Finding the right sportsbook to match your needs requires a number of factors. All customers will have individual preferences and many will just opt for a recognisable brand. But with hundreds of options to select from, this can be a tricky business so we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of aspects that make the best betting sites stand out from the crowd.
Trust is a crucial element when finding a home for your money: Some operators have been around for decades – long before the digital age – and that longevity does lend itself to a feeling of comfort and safety when playing online.
For newer operators this trust factor is harder to pin down but it helps to be open and transparent. All gambling companies need a license to trade and you can usually find details of this at the bottom of the home page. In addition, if there are restrictions on gambling in the country where you are based, that company should confirm that they are licensed to trade there.
For example, when the UK changed its gambling tax laws in 2014, a number of operators pulled out of the region. Those that remain need to be regulated by the British Gambling Commission and confirmation of this should be shown on the bottom of that homepage.
If these details are transparently evident then it’s a good sign that the betting site involved takes safety, security and trust seriously so this is one of the first things to look for when choosing a new sportsbook.
The Welcome Offer
Bookmakers are looking to offer added value to all of their customers and for many of them, it all starts with a welcome bonus. There are different types to look for and some are more generous than others but they will generally fall into the following categories:
Sign Up Bonus
One of the more common offers involves offering a match on your opening deposit. Typically, a player would receive a 100% match but in some cases, this can drop down to 50%. Whatever the percentage may be, the point to consider is the exact monetary amount involved and the maximum you can claim.
These figures can range between £50.00 and £100.00 but they may be higher on occasions. Check too for any wagering requirements that ask you to play through your deposit and bonus a certain number of times before you can collect any profits. We recommend checking terms and conditions of all offers but this is a particularly important point.
Overall, while there may be terms, the matched deposit is a generous way in which to welcome new customers on board.
No Deposit Free Bet
In certain cases, bookmakers may offer their new customers a free bet to set them on their way. It may not be a huge amount – possibly £5.00 – but it’s a good way in which to sign up and just get a general feel for the site in question.
Among the terms that need to be considered here are the odds: It’s possible that you may have to bet between two sets of prices such as 2/1 and 5/1 and, once again, there is the possibility of having to complete a rollover before collecting any profit. Those points need to be taken into account but this is a quick and easy freebie and another positive way with which to start a business relationship.
Matched Bets are often referred to as bet £10.00 get £20.00 or bet £10.00 get £30.00 depending on the numbers involved. As that would suggest, this involves signing up, making a qualifying bet of £10.00 and then receiving a series of free bet tokens as a welcome bonus.
These deals are far more flexible and are less likely to come with any rollover requirements attached to them. Points to look for here include the minimum odds requirements on your qualifying bet and the expiry date on any free bet tokens that are received.
The exact amounts in question will vary depending on which bookmaker is used but these are quick and simple bonuses that are very popular with bettors.
On occasions, a bookmaker may give away a separate bonus when a customer signs up for a mobile account or downloads an app. Once again, these are smaller amounts and may range between £5.00 and £10.00 and they are getting less common.
However, when they can be found, this is another nice start to the account.
Risk Free Opening Bet
Risk free opening bets are also popular among certain sportsbooks. Typically, they involve signing up, making an initial stake and, if the bet wins then the customer collects a profit in the usual way. However, if that opening bet fails then it will be refunded as a free bet token.
The amounts involved here will be small and will typically be set at £10.00 but this type of deal is flexible in regards to terms and very simple to take advantage of.
Once on board with a bookmaker, many like to keep that value element going with a series of ongoing promotions that all customers can take advantage of. They take many forms and here are some typical deals to look out for.
As the name suggests, an enhanced odds deal takes the standard market price for a sporting event and lifts it to something far more interesting. Some generous increases can be involved here and an outcome at 2/1 in the open betting might rise to 33/1 or possibly even higher.
While those figures are impressive, it’s important to remember that stakes are likely to be limited to £1.00. In addition, the enhanced part of the profit will usually be paid in the form of free bet tokens so, while there are some terms to consider, these enhanced odds offers are still worth seeking out.
Money Back Specials
A money back special would typically issue refunds if a certain set of circumstances take place in a sporting event. For example, a bookmaker might return losing stakes in football’s Correct Score market if a goal is scored in second half injury time in the match in question.
Alternatively, those refunds could be issued if a game finishes goalless. Commonly known as Bore Draw Breakers, we see a number of these promotions but money back specials aren’t just restricted to the football markets.
Horse racing attracts a number of these offers and they might kick in if your chosen runner finishes in second place to the SP favourite. In order to gain new customers, sportsbooks are looking to be as innovative as possible so we will now see money back deals on many events with different sets of circumstances needed to trigger the refunds.
Price boosts work on the same principle as enhanced odds deals but the terms will generally be different. The numbers involved will vary depending on which bookmaker is used but we can expect the lifts to be much smaller. In some cases, they can be less than a point in terms of odds but the difference here is that the ts and cs involved are likely to be far more flexible.
For example, we are unlikely to see the fixed stake applied in these cases so the punter can bet as much as they are comfortable with, within the bookie’s usual rules. Secondly, it’s exceptionally rare to see free bet tokens paid as profit so expect your returns to come back as cold, hard cash.
Some bookmakers are more active than others when it comes to publishing price boost deals but most are looking to bring in this type of promotion. It’s just a quick and easy way to earn a little more value in the event of a winning bet.
Free bet tokens can be issued in many ways: We’ve seen how they can come in at the very start of the account via a welcome deal while enhanced odds profits are often met in this way. Elsewhere, free bets can be paid out as part of a weekly ‘club’. This is essentially a loyalty programme that rewards loyal players by issuing tokens when they meet a set of weekly wagering requirements.
As with all promotions that we’ve discussed, these can vary greatly but would maybe release free bet tokens worth up to £20.00 each and every week. For regular punters who meet the requirements as part of their weekly staking pattern, they are certainly worth achieving.
There may be other free bet options around and it’s really very easy to check. Just head for your bookmaker’s homepage and you are likely to find a tab marked as ‘offers’ or, alternatively ‘promotions’. Click on it and details of all current promos will be listed in full.
Acca Insurances / Bonuses
Many punters like to place accumulator or multiple bets: Commonly known as Accas they carry greater risk with a higher rewards and the bookmakers have recognised that trend by listing a number of tailored promotions.
These deals come in two main forms and one of these is referred to as an Acca Insurance. Once again, terms will vary but the principle is the same across the sportsbooks. Typically, a customer can stake on a straight line multiple, usually with four or more selections and if just one of those legs fails to land then they would expect to see their stake refunded.
Points to look for here include the minimum odds – both for each individual leg and the overall acca – while stakes will be limited to around £50.00 as an absolute maximum.
The second form of deal is an Acca Boost and this simply increases profits in the event of a winning multiple. These can start from as little as two selections and produce a small increase to profits in the region of 5%. At the upper end of the scale, it’s possible to see 50% or even 100% profit boosts but these would be likely to require 16 or more selections.
Full percentage tables will be clearly published by the bookmaker in question so it’s easy to see what punters stand to win via these Acca Boost deals.
Loyalty / VIP Programmes
We’ve mentioned that a free bet club is one way in which a bookmaker can reward loyalty but there are many more besides. There is one sportsbook who has previously issued £5.00 free bets each week for the life of the account while another also gave players an opportunity to cash in loyalty points for merchandise.
Those are useful options to have but loyalty programmes such as these can be far more generous, particularly for those who reach VIP level. These programmes typically work by allocating points for every bet that is made and the number of points rises along with the size of the stake. These will, in turn, lift your priority status and can lead to a whole host of benefits which will naturally differ depending on which bookmaker you use. These programmes vary greatly but they will all add extra value to regular betting strategies.
In Play Betting and Sports Streaming
Online gambling opened up a whole new world for the industry and one of the most popular sectors of the industry is in play betting. Also known as live betting, in its simplest terms this involves placing a bet after a sporting event has started. It’s popular for many reasons, including the potential for higher odds, and if this is important to the individual customer then it’s vital that they seek out the right betting site to meet their needs.
Most, if not all bookies, now have live markets but it comes down to a question of choice. Some sportsbooks have hundreds of options on any given sporting day but for the best live bookies, that number runs into many thousands. Odds involved should be just as competitive as they are in the open markets, so with live betting, it’s a case of the bigger the better and clearly any customer would want to sign up with the operator quoting the most markets.
As a useful add on to the live betting experience, a number of sportsbooks should also provide live streaming. This literally means streaming live pictures of sporting events and in many cases, they can offer far more coverage than the TV channels.
Where this service is offered, check for the access terms: Most bookies will only insist that you have a funded account but in some cases, they ask that you place a qualifying bet on the event that you want to watch.
Choice is at the core of any good bookmaker and it’s a key element to look for when considering whether or not to complete sign up. The most common sports to bet on among the online community are football and horse racing and while it’s easy to assume that both would be covered, that assumption might be wrong.
All bookies are happy to quote markets for football matches but some aren’t quite so comfortable with the horses. Greyhounds can be excluded too in a policy that avoids ‘anything on four legs’.
If horse racing is important and it is for many punters, check that the bookmaker in question provides markets for it. Beyond that, preferences are down to individual punters: Most sportsbooks have a good spread of sports while others will look to add options for obscure events in the world of chess, bowls, water polo and others. You may not be interested in these but if you like to punt on niche sports, it’s obvious that you need to make sure they are covered.
The same applies to anything that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of traditional sports. We’re talking about politics, entertainment and the virtual world of eSports and once again, while these may not be for everyone, it’s important to make sure they are included if you want to bet here.
The next factor in terms of choice relates to side markets. All bookies will list result betting but how many add ons are there? For football, we may be talking about individual goal scoring bets, winning margin, number of cards and so on. Side bets, or prop bets as they are sometimes referred to, are available on most sports and the sign of a good sportsbook is their willingness to include as many as possible.
Choice is fine but now we need to match it with value: We’re talking about competitive pricing which makes your chosen bookmaker stand out from the rest of the industry. No single bookie will be providing the longest price on every sporting outcome but they should keep pace with all others and be out on their own on a regular basis.
There are two ways in which you can measure this and the first of these involves heading to an odds comparison site. This has the advantage of listing a number of sportsbooks in a row and the reader simply looks up a sporting event and looks across the line for the best price.
It’s simple but the issue is that maybe only 30 companies will be shown on these sites. That gives a good range but there are literally hundreds available online so it may be that we are missing out on some strong odds from a new operator.
The only way to address this is to simply check for yourself but this doesn’t have to be a laborious task. Simply identify the bookmaker you want to check, look at two or three outcomes from a range of sports and then compare them against the operators who are listed on the odds comparison sites.
Daily price boosts, which we have touched upon, can also lift the value but in the first instance we need competitive, regular odds which can match the rest of the industry.
The aim with betting is to make profits and the bookies have made some big payouts over the years but there are limits. Staking a £1m bet at a 1000/1 would bankrupt certain operators and while that is an extreme example, operators will issue a maximum payout and details of these can be found under terms and conditions.
Most of the highest payouts involve figures that are beyond the wildest dreams of most punters so there isn’t too much to worry about here. At the top end of the scale, £2 million is a high end figure while in certain markets, other bookies could drop this to £250,000 or below.
If you think that you may be dealing in those sorts of numbers then the obvious approach is to check the rules which should be clearly listed under those general terms and conditions.
Functionality plays an important part in the armoury of all good betting websites and the operators all need their customers to be able to find what they want on their homepage. This means listing available sports in a simple way with, preferably, an option to carry out an A-Z search.
All other information should be prominent and easy to find so, if you’re looking for customer support, the options should not be hidden at the bottom of the page. The same applies for payment alternatives. In the first instance, we want to find our bet quickly but if we do need some assistance, it needs to be clearly shown and all of these factors add up to make a great website experience.
Mobile Betting App
Some operators were slow to implement a mobile betting app but the majority of the industry should have addressed this by now. The alternative is to offer a dedicated mobile website but this facility just can’t match the flexibility and simplicity of an app.
Those apps should be free to use and easy to find and download from the relevant store. Once installed, they should then load instantly and like their static site counterparts, it should be very simple to find where you want to go as the customer.
Mobile apps are particularly useful for live betting but at some point, all bettors will benefit from the convenience of having one installed and this is another important factor in identifying the best bookmakers.
Flexibility in terms of funding options can be important and this is what we mean:
Of course, we need to add money to our playing account in order to cover our bets and it’s the job of the bookmakers to give us a wide range of options. The very basic requirement is to accept debit and credit cards and for most of us, that is enough to give us access.
Some bookmakers leave it at that and if you are happy to rely on those methods, then the operator can still be a perfect fit for you but others are looking for more alternatives. Bank Transfer is often added but most bookmakers will employ the services of eWallets.
Paypal is the biggest eWallet of them all but they are very fussy in terms of which gambling companies they take on. The main two in terms of betting are Skrill and Neteller and signing up with one or both of these will give you added flexibility.
There are other, smaller eWallets providers including PaySafe, Trustly and EcoPay and some users are happier when these are included but they aren’t essential.
Payment and Withdrawal Rules
With the possible exception of bank transfers which can take between two and five days, all transactions, both into and away from your account, should be instant. That’s an important point to consider and you should also check to see if there are any fees. In general, all transactions should be free for the consumer but with some of the more obscure eWallets, the charges may be so high that the operator feels forced to pass some of them on to the customer.
As a final point to check here, we would like to know details of minimum and maximum amounts. In terms of minimum deposits and withdrawals, the figures will tend to only vary slightly between £5.00 and £10.00 while for maximum amounts, the parameters will be much wider.
The good news is that all of this information should be easy to find, either under general terms and conditions or via a dedicated page that explains payments in full.
If we have a basic question or if something goes wrong then we need to know that there is effective customer support waiting to back us up. This is another important element of finding the right bookmaker and the operators can approach that customer support in a number of ways.
At a very basic level, there should be a set of frequently asked questions that can easily be located from the homepage. They should be logically laid out and contain the answers to the most basic queries at the very least.
Not all of us have the time and patience to search through these however so that basic requirement is usually backed up by a dedicated customer support email address. In certain cases, a telephone number may also be included but in the modern day, many serious bettors are looking for a dedicated, 24/7 Live Chat.
A live chat operator should be able to answer any query in the shortest possible space of time and more sportsbooks are starting to include them. Extensive customer service options are part of any good bookmaker’s service but they also need to be fast and effective so feel free to test them with some general questions.
Live / In Play Betting
We’ve touched on the relevance of live betting and mentioned its basic concept but what options are available? Essentially, any market that is available prior to a match starting should be carried over from the ante post bets and into the in play alternatives.
Taking football as an example, this might involve obvious starting points such as the match result and then go on to cover the majority of side bets including Correct Score, Last Goalscorer, Winning Margin, Total Goals and much more.
In addition, there may be new markets that crop up such as Next Goalscorer that can’t be found prior to the match. All bookies should follow this principle which should also apply to all sports but remember that some operators offer far more live markets than others.
Fixed Odds Betting
A fixed odds betting service is the traditional way of gambling on sports and this is where most punters start. Here, we are simply betting against the bookmaker who offers a set of odds on various sporting markets and it’s up to us to decide whether or not to take them on.
If we win we get to claim a return while the bookmaker in question makes an overall profit from all losses. It’s called fixed odds because, when we take that bet, the price is fixed and we use it to calculate any subsequent winnings.
The birth of the internet also saw the rise of the betting exchange: This works in a completely different way to fixed odds betting via a traditional bookmaker and it is popular because it is possible to find better prices here.
Instead of taking on the bookmaker, customers are effectively betting against each other so, for an example, let’s say that we have an upcoming football match between Manchester United and Liverpool. You decide that Liverpool are going to win and you go to the exchange to back them accordingly.
At the same time, other customers are ‘laying’ that bet, believing that Liverpool will lose or draw. Both parties put their money on the line and whoever is successful scoops the win while the exchange operator makes their money by taking a very small commission.
This practise effectively takes us right back to the early days of wagering when a bet was a stake between two individuals. So, it’s not necessarily a new concept but it’s one that has certainly seen sustained growth since the birth of the internet,
Spread betting is a very volatile sector of the industry: If a win comes in, it can usually lead to a very lucrative return but on the flip side, losses can be equally significant. A spread is essentially a line used in a sporting event and the job of the bettor is to go over or above that line.
For this example, we’ll use a darts match and the market would be based on how many maximum 180 throws there would be during the game. The bookmaker in question might set the spread at 11 and the punter bets £10.00 above that line. It’s important to understand here that in the event of a win or loss, that stake is multiplied so, if there are 16 180’s in the match then the bettor wins by five and gets a return of 5x £10.00 = £50.00.
In contrast, if there are seven 180s in that game then they lose by four, making that loss 4x £10.00 = £40.00.
Some traditional sportsbooks offer a separate spread betting service while it’s also possible to find a dedicated operator who focuses solely on the spread. In this case it’s really a matter of personal preference as both will be well equipped to meet the customer’s needs.
Many of the online operators started out by offering just a sportsbook but the clamour to provide wider offerings has seen them branch out into other areas. Now, alongside the standard bookmaker offerings, it’s very easy to access a casino as well.
Any online casino is likely to provide all of the popular games such as blackjack, roulette and poker along with a wide range of slots. Separate promotions and offers can be accessed and the whole operation can comfortably match the services provided by dedicated online casinos.
While you may not feel it essential that your chosen sportsbook has a casino arm, there can be certain benefits for those that play at both. Cross-promotions are quite common and sportsbook users often find special offers dropping in via sms with free spins attached. It’s all about additional value and it all adds up to providing the best overall betting service.