Betting on football is a fun way to add excitement to what is, for many, already the most exciting and captivating sport in the world. The chance to put your football knowledge to the test and hopefully take a few quid off the bookies is a great hobby for many. In reality, most punters know that the bookie usually wins. But they are happy to pay a small “fee”, in terms of lost bets, for the chance to land the occasional win – not to mention the extra thrill a bet brings, even when it narrowly loses.
However, other gamblers take their betting far more seriously and view it as a genuine way to make money. There are a very small number of professional gamblers who have the skill and dedication to do this, Brighton owner, Tony Bloom, for one. Bloom has made a fortune through poker, sports betting and now, through the astute transfer business done by the Seagulls, who have made around £180m since 2021/22, at the time of writing.
Whilst the number of punters who can genuinely beat the bookies on a regular basis is tiny, truly minuscule, the quantity of those who think they can do so, is far larger. Those that can outsmart the oddsmakers almost exclusively rely on one thing: their ability to find value bets. In contrast, those that mistakenly think they can beat the bookies, all too often believe that a “system”, “strategy” or “technique” is their route to sipping pina coladas on a Caribbean beach.
But how does any of that tie in with laying the draw? Well, anyone who has spent any length of time at all on a betting forum, or who hangs around with a certain type of person, or in a certain variety of pub/club, has more than likely come across the concept of laying the draw. In this article, we will explain what that means, for those who have simply heard the term but don’t know what it is. Next, we will look at it in more detail, before then considering whether this approach works as a way to beat the bookies and (spoiler alert!) why it doesn’t!
What Does “Laying the Draw” Mean?
Since the advent of betting exchanges around 25 years ago, punters have had the option of not just backing a selection, but also of laying it. In the simplest terms, that means that as well as betting on something to happen, you can bet on it not to. So, if you think a horse definitely won’t win a race, you can lay it and your bet will win as long as any other horse lands the race.
In football terms, you might lay Arsenal to win the league, meaning you’re in the black as long as Man City, Man United, Liverpool or indeed anyone other than Arsenal wins the league. Or, more relevant to the question at hand, you might lay Arsenal in a game against Man City, believing that Arsenal definitely won’t win but that it could be a draw or a City success.
Yet more relevantly, you might decide to lay the draw in such a game. This is basically a bet that Arsenal or City will win the game and it only loses if the match ends with the spoils shared. Those who are football-betting pros will recognise that a betting exchange was not strictly necessary to easily make this wager.
The double chance market bet of Arsenal-Man City would work in exactly the same way. Alternatively, using a technique called dutching, you could simply back both Arsenal and Man City, calculating your stake on each according to the odds so that your outcome overall would be the same whichever side won. Technically, laying the draw is using a betting exchange to bet against that outcome. However, whatever approach you use, be it dutching, laying or anything else, why would betting against the draw be a good idea?
What Is the Laying the Draw Betting Technique?
Laying the draw, sometimes called the LTD method, is a loose system or betting technique that has – unsurprisingly – laying the draw at its heart. Betting against the match being a stalemate is the starting point of this approach, though there are variations after this as the “technique” has developed and evolved. Indeed, the most basic approach of all is simply to lay the draw … full stop! Of course, sadly things are not so easy as just picking one outcome, backing or laying it every time, and somehow winning. Let’s take a look, however, at what would happen if you had blindly bet against the draw in every top-flight game of an English season.
All odds are fluid but lay odds at the exchanges are especially volatile, so it is harder to get accurate data about the prices. However, if we take a look at dutching against the draw – so backing both the home and away wins – in every Premier League game during the 2022/23 season, we can get a rough idea of what would happen. You would have lost 28.86 units, meaning that if you had tried this approach in all 380 games that year with a liability of £10 per match, you would have lost £288.60.
Flat Stakes Can’t Beat the House Edge
Your total stake (in terms of liability) would have been £3,800, meaning you would have lost around 7.6% of your money. This is unsurprising to anyone who understands how bookmakers factor in an overround when they create their odds. This is essentially a margin and works in a similar way to a casino’s odds for a game like roulette.
In roulette, the casino pays 35/1 for a single number, which means you get £36 back from a £1 bet that wins. However, the wheel has 36 numbers and a zero as well, so to be “fair”, the casino should really pay 36/1. This house edge, or overround, or profit margin, means that on average, the bookie, or casino, always wins. So if you opted to bet on every single number at roulette you would make 37 £1 bets and be guaranteed £36 back. That £1 loss from a £37 state equates to a 2.7% loss and this is the house edge on roulette.
If you simply pick any single outcome and just back it come what may, barring an extremely rare sequence of events, you will lose a figure roughly equivalent to the bookmaker’s profit margin. That said, the LTD technique is based on using a betting exchange. Exchanges do not have an overround but instead act as third-party facilitators of bets, charging a small fee for their services. In theory this results in better odds for punters and so the margin created by the fee could be less than dutching with bookies.
Of course, in theory, it is possible a whole Premier League season could pass without a single draw. If this was to ever happen, anyone just laying the draw every game would be quids in, irrespective of overrounds or exchange fees. Indeed, even if there were just far fewer draws than normal they would be well up.
How Often Do Games End in a Draw?
Of course, this rather begs the question of how often games end in a draw. Stats vary over time and depending on which competition we look at. For the sake of simplicity we will focus on recent seasons of the Premier League, not least because this is among the most wagered-on leagues in the world. The first round of games in the 2023/24 campaign saw three draws, so 30%, but full figures for previous seasons are shown below.
As we can see, over the five seasons mentioned around 22% (on average) of PL games ended with the scores level. Laying the draw would therefore be a winning bet about 78% of the time, which sounds good until you look at the odds. As a very broad generalisation, one might expect to lay the draw at odds of 4.8 at a betting exchange (they use decimal odds and this equates to 19/5). Often it is lower but sometimes it is much higher so that is a reasonable average to use.
To risk £10 per game at those prices would mean a lay stake of £2.63 (exact liability £9.99). If the game was drawn, you would lose £9.99, whilst if either team won, you would win £2.63 which, after commission (exchanges charge commission on winning bets at a standard rate of 5%) would yield £2.49. Let us imagine that there were slightly fewer draws than normal, with stalemates occurring 20% of the time.
This would mean that you win your bet 80% of the time, or have four out of five wagers be successful. So four times you would £2.49 and once you would lose £9.99: overall result, a loss of 3p! In reality, you would lose more, however, because in four of the five PL seasons we looked at the draw rate was over 20%.
If we look at a much, much bigger sample, and there are various analyses that consider thousands, or even tens of thousands of games, then the figure for draws is often closer to 25% and sometimes even higher. In fact, even if we look back further into PL draw stats, let alone those from other top football leagues, we can see this.
Our PL table above stops at 2018/19 but if we go back to the start of the decade, we see the following numbers for the seasons ending:
- 2018 – 99 draws, 26.05%
- 2017 – 84 draws, 22.10%
- 2016 – 107 draws, 28.15%
- 2015 – 93 draws, 24.47%
- 2014 – 78 draws, 20.52%
- 2013 – 108 draws, 28.42%
- 2012 – 93 draws, 24.47%
- 2011 – 111 draws, 29.21%
The average over the years in the list above was far higher at 25.42%. This means that now, instead of one in five bets losing, one in four bets does, with just three in four, rather than four in five, winning. Using the same average odds would mean that the loss is now £2.52, a substantial deficit is a percentage of the total risked.
Lay the Draw Strategy
All this said, there are few (if any) websites, betting “experts”, shysters or pundits simply recommending punters lay the draw in every game, without any other consideration. It should be noted also, that the stats above are a blunt tool at best: the figure for average odds is estimated, whilst the overall outcome would not be determined by average odds in any case, but by the actual prices in the games that ended up as a draw.
The simplest LTD strategy involves picking your games wisely. Different proponents of the technique will offer different tips though in general, none offer what we would consider the most obvious: to try and lay the draw at a price lower than it “should” be. Finding a value bet when backing selections is key, and with a normal back bet you want the odds to be higher than the probabilities would suggest in order to find value.
However, with a lay bet, if the odds are lower than you think is fair, then that is a value selection. If you could consistently and accurately lay bets at lower odds you would be onto a winner. But as far as we are aware, no proponents of LTD suggest this. Instead, you may find the following suggestions, some of which are more valid than others:
- Bet on Matches with No Clear Favourite – This is advised because such games will have high odds on the draw, meaning a bigger liability and a larger loss if your bet loses. Some sites also suggest this should be avoided because the underdog is likely to sit back and defend.
- Look for Matches with Lots of Goals – Games with more goals tend to see fewer draws, with 0-0 and 1-1 the most common stalemate scores. If both sides are attacking teams that score a lot of goals, the draw becomes less likely.
- High Liquidity – This is more relevant with more advanced techniques but really, when placing any bet with an exchange, you need decent liquidity to get the best odds. This is especially important if you are intending to trade in-play, as games typically have far less liquidity after kick-off.
Lay the Draw & Trade Out After a Goal
If you are simply intending to lay the draw and let that bet ride, you are fundamentally just making a wager on the outcome of the game. It is hard to really paint this as any sort of advanced tactic, technique or strategy. However, most advocates of LTD add a layer of extra complexity to this so-called system.
The first idea is that you lay the draw before the game begins and then cash out, or eliminate any danger of a loss, as soon as a goal is scored. Around 8% of matches end 0-0 and so in theory you might hope to win 92% of the time. Let us imagine the aforementioned game between Man City and Arsenal and that it reaches stoppage time in the second half without a goal.
You may bet against the draw at relatively low odds – the two teams being reasonably evenly matched – of perhaps 3.6. In the 92nd minute, up pops Erling Haaland with a goal and the draw now jumps out to perhaps 11.5 (the odds would depend on the nature of the clash and how many minutes of injury had been indicated). You can now back the draw at much higher odds than you had placed the lay bet and thus lock in a certain win – or just cash out.
The later the first goal of the game comes, the better your chance of clearing a tidy some as there little chance for the other club to hit back. On the flip side of that, you face a nervy wait, knowing that you must either let your initial lay wager ride and risk losing everything, or take a guaranteed loss later on by cashing out.
There are other risks too though, aside from the match ending 0-0. If the underdog scores first, anything other than a very late goal might only serve to make a draw more likely, as the favourite is fancied to hit back. Moreover, a very early goal, even for the favourite, might not shift the dial on the draw odds all that much.
With this strategy, should a game end 0-0 you lose your full liability. As you are laying a bet at odds of, perhaps, 3/1, you already stand to lose considerably more than you might win. At 3/1, or 4.0, a £10 stake will bring you £9.50 after commission but cost you £30 if the match finishes 0-0. That’s fine, given you are expecting to win 92% of the time, but few, if any, of those 92% of wins will deliver you the full £9.50.
Should you lay the draw at 4.0, even a late goal that allows you to back it at 10 (or 9/1), would only result in a £5.70 win overall. However, a relatively early goal might only see the odds drift out to 5.5, allowing for a win of £2.59. At that rate, 92 wins would bring in £238, with your eight losses costing you £240. It certainly doesn’t sound like a foolproof system to us.
Alternative Lay the Draw Techniques
There is almost no limit to the variations to this approach as different punters have tweaked and modified LTD in a range of ways. Some will advocate waiting for the game to start before placing your initial lay bet. This way you can see how the game is developing and perhaps give it a miss if there are few chances and little attacking play. Alternatively, if it starts brightly you may decide this is a great chance to get your lay on just before a goal is scored – you hope.
This approach is often suggested with teams who are known to score lots of late goals. Late goals are best as they have the most dramatic impact on the odds. Alternatively, if you know a side tends to score a lot of goals just before the break, you might decide to wait till the half hour mark, hoping the game is 0-0. At that stage, you should be able to lay the draw at a lower price and if your prediction is correct you will soon be able to cash out your bet for a nice win.
Lay the First or Second Half Draw
A simple twist on LTD is to only focus on either the first or second half. If you lay the draw in the first half your potential risk is lower, as even when there is a warm favourite the draw odds for the first 45 minutes do not go that much higher than evens. For most games in the PL you would be looking at a price around 5/4 (2.25) to 2/1 (3.00), although where there is a really big favourite in the match odds the draw may stretch to almost 5/2 (3.50).
The flip side to that is that a draw is more likely at half time, with a far higher percentage of games 0-0 at the break than are still scoreless at full time. If you want to lay the draw in the second half there is no specific market for that but you can just wait until half time and make your wager then.
Those that use this approach typically only lay the draw in the second half if the scores are level at the break. This usually means the price for the draw has dropped, especially if the game is 0-0. Once again, this reduces your risk but increases the chance of the draw actually landing.
Back 0-0/1-1 as Well
Another variation on this technique, and certainly the most complex, involves laying the draw and also backing the 0-0 and/or the 1-1 correct score. This offers some insurance against the match ending as a draw (though is not, of course, total, as you might only back 0-0 and the game could end 1-1, or you might back both and witness a 2-2, 3-3 or even a 4-4 thriller).
If you opt for just backing 0-0, you would tend to focus on very low-scoring leagues and games, whilst if you just bet on 1-1 you would be looking for games where goals were far more probable. In either scenario things become more complex as you have multiple options. For example, if you had backed 1-1, after the first goal you could potentially cash out both bets – the initial lay of the draw, and the bet on it ending 1-1, and possibly make cash on both.
Conclusion: Does LTD Work?
Laying the draw is a popular strategy but like many betting “techniques” it is oversold, underperforms and does not tackle the simplest problem a punter has to overcome: the house edge. At an exchange the edge can be assumed to be very low, as there is no middleman, but you are still paying commission. What’s more, if the draw is 4.1 to back at an exchange, and 4.2 to lay (as the increments available at that price are 0.1), the real, true odds on a draw might be assumed to be 4.15. So in laying at 4.2, you are already losing a little value, even before the commission on a winning wager is factored in.
Many theories such as this appeal because they seem to be backed by solid logic. The Martingale betting system in roulette is the most obvious example. As with Martingale, the tactic of laying the draw may well deliver a series of small wins but these will be wiped out and then some by a larger loss, or even run of losses.
With your liability always larger than your potential win, just one game ending 0-0 will see several wins cancelled out. And if you back the 0-0, 1-1, or even both, then either those stakes will outweigh your win from the initial draw bet, or if you seek to let all wagers stand, a 2-2 draw will do likewise.
Ultimately, no system, technique, tactic or staking plan can turn a bad bet into a good one. And by “bad bet”, we mean one that is lacking in value. Laying the draw offers superficial appeal but with some form of margin applied to all bets, either through commission, the bookmaker’s overround, or the spread of the odds, it will not work – unless there is value in the bets in the first place.