Sports Betting Lines

Sports betting continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Overall wagering volume is growing  tremendously as additional states climb on board with legalization, including right here in Colorado.

More folks than ever are placing their bets in completely legal and safe fashion, and that translates into greater action for watch game and event on the docket. As the action increases, it has a natural ripple effect on the line movement we see in betting markets.

For those new to sports betting, the gyrations of the odds market can seem like it has no reason or rhyme. The reality is vastly different.

There are distinct reasons why the sports betting line moves. We’re going to show you how to make sense of it all here. Let’s take a look.

What Are Sports Betting Lines?

At first glance, the odds board at a random sportsbook can be a bit intimidating. There are generally dozens of different games and events listed, not to mention numbers as far as the eye can see.

The numbers that you see are also referred to as ‘the lines.’ These numbers are set by books and effectively place a price on the outcome of the match. For your typical betting line of the major team sports, you’ll see numbers for three separate components:

  • Moneyline: These are odds on the outright winner of the matchup.
  • Point Spread: An estimated margin of victory which needs to be factored in.
  • Totals: An estimate of the total points scored in a contest.

For illustrative purposes, you may see something like this for an upcoming NFL game.

  • Las Vegas Raiders +120    +2.5 (-110)      5 (-110)
  • Denver Broncos -140     -2.5 (-110)       5 (-110)

From left to right, the three sets of numbers after the team name are telling us the odds for the main bet types. The Broncos are favored on the moneyline, the point spread has them as 2.5-point favorites, and the total is set at 49.5 points.

As with most things in life, the more exposure you have to sports betting lines, the more familiar they will become to you.

How Oddsmakers Set Sports Betting Lines

Just like the betting public, the goal of sportsbooks is to show a profit at the end of the day. To make that happen, they need to set efficient lines which are as close to being on point as possible.

There’s a whole lot of work that goes into setting the lines before they are released to the public. For most sportsbooks, that means a team of people tackling reams of data with the assistance of computer programs.

The person overseeing the operation is often referred to as the oddsmaker, and the folks who fill this role at leading sportsbooks are very good at what they do. As a result, consistently beating the lines to turn a profit can be challenging.

Oddsmakers have access to tons of data. If there’s a variable that seriously impacts a game or event, you can be certain that they have factored it into the equation.

For a general overview on team-based sports, here are some of the biggest data points examined in advance of finalizing the lines.

  • Overall strengths and weaknesses of the two teams.
  • The matchup itself and recent play for both sides.
  • Major ancillary factors that may impact the outcome, such as injuries or other developments.

All of the above information is factored together, as are tons of other statistics and situational data. The end result is a set of lines which lists out the favorite and underdog, a point spread for sports that attract action on this front, and an estimated total.

Opening Lines for Sports Betting

When the initial odds for a game or event are released to the betting public, this is known as the ‘opening lines.’

For weekly sports such as the NFL and College Football, you’ll see odds for the following week’s games begin to be released as the current set of games is winding down.

On the daily sports like NBA, NHL, MLB, and College Basketball, odds can be released for the following day’s games the night before, and generally no later than the morning of the game itself.

If a line isn’t released right away for a game, you can interpret that to mean that there’s some pending news that sportsbooks are waiting for additional insight on. This can include things such as player injury or suspensions, coaching changes, or trades, for example.

After the initial lines are released, it’s time for the betting public to have its say. From this point, it’s not uncommon to see the betting lines move in either direction.

So exactly why does that happen? Let’s take a look.

Sports Betting Line Movement Explained

From the time that betting lines are released until the time you’re ready to place your wagers, there can be some movement in odds, spreads, and totals.

In general, the movement can be attributed to one of two reasons: action in the betting markets or news that developed after the initial lines are released.

On the action front, let’s use a random NBA game as an example. Here’s what the opening lines look like for a fictitious game between the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets.

  • Jazz +155    +3.5 (-110)      5 (-110)
  • Nuggets -175     -3.5 (-110)       5 (-110)

The Nuggets are big moneyline and 3.5-point home favorites in a game that’s expected to be relatively high-scoring. After the lines are released, the public weighs in and more money comes in on the Jazz side of the equation.

For sportsbooks, the goal is to have as close to equal action on both sides as possible. This helps to limit liability on their end. As such, they may tweak the odds a bit to make the Niggets side more attractive to bettors.

  • Jazz +135    +3 (-110)         5 (-110)
  • Nuggets -155     -3 (-110)          5 (-110)

In a perfect world, that’ll even things out a bit more for oddsmakers. If it doesn’t, it’s possible to see an additional adjustment.

For bettors, it’s imperative to track movements from the initial release to the time you’re ready to place your bets. You don’t need to see every single tick, but seeing how much movement there has been can give you solid insight into the overall market direction.

Lines can also move based on information that comes in after the initial release. To move a line substantially, it would have to be a big piece of news, such as an injury to major player, trade of a key cog, or a coaching change.

If you see a big movement in a line for game you’ve been tracking, take the time to review the news surrounding the game to make sure you haven’t missed anything important in your handicapping.

The Importance of Shopping for Best Lines

While major sportsbook operators tend to be relatively in the same range for odds and lines, that doesn’t mean that they are all exactly the same.

In fact, you can find differences for all three major bet types by shopping around a little bit for the best price. This practice is known as line shopping, and it’s a key piece of the repertoire for seasoned bettors.

For an example, let’s consider the moneyline for a random NHL game at one sportsbook.

  • Dallas Stars +120
  • Colorado Avalanche -140

The Avalanche are pretty big favorites here. If you placed a $100 bet at these odds, you’d be looking at a profit of $71.40 if all went well.

Before pulling the trigger, you decide to check the lines at another book to compare. Here’s what you find.

  • Dallas Stars +110
  • Colorado Avalanche -130

Colorado is still favored, but there are a few ticks of difference. On a $100 bet, the return at this book would be $76.90 if the Avalanche won.

That may not seem like a huge difference, but it can absolutely add up over the course of a season. Line shopping to find the best price can make a big difference for your ultimate bottom line.

Key Takeaways on Line Movement

Here’s what you need to remember:

  • Oddsmakers set the initial lines and release them to the public.
  • Once the betting market weighs in, the odds and lines can move.
  • Movement is the result of either market action or news that developed after release.
  • Bettors should track any changes from the initial release until the time they are ready to place bets to gain a sense of market sentiment.
  • Line shopping can help point you to better odds and lines for games you plan to place bets on.