Line Shopping Made Easy

In last week’s issue we talked about teasers. The Monday Night Football game was a good example of a game that was good for the house on teasers as it finished more than 7 points off the total and the spread.

This week I want to discuss how best to take advantage of different lines books offer. And like the last few issues, 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.

It Starts with Good Common Sense

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 43.5 on the Dallas/Seattle game last Monday Night if you could have gotten over 43? Why would you bet over 43 if you could have gotten a wager in over 42.5? 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 for any sport, line or bet type. As an example, we can look at last Saturday’s Army/Navy college football game. With totals ranging from 53 to 56 during the week and a final score 42-13, it made a big difference what line you got regardless of whether you chose the over or the under!

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

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.

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 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.

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.

Good luck with your wagers!

I always welcome comments, questions and suggestions via email at
Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino