Matched betting: bad for your money and your mental health
Matched betting offers the enticing prospect of risk-free, tax-free money, but it can also tempt the vulnerable into damaging losses.
Advocates for matched betting argue that, done properly, it shouldn’t involve gambling or losses at all.
Instead, matched betting is a way to profit from the free bets and incentives offered by bookmakers and gambling websites.
It involves placing multiple bets, to cover all outcomes of something like a sporting event.
For example, a bookie might offer new customers a free £20 bet after their first £10 bet.
Matched betting uses the “free bet” offers from gambling companies to bet both for, and against, a sporting result at the same time. The use of their free bet money means you can be guaranteed a profit if you get it right, but it’s also very easy to get it wrong.
Matched betting is legal and you don’t have to pay tax on any winnings.
There are even subscription websites offering help with matched betting, such as highlighting offers and upcoming events, providing instructions, and running forums.
The theory sounds great, and some people do make money from matched betting. However, as Catherine Sweet from GamCare, the charity that supports those suffering from gambling issues, says: “Matched betting takes an awful lot of time and effort to make it work for you – and it’s never risk-free.”
Matched betting offers the enticing prospect of risk-free, tax-free money – but can tempt the vulnerable into damaging losses
Potential damage to your bank balance
If you start matched betting, you’ll need to deposit some of your own cash for every gambling account you open.
Sometimes there are delays before you can cash out winnings, or before free bets are credited.
So, if you don’t use a separate bank account for matched betting, it could be all too easy to blow money needed for tomorrow’s electricity bill.
Keeping track of which events you have bet on where, and when offers are due to pay out, involves time, effort and organisation.
If you make mistakes when placing your bets, or don’t comply with the small print on offers, it will eat into any winnings, and you could genuinely lose money.
Anyone who really needs extra cash, whether to cover bills or stave off debts, might be tempted to bump up profits by placing single bets without making the matched or “lay” bet elsewhere.
That’s a slippery slope into actual gambling, rather than matched betting.
When matched betting can become a problem
The real issues concern those who are vulnerable to gambling problems.
In gambling, just as with credit cards or alcohol, many people can use it without any issues. But some others can’t.
Anyone who signs up for multiple betting accounts will be bombarded with marketing messages, and chased round the internet by ads.
The offers aren’t just restricted to bets on, for example, horse racing and football matches. They can also include offers for higher-risk casinos and slot machines.
The colourful graphics and rapid results have all been designed to trigger responses in your brain.
Users can end up chasing the adrenaline high of winning, or desperately chasing losses.
“No one starts matched betting intending to lose money or become a gambler, but the online websites are designed to be addictive, to draw you in,” says Sara Williams from Debt Camel.
“The colours, the sounds, the small wins, the illusion of control, the excitement... some people can very quickly become hooked, even if they thought they had a lot of willpower.”
Online websites are designed to be addictive, to draw you in
Gambling and mental health
Gambling and debt can be very destructive for mental health.
Women, in particular, can feel high levels of shame about losses due to negative stereotypes about gambling. They may then be more reluctant to seek help.
Losing large amounts of money and running up debts can put huge pressure on work and family life.
“Mental health problems and money problems often feed off each other, each making the other problem harder to get out of,” says Williams.
“Looking at your bank balance, paying bills by a deadline, and talking to creditors can seem impossible tasks when you’re depressed or anxious. Gambling is toxic in this situation, offering the false hope of a big win to solve all your money worries.”
Women, specifically, can feel high levels of shame about gambling, and may be more reluctant to seek help
Potential for problem gambling
Risk ractors for problem gambling include isolation, boredom and financial distress.
“Big life events and emotional trauma, such as abuse in relationships or the death of a significant other, can be triggers,” says Sweet.
“The majority of people who gamble won’t encounter any issues. However, for those with risk factors, there’s the potential for problems to escalate quickly.”
Anyone who has had problems with gambling in the past, has tendencies towards an addictive personality, or concerns about their willpower, should therefore steer well clear of matched betting.
If you’d like to check whether gambling has already become a problem, try taking this test on the GamCare website.
3 things to do right now...
If you want support with gambling issues, whether your own or someone you’re close to, call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 802 0133. Alternatively, use live chat on the GamCare website.
If you want to stop gambling, sign up for GAMSTOP, which blocks access to your gambling accounts and stops marketing emails and texts. Meanwhile, Gamban software blocks access to all gambling apps and sites across your devices, even where you don’t have accounts. If you contact the National Gambling Helpline, you can get a free licence to use Gamban for a year.
Ask whether your bank or building society can block any gambling transactions using your payment cards.
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Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.
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