When you are betting sports, there are several factors to consider, if you want to show a long term profit (or at least minimize your losses). The most important factor to keep in mind is bankroll management. After all, without proper bankroll management, you’ll be out of action, and if you’re out of action, even the idiot who bet a 10 team parlay has a better chance to cash than you. A close second to bankroll management, however, is line shopping. Regardless of whether you bet mma, football, tennis or any other sport, shopping for the best lines is crucial in order to ensure the maximum profitability of all your bets. This article will give a brief overview of line shopping and discuss its importance to your bottom line. (For more information about bankroll management, see our article on the “Kelly Criterion”)
Line shopping is similar to any other kind of shopping. When you’re looking for a new TV, you probably shop around a bit and see who has the best price. Line shopping works the same way. To successfully line shop, you simply pick a line (spread, total, or moneyline) and compare it across two or more sites. The one with the best odds is the one that offers you the best return, and you should bet that line. That’s basically it in a nutshell, although it can get very involved the more serious you are about betting. For example, some sites or locals will cut you off, or limit you, while others will offer higher limits. Some books are less risky and faster than others as far as payouts. But for all intents and purposes, you should be betting the best line, since it gives you the best payout and return on your money.
Let’s take a quick look at some basic line shopping examples and how they are used in everyday sports betting. There are three basic types of lines offered by most bookies: spreads, moneylines, and totals. Each spread and total also has a moneyline associated with it (such as the commonly quoted -110). Each aspect of the line is critical to making sure you get the best price.
To correctly line shop, first pick a side or total that you are interested in. Let’s say the Patriots are playing the Bills, and you think the Bills are a solid bet this week. You see one sportsbook offering Buffalo +6.5, while another offers Buffalo +7. Both have the standard vig of -110. Clearly Buffalo +7 is the better bet, and a slam dunk pick if you plan on taking Buffalo anyway. If the Patriots win by 7, your bet will be refunded while anyone taking Buffalo +6.5 loses. You may not think this is a big deal (how often does a team win by exactly 7?), but it does add up significantly over the long run. This extra half point adds significantly to your bottom line.
Not all half points are created equal, however. Let’s say the next week the Patriots are playing the Steelers. This time the line is New England -2. You notice that one sportsbook, however, offers New England -1.5. Is this also a “slam dunk” bet? No. The chance that New England wins the game by exactly 2 points is very slim, and is not enough to overcome the house edge when betting at -110. The specifics are beyond the scope of this article, but a basic internet search will yield great results when checking to see how much each half point is worth in each sport. I can say that the key numbers in the NFL are 3 and 7, and you should look for sports books that offer lines that vary from each other when they are at or near those numbers. Many free odds sites will offer odds that work update fairly quickly. There are also paid services that offer real-time odds. Again, the internet is your friend here.
The same basic concepts of line shopping apply whether you are betting a spread, a total, or a moneyline. If one bookie lists Cleveland +150, while another offers Cleveland +175, it’s clear where you should place your bet, if you plan on taking Cleveland.
If you are a bookie and accepting bets at the standard -110 vig, you will show a nice profit over the long run, provided your lines are generally close to the consensus, or market. Using a site such that compares odds, you can easily view lines from many sports books all at once and all on one screen. This allows you to see where most bookies stand, and to point out differences in the lines. You can effectively “become the bookie” in some cases where lines are off by 1.5 or more points, by simply picking the side that is mispriced. It can help add a lot to your bottom line to search for these opportunities, because you really don’t even need an opinion on the game to make a profitable bet, all you need to do is figure out the consensus line, find other sports books that deviate from that line, and bet the side that is incorrectly priced. The consensus line is usually pretty easy to spot, and using top rated, quality, highly liquid shops is the best way to find out what the “true line” is.
There are two terms that are related to line shopping that often comes up. The first is steam chasing. This occurs when lots of money (steam) comes pouring in on one side, causing a big jump in the line to try and attract money to the other side. This can quickly avalanche as more and more money tries to “chase” the “steam” and get in before the line skyrockets even higher. If you’re lucky (or good) enough to get in just before the big steam move occurs, you will sometimes have the option to hedge your bet before the game starts and lock in a guaranteed profit or freeroll. It’s often best to simply let it ride and be happy with your bet as is, but if you get in early enough and the move is big enough, that option is on the table.
Stale lines are directly related to steam chasing. If the line starts moving at one place, then the vast majority of other books will move in concert with the original book in order to not be flat footed. However, sometimes books are slow at moving their lines, and this is where a stale line can come into play. Let’s say the current line across most books is Los Angeles -5, but 10 minutes before tip off an enormous series of bets comes in on the Lakers, causing one book to move the line to Los Angeles -5.5, and then to -5.5 (-120). All of the sudden, any book who is still posting Los Angeles -5 is behind the curve and at risk for a big hit. This is what we call a stale line. Always take advantage of stale lines when you see them, because they usually don’t last long.
In summary, line shopping is extremely important to any sports bettor’s bottom line. There is a lot of great information out there to help you become a great line shopper, and also many helpful articles to guide you as to what makes a specific line worth betting, and which ones you should pass up. With the edges in sports betting so small, line shopping can be the difference between a winning bettor and a loser. It’s in your best interest to research the topic in-depth to avoid handing your hard earned money over to your bookie. Over the long haul, line shopping will tremendously aid your profitability, and it’s not particularly hard to do.