An age-old strategy in all forms of betting is punters simply betting on the favourite each time. It’s an easy way to bet as, given that the bookies have them as the lowest price they think they have the best price of winning, right?
Well, as ever with sports betting, it’s not quite as black and white.
Interestingly, when we set out to do any of these articles we obviously do as much research as we can. We look at dozens of different sources, obviously apply our own knowledge and also look to see if there are any patterns in the numbers that we manage to find.
What was apparent from researching this article was that there was no clear answer. For every argument for backing the favourite, there was a counter argument against. For each article that we read stating numbers and showing patterns of data, we could find sets that countered them.
So, to answer the question early in the piece, it depends. But let’s explain why.
Why Do Punters Bet on the Favourite?
There are actually some good reasons why many people back the favourite and only the favourite. You need to remember that they aren’t backing the favourite of every race or football match, they are simply waiting to find games where the favourite is offering good value.
A popular study that has done the rounds online worked out that in horse racing, if you backed the favourite every time, then you lose at a rate of 5.5%. This means that for every £1 you invested you would lose 5.5p.
This might sound quite alarming, but the study then went on to state that if you backed horses that were priced between 4.00 and 16.00, you would lose at a rate of 18%, more than three times more than backing the favourite.
What we can take from this is that backing the favourite will give us a slower loss than backing longer odds, at least in horse racing. Sounds a bit dramatic, right? Well, we have to assume that you realise the bookmaker is always going to make money, so the bigger picture will generally show a loss over time. You need to be the one that offsets it as best you can, which is likely why you’re reading this article anyway.
Risk vs Reward
Betting is often about risk and reward. Some punters will only back short priced favourites, whereas others are looking to hit that accumulator bet of 1000/1 that could change their life. It’s one of the great things about betting; you can plat at your own rate.
Betting on the favourite is a lot like weighing up the risks and the rewards. Betting on the favourite is never really going to be a bad bet. The bookies think they are most likely to win, why should you disagree?
A lot of this then comes down to the fact if you want to risk your money for the rewards on the table. A bet of 1.30 means that for every £100 you bet; you will get £30 back in your successful. That’s not bad, probably pays for a quick bite to eat.
But, a £100 bet is quite a lot to most bettors. If we went lower and said even a £20 bet on this then returns just £6. That doesn’t get you much these days so it’s likely most wont bet on this.
However, the two bets are the same. There’s no difference in the team or the result they are betting on, so why should that matter come the decision to place the bet or not?
There are always teams or bets in sport where even odds of 1.30 are good value when you remove the money aspect and just work on their implied probability.
You could look at a horse like Frankel for example, who will go down as one of the greats. Frankel won 14 from 14 races and from all but one of those races went off as an odds-on favourite. In fact, in his last 4 races he was priced at just 1.10, 1.05, 1.20 and 1.10. If you’d bet the same amount on each of those races you’d have and ROI of 43.18%.
When you look at odds, the rewards seem low, but in fact, if someone said to you, I can almost guarantee that you can get a 43.18% ROI from just 4 bets, you’d snap their hands off. When you crunch the numbers, even if they are highly unappealing from the outside, they can still offer great rewards for relatively low risk.
The amount you stake is going to play a big role here. A £1,000 stake at 1.50 gets a £500 return. A £10 bet makes just £5. Whilst it’s hard to remove the number from this, it’s important that you do so to make better decisions if to back the favourite or not.
Assessing the Favourite’s Chances
One of the best ways to tackle the favourite is to not even class the pick as the favourite and instead work out the implied probability of that result. For those that don’t know, implied probability is the percentage of the odds rather the odds. So, an even money bet would have a 50% implied probability as they should win as often as they lose.
This can start to take away some of the blinkers that people often have with short priced favourites. We aren’t saying that you have to start backing them at short prices, but you need to be able to understand why they are the price that they are.
Working out the chances each has can be done easily with implied probability. You can then use a odds calculator to convert the probability into odds and then compare that with the odds that the bookmaker has.
For help with implied probability and building your own odds, check out our article on how betting margins are calculated where we cover this in detail.
Short Prices Don’t Necessarily Mean Lack of Value
Assuming that short price favourites lack value is one of the biggest mistakes that we see from bettors. Just because they are short priced, does not mean they are not good value.
Let’s take the New Zealand rugby team as an example what we mean by this. They recently played a Test Match v Japan where they were priced at just 1.15 to win that match. This gave them an implied probability of 87%.
Since rugby went professional in 1996 the All Blacks have never lost a game to any country outside of the top 6. Ever.
If you were to set an implied probability for the match, would you really be giving Japan around a 10% chance of beating them (assuming 3 for the draw, which are very rare in rugby)? A 1 in 10 shot for something that has never happened previously.
When you put it like that, all of a sudden 1.15 looks really good value. As soon as you remove the price and the return and change it back to implied probability, then short priced favourites start to make sense.
Should We Bet on Favourites?
There are lots of theories and numbers floated around online (and in this article) about whether backing the favourite is worth it or not.
The fact of the matter is that the favourite, in that sense, is irrelevant. You need to take into account the odds on offer and the chance that you think they have of winning the game or the race or whatever scenario you are betting in.
If you think that the return is not enough when they are short priced, then fair enough. Move on, find another bet.
But you can’t say that the price on offer doesn’t give value because it’s short. You need to assess each bet with each market and then find out if betting on the favourite is worth it or not.
If you’re wondering if it’s simply worth blindly betting on the favourite each time, then the answer is no. You need to research each bet and then go from there. Like we said earlier, betting on the favourite each time without research will be a slow decline in returns, but a decline none the less.