One of the biggest problems that new and inexperienced sports bettors have is that they don’t understand what a line actually is and how they are set. If you don’t properly understand the lines and how they work then you are not always going to interpret them properly, and that can lead you to making mistakes, or at least bets that aren’t as advantageous for you as they could be.
There is one major thing that you have to understand above all else about lines in order to succeed as a sports bettor – they are not meant to be a prediction of how the game is going to turn out. That’s what people think, but it just isn’t the case. The sportsbooks don’t care about predicting exactly how games will turn out. They care about just one thing – making a profit. The purpose of any line that is set, then – whether it is a point spread, a moneyline, a total or anything else – is to try to balance the amount of money that will be bet on both sides. When the same amount of money is bet on both teams then the sportsbooks are guaranteed a profit because they get to keep the juice that the losing bettors paid. The less balanced that the action is the greater the chance that they could lose a whole lot of money if the side that has taken the majority of the bets wins the game. Of course, they could also make a whole lot of money if the unpopular team wins, but that’s essentially gambling on their part and sportsbooks have no interest in gambling – they just want to make as much money as they can. So, let me say this again – the lines are set to limit the exposure of the sportsbooks as well as possible, not to predict what is going to happen.
Setting lines is as much an art as it is a science. Successful oddsmakers have to not only have a very good sense of the teams involved and how they match up. They also have to be psychologists – they have to understand the motivations of the betting public and the smart money, and they have to have a good sense of what those two sides will think about a given team and where the line can best be place. There are several factors that have to be included in the assessment of what the bettors will think about a game. These include:
The public likes favorites – In most circumstances the public is going to lean towards the favorites and the over. There are some exceptions, but that is remarkably consistent. Because of this tendency the oddsmakers need to be sure that the line is set high enough to turn people away from this tendency. The more public attention on a game the harder the oddsmakers will have to work on this front.
Public teams – There are some teams that the public really loves no matter what they do – the Cowboys, Yankees, and Lakers for example. The public will bet those teams against a less respected team almost no matter what, so oddsmakers need to compensate for that.
Smart money – Smart money is what professional bettors with exceptional knowledge and preparation bet. It is very intelligent and always looking for opportunities. If oddsmakers compensate too much for the public tendencies then that might open up and opportunity for the smart money and that could leave the books vulnerable in the opposite direction.
Injuries – Injuries can have a big impact on games. As significantly, the perception of the impact of a major injury to a star player can impact the line – if the public panics about an injury it will impact the line significantly whether it will have a real impact on the team or not.
Home field – The location of the game can give a team a huge advantage. In iconic facilities the perception of the home field advantage can be even bigger than it really is.
Streaks – Teams that are on winning streaks will draw more attention than they otherwise would. the opposite is true for teams on losing streaks.
Matchups – Oddsmakers need to be very aware of matchups. If the matchups are far from favorable for a team then they won’t be able to play anywhere near their potential.
Once you understand that a line isn’t a prediction then you can understand and begin to exploit the importance of line movement. If books are trying to balance their action – or at least try to come close – then the lines typically move in an attempt to make the more popular team less attractive. That would ideally push the action to the less popular team, but at the very least it will slow down the action on the popular team. By watching line action, then, you can get a good sense of where the money is being bet, and what the public and the smart money opinions of the game are. You can also start to spot cases where the line movement isn’t what you would expect it to be – and that can be particularly profitable in may cases.