The Economics of Sports Wagering: How Bookmakers Make Money

Sports wagering is a popular pastime for many, offering both excitement and the potential for profit. However, while you hope to win money, both physical and online bookmakers operate to ensure profitability regardless of the outcome of the events they offer bets on.

Alyx Tzamantanis.
A. Tzamantanis

Last Updated: 2024-07-10

James Pacheco

6 minutes read

The Role of the Bookmaker

Bookmakers, or ‘bookies’, are the companies that set odds, accept bets, and pay out winnings in the realm of sports betting. Their primary purpose is to facilitate betting by providing a marketplace where you can place wagers on various sports events.

Bookies offer a range of betting options, from simple money line bets to complex parlays and in-play betting markets, aiming to cater to different preferences and betting styles.

Understanding Odds and Margins

Odds represent the probability of an event occurring, as perceived by the bookmaker. However, the odds offered to bettors are slightly adjusted to ensure the bookmaker makes a profit. This adjustment is known as the overround or vigorish (vig).

For example, in a fair coin toss, each side would have odds of 2.00 (or +100), representing a 50% chance of winning. However, a bookmaker might offer odds of 1.91 (or -110) on each side. The difference between the true odds and the offered odds represents the bookmaker's margin.

This margin ensures that, over the long run, the bookmaker makes a profit regardless of the event's outcome.

Balancing the Book

To maximise profitability and minimise risk, bookmakers aim to ‘balance the book’, meaning they try to get an equal amount of money wagered on all possible outcomes of an event. This way, they can pay the winners with the money lost by the losers, plus keep the margin as profit.

Bookmakers use various techniques to balance their books, such as adjusting odds based on betting patterns.

For example, if too much money is being wagered on one team, the bookmaker might lower the odds for that team and increase the odds for the other team to encourage bets on the less popular side.

The Juice: Bookmaker Commission

The ‘juice’, ‘vig’, or ‘overround’ is essentially the bookmaker's commission on each bet. This commission ensures that the bookmaker makes a profit regardless of the event's outcome.

For instance, if two teams are evenly matched and the true odds are 2.00 for each side, a bookmaker might offer 1.91 for each. If punters wager £100 on each side, the bookmaker collects £200. The winning side is paid £191, leaving £9 as the bookmaker's profit. This system is fundamental to the bookmaker's business model.

Managing Risk and Liability

Bookmakers employ various risk management strategies to ensure they do not suffer significant losses.

One primary strategy is adjusting the odds to reflect betting patterns and the latest information about the event. By doing so, they can influence how much money is bet on each side.

Another strategy is hedging, where a bookmaker might place bets with other bookmakers to offset potential losses. For example, if a bookmaker has a significant liability on one outcome, they might place a bet on that outcome elsewhere to mitigate risk.

Leveraging Data and Analytics

Modern bookmakers heavily rely on data and analytics to set accurate odds and manage risk. Advanced algorithms and data analysis tools help bookmakers predict outcomes more accurately and adjust odds in real time based on betting activity and external factors like injuries or weather conditions.

Big data has revolutionised the bookmaking industry, allowing bookmakers to analyse vast amounts of information quickly and make more informed decisions. This technological edge helps them stay ahead of the competition and maintain profitability.

Diversifying Betting Markets

To attract a broader audience and spread risk, bookmakers offer a wide variety of betting markets. These include traditional pre-match bets, in-play betting, and specialised markets like prop bets and futures.

In-play betting, which allows wagers to be placed during the event, has grown in popularity and provides bookmakers with additional revenue streams.

By diversifying their offerings, bookmakers can cater to different bettor preferences and increase their overall handle, the total amount of money wagered.

Promotions and Bonuses: Attracting and Retaining Customers

Bookmakers use promotions and bonuses to attract new customers and retain existing ones. Common promotions include welcome bonuses, free bets, and enhanced odds. While these promotions represent an upfront cost, they are designed to increase customer acquisition and long-term loyalty.

The key for bookmakers is to balance the cost of promotions with the value of acquiring and retaining customers. Effective marketing strategies ensure that the lifetime value of a customer exceeds the promotional costs, contributing to overall profitability.

For more information on sports betting, make sure you always visit us here at SportsBoom. We keep you up to date with all the latest news, reviews and guides. 

Alyx Tzamantanis.
Alyx TzamantanisSports Betting Editor

With 10 years of experience in content writing, Alyx has produced countess guides, reviews and articles covering a wide range of topics in the iGaming industry. She loves anything to do with online casinos, as well as UK and international sports betting.