One of the most common questions we get asked is 'how do I open an account?'
This was true even before the coronavirus pandemic forced betting shops up and down the country to close. When they'll reopen is anyone's guess, but given their size, nature, and demographic, perhaps we should prepare for the shutters to be down for many more months to come.
We want to help those who are venturing into a new world. While students of the online form book will have little difficulty navigating from one resource to another, and many find the ease with which they're able to place a bet to be a valuable asset, for others it can be a daunting, unwelcome complication.
Below, we'll take you step by step, highlighting some of the tools you'll find at your disposal, explaining how to get around, and even revealing some hints from our team of experts which are specifically geared towards online punting.
Opening an account
There are any number of bookmakers operating online and open to UK customers. You can find many of them listed at Oddschecker, among other places - many of which offer user reviews. Which is best for you might depend on what sports you like to bet on, or how you find the experience. Remember, you can open accounts with whichever ones you want; you might find that having options ensures you maximise your returns.
These include heritage, high street names such as William Hill, Ladbrokes and Coral, with Paddy Power another who offer both online and high street experiences. Betfair, Betdaq and Matchbook are among the most popular betting exchanges - where you effectively bet against another customer - though Betfair also operates a sportsbook. Sky Bet and bet365 meanwhile are two of the biggest and most visible online bookmakers, and both are based in the UK.
At Sporting Life, we've partnered with Sky Bet to form 'Insiders', which is both a Sky Bet account and access to the full range of our feature product. By becoming an Insider, you can watch racing replays, access exclusive offers and bonuses, and enjoy our website to its maximum. When we introduce more features in the coming months, being an Insider will ensure you're first in the queue to access them.
To sign up, click the 'Join/Log in' button at the top-right of our home page. The login page will now appear, and once you've registered this is where you'll go to sign in to Sporting Life. For now, click 'Create an account' and begin the registration process by entering your first and last names. Then you'll have to enter your date of birth - remember, you have to be 18 or over - followed by your address and email address.
Next, select a username. There are some rules around what your username can be, and these are detailed below the box. Once that's done, you'll need to go on and select a pin number, which you should keep private. Your username and pin number combination will be unique to your account, and it's important that you keep them secure. This should mean changing your pin number periodically; should you have any concerns as to the activity on your account in future, contact Sky Bet immediately.
The final step is to enter your payment details. Depositing is optional, but you will need money in your account if you wish to place a bet. Note that credit cards are no longer accepted as a form of payment, after the Gambling Commission ordered a ban as of April 2020.
Responsible gambling tools
Before we go any further, it's important to consider responsible gambling tools, which all operators must now offer to their customers. Sky Bet's range is as follows:
Profit & Loss
This simple tool lets you know the full score instantly. Choose a time frame and see how much money you’ve won or lost for that period. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much you're up. But it's also designed to flag up just how much you're down.
This simple tool lets you cap how much you spend before you bet. You can set your deposit limit for a day, a week or a 30 days. Once you have done that we will make sure you aren't able to deposit a penny more. You know your limits. Let us know them too.
Cool Off Periods
This simple tool allows you to take a break from the action. You can take a break for anything from a day to a month. Enough time to cool right down. And cool, calm and collected is the best way to be.
Setting these before you play can serve as a safeguard for those who need it. Betting online is faster and easier than betting in a high street shop, but that means it can also be easier to lose more money than you can afford. If there is one golden rule in gambling, it's never to do that.
If at any point you become concerned about your gambling, call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133, or visit begambleaware.org. Further support and information can be found at GamCare and gamblingtherapy.org, and you can self-exclude by accessing the 'My Account' section and following the simple steps to doing so for a selected period of time.
Placing a bet
It's important to familiarise yourself with your chosen bookmaker, ensuring that you get used to their unique layouts and signposting. In Sky Bet's case, you'll see feature sports across the top of your screen, with those and many more down the left.
As in a high street betting shop, you can place bets across sports with very few exceptions, often known as related contingencies. A good example might be the F1 Drivers' World Championship and Sports Personality of the Year: as these are inherently linked, you would not be able to place a straight double on Lewis Hamilton winning both.
In general, though, you will find that you can place a multitude of bets, combining various events, in a straightforward fashion. Each time you want to add a selection to your virtual betting split, click on the odds adjacent to that selection and you will see it appear on 'My Betting Slip' to the right of the screen.
Should you wish to place a single - i.e. a straightforward bet to win - simply enter your stake in the box. Next to it, you'll see how much that bet would return were it to win (subject to any deductions such as Rule 4). Once you've entered your stake and wish to place your bet, click the green button to do so. If you do not have sufficient funds in your account, you will be asked if you wish to deposit and proceed to placing the bet.
If your desired bet involves multiple selections, work your way around the site and add each to the betting slip. Make sure you're choosing both the selection and the event or market you wish to select. For instance, if you want to back Rory McIlroy for The Open, be sure you're not looking at odds for The Masters.
As you do this, the various bet types available to you will appear. These will be familiar to many of you who are used to choosing a specific betting slip, or writing your own instructions, in betting shops: Lucky 15, 31 and 63s; Yankees, Super Yankees; Heinz and Trixies.
Sky Bet provide a handy guide to all of these bets if you're not sure, and remember to check how much the bet is going to cost in total before placing it. Aside from accumulators, these wagers have multiple lines or individual bets within them. Take the Heinz, for example: this is a multiple on six selections which generates 57 individual bets, hence the name. Therefore, a £1 Heinz costs a total of £57, which is made clear as you enter your unit stake (i.e. stake per individual bet within multiple). Adjusting your unit stake will change the total cost of the bet.
Tracking your bets
All bookmakers keep a detailed record of your bets, including those which have been settled, plus other transactions on your account such as deposits and withdrawals. By clicking 'My Bets' you can see the status of all wagers, and find out more information if you wish to.
This feature also enables you to keep track of live bets, i.e. those which are still open, as well as view results and returns for settled bets.
One of the more transformative innovations in online gambling over the last decade has been 'Cash Out', which allows you to in effect settle a bet early and take whatever is being offered for it.
For instance, if you have a five-fold on the football and all teams are leading with 10 minutes to play, you might choose to accept the offer generated and displayed in My Bets. It will be lower than the amount you stand to win should scores remain as they are, but if you've chosen to Cash Out, you are no longer affected by the results. Put another way, if only four of those sides end up winning, but you've taken a Cash Out offer, you may have been able to profit on what is in effect a losing bet.
Bets do not have to be in a strong position to generate Cash Out offers. You may decide to take a portion of your initial stake back if an event has not gone to plan, or your option has changed. Doing so could help you to limit loss, but don't forget if the bet were to go on and win, you will have in effect sold your ticket.
Cash Out is not a guaranteed service, and only applies to select markets at certain times. You can read more about it here.
At any time, you can withdraw all or part of your account balance. You can do this via My Account and click Manage Payment Methods. You'll find the option to deposit, and to withdraw, and this is also where you can add or remove bank cards when you need to.
Withdrawals typically take up to five days to reach your bank account, but with Sky Bet's 'Fast Withdrawals' you could have the funds within a couple of hours. There's more on that here.
We know that, for many of our users, the betting shop isn't just a place you go to when you want to place a bet. They have for decades provided a meeting place, a focal point; somewhere to make betting a social activity, not a solo one. That's why we're keen to see them open up as soon as it is safe to do so, knowing that our website can complement your experience regardless.
For now, though, those who do wish to bet have no other choice but to go online. It's therefore important to recognise the advantages it can bring; the ways in which you can both secure the best value for your money, and also find a new community to hopefully fill the void.
Best Odds Guaranteed
Most bookmakers now offer Best Odds Guaranteed on UK and Irish horse racing. This means that if you take a price, and your selection goes on to win (or place) at a bigger price, you will be paid out at the bigger price. It's one of the most significant changes in betting online over the last five to 10 years, and removes any difficulty in deciding between current price and SP.
In the past, betting shop punters might have two, three, perhaps four local options to choose from. They might decide to go to Ladbrokes to place their racing Lucky 15, but then hop across to William Hill for a slightly bigger price on a golfer, for instance. There was choice, but it was limited - gambling's version of a postcode lottery determining who can access what prices.
Online, there is no such discrimination. Shop around, find the best prices and deals, and bet accordingly - without having to move from your seat.
Although betting shops have moved to keep pace with the rise of internet gambling, they are still some way behind in terms of the spectrum of offers they are able to offer to a day-to-day customer.
Online, punters can now access free bets regularly through schemes like Sky Bet's Free Bet Club or Paddy Power's Rewards Club, while they also have an almost direct line to trading desks should they want a price they can't find.
Put simply, there's a limit to what exactly you can get odds for in a betting shop. Online, you are far more likely to find the bet you're looking for.
Whenever you go to place a bet online, you will see a figure appear telling you how much this bet might return should it win. Sometimes, it is an approximation, but generally speaking it is the precise amount you will win if all goes to plan - subject to any unforeseen deductions.
Some punters like to bet to return a certain amount. That's much easier online than it is in a betting shop, and you're far less likely to find that you need to go back to the counter and make sure what you've been given is correct.
Although it is very different, and for some will never replace the betting shop, the internet does offer ways to engage with others who share the same interests. Our racing community group on Facebook is one, while there's also twitter, where trainers and jockeys engage with the public regularly.
Sporting Life: Here to help
Hopefully, the above helps you to place bets as you wish to. Remember, this information is geared towards those looking for an alternative to the high street bookmaker, or those looking to learn more about betting online in general.
It is imperative that you consider all responsible gambling tools made available, and seek further help should you become concerned about your gambling. You'll find websites, telephone numbers and support groups listed both above, and at the bottom of most stories on Sporting Life.
Of course, if you are betting online, it's likely you have at least two goals in mind: entertainment and winning. The latter is not easy to achieve, but there are many websites - including ours - which can help you to do so.
We would advise you to scrutinise all betting advice, particularly if you're asked to pay for it.
Ours is not only free and impartial, but you can check back on every recommended bet since our new website launched in 2016 via a transparent, up-to-date tipping record. You'll find it housed in our racing and football tips centres, and at the bottom of every month are links to previous versions.
Popular columns which feature within it include:
- Ben Linfoot's Value Bet - complete with its own bespoke tipping record
- Ben Coley's golf previews which have unearthed winners at 200/1, 250/1 and 300/1
- Matt Brocklebank's Antepost Angle which enjoyed another excellent NH season
- Chris Hammer's darts tips including last year's 125/1 UK Open winner
- Richard Mann's cricket and snooker selections
- George Pitts' weekly Premier League previews
- Tom Carnduff on the Sky Bet EFL and the Bundesliga
- Our regular Sporting Life Accumulator
- Simon Holt on major race days and festivals
Finally, we've spoken to some of the columnists mentioned above to offer the following advice, which aims to help you get the most out of your experience betting online.
It’s an old rule, but it’s a good rule. The more events you bet on, the less likely you are to win in the long run, so specialising is key. Remember, the bookies have to price up every single race or event, but you can pick and choose. Pick the events you enjoy the most, research them thoroughly, and bet accordingly.
This applies mainly to ante-post betting. But the obvious advantage to betting online over going to the shop is that it’s there, at your fingertips, and you can get the prices you want right away, in most instances. Take a horse winning a key trial for a big race, for example. If you’re impressed, seek out what the online bookies have cut that horse to for the big race. You might be pleasantly surprised.
The online market is very competitive and as a result there are various offers available most days. They are invariably ramped up around big weekend fixtures and terrestrial TV action but every day you’ll find extra places on several handicaps, albeit often at 1/5 the odds rather than a 1/4, but they can make a big difference to your punting.
Some firms are more aggressive in terms of this offer and they will quickly stand out, while a quick look at the Oddschecker grid will give you an at-a-glance guide to everyone’s place terms – and of the course the opportunity to check the price itself is still a competitive one.
SP betting is no longer even an option online. Nearly every firm has the Best Odds Guarantee in place, especially from 9am on race day, meaning that if the returned price is bigger than the one you take, you’ll get paid out at the SP.
It’s just another small factor that can help swing the margins your way.
Never chase your losses
With the speed and ease at which you can bet online come risks, notably that you can lose more than you are comfortable with over and potentially over a short period of time.
The best way to avoid this is to take advantage of those responsible gambling tools detailed above, but be disciplined in yourself: if you fancy two horses and both lose, so be it. There will be other days. Don't betray the time you put in to unearthing those selections by rushing to find another. Bet sensibly and responsibly at all times.
Keep detailed records of your betting
It’s all about the big picture. But you can only think along those lines if you take a step back and see how you’ve been getting on over a period of time. See what works for you, but a good way of doing it is to keep annual records, sport by sport, and there’s really no excuse not to with most online bookies doing it for you.
We are committed in our support of responsible gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.