When are Specials really Special?

Roughly a decade ago, yours truly was working as an odds compiler for Paddy Powers at a time when “Special Offers” were a relatively new invention. Each one was a big deal and very often the fate of the special offer had a big bearing on the company’s profitability each weekend. However as the marketplace became more crowded, other bookmakers started following the trend and we have now arrived at a stage where special offers are taken for granted.

Equally, as more and more punters have become aware of the existence of special offers, the mathematics behind them has been studied in greater detail and any bookie offering real value will see takers very quick. Which of course begs the question – what constitutes real value?

The first aspect to be assessed is the percentage chance of the offer kicking in. If it’s a refund offer with a 10% chance of applying, then it’s roughly the same as getting a 10% discount on your bet. If you’re betting on a market where there is less than 110% overround, then you’re quids in. If you’re betting on something like first goalscorer, where the overround is 130% or even more, then the bookie still expects to make a profit on the bet. Equally, this explains why bonuses on Lucky 15 bets have begun to be phased out, and we’re going to use those bets as an explanation tool for our line of thinking. Shops that retained the special offer of treble the odds one winner on a lucky 15 bet got plenty of business, but it was the wrong kind of business from the bookies’ perspective. Punters quickly learned that the probability of exactly one winner peaked when the horse in question was around a 25% chance in real terms. If we do the maths on that, assuming a 10% profit margin for the bookies on each race, we reveal how hard it hurt their margin.

Margin on the bet (weighted average of each of the 15 bets)

(4/15*10%) +(6/15*21%) +(4/15*32%) +(1/15*43%) =22% approximately.

However there was a 42% chance of the special offer kicking in, which at 3/1, meant that instead of getting back four units, the punter got back ten units. To put it another way, there was a 42% chance of the punter getting an extra 6 units, or 40% of his total stake. That reduced the overall margin by 17%, leaving only 5% for the bookie – margin which was easily eaten up by the punter taking the horses that were best price, or by bad each way selections, or by backing a market mover.

For a brief period, your writer also worked as a consultant to a chain of independent bookmakers. They owned one shop in the North West of Ireland that paid out four times the odds on one winner in a Lucky 15 for legacy reasons. Over 50% of the shop’s turnover was on Lucky 15 bets – unsurprisingly. The shop is now closed – unsurprisingly.

What all this has meant is that while special offers still exist, bookmakers have had to look at them very closely and crunch the numbers to make sure they don’t expose themselves to the kind of vultures that descended on the aforementioned shop in the North West. In turn, as a punter, your responsibility is to act like a vulture, and to know the difference between a special that gives you the edge, and one that still leaves plenty of juice for the bookie. And over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be looking at plenty of those situations here in the Betting School section of BetPreviews.com. And as always, if you’ve any queries, questions or comments, don’t be shy to use the comment function below and we’ll be happy to shed further light on the topic.

About Kevin Egan 130 Articles
Kevin Egan is one of Ireland's leading GAA tipsters. He has previously served as GAA odds compiler for a number of major bookmakers.

4 Comments on When are Specials really Special?

  1. Hi Kevin,

    Good article. In terms of sports, what do you think are the best kind of ‘Special Offers’ to look out for?

    I don’t tend to pay much heed to them as I see them as a marketing ploy for the bookie to attract ‘mug’ punters. Also the specials tend to apply to high margin markets like 1st/Last scorer, correct score as opposed to match odds.

    I’ve just had a look at some of the major online bookies websites and here are some of the current ones.

    – Money back if Suarez or Tevez score last (applies to 1st scorer, last scorer, correct score and scorecast markets)

    – If Peter Crouch scores the first or last goal in the Premier League match between Stoke and Arsenal, we will refund losing first goalscorer bets

    These money back specials are tough to land!

    What do you think of bonuses on accumulators such as the one shown on here for bet365
    I know that accas are tough to land and are very high margin but the bonus could negate that?

    Anyway would be good to get your thoughts.



    • Hi Colin,

      Good question, and I’ll actually deal with this in a blog post later in the week. In general the bookies will have done their sums, but sometimes there may be value. I’ll crunch some numbers and deal with this issue before the weekend.



  2. Hi Kevin,

    There is a couple of offers around local bookies that I would be interested in you covering from a maths point of view.

    One bookie offers money back on second to the fav in any race of 5 runners or more, with an SP of 3/1 or greater. Surely if you isolated all 5 runner races with roughly odds of 1/3 Fav, 3/1 2F, and 20/1 bar you would be guaranteed to win over time by backing the 2f?

    In general you would do well also by backing any horse in a field hovering at just above the 3/1 mark where there is also an odds on fav??

    Also, a bookie offers cash back if your horse is second too any horse in virtual racing. I dont know what kinda overrounds virtuals work off but I presume its about 120%, but surely backing any virtual horse between even money and 6/4 would mean you would finish up over time by virtue of the money backs you would get?

    • Hi Sam,

      Thanks for getting in touch. Some viewers of the site don’t look at old posts, and you’ve raised some very good questions there. I will deal with them now, so expect a new post in the next hour or so!

      Thanks again,


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