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Understanding Line Movements in Sports Betting

 Understanding Line Movements in Sports Betting


The first step in learning to beat the books is to focus on understanding how lines are set and why they move. Lines are nothing but different prices in a stock market that we call sports betting. If you can get a line at -2.5 instead of -3 while laying the same amount, then you are getting a better deal in our market. If you keep getting these better prices, then that will lead to more extracted value at the end of each year. Getting value is the name of the game. If two teams are evenly matched in every facet of the game, but because of some external factors (excessive media attention, star players being profiled on Sports Center, etc.) one team is favored by 6 points then you are getting value by going against them in this particular game. Public perception creates media frenzy around a team; the frenzy inspires your average Joe to place a wager online; and the line adjusts to the influx of money coming in on that team.

I will break the process down from the beginning. Once you understand the line and why it moves, you automatically will have an edge over 80% of bettors.

There is a common misconception out there that the point spread (or line) is set with the goal of getting equal action on both sides of the game. The logic behind this is simple: every bettor lays 11 to 10 on every bet placed, so equal action would mean a profit for the book on every game. According to this theory the line moves up and down and all around until money equals out and the house profits. This could not be further from the truth. I will explain exactly why this is not true. If the Green Bay Packers played the Kansas City Chiefs tomorrow then this line could not be set high enough for your average Joe to side with the Chiefs. If the line was -14, -17, or -20, then the public money would come pouring in on the Packers. The public bets teams not numbers.

So if the goal is to get equal action on both sides, why not make the line something extreme like -28 (just to ensure that money would come in on the Chiefs)? The answer is pretty simple: wise guy action. There are professional gamblers, or sharps, out there with plenty of money ready to exploit bad lines and numbers. If the sports book catered to this equal action on both sides theory, then the sharp would wait until the book released these inflated public lines and murder the book on the other side. The book might take a lot of public bets on the Packers all week long; then adjust the number so that some action would come in the Chiefs; and then be pounded into the ground with sharp action on the Chiefs with 28 points.

But the books do want to make money off of the public with sensible line movements. I think this conversation between Chad Millman and Bob Scucci will help you understand exactly what I mean. Here is the transcript:

Millman: Another common question I get is bookmakers want to have even action on both sides, and that is not the way I see it. I see bookmakers gambling just as much as the wise guys. I know you guys have opinions, and I know there are going to be games where you guys are willing to take money and not have equal action on both sides because it will increase your margins and give you a better chance to make money at the end of the year. Is my opinion wrong?

Scucci: No. It is not wrong. We could not survive if we only got 50/50 on both sides. The juice is there, but it is not enough to pay our bills and to do what we have to do. It is not that great. And second of all, it never happens. It is impossible to get the same amount on both sides at the same point spread. At the same point spread is the key phrase there because a lot of people that don’t fully understand bookmaking say, “Why don’t you just move the line to get money on the other side?” And the reason we don’t do that is because it opens up our chances of getting middled or sided on a game. We are often buried on a game at -7 and you say move it to -8 and we still don’t get money. So you move it to -9 and we still don’t get money, so we move it to 9.5. And everyone says I will take 9.5 and you have a 2.5 point middle. Well the best case scenario for us is we break even because of the money on both sides. And our worst case is the game falls on 9 or 8 and we lose both bets. So instead the philosophy we like to use is let’s put up a game that looks attractive on one side where we feel the other side is actually the better play. Some people call it a trap. Some people have other phrases for it. But you look at a game and we feel this road team should be -3 and we know the public thinks it should be -6. So we put up -3 and get a ton of money on 3. So we go to 3.5 and maybe the wise guys take 3.5, and then we win the game. That is the ideal way. We just feel like if we have over 50% of the games where we win, then we will make money in the end. And that is our philosophy as bookmakers.

Millman: Give me an example of a game that you did that with this past weekend, NFL or college.

Scucci: Well we did it with the Packers and lost. We really felt like the Falcons were the live dog there, and we hung them there in that range of a little more than a field goal but less than a touchdown. We got all the money we wanted on the Packers and felt Atlanta was the right side. We didn’t win this one, but we just hope to win more of those than we lose.

Understanding what Scucci is talking about will keep you out of a lot of unnecessary trouble while gambling. Grasping his approach to handicapping will save you from getting trapped while helping you see the difficulty of getting even money on the both sides of a number. Getting a ton of action at -2.5 and a ton of action on +3.5 does a book no good when 15% of games are decided by 3. Getting sided and middled are real problems that these books face. They are forced to forecast these games and gamble just like the rest of us. Fortunately we have a huge advantage in that we get to pick which games we wager on. Knowing if a line is at the best price now or if it will move to a better one is the key to the game. If we love a team at +10 then we need to know where that line is going. Should we grab it now or is this line going to keep rising to an even better price? Learning how the bookmakers think and figuring out which teams are being pounded by sharps or the public are the only way you are going to ever know that information.

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17 Responses to “Understanding Line Movements in Sports Betting”

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    Thanks Joe. Hit me up if you ever have any questions.

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