By this stage, I was already about £180 up on the whole thing, and the offer of a hundred quid (after deductions, calculating for matched bets, commission etc. probably closer to £70) seemed like too good a deal to pass up.
But there was a little note in the sign-up promo that made me a little bit wary: in those condition on the advert, it says 6) withdrawal limitations.
This is an example of one of those offers with "play through" commitments. They don't want to just give away free bets - if you happen to get lucky and hit a winner, they want the opportunity to win it back from you! Like one of those annoying card players who, after losing five games in a row, insist on "double or quits" as a way of getting everything back with just one lucky break.
Still, it's a free money offer.
Maybe I should have gone for the full hundred, but I felt more comfortable taking just half of the available cash. So I deposited £50 and stuck it on a nag called Royal McNab:
Betway: £50 Royal McNab 13:40 Musselbrugh @ 11/4 (3.75 decimal odds)
Smarkets: £48.96 against Royal McNab @ 3.85
I was immediately given a £50 bonus, so stuck that on a draw for the up-and-coming Liverpool v Middlesbrough game at the weekend.
Betway: £50 Liverpool v Middlesbrough Draw result @ 16/5 (4.2 decimal odds)
Betfair: £41 against the draw @ 4.4
This is an example of underlaying the bet.
With almost all matched betting, you want your bets to lose at the bookies, and the money to appear in the exchange (so it's immediately available to use on another offer - if it wins at the bookies, you have to wait for the money to be withdrawn and given back to you, then take it from your account and put it back into the exchange).
With BetWay, they have a x3 wagering requirement.
Simply put, this means that if the bet wins at the bookies, I can't just withdraw the winnings. They want me to bet three times the combined total of the deposit + bonus.
i.e. if I want to withdraw the cash, I have to have bet a total of £300 after the initial deposit.
If ever there was a time I wanted the bet to lose at the bookies, and win at the exchange, this was it! As a result, I under-laid the Liverpool half of the bet: if the bet won at the bookies, I'd get my £50 back, and lose only £40 to the exchange. So I'd actually be £10 up, instead of breaking even. That's what I'd "pay myself" for having to complete further bets. But if the bet lost at the bookies, and won at the exchange, I'd happily take just £40 instead of £50, to avoid the hassle of having to place any more bets.
Which made it doubly-gutting, when I checked my Smarkets account after the race and saw this:
The bloody nag had won. And, after a couple of other winning bets at other bookies (I was doing multiple sign-up offers at the same time) I'd pretty much wiped out my Smarkets account. It was all but empty!
It was only little consolation that I now had £187.50 in my BetWay account. Unlike Ladbrokes, StanJames et al, I couldn't just ask for the money to be withdrawn. To get this cash out, I had to place a further £300 in bets (unless I could miraculously keep picking losing bets until the balance was down to zero).
The problem with having such a large amount in the bookies is two-fold. Firstly, I need to do a lot of matched betting to get the money out. And secondly, I need a massive amount in Betfair to lay the bets off (bet against the same result). As I had only a modest amount in Betfair (with multiple other bets on the go at the same time, my Betfair account fluctuates wildly throughout the day) I had to place a bet with rather lower odds than I would have liked.
To ensure I had enough in Betfair to cover the lay bet, I went with:
BetWay: £100 on General Hazard @ 5/4 (2.25 decimal odds)
Betfair: £100.90 against General Hazard @ 2.28
Here's where the problem gets compounded - with such low odds, the chance of General Hazard winning is actually pretty high; which means it's actually quite likely that the balance in BetWay will go up again, and the Betfair balance will take a battering too!
Whichever way it goes, if I want to get the money out of BetWay, I need to complete £300 worth of bets. At least this would be a third of the total betting requirement out of the way. Another win, however, and it's quite possible that I'll be lucky to get out of this promotional offer with any of the free bet money left!
Despite being the favourite, General Hazard lost by a length.
So I now had £87.50 left in the BetWay account, I'd bet £100 of my required £300 wagering requirement and was considering trying to "lose" the remaining £87.50 from BetWay into the exchange. If I did manage to pick another loser, my BetWay account would be empty, and I'd be finished. If I picked a winner, at least I'd be £185 through my wagering requirements, leaving just £125 left to bet (out of any potential winnings) before I could make a withdrawal.
Getting a bit impatient, I looked at the next available horse race, and went for:
Betway: £87.50 on FiveToEight in the 16;05 at Kempton @ 2/1 (decimal odds 3.0)
Betfair: £83.34 against FiveToEight @ 3.15
Once again I'd picked a favourite, but the odds on second-favourite RippOrf were falling all the time. Of course, this didn't mean I was any more or less likely to be onto a winner - but it was encouraging that maybe I'd gone with an early favourite and the "clever money" was coming in on the actual winner (whoever suggested horse racing was fixed and that some people knew the result of the race before the off? Not me).
With my BetWay account down to zero, and my Betfair account not much higher than that, all I had to do was sit and wait for the result.....
I put the race on the computer (most betting websites let you watch the race after you've put a bet on) and was cheered to see the favourite losing ground to Island Cloud and second favourite RippOrf making a late run for the line on the outside. But - disappointingly - my stupid horse held them both off and crossed the line in first place.
Now I had £262.50 in the BetWay account and my Betfair balance was down to just a few hundred quid. I still hadn't completed the wagering requirements to make a withdrawal from BetWay, and I had to plan carefully now - one more "bad choice" and I could end up with several hundreds of pounds in BetWay, and nothing in either betting exchange, making further betting all but impossible.
At this stage, all other betting had to stop, as I concentrated on getting my Betfair balance back up again (as a last resort, I could make another deposit, but it's something I really wanted to avoid doing unless I absolutely had to!)
What utter terrible luck -from just a £50 deposit, I now had a balance of £262.50. For many people, this would be what's known as "a result". But because I'd also bet against these outcomes on Betfair, my exchange balance was almost zero, and I hadn't yet placed enough bets with BetWay to ask for my winnings!
Just half an hour before, I was considering how to maximise profits with lay bets on the exchange, and getting my BetWay account down to zero. Now, I had £262.50 in the account and needed to find a way of completing the wagering requirements, in order to simply extract the remaining cash to my bank account.
As I was about to lump another hundred quid onto a nag, I double-checked the terms and conditions of the promotional offer with the support team via online chat. It turns out, I'd already bet a total of:
£50 (sign up bet) Royal McNab
+ £50 (free bet) Liverpool/Middlesbrough draw
+ £100 (General Hazard)
+ £87.50 (FiveTwoEight)
for a grand total of £287.50!
It's scary just how quickly you can burn through hundreds and hundreds of pounds in betting when you're doing this matched betting lark! Anyway, support chat confirmed that I needed only to wager another £12.50 and that'd be the £300 total wagering requirements completed.
Having already had problems with William Hill being difficult about refunding cash, I thought it best to play up to the image of "lucky mug punter" and stuck £20 on Al Sail at the 16:40 in Kempton at 4/1.
BetWay: £20 Al Sail 16:40 Kempton @ 5.0
Betfair: £18.52 @ 5.4
As it happened, Al Sail finished a miserable third place.
Which leave £242.50 in my BetWay account, and the Liverpool v Middlesbrough draw result bet still to resolve. All being well, that'll be a loser too and put nearly £140 back into my Betfair account; but even if it wins (and perhaps I should hope it does, as I under-laid the bet) I've already completed the wagering requirements that BetWay insist on before making a withdrawal.
There's still one caveat before I can get my hands on the money - and that's BetWay check for "irregular betting patterns" before they pay out. Which is why I stuck to unfavourable horse races, rather than scouring the betting markets looking for better matches, trying to extract the maximum value from each bet. Hopefully, when I put in the withdrawal request, they'll see a few horse races and a footy match, and conclude I'm just a lucky "mug" punter and pay out with little fuss.
All I need to do now is wait for the Liverpool/Middlesbrough game to complete and see how much I'll be asking to withdraw. Come on you Reds. Only 45 minutes to go....
EDIT: one day later.
Well, Liverpool gave Middlesbrough a bit of a spanking. So my "draw" bet lost (at BetWay).
My final balance in Betway was £242.50. As I'd already completed the wagering requirements (bet a total of more than £300) I put in a request for the full amount to be withdrawn.
Trying to work out the returns on this one wasn't quite so easy:
Royal McBloodyNab "lost" me £139.57 of my Smarkets balance.
At the same time, my BetWay balance went up to £187.50.
Given that £50 of that was mine in the first place, after my qualifying bet, I was 187.50 - 50 - 139.57 = £2.07 down
My free £50 went on a draw and lost - I under-laid this bet, and it won £41 at Betfair (there was no loss at the bookies, as it was my free bet/bonus cash amount).
I then "lost" £100 of my BetWay balance (General Hazard) and gained £100.90 in my Betfair account (£95.85 after commission, so a £4.15 loss)
I tried to lose the remaining £87.50 by putting it all on FiveToEight but it won, meaning my lay bet of £179.18 lost at Betfair (although I did win 262.50 - 87.50 = £175 at BetWay). Another 179.18 - 175 = £4.18 loss.
To complete the wagering requirements, I stuck twenty quid on Al Sail and it lost - increasing my Betfair account by £18.52 (£17.59 after commission, another £2.41 loss).
So all in all, total profit for this promotion was 41.00 - 2.07 - 4.15 - 4.18 - 2.41 = £28.19
Given that the initial offer was for up to £100 matched, and I bottled it (although, given the number of times I won and how much I would have ended up having to bet to complete the wagering requirements, maybe no bad thing) the promotion was worth an absolute maximum of £50.
Although some people might be dismayed that I only achieved a 28.19/50*100 = 57% return, it was still nearly thirty quid for a total of about an hour or so actual work. More importantly than that, as far as "betting to pay for Xmas dinner" went, that's the cheese and biscuits paid for......