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How to Read Line Movement in Sports Betting

Did you know Goldman Sachs predicts that the sports betting industry will grow 40% annually over the next decade? In the four years since the landmark Murphy v. NCAA U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018, 32 states have legalized sports betting. More will follow.

You may think the key to success is simply picking who will win. Though prognostication is crucial for sports betting, turning a long-term profit involves more than a coin flip. Sportsbooks wouldn’t make nearly as much money if betting were easy. 

You have to comprehend betting lines and why they move. Your ability to read odds movements and make bets accordingly will make you a skilled bettor.

Are you ready to learn how to read betting lines and interpret their movement? Let’s jump in.

What is a Betting Line?

A betting line is the gambling odds set by bookmakers on a specific game or event. These odds determine the favorite, the underdog, and the parameters of the two-way wagering.

The most common betting lines are point spreads, moneylines, and totals.

For example, let’s say the Steelers play the Bengals in Cincinnati. Here’s an example of a betting line for that game:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers +6 (-110)/+198/O44.5
  • Cincinnati Bengals   -6 (-110)/-240/U44.5

What do these numbers mean? Line interpretation is the first step to reading line movement.

Point Spread

In this example, the ‘6’ is the point spread. A spread bet on the Steelers cashes if they lose by less than six or win the game.

The -110 is the juice or vig on the point spread. The -110 means that you must bet $110 to win $100. Another way to think about the vig is a 10% fee you pay to the sportsbook when you make a wager. This fee is how sportsbooks make a considerable amount of profit.

Moneyline

A moneyline wager is a bet to win. If you believe the Steelers will win, you could bet them at +198 odds meaning a $100 play wins you $198 if the Steelers win. Should you bet the favored Bengals at -240, you’d have to lay $240 to win $100.

Total

Totals are also known as over/under wagers. In this example, you could bet that the Steelers and Bengals will combine for more than 44.5 points. Or you could bet they’ll score less than that amount.

The juice on each side is -110.

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Why Do Betting Lines Move?

Bookmakers set the lines, and when released, the market opens for betting. Bettors place wagers, and these wagers can move the betting lines. The Steelers open as +6 underdogs on Monday, but that number will fluctuate throughout the week.

The theoretical goal of bookmakers is to get an even amount of money wagered on each side of the bet. By doing so, they’re guaranteed a profit from the vig they collect on each wager.

The theory is different from reality. Betting lines move for various reasons. Correctly interpreting line movement separates sharps from squares. 

One Side Receives Majority of Bets

Sportsbooks want to keep the amount of money on each side of an offered bet as even as possible. Doing so ensures they won’t lose money, and they’ll rake in the vig charged on each bet.

Line movement is how they attempt to keep that balance.

The Steelers open at +6 and receive an overwhelming majority of bet tickets and money. The sportsbook will move the 6 to 5.5 or 5 to attract play on the Bengals side.

A Sharp Makes a Play

Bookmakers know who the best players are and respect their opinion. These players, known as sharps, are astute handicappers and may have an information edge.

Let’s say a sharp player bet on the Bengals at -6. Though the sportsbook sees more bets and money on the Steelers’ side, they’ll move the line to Bengals -6.5 or -7. 

External Factors

Betting lines also move due to player injuries, weather reports, and other external factors.

The week before the Bengals game, Steelers starting QB Mitch Trubisky tore his ACL in practice. When that injury information gets released, the book will adjust its line no matter the amount of action. A +6 may move to a +8 or +9 due to this news.

A dramatic line movement often indicates a personnel issue like an injury or suspension. If you notice a drastic change, you might want to check the injury reports and latest team news before making a bet.

Using Line Movement to Your Advantage

The public isn’t very good at sports betting. If it were, sportsbooks and casinos wouldn’t be as profitable as they are. The betting public loves marquee teams, favorites, and overs.

And in many cases, you’ll find that most casual bettors don’t bother with much other than gut feelings and favorites when making a bet, and line movements reflect this. Because action favors favorites, their lines inflate throughout the week.

Fading the Public

Do you see a game where most bets are on one side? Let’s use the Steelers, one of the NFL’s most popular franchises, as an example again. 

On the Sunday night marquee game, the Steelers open as -6.5 favorites versus the disappointing Miami Dolphins. Throughout the week, the number inflates to -8.5 with 80% bets on the Steelers. An inflated favorite line indicates a lot of public play, so a good strategy is to bet the opposite way.

Spotting Reverse Line Movement

We talked earlier about sportsbook moving lines based on who makes a bet.

You see the Steelers with 80% of the bets, but the line drops from 6.5 to 5.5. 

A line moving opposite of bet percentages indicates reverse line movement. Reverse line movement likely means sharp play, and who doesn’t want to be on the same side as the sharps?

If you see this happen at one sportsbook, check another book. You might find that 6.5 number elsewhere.

Reading Line Movement Means Winning Bets

Do you want to win more bets? Don’t fall victim to the gambler’s fallacy and make sports bets believing you have a 50/50 shot at winning.

To win more bets, you have to study the lines and why they move.

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