No matter whether it is indisputable or highly controversial, a referee’s decision to award a penalty kick in a game of football can often have a major bearing on a match. The low-scoring nature of football, which sees so many matches often settled by just a one-goal margin, means penalty decisions are often game-changing moments.
Given how often penalties are converted into goals (they have a success rate of approximately 80%) there is a real incentive for teams to avoid conceding them but they still happen quite often. Whether it occurs through a mistimed tackle, an accidental handball or the pulling of a shirt, there are many ways that a team can concede a penalty. The rise of VAR has only made penalties a more frequent sight too as referees can be alerted of infringements that would have otherwise been missed.
As punters these days can bet on more trivial match events such as corners and yellow cards, it should come as no surprise that betting on penalties is fairly common. There is not a huge number of penalty-related markets but those that do exist can provide an attractive option for some football matches.
The availability of penalty markets can vary depending on the bookmaker and the match. Big matches at big bookmakers may have most (if not all) of the options below. Smaller fixtures though may be limited to the first, at best. Usually, you will find any penalty-related market in the ‘others’ or ‘specials’ category of an individual football match.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that a penalty goal (excluding those in shootouts) counts just like any other goal. So, if you were to back Harry Kane to score 2+ goals and he scores two penalties, this would be a winning bet. Due to this, knowing who is a team’s main penalty taker can be valuable before placing any player-specific goal bets.
- Penalty Awarded/A Penalty In The Match – For this market you are betting on whether a penalty will be awarded in the match, usually to either team. This makes it a simple yes/no bet. It is the final decision that matters so if a penalty is initially awarded but is overturned following a VAR review, this would not count. Conversely, a penalty not initially awarded but given following a review would count
- To Score a Penalty? – Another market with a choice of two options but here your choices are Team A to score a penalty or Team B to score a penalty. So for this market, you have to consider the chance of a specific team being awarded a penalty and how likely they are to convert it. If the team you backed is not awarded a penalty, this is a losing bet rather than a void one
- To Miss a Penalty? – As above only you are backing a specific team to miss a penalty in the match rather than score it. Given that penalties are far more often scored than missed, the odds for this are always much higher
- Method of Victory (Penalties) – For the minority of football matches that have the possibility of going to extra time and/or penalties, you may find ‘method of victory’ is an available betting market. If a penalty shootout is one of the possibilities for the match (for example in a cup knockout game), you can bet on the match being settled by this method. Note that this is not a bet on the match itself being decided by a single penalty awarded in normal or extra time but on an actual penalty shootout being the deciding method
Penalty Betting Rules
As with all bets, there are various rules that apply when it comes to penalty-related betting markets. Here are some to look out for and understand ahead of placing penalty bets.
- Penalty Shootouts – Penalties converted during a shootout do not count for any regular penalty markets such as ‘team to score a penalty’. This is because of the rule below
- Extra Time – Regular penalty markets only apply to the action that occurs in normal time. This means bets will be settled before a match goes to extra-time and/or a penalty shootout. The exception is ‘method of victory’ as here you are choosing at what stage the game will end
- Penalty Missed – A penalty will classed as missed if goes wide of the goal, is saved by the keeper, hits the woodwork and bounces out. It does not matter if the taker (or another player) scores on the rebound or if the keeper scores an own goal. In the exceptionally rare – but not unheard of – event that a player attempts a pass rather than a shot for the penalty, a bookmaker may class that as a miss
- Abandonment – For abandoned matches, all bets that are still outstanding will usually be made void. Settled bets, however, will stand as normal
- Postponement – Exact policies vary but often bookmakers will keep bets live if the postponement is only short (a day or two). For delays longer than this, bets will usually be voided and the stake will be returned to the bettor
One thing that is useful to know for most penalty bets is how often they are awarded and how often they are scored. We know that around four in every five penalties are scored and there should not be any huge deviations from this (over a decent sample size) regardless of the league or competition. Better leagues tend to have better penalty-takers but there are also better goalkeepers so generally this evens things out.
You can, however, find larger variations when looking at the number of penalties awarded. As well as differing playing styles, referees are more strict or lenient in different regions and whether or not VAR is present can also have a significant impact. If we take a look at a range of leagues from across the continent we can see how the penalty rate differs (data taken from the 2022/23 season).
*Ligue 1 has been reduced to 18 teams from the 2023/24 season.
Despite having 172 extra matches, the EFL Championship saw fewer penalties than the top-flight divisions in France, England, Italy, and Spain. France were particular outliers too having a whopping 142 penalties across 380 matches, an average rate of more than one penalty every three matches. While it is important to be aware of general competition averages you always need to remember that penalties are not evenly distributed, far from it. While some clubs struggle to get any, some end up with an abundance. Just to highlight this point, here are stats from the 2022/23 La Liga season.
The usual thinking with penalties is that the best teams in the league will earn the most because they spend more time attacking (and thus more time in the opposing penalty box). As shown above though, this is not always the case. Not only did Barcelona, with their two penalties, win the league, but Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad finished third and fourth. Conversely, Getafe, the third-worst scorer in the league managed to get themselves eight penalties, as did 16th-place Valencia. There is certainly some unpredictability to it but some teams are just better at winning penalties for themselves. Even the season before, Real Madrid (12) earned comfortably more than Barcelona (7) and Atletico (5).
The point being made here is that you must always look at club totals and not rely solely on general league stats.
No matter which penalty market you end up betting on, there are four stats you ought to check beforehand. In addition to these, if it is early on in a league or competition, be mindful if there have been any recent rule changes that may see a change in the penalty rate compared with the previous year/edition. For example, a change to what is considered a handball offence.
- League/Competition – It is valuable to get a sense of the average penalty rate for a league/competition as your first starting point
- Individual Team – Next check how often an individual team is awarded or concedes penalties
- Referee – For more major competitions, you should be able to find data on how many penalties have been awarded by each referee. Look to see which referee is in charge of the game you want to bet on
- Penalty Taker & Opposing Goalkeeper – If betting on the ‘to score a penalty’ or ‘to miss a penalty’ market you will want to be aware of a team’s primary penalty taker and the opposition keeper. See if you can find the former’s career scoring rate as well as the keeper’s save rate to help inform your betting decisions