Sports Betting 101 is a column that is aimed at teaching readers how to step up their sports wagering game. If you are happy being a recreational bettor, don’t want to put any more time and effort into it, and these lessons don’t apply to you, that is completely fine. But if you want to take the hobby seriously and increase your chances at winning over the course of the week, month, and year, this is the column for you.
It is very common for somebody to ask in conversation, “Hey, what is the line on the game tonight?” It is also common for somebody in the room to provide a solid answer. It is clear that by providing an answer, that second person is just trying to be nice and answer the question. However, as obnoxious as it would be to answer this way, the correct answer is almost always “it depends.”
The spread of almost every game can vary depending on a few factors, the two main ones being what book you are using and when you are placing the bet. For simplicity’s sake, we will only discuss those factors here today. Some of you may be rolling your eyes at the notion that a line difference that could be as little as half of a point would actually matter in the long term, but for serious bettors, this is the difference between being a winner and a loser. Over the long haul, the amount of bets you win by .5 to 1 point vs the amount of bets you lose by .5 to 1 point will have a much larger impact in your overall net than you think.
Before we go into how we get the best line, it is important to understand how a line comes to be. People always refer to “Vegas” setting the line. While the betting lines used to be set by a bunch of bookmakers sitting in a smokey Vegas room, that is no longer the case; they are almost all generated offshore and it is almost always by a computer using algorithms. Anytime there are lines that are about to be released, there are sharp bettors waiting to pounce on mistakes or lines they consider to be incorrect. The books quickly adjust accordingly. For this reason, mostly all of the really bad lines are gone by the time any normal people like you or me get a chance to wager them, so we will not consider these lines. But the real sharks who are killing the game have tickets with numbers that the general public never even saw were available.
So, as regular bettors, what can we do to get the best line? First and foremost, and I know a lot of people do not like this concept, but you HAVE to be willing to deposit into numerous books. I have friends who have money in 20+ sportsbooks, and while I don’t expect everyone to do that, having money in one or two is simply not enough if you want to be serious. Many of you live in states that have a handful of legal sportsbooks available to you. Make sure you have money in all of them. In terms of offshore books always refer to this site; anything with a B grade or better is most likely safe. But without a doubt, if you want your overall betting bankroll to be $1,000, depositing $100 into 10 of these books is the way to go as opposed to putting all your eggs in one basket.
In tonight’s Thursday Night Football game, the Jets travel to Baltimore to Play the Ravens. One might say the spread is 15. However, that is not true. On the sportsbook bet365, the Ravens are -14.5. On BetAmerica, the Ravens are -15.5. If you like the Ravens in this game, you would be foolish to not get on bet 365 and lay 14.5. If you think the Jets can hang around, you would be doing yourself a disservice to only take +14.5 when there are sites offering +15.5. It is true that it is very unlikely that the final score is going to land on 15 exactly, but it will happen sometimes. Being on the right side the few times that it does happen will have a significant impact on your bottom line.
The second way that you can make sure to get the best line is timing when you bet. This is an imperfect science, but there are some general rules of thumb you can follow. Most people with even basic knowledge of sports betting know how the market works; the line comes out and based on the money the books receive (along with injury information), the line moves from then until the event starts. It is important that you don’t wake up on Saturday or Sunday mornings and look at the lines for the first time. Check them out when they come out first thing on Sunday or Monday, whenever you have access to them.
It does not always work this way, but the public generally likes to bet on favorites and overs. So if you like a favorite, it is often best to take them as early as possible. If you like an underdog, the move is usually to wait and see if the public will drive the line up. This is especially important when dealing with prime time games and public teams like the Patriots, Cowboys, Alabama, Clemson, etc. If the Alabama opens as a 19.5 point favorite on a Sunday for the following week, you better get on that ASAP, they will likely be over 21 by the time game game kicks off. Conversely, if you think Alabama is going to struggle, you would be better off waiting until Saturday.
There are exceptions to every rule; sometimes even if the public is on the favorite, the amount of money from sharp bettors will keep the line down or cause reverse line movement (this will be a separate course). But just as a basic thing to know, if you like a favorite, bet it early and if you like the dog, wait and see.
This more or less concludes our first lesson. Do I expect everyone reading this to drop what they are doing and open 10+ accounts? Of course not. But be aware of all of your options and at least see what is out there before locking in a wager. Be cognisant of lines when they are released and don’t just look for the first time the morning of the games. And most importantly, understand that while a .5 point here or a point there doesn’t seem like a big deal, it actually is. Al Pacino said in his famous speech from Any Given Sunday “The inches we need are everywhere around us.” Sports betting is like that, only instead of inches, the half points we need are everywhere around us. Its just up to us to find them.