Lay Betting

What Is Lay Betting?

Lay betting is where we sell the odds for a bet on a sports event.

Traditionally, when we place a bet at an online bookmaker or at a physical bookmaker shop, we are “buying” a bet at the odds set by the bookmaker. For an example, if we place a £10 bet on Arsenal to win at odds of 2.0, we are “buying” the bet at odds of 2.0, where we will win £10 x 2.0 = £20 (including our stake) if Arsenal wins. If Arsenal loses, we lose our bet of £10. Placing this traditional bet is also referred to as a back bet.

A lay bet is the complete opposite. When we lay a bet, we are acting as the bookmaker, where we can sell a bet at with our own odds. We sell these bets to other punters on an exchange. For an example, if we lay a bet of £10 on Arsenal to win at odds of 2.0, it means that we are accepting another punter’s traditional back bet of £10 on Arsenal.

When we lay, or accept another punter’s bet, we take their stake and if they win, we’ll have to pay them out. If they lose their bet, we can keep their stake. Exactly like a bookmaker!


We lay Arsenal to win at odds of 2.0 with £10. This means we are keeping the punter’s £10.

placing a lay bet

If Arsenal wins

We’ll have to pay out the punter at 2.0 x £10 = £20. This only costs us £10, because £10 was his original stake.

If Arsenal draw or lose

If Arsenal does not win (draw or lose), we’ll won’t have to pay him out and will be able to keep his £10 stake.

When we place a back bet, we are usually betting against a bookmaker. When we are lay betting, however, we are usually betting against other punters. We place our lay bets on exchanges, where punters bet against other punters by backing and laying bets. On exchanges, you can set your own back or lay odds.

You can lay bets on mostly any sport on exchanges, including football, horse racing, tennis, darts, boxing, etc. The 3 main exchanges that can be used for lay betting are Betfair, Smarkets and Matchbook.

Exchanges charge a commission on your winnings, so choose your exchange carefully!

Both these exchanges only charge you commission if you win your bets. Matchbook, however, charges a 1.7% commission on all your bets, regardless of whether or not you won or lost your bets.

Lay Stake vs Liability

Lay stake and liability are two terms that are thrown around often in lay betting. Lay stake means the amount you are laying, and liability represents the money you stand to lose if your lay bet loses.


You are placing a £10 lay bet on Burnley to win at 5.0 odds. A punter accepts your lay bet and gives you his £10 stake. The amount you are laying is your lay stake.

If Burnley loses or draws

You’ll keep the punter’s lay stake of £10 (you win £10!).

If Burnley wins

You’ll have to pay out £10 x 5.0 odds = £50. Considering that you’ve already accepted the punter’s stake of £10, you’ll lose a total of £40. The amount that you will lose if Burnley loses is your liability (£40).

In summary, when you lay a £10 bet on Burnley to win at 5.0 odds, your lay stake is the amount you’ll win if your lay betting wins (£10), and your liability is the amount you’ll lose if your lay bet loses (£40). In essence, you are betting £40 on Burnley to not win for £10.


Be very careful, as your liability can get very high, even if your lay stake is very low. For an example, if you lay a £10 bet on odds of 10.0, your liability will be £90, meaning you’ll lose £90 if your lay betting loses!

Matched betting and lay betting

Lay betting is the key to matched betting.


Coral is doing an offer on a Chelsea v Man U of “Bet £10, get £10 in free bets”.

If you bet £10 on Chelsea with Coral with odds of 2.0, you’ll get a free bet of £10. To guarantee ourselves a profit, we place a £10 lay bet on Smarkets.

  • We bet £10 on Chelsea at odds of 2.0 with Coral.
  • We lay a £10 bet on Chelsea at odds of 2.0 with Betfair, with a liability of £10.

If Chelsea wins

We’ll win £10 x 2.0 = £20 from Coral. As £10 was our stake, we’d be winning a total of £10 from Coral.

On Betfair, since Chelsea won, we’ll lose our lay bet. We’ll be paying out £10 x 2.0 odds = £20, and since we accepted a lay stake of £10, we’ll lose a total of £10 (our liability).

Coral: +£10
Betfair: -£10
Total profit/loss: £0

If Chelsea draw or loses

We’d lose our stake of £10 with Coral. Our total loss with Coral is £10.

On Betfair, since Chelsea did not win, we’ll keep our lay stake of £10, and we won’t have to pay anyone out.

Coral: -£10
Betfair: +£10
Total profit/loss: £0

We did not win or lose anything from this bet, as we matched our bet on Coral with our lay betting on Betfair.

However, we now get a £10 free bet from Coral because of their “bet £10 get £10 in free bets” offer!

To profit from our £10 free bet from Coral, we’d do the exact same thing again, we’ll match our bet on Betfair again to get a risk-free profit!



As the £10 free bet can be used on anything, we place our £10 free bet on Sunderland to win at odds of 6.0. We then lay £8.33 on Betfair this time instead of £10. We’ll talk about the calculating the optimal lay stake amount in a minute.

If Sunderland wins

We’ll get £10 x 6.0 = £60 from Coral. As our free bet’s stake will not be included in our winnings, we’ll get £50 from Coral.

Since Sunderland won, our lay betting on Betfair would lose, losing us £8.33 * 6.0 = £49.98. Considering we’ve accepted a £8.33 stake, we’ll be losing a total of £49.98 - £8.33 = £41.65.

Coral: +£50
Betfair: -£41.65
Total profit/loss: £8.35!

If Sunderland loses

We’ll lose our free bet with Coral. Since it’s a free bet, we don’t lose any of our own cash.

Since Sunderland lost, we’ll keep our lay stake of £8.33, and we won’t have to pay anyone out.

Coral: £0
Betfair: +£8.33
Total profit/loss: £8.33!

So by matching our bet on Coral with lay betting on Betfair, we stand to make £8.33 completely risk-free!

Note that in this example, I’ve excluded the commission that Betfair charges on our winning lay bets to simplify it.

Laying bets with Betfair and Smarkets

To lay a bet, we can use Betfair or Smarkets. Both of them are popular exchanges in the UK, and have decent liquidity.


Sign up for an account if you don’t have one already, and click on the Exchange button on the top menu. Find the game that you want to lay a bet on, and once you’re on the game’s screen, click the blue button if you want to back a bet, and the pink one to lay a bet.



For an example, if I wanted to lay Liverpool to win, I would click on the pink button next to Liverpool:

betfair lay betting

From there, we can enter a lay stake and the lay odds that we want to lay the bet with.


Smarkets works the exact same way, but their colours and different. The green button is for placing a back bet, and the blue for lay betting. Normally on exchanges, the odds on the left means back and the odds on the right means lay:

smarkets lay betting

Note About Liquidity

When we lay our bets on an exchange, we are matching our bets with other punters on the exchange. Liquidity refers to the amount of cash that we can match on a bet. If there is not enough liquidity on a bet, we may not be able to completely lay our bet.

For an example, if the liquidity for laying Man U to win is only £30, we will only be able to lay £30. If we choose to lay more than £30, the remainder of our bet will be unmatched. For example, we lay a £50 bet on Man U to win. £30 will be matched, and £20 will be unmatched. You can learn more about unmatched or partially matched bets here.

To find out how much liquidity a bet has, just check the numbers below the odds of a bet. This number usually refers to the liquidity of a bet, and we should make sure the amount we’re laying does not exceed this number.

exchange liquidity

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