Exploring the Fascinating World of Specials Betting in the UK

The vast majority of online betting at UK sportsbooks is done on sports. The likes of football betting, horseracing, tennis, cricket and US Sports probably make up about 95% of the total turnover at any given betting site.

So, what’s the other 5% that’s not betting on sports?

The answer is specials betting, which has always had a special place in the heart of UK gamblers. Specials betting refers to all betting markets available at a site that don’t depend on the outcome of sporting events. A slightly grey area here are betting markets that relate to off-the-field aspects of sports. Examples of this are those in football such as ‘Next Manager markets’ or markets asking which club a particular player will sign for next. Given these markets are generally found under the sport, we tend to consider them as ‘specials’ within a sport rather than ‘specials’ in their own right. .

A guy winning a bet
James Pacheco
Author, Betting enthusiast

November 27, 2023

James started working in the betting industry a few weeks before Roger Federer won his first-ever Grand Slam and a few months before Greece shocked Europe’s elite at Euro 2004.

Better and purer examples of specials are therefore these. Towards the bottom of the article, we’ll go into a lot more detail as regards some of them.

Examples of specials betting events

UK Reality TV Shows betting

X-Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (IACGMOOH) and in the past, Big Brother, are among the most popular reality TV shows for punters to bet on. Having had their fingers burnt in the past, bookies are extremely careful about offering markets on such shows where the winner of the show has been decided before the general public knows about it as this could result in inside information being taken advantage of. So, for the most part, betting is only available on shows where the winner is announced on live television.

International competitions

The best example of this is Eurovision with other examples being the Miss World and Miss Universe contests.

UK (public vote) Awards

In truth, the only real event that comes under this category on an annual basis is the Sports Personality of the Year Award, though occasionally other public vote-driven awards have betting available on them, as well.

Film and TV Awards betting

There’s far more interest in betting on awards related to movies than TV shows. And top of the tree for movies are unsurprisingly the Oscars, though betting on the Golden Globes is also somewhat popular.

‘Next’ TV/Film Specials

One-off markets like ‘Who will be the Next Dr Who’ or ‘Who will be the next James Bond’ are the best examples of these.

Miscellaneous awards

The Booker prize for literature has become an increasingly popular award to bet on and even the Nobel Prize for Literature has attracted some interest over the past few years. Another example of this category is the Christmas Number 1 – the best-selling single over the Christmas period.

Politics Betting

At some sites politics betting is a category in its own right. But at a load of other sites, it comes under the general umbrella of ‘specials’ betting. In most cases it tends to be on UK or US politics betting with the most popular markets being on who will be the next President/Prime Minister, or how many seats in parliament a particular party might obtain in an upcoming election. Occasionally betting on who might win the general election in other countries such as India, Ireland or Australia attracts betting interest, as does betting on certain referendums, with Brexit and Scottish Independence being the best examples from the past few years.

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The best sites for specials betting

The rule of thumb here is that the better and bigger the betting site is and the longer it’s been around for as a major player in the UK market, the more likely it is to have a strong ‘specials betting’ product.

Just like the best sites offer the most sports, the most markets within those sports and often the highest odds, as well, the same generally applies to specials. That means that the likes of Ladbrokes, BetFred and Coral all have a strong specials betting offering.

It’s also true that bookmakers that are actually from the UK are more likely to have a better UK-focused specials product than bookmakers from overseas who hold a UK betting license but tend to have a one-size-fits-all approach to their markets.

But aside from this, the answer is that it really depends.

Kwiff and TalksportBet are both UK betting sites that have been around for a similar amount of time (1-2 years), yet Kwiff has chosen to just focus on sports markets and doesn’t offer any specials markets at all, while TalkSportBet actually has an extremely good offering of specials markets; in many ways just as good as the better-known, more established betting companies.

So, if you’re into specials betting and don’t currently have an account, or have one but are in search of additional ones, the advice is as follows:

  • Start by visiting a good 8-10 betting sites from our list and make a note of the ones who have particular strong product when it comes to specials betting.
  • Look out for how many of the specials markets we listed above they offer and compare the odds on some of the favourites with what their rivals are offering.
  • Once you’ve made a shortlist of 5-6 of them, then read our reviews of that particular website and see how well they rank for other metrics such as bonuses, payment options, the quality of Customer Service or how safe and secure we consider the site to be. After all, even though it’s their specials market you’re primarily concerned with, you still want the site to tick all the other essential boxes of what’s important at a bookmaker in general terms.

Betfair Exchange – Best for Specials Betting

Having said all of that, if you’re really serious about your specials betting, then there’s one option for you that trumps all the others: the Betfair Exchange.

Whereas we appreciate that the Exchange model won’t be for everyone as it’s quite a different way of betting to traditional fixed-odds betting, there are good reasons as to why you should consider the Betfair Exchange for betting on specials. Here they are:

  • Best Odds– Betfair Exchange users will know that because of the way it operates – like a stock exchange – customers will almost always be able to secure higher odds than at regular betting sites. This is arguably even more the case when it comes to specials betting. The reason for that is that though they like laying odds on specials markets, bookmakers can be a little bit paranoid about doing so (see below). One way of somewhat protecting themselves is to offer lower odds, something that doesn’t happen on the Exchange because it’s other punters laying those odds.
  • Play bookmaker as well as punter– As regular readers of this site will know, on the Betfair Exchange customers can play bookmaker and lay odds as well as play punter and back odds, the same way as they would at a regular betting site. So, if you’re adamant that contestant X is certainly not going to win Strictly Come Dancing, you can lay that contestant and know you’re safe and in profit as long as anyone else wins. Alternatively, you can both back and lay (trade) at ever-changing odds as the market progresses and secure yourself a green book, meaning that you’ve put yourself in a position where whoever wins the market, will be a winner for you.
  • No limit on the size of bets- Another way that bookmakers protect themselves against inside information is to limit the size of a customer’s bet on specials markets. So, you might only be able to place a bet for 10 or 20 quid rather than 100, which is the amount you actually want to bet. That won’t happen on the Betfair Exchange where there’s no actual limit to the amount you can bet on something. As long as there’s enough liquidity in the market- the amount of money available to match ‘your’ side of the bet – you can bet whatever amount you want. You’d be surprised as to how much liquidity there is on Betfair on the biggest markets like winner of X-Factor, Strictly, Next President etc, especially when it comes to the favourites.
  • Markets stay open– And yet another way that bookmakers protect themselves against insider information or other forms of market abuse is to suspend their markets at any point when they feel that customers could take advantage of information that reaches them a few seconds before it reaches the bookmaker. A good example of that would be a punter sitting in the X-Factor studio and knowing who the overall winner is a few seconds before the ‘live’ TV broadcast announces it and placing a large bet on that contestant. That’s an extreme example but there are several other points when the bookie may suspend their markets meaning you won’t be able to place bets on it. Again, that won’t happen on the Exchange where all customers are responsible for managing their own positions, meaning the market is only suspended once the winner has been announced. Having said that, you should be careful yourself about leaving odds of your own up on the Exchange during important parts of the show as other customers may know more than you do and take advantage.

Bonuses on Specials betting

One of the downsides of betting on specials is a considerable lack of bonuses offered specifically to use on specials markets. Free bets or risk-free bets that can only be used on specials are almost non-existent, which could be a wasted opportunity for bookies. If they offered them from time to time, they may generate future interest among the customers who claim and use them.

However, if you’re offered a bonus that could be used on absolutely any market of your choice, there’s no reason why you can’t use it on a specials market.

As regards Reality TV shows, the answer is that millions of people tune in every day (IACGMOOH being a good example of that) or every week (X-Factor, Strictly) to watch a particular Reality TV show so it follows that diehard fans of a particular show have strong opinions on who might go on to win it and feel that their knowledge of the show and its contestants places them in a good position to be able to make sound judgments as to the eventual outcome.

But aside from a genuine attempt to win money by betting on these events, there’s the recreational element of it to consider. Just like casual sports punters place bets ahead of watching a football match or golf tournament to increase their enjoyment of it, specials punters enjoy placing bets on their favourite contestants or others they feel are well-placed to win to add to the excitement.

Other events like the Oscars or Eurovision that require perhaps a more expert analysis of the whole thing means that specialists in that field like analysts, journalists or those with websites/blog/specialist social media accounts can use their insight and experience to work out who are the good bets. The same could be said of those betting on politics.

Another reason why specials betting is popular is that those who are prepared to do the hard yards in terms of research can often be rewarded. Whereas sports betting ultimately comes down to the individual performances of sportsmen, teams, or horses on the day so is still somewhat subject to such things as luck or even refereeing decisions, specials betting is less prone to those factors. So those ‘in the know’ may feel they have better chances of winning than on sports.

Which brings us to the last reason. Not all gamblers enjoy sports while some others feel their outcomes are too reliant on randomness, as per above. Specials betting therefore provides a good opportunity for the non-sports lover to bet on events that don’t involve balls, running or sporting prowess.

Did you know?

The biggest ever market in the history of the Betfair Exchange in terms of the amount of money traded on it wasn’t the final of a FIFA World Cup, the Grand National, the Wimbledon final or an IPL match; it was a specials market.

Between 2012 and November 8, 2016, a total of £200 million was traded on who would be the next (48th) President of the USA.

There were several reasons for the huge amount of money bet on the market.

The first was that it was open for four years, far longer than most other markets. The second was that the particularly high-profile natures of Hillary Clinton and especially Donald Trump generated more interest in it than usual. The third was that the race between the two was extremely close, right up until the final couple of hours of the votes coming in, meaning that betting interest on it was high all the way.

As explained in the sub-section ‘Betfair keeps 2 to 5% of an Exchange market’s total turnover’ of this article, a lot of that money was traded rather than bet with thousands of customers adjusting their positions on the market over those four years and thus contributing to the total on the market thanks to that.  But either way, it was Betfair’s biggest-ever market.

And now to a quick guide on some of the biggest specials betting heats, what punters are actually betting on and how they work.

Sports Personality of the Year

Also known as SPOTY, this is an award that has been around since 1954 and crowns the British sportsperson who achieved the most over the course of that year within their chosen sport.

It’s a public vote and the winner is announced in December every year in a lavish televised ceremony.

Previous winners of the award read like a ‘who’s who’ of British sport and includes: Sebastian Coe, Nigel Mansell, Nick Faldo, Paul Gascoigne, Jonny Wilkinson, Kelly Holmes, Emma Raducanu, Andy Murray and the most recent 2022 winner, the English female footballer Beth Mead.

Tennis star Andy Murray is the only person to have won it three times (2013, 2015 and 2016) while three other people have won it on two occasions.

From a betting perspective, the interesting angle here is that while some sportspeople are early favourites towards the beginning of the year, there’s still plenty of time towards the back end of the year for others to make their presence felt if their big competitions come in the later months of the calendar year.

Not that it’s always as straightforward as that. When Manchester United and Wales footballer Ryan Giggs won it in 2009, it was more of a celebration of his long career than for any achievement in that particular year, all of which just adds to the intrigue when it comes to betting on it. But for the most part it generally goes to the sportsperson who really did shine brightest that year by winning an Olympic medal, a big tournament or competition in their field or just putting in outstanding performances in their sport week in, week out.

Eurovision betting

The international song competition has been going since 1956 and is open to all European countries, and a few others. The likes of Israel and Australia have also taken part in it over the years despite (obviously) not being European countries. They each hold their national competition and the winner of that then needs to qualify for the big event via two semi-finals, though the Big Five (France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the UK) always qualify automatically for the main competition without having to go through the qualification process.

Notable winners include ABBA for Sweden (1974) and Celine Dion representing Switzerland (1988).

The UK has a bit of a love/hate relationship with Eurovision in that fans feel that the performances of UK representatives rarely get the credit they deserve from the voting public, but it remains an extremely popular event to watch on TV in the UK with the presenter normally being the comedian and chat show host Graham Norton.

The winner market is unsurprisingly the one that sees the most action, but other markets punters like to bet on include: Top 3, Top 5 and how many points will be awarded to the UK performer.

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I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here

Running since 2022, it’s a competition that sees celebrities and minor celebrities spend weeks in an Australian jungle living together in extreme conditions where they have little or no food and compete in trials in order to receive additional food and other creature comforts.

Viewers enjoy seeing the rich and famous living in conditions they’re not used to, outside their comfort zone, bickering among each other and struggling with the challenges of the trials that often involve eating bugs and insects and having to show great resilience and determination in order to successfully complete the trials.

Past winners have included Harry Redknapp, Carl Fogarty, Kerry Katona and Phil Tufnell.

It’s broadcast every night live on ITV with the show being presented by the extremely popular duo of Ant and Dec.

The winner market is the one punters most like to bet on though other popular markets are who will be the top male and female contestant and who will be voted out next.
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Politics betting markets

We’ve already mentioned that these tend to be based on UK and US politics and currently include such markets as: Next London Mayor, the next UK Prime Minister, the winner of the next General Election and the next US President.

Nearer the time there are also additional markets like how many seats a particular part might win at the next election or who will be the winner of particular US state in the Presidential election.

Unlike many of the other markets mentioned, politics betting is serious business in the sense that newspapers and websites often quote real live odds on politics betting markets as a way of working out the true chances of who might win an election or referendum.

This is particularly the case on Betfair’s Exchange markets. The fact that the latest odds are determined by punters betting against each other rather than bookmakers establishing the odds gives the Betfair markets even more credibility.

Next James Bond

Ever since Daniel Carig announced his retirement from 007 duty, there has been a market on who will replace him as the next James Bond.

Lively runners over the last few years have included: Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Henry Cavil, Tom Hardy, Chris Evans and Idris Elba. The market will be settled when the next actor/actress to play James Bond is formally announced.

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