the right situations, can be an effective method of betting successfully.

Laying is often a good option when you feel the ‘favourite’ - the outcome with the lowest odds of all possible outcomes - will not win.

Rather than having to find the correct outcome, such as selecting the outright winner market for the Indian Premier League or the ICC World Cup, laying the favourite (or any other selection of your choice) means you can cheer on all other possible outcomes and have more opportunities to come out on top.

Laying an outcome with very low odds also means you don’t have to take on much risk as the payout to the backer will be relatively low, but if you win you will receive the entirety of the stake you take on as the laying party.

Calculating Potential Winnings 

Backing is quite simple to calculate: you multiply your ‘stake’ (the amount of money you wish to risk) by the odds to work out the potential winnings.

If you were to stake ₹1000 on India to win the 2023 ICC World Cup at odds of 3.20, your potential return would be ₹3200 (₹1000 multiplied by 3.20). Best of all, Indian online betting apps will do the calculations for you as you enter the bet.

If you think India aren’t going to win the tournament but don’t know who will claim the trophy in their place, or believe India’s odds are poor value, you may instead wish to lay India on an online betting exchange. 

You may therefore wish to accept a ₹1000 stake anonymously from a backer at odds of 3.20, which will earn you ₹1000 if India do not win the World Cup, or you would have to pay out a liability of ₹2200 (₹1000 multiplied by 3.2 minus the stake of ₹1000). Now you have nine teams to cheer on instead of just one!

Tips For Success

Knowing when to back and when to lay is essential to maximising your winnings - and most importantly, minimising your risk - across all of your favourite sports, especially if you ever choose to bet live (‘in-play’).

For example, if you stake ₹1000 on backing RCB to defeat Gujarat away at pre-game odds of 2.30, and a Mohammed Siraj special sees the Titans bowled out for just 80, RCB are going to have very short odds to win during the innings break.

Most recreational players would take no action and just pray RCB don’t produce one of their iconic batting chokes, but betting traders and professionals may take this as an opportunity to lower or completely eliminate their risk by either laying RCB at their very low odds, or backing Gujarat at inflated odds if they already stand to win on RCB. This is colloquially known as ‘hedging your bets’.

Laying ₹1000 on RCB at odds of 1.20 during the match means you would have to pay someone a profit of ₹200 whilst you collect ₹1300 in profit yourself on your successful back, but if RCB lost you would get your ₹1000 pre-game stake back through a successful lay, in effect making your bet completely risk-free!

Similarly, if you have backed Chennai Super Kings to win the 2024 IPL at odds of 5.50 and they win their first seven games of the season, chances are their odds will have more than halved throughout the season. You can then lay them at the smaller odds to guarantee yourself a profit regardless of the final outcome.

Conclusion

Long-term successful betting is all about eliminating your risk where possible, even if it means at the expense of some potential profit, so it pays to know how back and lay betting works and when to use them.

Knowing how to bet can often be more important than knowing ‘who’ to bet on!

Every scenario and circumstance is unique and is going to call for a different strategy, so understanding the basics will allow you to apply knowledge, instinct and discipline to win in the long run.

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