Runlines versus Moneylines

In the last issue, we covered the math involved in betting moneylines. Many of the hundreds of emails received in response to this issue asked how moneylines compare to runlines. This led to an easy choice for the topic of this week’s column.

Before getting into the details of runlines, there are a couple of loose ends that need to be quickly cleaned up. First off, when I mentioned that heavy favorites (-250+) were 15-2 (through April 25th) I was not advocating betting on or against such big favorites, I was merely pointing out that there are values to be had at all moneylines when compared to the necessary win %, and that you should never dismiss playing on a line because it is too high, as many handicappers do.

The other point was summed up perfectly by Jason D. of Texas:

“I’ve used calculations like you did in your article for years. The only flaw is this: the math doesn’t work for 1 game or 10 games or 100 games. A large statistical sample is needed. It is inexact, so the average bettor will take some a few of these plays and start off 3-7 or 4-6 and say you don’t know what you are talking about. What these players don’t understand is you are looking for value and even though you lost a particular bet it is still considered a good bet and you would bet the same bet over and over again given the same circumstances.”

Well said, Jason, and thanks for the email. I can’t stress this enough and that is why money-management is important – betting sports is a marathon, not a sprint.

Now, lets talk about runlines. Experience bettors can skip this next section, but for those of you unfamiliar with runlines, here is a quick primer. A runline is baseball’s version of a pointspread. In football and basketball pointspreads, the odds (which affect payout) are usually at a standard of -110, and the spread itself (which affects win/loss) is typically moved to balance action. In baseball, the spread itself is fixed at -1.5 runs, and the attached odds are changed to balance action. I am often asked why the spread is always -1.5 runs. The answer is simple: Baseball games cannot end in a tie so a spread of -.5 would have no impact, and spread of -1 would result in a push a large portion of the time (27% of MLB games this year have been decided by 1 run). By making the runline -1.5 runs, the favorite team is forced to win by 2 runs, and some real intrigue is added to the wager.

This does confuse some people, so here is an example to illustrate further. In basketball, if the Lakers were -1.5 (-110) favorites and there was a lot of action on them, the line would be moved to -2 (-110) and then -2.5 (-110) in an effort to get bettors to play the other team. However, in baseball if the Dodgers were a -1.5 (-110) favorite and were taking action, the line would be moved to -1.5 (-115) and then -1.5 (-120) to balance action.

Thus, the only time there is a difference in outcome between the runline and moneyline on any game is when the favorite team wins by exactly 1 run. In exchange for the extra risk involved in wagering on a runline favorite, bettors are rewarded with a much better payout. As an example, let’s look at the games discussed in my last issue. To recap, there had been 17 games with favorites of -250 or higher at the time and the favorites were 15-2. If you wagered to win $100 on each of these games you would have made $970 on a total risk of $4530, for a 21.4% return. However, if you played these same 17 games on the runline, you would have lost two additional games (a pair of 6-5 wins) and only earned $700. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you would have only risked $2400, and thus earned a return of 29.2%! The average line on these favorites on the moneyline was -266, but the average line on the runline was -1.5 (-141). There is no formula for converting runlines and moneylines, as it depends on the teams involved. But the difference typically ranges from 70 to 140 cents, with the difference growing as the moneyline gets high. Thus a -260 favorite on the moneyline would typically have a runline of -1.5 (-120) to -1.5 (-160) while a -120 favorite on the moneyline might have a runline of -1.5 (+150) to -1.5 (+170).

Betting the dog on the runline has the opposite effect – you win more often (the 1-run losses), but you win less money than you would have betting the moneyline when the team you are betting on wins outright. The key is to find the right opportunity to use both types of lines, and thus giving you another weapon to fight the bookmakers with. Again, I am not advocating runlines or moneylines, favorites or underdogs, etc., as each has their place in a bettor’s arsenal.

There are a couple of situations where we see players/handicappers use runlines more than average. First, we see lots of runline action on the favorites in big spreads. Why bet Randy Johnson and the Diamondbacks at -300 when you get bet him at -1.5 (-160) if you expect them to win by 5? However, if you think it will be a tight game, then maybe the moneyline is better. This is where a team’s record in 1-run games is important. This data is readily available to bettors, but when I ask about a team’s record in 1-run games, most people don’t know. As examples, how many of you would have guessed that the Padres lead the majors in 1-run wins (with 11) or that the mighty Yankees would currently possess a losing record (5-6) in 1-run games?

The other scenario we see occasionally is a player trying to lock in a profit by betting both the favorite on the runline and the underdog on the moneyline in the same game. For example, lets look at today’s Rockies/Padres game. The Rockies are -1.5 (+140) on the runline and the Padres are +130 on the moneyline. Betting $100 on both teams would guarantee a profit ($40 or $30) as long as the Rockies don’t win by a single run (that would result in a loss of $200). This is a risky set of wagers and not one I have ever used personally, but when used properly it can add to your bankroll, as I have seen players profit by using it. Maybe look for teams that don’t have many 1-run games.

From the House point-of-view, we earn a higher percentage on run-line wagers (about 4%) than we do on moneylines (about 2%) but this is due in large part to the use of a graduated dime line for moneylines and a 20-cent spread for runlines. Handle on moneylines is roughly three times that of runlines, but this ratio is down from previous years as runlines become more popular to the average bettor.

As I always, I talked to Bodog’s top bookmaker, Kent, about recent results. “May started great. Then we gave a little last back this past week, but we just had a good weekend. The Preakness was very good for us, and we had been getting heavy action on the Lakers and Red Wings so yesterday’s losses were good for us. The Celtics also drew the bulk of the action on Sunday and we saw lots of Carolina money laying the 1.5 goals, so both those results were good for us as well. Baseball handle has been huge, far exceeding our projections for May already. And despite a dip in parlay hold last week, our overall hold has been solid as well.”

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a yet-to-be-determined topic, so if there is something you want to know more about, please feel free to email me.

The enjoyment of your wagering experience with us is my number one priority. Should you have any questions, concerns, or comments, I will personally ensure you are satisfied with your Bodog experience.

Good luck with your wagers!

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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino