Money for nothing – and your (gambling) kicks for free
How to take free cash from bookies: Part 1
We're all so sure that there's no such thing as a free lunch, that the offer of anything for free has us looking for the catch. So, depending on your attitude to gambling, the offer of a free bet from a bookmaker might have you looking for the devil himself angling for your soul.
But bookmakers do offer genuine free bets all the time, and it can be a fairly simple matter to pocket the sum they're offering without risking your own cash. This article is about playing the system, and picking up the money. It's not about gambling.
The free bets offered online are the industry's primary method of attracting new customers, and retaining and cajoling action from existing ones. It works. New figures from Nielsen show a 40 per cent jump in Britons visiting a gambling website in the last year.
The pace of growth is outstripping Facebook and social media - an additional 3.2 million logged onto gaming sites last year compared with 2.2 million on Facebook and its rivals.
Any search on free bets will bring up a list of them such as Freebets.co.uk . There's loads of them. William Hill and Ladbrokes are offering a £25 free bet when you deposit and wager £25. BetFred is offering a £50 bet once you've deposited and bet £50. The bigger deals come with strings attached, which we'll come to, but all the offers are genuine and money can be made. Start with the small straightforward offers.
How much money can you make? You should be able to get £500 to £1,000 with a small amount of effort. I've made more than £1,000 doing it – £500 coming from just three bookmakers. At the time Ladbrokes and 365Bet had £200 free bet deals, and 10Bet offered a free bet to the level of 30 per cent of your initial deposit, to a maximum of £100.
Other people plug away in a more dedicated fashion. Donglemouse records his matched betting diary in a discussion board on the Money Saving Expert website .
In five years of running his project he'd secured £10,696 from new account offers, and £21,184 from offers on his existing accounts. It's worth noting that cashback sites such as Quidco  and TopCashBack  sometimes have cash back deals on the bookmakers and betting exchanges which make it worth registering through them.
How do you make money out of this without risking your own cash? The basic method, known as matched betting, is that you use your own money to make your qualifying bet with a bookmaker – for Team A, say, to win their match. Then, at a betting exchange (the main one is Betfair , and number two is Betdaq ) with another bookmakers, you make an opposing bet (known as laying the bet) that Team A won't win (ie it will lose or draw). The two bets cancel each other out – you'll win one bet and lose the other.
Now you get to bet with the free bookmaker money, and you find a new event to bet on both possible outcomes. This time, when the game, race or whatever, is over, you're left with a profit.
Read the fine print
Is it really that simple? Not quite. The arrival of betting exchanges means it is relatively simple to act as a bookmaker yourself and lay bets. However, the odds they offer rarely neatly match those of the bookmaker offering the free bet. They also charge a commission of 5 per cent, payable on winnings. Also, some bookmaker free bet deals return the stake with winnings, and some don't. This means that you are unlikely to get 100 per cent of the free bet – but 60 to 70 per cent is achievable.
Also, some offers, instead of giving a free bet, give you a cash bonus for depositing money. They insist you have to bet your deposit and bonus money several times before you can withdraw it – you either get lucky and lose at this bookmaker and get all your profit on the opposing bet, or you have to repeat the process.
But what makes it really simple is that there are online services which do all the hard work for you - they tell you which online offers to accept, and work out all odds, types of bets, and amounts to place. They also gave the exact profit of each trade as well. Examples are Matched Betting Assistant  and FreeBets4All . Doing a search on "matched betting" will lead you to others – the MoneySavingExpert forum also has good guides and downloadable spreadsheets to help with the calculations.
How will opening lots of bookmaker accounts affect your credit rating? As long as you don't mismanage your money, or exceed account limits, opening and funding lots of bookmaker accounts will have no affect on your credit scoring. Santander say “credit scoring and ratings are a result of whether the account is kept in good order or not... that has no bearing on the type of transaction.”
Credit reference agency Experian say that the gaming companies don't currently share any account data with their industry. “It won't appear on the credit reference radar. You can have as many gaming accounts as you want,” a spokesman said.
What can go wrong? You can make mistakes with your betting slips, entering the wrong amount, or failing to back the right event. Bookmakers can go also go bust, and market conditions are currently tough. There are a lot of bookmakers in the world offering these deals, and Sportsbook Review  gives ratings to hundreds of them – and has a very long blacklist of ones to avoid. Another pitfall is that you could start gambling, and most gamblers are losers.
What do I do when I run out of free offers? You either stop and pocket your profits or move into sports arbitrage – which I will cover in the follow-up to this article.
Automated sports arbitrage services, such as RebelBetting  and SportsArbitrageWorld  find pricing discrepancies between bookmakers guaranteeing profits for their customers betting on both sides of an event. They encourage the grabbing of bookmaker freebies as part of a trading strategy and offer free trials. Both these services offer excellent guides to the strategy.
Rajeev Shah, managing director of Sports Arbitrage World, and a former City-based foreign exchange trader, says he found it “incredible” when he discovered how simple it was to exploit these free bets. “It was money out of thin air,” he says.
I agree and I've not used my name on this article in case some bookmakers decided to close my accounts. ®