Date: 25th October 2017
The Betfair Exchange allows gamblers to bet against each other rather than against a bookmaker. This differentiates them from traditional betting shops and bookmakers as the betting exchange allows the user to act as the bookie by setting the odds for an event or the customer who bets using the odds set by the other user.
Whereas traditional bookmakers accept the risk of going head-to-head in various bets with gamblers, the business of a betting exchange does not involve any risk. The exchange simply provides the technology that pairs gamblers together in order for bets to take place, and takes a commission from the net winnings that result.
The introduction of betting exchanges opened up a vastly expanded range of betting options for gamblers, simply because people are willing to back bets that risk-averse bookmakers would not. The technology of betting exchanges allows users to instantly discover the people and the odds they are looking for in order to place the bets they want.
Other key differences in using a betting exchange is the option of lay betting, or backing a selection to lose. If a betting exchange can find someone willing to put a bet on the selection you wish to put a lay bet on, then your bet can take place.
Crucially, the prices at a betting exchange are determined by a free market, rather than being set by a bookmaker.
The emergence of online betting exchanges has caused a seismic shift in the way people gamble all over the world, creating exciting opportunities for gamblers who could never have existed before new technology was utilised in this way.
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Perhaps unsurprisingly, betting exchanges have proved to be hugely popular with gamblers who seek a broader range of betting options and a wider variety of odds.
While there are many who prefer the traditional, favourite/long-shot style of bookmaking, and are happy to bet against a bookie in an attempt to overcome the odds and win, a 'new breed' of gambler has grown as the popularity of betting exchanges has spread around the world.
The role of Betfair in the rise of betting exchanges has been crucial. Dubbed "the greatest success story in the history of gambling", given its meteoric rise in what seemed like an unfeasibly short space of time, Betfair is now one of the most visited, most talked about betting sites in the world.
By allowing online gamblers to place lay bets for the first time, Betfair caused ripples that were felt throughout the gambling world, with bookmakers everywhere being forced to re-assess the way they operate in order to respond to the new proposition that had been made available to their customers.
Seemingly everyone connected to the world of gambling has an opinion on the rise of Betfair and other betting exchanges, for the simple reason that they have reshaped the industry.
Whilst thousands upon thousands of gamblers and commentators alike have embraced the new landscape of betting that Betfair has helped to bring about, there are still those who cling to the memory of a time before online betting was bigger than high street betting, and the idea of a betting exchange seemed a far-flung prospect.
But the evolution of betting exchanges and the online betting industry as a whole continues apace.
The history of the betting market had been built around the 'favourite/long-shot' bias. Bookmakers were traditionally risk averse, and they typically knew a lot more about the markets they offered than the punters betting on them.
But the betting exchange changed all that. For the first time, anyone wishing to place a bet could carefully identify misperceptions of probability, and then benefit by removing or mitigating those misperceptions.
In simple terms, the betting exchange offered betting without bookies. Rather than being limited to the odds offered by bookmakers, and being limited to making only 'place bets' that backed a winner of an event, betting exchanges allowed punters to go head-to-head against each other and create their own markets.
The launch of the exchange meant that, for the first time, if you could find someone willing to bet against something that you were willing to back, then the exchange facilitated the market and allowed your bet to take place.
For over 15 years, customers have been doing just that. Week in, week out, across all manner of sporting events, visitors to online betting exchanges have been posting their own odds and the amount of money they are willing to accept in wagers. Other customers then bet on the market at the posted price, and the bets are matched.
Betfair brought a refreshing change from traditional bookmakers, which often left customers feeling as though their chances of success were low, and they were betting against a giant, faceless fountain of knowledge that could not be defeated.
The Betfair forum was testament to the vibrant culture that quickly sprung up around the site. Customers experienced a spirit of camaraderie, which only grew stronger when some traditional bookmakers spoke out against the rise of Betfair.
When any industry is shaken up by a dazzling new idea, there is bound to be a reaction. When that industry is as large and widespread as the betting industry is, the reaction is like an earthquake.
From its very earliest days, betting exchanges have been met with questions and doubts, mainly from bookmakers who aren't able to offer a competitive range of betting options and flexibility to their customers since the likes of Betfair arrived on the scene.
Betfair has always dealt with these questions in an open, transparent way, in keeping with the business approach that has underpinned Andrew Black's work from the beginning. It was his vision to create a betting website that brought more fairness to customers, and communicating openly and honestly has always been a key part of the ethos.
As well as bringing this openness and the sharing of ideas to the betting industry, Betfair contributes to fairness through a system called Bet Monitor.
With more than six billion transactions taking place each year on Betfair, sophisticated technology is required to ensure that everything that takes place on the site is above board and in line with gambling industry regulations.
To detect instances where wagers might have been placed with an unfair advantage, Betfair employs more than 400 people in its software development department, carrying out intensive work to continuously improve the integrity of its systems and security protocols.
Betfair has created integrity memorandums with sporting organisations, so that information about the betting exchange is freely available to those who need to access it. It is this open and transparent approach that enables Betfair to best protect its customers, and it is that protection that has made it one of the most popular, successful betting sites in history.
In 2001, Betfair merged with Flutter.com to bring the power of the betting exchange to a wider audience, and a year later the company was thriving. Bert and Ed were named the Ernst and Young Entrepreneurs of the Year in 2002, and a move to the company's new offices in Hammersmith, London, was coupled with a lucrative shirt sponsorship deal with Fulham Football Club in the Premier League.
Betfair was finally on the map in a big way, and the popularity of the site began to spread its reputation around the world. In 2003, Betfair won the Queen's Award for Enterprise on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, and as gamblers around the world sought the freedom and fairness that Betfair had brought to the UK, the Betfair website was translated into German, Danish, Chinese, Finnish, Norwegian, Italian, Greek, and Swedish.
Maintaining its commitment to customer protection, Betfair also signed a training initiative with Gamcare - the charity that works hard to promote responsible gambling and identifies areas where people might fall into difficulty.
By 2006, Betfair's betting exchange was operating in 18 countries across the world, including Australia, France, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, and sponsorship of events like the St Leger and the Grand National helped the site to become one of the most recognised names in sports betting.
Having hit the milestone of more than three million customers by 2010, Betfair listed on the London stock exchange, in a move hailed as "an important landmark" by Ed Wray.
Since then, the site's success has continued throughout the emergence of mobile betting technology, with more than £1 billion of bets placed on Betfair mobile in 2011 alone.
The final piece of the jigsaw was slotted into place in 2013, when Betfair obtained its first gaming license in the USA, and launched its first sportsbook, giving customers the option to bet in the traditional way as well as via the hugely popular betting exchange, which changed the betting world for good.
UK Government statistics in 2011 showed that betting exchanges yielded one fifth of the gross gambling yield in the country. Since then, betting exchanges have become better understood by gambling communities on the web, and a wealth of resources now exists for anyone wishing to try their hand at a betting exchange to utilise.
Betting exchanges are becoming an increasingly integral part of the global gambling landscape, in many cases offering customers much better odds, more transparency, and an experience that feels intuitively fairer.
Mobile gambling apps have only added to the appeal of the betting exchange, by delivering updates on available markets and odds directly to people's pockets, making it easier than ever to take advantage of the features of betting exchanges.
Still a relatively new development in the betting industry as a whole, online betting exchanges will continue to be the subject of some discussion and debate for a few years yet.
But one thing is clear, online betting exchanges are here to stay.
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