On the face of it, a free horse racing bet is potentially free money. You don’t have to put any of your own money down, so if your horse wins, it is 100% profit. If your horse loses, on the other hand then you don’t personally lose anything. You’ve literally nothing to lose and everything to win.
The real question then is not whether to take up a free bet offer but how best to use your free bet. Do you play it safe to get as close to a guaranteed win as possible, or go for longer odds, hoping for a bigger payout if the gamble comes off? There is something to be said for both approaches as well as a range of factors to be borne in mind before deciding how to use your free horse racing bet.
The nature of free bets
Most UK bookmakers offer free bets, usually as an incentive to new customers: in return for signing up, you will get a free bet or bets up to a specified financial value. However, you will often be required to place a paid bet or deposit money in your account before qualifying for the free bet offer.
Free bets can be used at most horse-racing events, including major fixtures like the Cheltenham Festival. Cheltenham free bet offers are available for varying amounts and with different terms and conditions. It’s worth reading through the small print to make sure that a free bet is worthwhile, especially if you already have an idea of how you want to use it.
A free bet doesn’t mean that it won’t cost you any money, as often a paid bet is required to activate the offer. Bear this in mind when deciding whether it is worthwhile. You may not be able to claim your winnings right away and you might be required to reinvest it by betting again.
These wagering requirements are known as playthrough or rollover. You have to make a certain number of additional bets, or bets to a particular value before you can withdraw any winnings. You may, of course, end up winning much more, doubling or trebling your initial win, but you could equally see it quickly frittered away.
A safe bet
If you get a free horse racing bet, then the best idea may seem to be to put it on the favourite. As free bets are often part of sign-up offers, they are generally aimed at new punters who may not have much experience or knowledge of betting on races. Going for a safe bet like the favourite gives you the best chance of winning.
The drawback is that your free bet won’t be worth much and a low odds bet won’t pay out a huge amount if you win. £5 is a typical value for a free bet, so a 3/1 win would get you just £15. Still, it’s money for nothing, and if you don’t want to spend time studying form, etc., then it may be the best way to go.
A bigger risk
Backing a horse with longer odds will undoubtedly make your free bet more lucrative if successful, but the chances of winning at all are not as good. Remember though that because it’s a free bet you aren’t taking a risk. If you lose, you haven’t really lost anything. If you win, a £5 bet at 12/1 could bring £60. That’s got to be worth trying for, especially if you have a knack for studying form or have psychic abilities!
A popular tactic is to use your free bet to place a wager on a horse to win and then to bet against that horse on a betting exchange site. There, punters bet against each other rather than a bookie, and you can take a for or against position on any outcome. This is known as a matching bet. The idea is that you should make a profit whether your horse wins or not as you’ve hedged your bets.
While bet matching can be very effective, there are many factors to consider. You need to compare the odds offered on both your bets, how much money you need to put down in the first place and so on. It’s also easy to make mistakes and so mess up your “guaranteed” profit, which in any case will probably only be small. To make big money placing matching bets you have to put in time and effort and treat it like a regular job or a long-term investment.
Ultimately the best use of a free bet may be to use it for a wager you were going to make anyway. If you don’t have one in mind then backing the favourite may get you some extra cash, while long odds could lead to a serious payout if you’re lucky. In the end, it depends on your temperament, but one thing’s for sure, you should never look a gift horse in the mouth!