Shopping for the Best Line for Your Bet

Over the last couple of weeks, I have discussed how a pointspread is derived by a sportsbook and why the lines change. Now that we know the how and why of pointspreads, we can discuss how best to take advantage of different lines books offer. Like the last few columns, long-time readers will find the material familiar, but I think these topics are important enough that every bettor should brush up each football season. If you are new to sports betting, this is a very important principle to learn.

When you are betting football and basketball spreads and totals and laying 110 to win 100 on every bet, you need to win 52.38% of your bets just to break even and cover the juice you pay to sportsbooks. It could be argued that anybody could win 50% of games by flipping a coin or by having your dog pick teams (which I find annoying as I struggle to hit that mark some weeks) so the tough part is finding enough overlays to boost your win percentage above the 52.4% mark. However, there are other ways to boost your win percentage, one of which is shopping for the best available line you can find.

If you have an account at only one sportsbook, you have no choice but to either accept the line offered or not bet. If you use two sportsbooks, you can compare the lines you get and wager on the one that provides you with the best opportunity to win your bet. Why would you have wagered Over 46 on the Oakland/Denver game last night if you could have gotten over 45.5? Why would you bet Over 45.5 if you could have gotten a wager in Over 45? This seems like common sense, but it is surprising to me how many players take no heed of the line they are betting on.

Estimates vary, but getting an extra half-point betters your chance of winning a wager by about 2%. This is particularly important around key numbers in football, 3 and 7, and smaller numbers in general. By smaller numbers, I mean the difference between a 2 and a 2.5-point line is more likely to make a difference than is the difference between a 22 and a 22.5-point line, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to get the best line possible every time. As an example, we can look at the last college football game on Saturday, Louisiana Tech at Fresno State. Lines ranged from Fresno State -10.5 to Fresno State -9. With a final score 16-6, it made a big difference what line you got regardless of which team you bet!

It’s up to you to decide how many books you should use. Too few means you don’t have enough variation in the lines but if you have too many, you may lose some opportunities as it will take too long to shop all the lines and your bankroll could be spread too thin. Be sure to choose sportsbooks where it is easy to get the lines you need very quickly. The magic number is probably somewhere between three and five books for most people, but if you only have one account, even getting two more sets of lines to look at for every game should make a big difference to your bottom line at the end of the season. Getting a few extra wins or pushes over the course of the season makes that extra shopping well worth the effort.

Last year, I was explaining this concept to my uncle and I asked him How many games have you lost by a half-point? There was a long pause and he answered Every ing one. I am still not quite sure what he meant by that but it was obvious that he had lost enough games by a half-point or a point to know the value of the advice I was giving him.

Another factor in beating the number and boosting your win percentage is timing. I am sure you have all experienced a game where your morning paper says the line is Rams -8 and as you do your research you like the Rams, but by the time you go to bet, the line is -9.5. So, if St. Louis wins by 9, your handicapping essentially picked a winner even though your bet was a loser! Even shopping for the best line may not have made a difference if you wagered later in the day after the line had moved from -8 to -9.5

Pay close attention to opening lines and then which way they move from there before making any plays. For example, if a line opens at -6.5 and moves to -6, you know sportsbooks are likely getting action on the Underdog. If you like the Favorite in that particular game, you may be better served by waiting as that line moves from -6 to -5.5 to -5 over the course of the day or the week. This is tougher to do than shopping for the best line and takes some experience to get a feel for which way lines move, but after even just a couple of weeks of tracking opening and closing lines, you will be better prepared to get the best possible number on every wager you place.

As a starting point, the pros use a couple of guidelines for shopping football lines. Generally the public prefers favorites and over with the total so the lines tend to move in that direction (but not all the time or books would simply raise those opening lines). Thus, the rule-of-thumb is to play Favorites and Overs early and to play Underdogs and Unders late. You won’t get the best line every time following this rule, but it should serve as a solid base and will boost your win percentage.

Betting the best games at the best line should be the goal of every sports bettor trying to make a profit. I must give credit to the guy who years ago taught me how to beat the number. He is a professional bettor named Rocket and he is one of the nicest and funniest guys in this business. For those that read the column a couple of weeks ago where I mentioned power ratings and were wondering where to get them, Rocket actually has a site that posts several sets of power ratings,

It was definitely an exciting weekend where both bettors and books had some big wins! Thursday was even; the House did well with Virginia Tech over Texas A&M and bettors cashed on Nevada-Reno over San Jose State. Friday was a good night for books with UNLV’s big win over Hawaii.

Saturday had only one real big decision, and it went our way when Iowa beat Arizona State 21-2. Bettors had decent wins early on NC State (-6.5 vs. Texas Tech) and late with Texas (-33 @ Rice) but the house did well with Tennessee (+4 @ Florida), Oregon (+7 vs. Michigan), Toledo (+10 vs. Pitt), and Clemson (+6 vs. Georgia Tech) in between. Heaviest bet games of the day were Miami/Boston College, Michigan/Oregon, Iowa/Arizona State and Florida/Tennessee.

Sunday morning was great for the betting public with Favorites going 7-0 and covering in every game. Books got beat up on Tampa Bay (-6.5 @ Atlanta), Pittsburgh (-5.5 @ Cincinnati) and Minnesota (-4 @ Detroit). KC was also a popular play and a win for the bettors as well. The Vikings/Lions Under 47.5 was the only bright spot for the book. The afternoon was a different story as books got revenge when the dogs went 5-0 ATS (against-the-spread). Books won big when Arizona and Cleveland upset Green Bay and San Francisco respectively. That was one of the wackiest days I have ever seen

Both the SNF and MNF games saw balanced action on the spread but a little heavier dog action on the moneyline so the two favorites winning were good results for the House. The Bills/Dolphins going under was good for the book as well

Next week’s topic is Money Management, which I think is the key to being a successful bettors. If you only read one more of my columns – next week is the one you want

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Good luck with your wagers!

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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino