One of the power factors when it comes to effective handicapping is one that is often overlooked and misunderstood by many bettors – the public action. Once you understand how the public views a game you can look at why they are betting like they are, how that is impacting the line movement, and what opportunities that presents for us.
When we are talking about public action it is important to know what we are actually talking about. You can find the breakdown of bets in a game on a number of different sports betting websites these days. There are two big distinctions you have to remember, though. First of all, this is a look at the total number of bets that have been placed on each team, not the total amount of money that has been bet. Books are happy to share the number of bets, but they are not at all interested in sharing real information about the amount of money that has been bet because then people can know how much they have won or lost on a particular game. The books are far too secretive for that. This is an important difference because the team that has the largest number of bets doesn’t always have the most amount of money bet on it, and if you assume that it does then you can make some costly mistakes. The second distinction you have to make is to make sure that you are looking at actual betting data reported from sports books. Some sites will just show consensus data based on what their members think or what the results of a survey were or something like that. That’s far less meaningful than the betting data because people are giving their opinion without necessarily backing it up with their own money – it doesn’t mean as much.
Part of what makes public action so interesting is that the general trends that the public follows are very predictable in two major ways. First, the public has a very strong tendency towards the favorite and the over. There are obvious exceptions to that rule, but for he most part that’s where the public will put their cash. If the public action is heavily tilted to another area then there has to be a good reason for that, and it’s worth looking at closer. Second, the public has teams that they clearly and blindly favor. These public teams are ones that are seen as superior to every other one for some reason, and the public will back them pretty much regardless of circumstance when they aren’t playing another public team. This is teams like the Colts and Patriots in the NFL, the Lakers and Celtics in the NBA, and the Yankees and Red Sox in baseball. If the public action isn’t on one of those teams and they are playing just a normal opponent then there is definitely something interesting going on.
When is public action interesting?
When it is on the underdog – As I said before, the public almost always likes the favorite. That’s because the public doesn’t necessarily look at who is likely to cover the spread, but rather who is likely to win the game. When the public isn’t on the favorite – especially if that ‘s a favorite that they should like – then there is something going on with the game, and there could be a real opportunity.
When it isn’t where you would expect it to be – When I first look at any game I like to think about two things before I look at the odds – what I think the line should be, and who I expect the public to be on. If the actual line differs significantly from what I think it should be then I look closer to see if there is a good reason why I am wrong, and if there isn’t I have found value. If the public isn’t where I expect them to be then I also try to figure out why, and if it isn’t obvious then there’s a good chance that the line has some value to be found.
When it is heavy on one side and the line moves the other way – The betting lines work as a market – if the action is heavily tilted to one side the line will adjust until the action is more closely balanced. In some cases, though, you’ll find situations where you would expect the line to move in one direction based on the public action, but it actually moves significantly in the other direction. What this means is that the smaller percentage of bets on the one team actually represents the larger amount of money bet. That in turn means that the average amount bet on the team that the public doesn’t favor it much higher, and that probably means that the serious bettors are aggressively on the side the public isn’t on. Knowing where the smart money is is always valuable, and this is the easiest and most definite circumstance to be able to spot it.