Lay Betting Explained [Definition, Placing One, Alternatives]


You may have come across the term ‘lay bet’ and pondered over its meaning. This is not surprising since it’s a relatively new type of betting that many are unfamiliar with. This guide explains everything you need to know about lay bets: what is a lay bet, how it works, and how to go about placing one.

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What Is a Lay Bet?

Lay bets are a recent addition to the betting world. Their popularity grew with the surge of betting exchange platforms, where punters can bet against each other rather than against a bookmaker. These bets are slightly more complicated than the traditional back bets. When you place back bets, you bet on your selection to win; when you place lay bets, you bet on the selection to lose. In essence, lay bets are the complete opposite of back bets. Lay bets are popular choices for punters since some think it’s easier to predict the loser than predict a winner.

What Is Lay Betting in Practice?

Placing lay bets is an option on betting exchanges that allow punters to assume the role of a bookmaker. Essentially, the punter offers odds to sell the bet instead of buying it. This practice is a component of matched betting, in which the punter buys and sells a bet on the same selection to increase the chance of winning

Lay betting explained includes a betting strategy that requires two punters—one that assumes the role of a bookmaker and another willing to match the bet. The betting exchange serves as a middle-man that facilitates the bet between the two individual bettors.

DID YOU KNOW? Lay betting is also referred to as matched betting, arbitration, or arb betting. 

How Does Lay Betting Work?

Lay bets are a way to use the free bets and incentives bookmakers offer to turn a profit. It allows the punter to sell a bet at the odds they have chosen instead of betting on odds provided by the bookmaker. More accurately, the punter is betting against the odds of an outcome instead of betting for it. The punter is the one that determines the size of the initial stake and then waits for someone to match it

The two most common sports for placing lay bets are football and horse racing. So we decided to look at both these sports and see how lay bets work with them. 

What Is a Lay Bet in Football Betting?

Lay bets are common in football betting. Many (especially inexperienced punters) find it easier to predict who will lose a match than who wins—unless the teams are equally likely to win, in which case the outcome is more difficult to predict. In such instances, some use the back and lay system—betting on who will win or lose a match

For example, if there’s a match between Chelsea and Manchester United, and you want to lay Chelsea, you’ll have a winning bet if Manchester wins or if the match ends in a draw

What Is a Lay Bet in Horse Racing?

When you lay a horse in horse racing, you win the bet if any other horse finishes first. But if the horse you’ve chosen finishes the race first, you lose a bet and, therefore, must pay the backer their winnings. In some cases, the winnings can be substantially higher than the initial stake. So be careful how much you lay on a horse.

Lay bets are popular among punters whose go-to sport is horse racing because it’s much easier to spot a horse that’s unlikely to win. For example, suppose you choose Horse A and lay a bet against it. If this horse finishes in any other place other than the top position, you’ve got yourself a winning bet. If the horse wins, you lose the bet and must pay off the backers.

DID YOU KNOW? Lay bets are not the only bet type suitable for betting on horse races. For example, Lucky 15 bets are also popular for punters whose go-to sport is horse racing

Lay Betting vs Back Betting

Even if you’ve grasped the lay bet meaning, you may be confused about how they differ from back bets

What Is Back Betting?

Back betting is the most common, traditional betting format known to punters. Even if you’re an occasional bettor, you’ve probably placed a back bet without even knowing it. 

Placing a back bet on a selection means that you’re betting on it to win; whereas, laying a bet on that same selection means that you’re betting on it to lose. For back bets, bookmakers set the odds based on the current market prices and the likelihood of an outcome

To illustrate how back bets work, consider this horse racing example:

  • You place a £20 wager on Horse A to win the race at 5.0 odds
    • Horse A wins the race; you receive £100 in return (£20 x 5.0 = £100)
    • Horse A loses the race; you receive no return and lose the initial stake

To make the distinction between the two bets more straightforward, we’ve listed two examples of back and lay betting:

  • Example 1:
    • Back: England wins the Rugby World Cup
    • Lay: England doesn’t win the Rugby World Cup
  • Example 2:
    • Back: Manchester City wins the Premier League this season
    • Lay: Manchester City doesn’t win the Premier League this season

Lay and back bets are complete opposites on the same betting spectrum. In essence, they are the same bet, only placed in reverse order. To place lay bets, back bets need first to exist—one cannot exist without the other. 

DID YOU KNOW? If you don’t know how to win in lay betting, you should choose back bets, i.e., bet on a selection to win. Trixie bets are a good choice since you can bet on three picks simultaneously instead of putting your money only on one selection. 

Key Takeaways

Lay bets allow punters to assume the role of bookmakers and set their own odds.
When placing lay bets, you’re betting on a selection to lose.
Football and horse racing are the two most popular sports for placing lay bets.
Lay bets carry liabilitythe amount a punter stands to lose if they lose the bet.
Betting exchanges charge lay commissions on all winning bets.

Why Pick Lay Bets?

With lay bet explained, you can see many advantages to it. This type of bet is often considered an ideal option for betting on sports with many participants (as in horse racing) when it’s challenging to decide on a winner. It’s also a good idea to use this type of bet on a horse that’s considered a favourite, but it’s typically given short odds for a particular race. 

The chance of winning a lay bet in horse racing is much higher since a 10-horse race can have only one winner and nine losers. You’re statistically more likely to pick one of the losing horses. 

If you wish to increase your chances of winning a bet and ensure substantial potential winnings, lay bets are a good way to go. 

DID YOU KNOW? For those who wish to diversify their betting experience, Yankee bets are a good place to start. These bets provide good coverage on all kinds of sports: football, horse racing, basketball, Formula 1, etc. 

Is Lay Betting Profitable?

We all want our bets to be profitable. Luckily, lay bets have a high-profit margin, but they can also be quite risky if the bet comes out on the losing side. The bet’s payout depends on how much you stake on it, but the amount you risk may be significantly more substantial—commonly referred to as liability

Lay Bets Liability

When placing lay bets, punters act as bookmakers—the ones who assume liability if the outcome is opposite of what they wagered on.

What Happens if You Lose a Lay Bet?

In the case of losing one of these bets, you must pay the person that backed the bet, i.e., you’d need to pay their initial stake and a return based on the odds that you had determined.

The amount a punter stands to lose if they are mistaken about the outcome is known as ‘liability’ or ‘risk’. Since these sums can be quite high, you need to be very cautious with the actual cost of the bet. Betting calculators are available on all betting exchanges—so make sure you calculate how much the bet will cost you before you place it.

Lay Bets Commission

Laying bets comes at a price. Since you set the odds yourself, the betting exchange will charge you a lay commission fee if you have a winning bet. The commission is charged on the net winnings collected by the successful punter. If you lose the bet, you won’t be charged a commission.

Learning how to lay a bet includes knowledge of lay commissions, which vary between bookmakers and betting exchanges. Some charge different commissions, depending on your betting activity. If you’re frequently betting, for example, you might be charged a lower commission.

DID YOU KNOW? Punters looking for more secure bets with good coverage often choose Patent bets. Although these aren’t full-coverage bets, the likelihood of a return is relatively high. They can be a fun addition to the betting spectrum. 


Lay bets are becoming increasingly popular among a large body of betting enthusiasts. Therefore, understanding them is of utmost importance if you wish to experience success with this betting strategy. Once you grasp the lay bet definition and all the accompanying rules, you can begin placing your bets and await a profitable return. Although these have a different way of calculating stakes, profits, and liabilities, lay bets are likely to become your go-to bet once you get the hang of them.


What happens if you win a lay bet?

When you win a lay bet, the person who placed a back bet on the same selection must pay your winnings at the odds you had determined, including your initial stake.

Where can I place a lay bet?

Lay bets are placed on betting exchanges, which are essentially marketplaces where punters buy and sell their bets.

How do you win a lay bet?

Once you know what is a lay bet, you must learn how to win one. You win such a bet by ignoring the winning picks and wagering on a choice to lose, which is significantly easier than trying to determine who will emerge as the winner.

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Alex is an IT wizz gone SEO gone fire-juggler. We’re not even joking. When he isn’t researching why one personal loan is better than the other and which piece of hardware you should buy next, he’s rollerblading or selling homes (because he does that, too, the smarty-pants).

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