When getting started with sports arbitrage betting, it is important to learn which bookmakers are arbitrage friendly and which are not. Arbitrage friendly bookmakers are commonly referred to as ‘sharp bookmakers’ whereas non arbitrage friendly bookmakers are referred to as ‘soft bookmakers’.
As an arbitrage bettor, a sharp bookmaker is one of your best friends. They have the most accurate odds, allow the highest stakes and never limit you, no matter how much you win.
Considering that being ‘gubbed’, or having your account closed or limited by a bookmaker is one of the greatest risks for an arbitrage bettor, having a few sharp bookmakers that will never limit you is a godsend.
Read on to find out more about the difference between sharp and soft bookmakers, as well as a comparison of the best sharp bookmakers around.
What are sharp and soft bookmakers?
Two very different business models, both of which are necessary for successful sports arbitrage betting.
As I alluded to earlier, there are essentially two types of bookmakers: sharp (arbitrage friendly) and soft (non-arbitrage friendly).
Soft bookmakers make their money by targeting casual punters. They offer them bonus bets, reload bonuses, accumulators/multi bets, odds boosting and a range of other enticing treats to get them in the door.
What the casual punter doesn’t realise though, is that these bookmakers generally have quite poor odds. When setting the odds, they factor in a profit margin of 5-10%, which ensures that despite the bonus bets on offer, they still make a decent profit.
Sharp bookmakers, on the other hand, do not offer any bonuses or exotic betting markets, but they have the most accurate odds available at very tight profit margins.
They typically offer odds at <5% profit margin (known as the ‘reduced margin pricing model’) and they are lightning quick at updating their odds once news is released that impacts the probability of certain bets.
They are confident in their odds being accurate, so they set very high stake limits for most betting markets. They make their profit by having a high turnover, earning 3-4% of the turnover as profit.
As arbitrage bettors are typically making many bets with high stakes, they can be very profitable for the sharp bookmakers. For this reason, they welcome arbitrage betting on their platforms.
Sharp bookmakers typically make up less than 5% of all bookmakers, which demonstrates just how profitable the soft bookmaker business model is.
“Just because a soft bookmaker is not ‘arbitrage friendly’ does not mean that you shouldn’t arb with them. In fact, almost all arb opportunities are between sharp bookmakers and soft bookmakers, so it is essential that you use both!”
Let’s compare the sharp bookmakers below!
Sharp Bookmakers List
The table below summarises my overall rating for each of the 5 main sharp bookmakers.
The overall rating is based on the customer service provided, the number of sports and betting markets they offer and the typical profit margin they take for each bet.
It is also based in part on the reputation of the bookmaker, particularly whether they have a history of voiding bets or withholding winnings from bettors.
Read on for more information each bookmaker.
Help: I can't access sharp bookmakers!
Unfortunately, not all sharp bookmakers operate in all countries. Pinnacle, being the best and most well known sharp bookmaker, no longer operates in the UK, Australia and a number of other countries.
However, you can still access these sharp bookmakers through the use of an intermediary service, known as a betting broker. They can open a number of sharp bookmaker accounts on your behalf, even if those companies don't operate in your country.
Find out which are the best betting brokers!
No phone or chat support, email only. In saying that, very few people have had problems with them. They reply to emails quickly.
A pretty decent number of markets and sports available (rugby being an exception)
Very low margins, typically <5%. Can go lower on major sporting events.
Based in Curaçao and founded in 1998, Pinnacle has been a stalwart of the arbitrage betting and indeed the wider betting scene for a long time.
They pioneered the ‘reduced margin pricing model’, which we referred to earlier, and they were essentially the genesis of the sharp (arbitrage friendly) bookmaker.
Of the sharp bookmakers, they have the best reputation and are the least likely to unexpectedly void bets or withhold winnings.
They offer maximum stakes of $30,000 in tennis money line and handicap betting, $50,000 on NFL handicap betting and $45,000 on soccer handicap betting.
It’s even possible to place a bet at these limits and then place another bet at the same limit just seconds later (most likely at reduced odds however).
Of all of the sharp bookmakers, Pinnacle is the one that I recommend without any caveats. They are absolutely essential for anyone serious about sports arbitrage betting.
Live chat, phone, Skype, email, LINE, WhatsApp, hell even fax! Fast response times.
An excellent number of sports available for a sharp bookmaker. The number of markets per sport is quite limited however.
Margins a little on the high side for a sharp bookmaker, but still not bad.
Founded in 2004 and based in the Philippines and the Isle of Man, SBOBET is another big player among the sharp bookmakers.
They focus heavily on Asian Handicap markets but do offer money line and others as well.
They have a very good selection of sports for a sharp bookmaker and competitive odds to boot.
My second pick for a sharp bookmaker.
Telephone, email and live chat available.
Small number of sports and markets available.
Margins are fairly high from what I can see. Typically slightly higher than the other sharps listed here.
An Asian bookmaker founded in 2006 and based in the Isle of Man.
Not especially recommended unless you have no other options or have already signed up with the other sharp bookmakers listed here.
Live chat, email, LINE, WhatsApp and social networks. Some have reported language barrier issues as support is based overseas.
A decent but not great number of sports and markets available.
About middle of the run for a sharp bookmaker.
An Asian bookmaker founded in 2007 and based in the Isle of Man.
Live chat, email, LINE, WhatsApp and social networks. Some have reported slow communication and language barrier issues as support is based overseas.
A healthy number of sports available.
Surprisingly good margins, even for some relatively obscure matches where the bookies typically raise their margins drastically.
Founded in 2004 and based in the Philippines.
What about Betting Exchanges?
Yes, all of the major betting exchanges are indeed arbitrage friendly (Betfair, Betdaq, Smarkets, Matchbooks). They all profit by receiving a commission based on total winnings, so they are more than happy for arbitrage bettors to back and lay large sums on their platforms.
However, they are not bookmakers and therefore the betting strategies are quite different.
For beginner arbitrage bettors, it is recommended that you start with betting between sharp and soft bookies until you feel that you are confident enough to start backing and laying between bookmakers and exchanges.
Best Bookmakers For Arbitrage Betting - Summary
Arbitrage friendly, or ‘sharp’ bookmakers have the most accurate odds, the highest stake limits and will never limit or close your accounts (other than for participating in activities against their terms of service).
They are much faster at changing their odds than soft bookmakers, and it is typically this window of opportunity between when the sharps change their prices but before the softs have changed theirs that the arbitrage opportunities arise.
As they welcome arbitrage bettors, it is typically not necessary to engage in defensive arbing when using these bookies.
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