How Do Betting Lines Work – How to Read Them

<p>AP Photos</p>

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Learn how betting lines work in baseball (MLB), hockey, soccer, football(NFL), basketball (NBA), MMA, boxing and many more!

One of the most effective strategies in sports betting today – used by many seasoned and sharp bettors – is monitoring line movement. Paying attention to how the money being bet influences betting line changes is truly one of the best tools one can have in their arsenal. Learning how to use line movements to your advantage is foundational to being a successful bettor and to come out with a profit in the long term. Use this as a guideline to get you the knowledge you need to analyze line movement and be on your way as a sharp bettor.

What is Line Movement in Sports Betting? 

Line movement refers to when the odds or the point spread for a bet changes leading up to the game. You will most likely hear people asking what the current line is or using phrases like “opening line” and “closing line.” Opening and closing lines are what the lines for games are when they first are available on books, and the last available line before the game starts, respectively. How the odds move from open to close is called line movement. 

Examples of Betting Line Movement

For example, let’s say that the Green Bay Packers are hosting the Chicago Bears. The opening line on Monday morning (first available line that can be bet on this game) is Packers -4.5. Throughout the week, the line fluctuates based on a variety of factors, and before kickoff on Sunday, the line closes at Packers -7.5. this means that the line movement was 3.5 points throughout the week. 

Why do Betting Lines Move?

There are many reasons that line movement occurs for every game. Some of the most common factors include: 

  1. Money movement – if more money is coming in on one team, the books will adjust the line to make the less popular side more tempting for bettors and even their exposure on both sides of a bet
  2. Injuries and/or specific players not playing in that game 
  3. External reasons (weather, travel conditions, breaking news, etc.)

Line Movement on Moneyline & Point Spread Bets

Line movement can occur for virtually every type of bet. You can see the moneyline for a team fluctuate throughout the week; however, unless very significant information comes in that would drastically change the outcome of the game, the favorite usually stays as the favorite. Totals and point spreads generally see a lot of movement, but you typically will only see that move by 0.5 to 1 at a time. 

Line Movement Betting Strategies

There are many ways to interpret and use line movement to your advantage. For starters, make sure you are paying attention to the 3 reasons above. As you start to understand and get a feel for how lines move and how they may move as game time nears, there are aa few tips and tricks you can take advantage of:

  1. Most of the time, a line moves against the favorite. So, if you are confident in the favorite, bet it earlier rather than later. 
  2. If you think the underdog is in a good spot with the opening line, it is typically better to wait, as the odds improve for them as you get closer to game time.
  3. Pay attention to lines (across multiple books) that present opportunities to:
    • Arbitrage – playing both sides of the line to ensure a profit. This is a great strategy that you should only be using with multiple books. Example: Packers are -100 moneyline on book 1, and Bears are +125 on book 2. There is instant opportunity to bet both lines and make a profit either way. If you put $225 on Packers (-100) and $200 on Bears (+125), you will be betting $425 to guarantee yourself $450 regardless of outcome. $25 in profit without any risk
    • Middling – watching lines movement to see if you can find value to sandwich opposite bets, with opportunity to hit both and double profits. Example: Point total for the Packers Bears game opens at 42.5. You bet the over, along with many other people. The books readjust their lines, and the point total is up to 45.5 before kickoff. If you bet the under on 45.5, you have a 3-point middle to work with to win both your bets (if the point total ends anywhere from 43-45), and if the point total is over 42.5 or under 45.5, you will hit at least one.

At the end of the day, paying attention to line movement is a great tool in your arsenal, and using the above strategies (along with your gut feeling) will help you be on your way to betting like the sharps.

How do Hockey Betting Lines Work?

While hockey betting has standard betting lines like the moneyline, there are some distinct differences when betting on hockey.

First, the moneyline bets can get quite nerve-racking because of the high rate of hockey games that go to overtime. If a game does go to overtime and no one scores in the five-minute overtime period, they go into a shootout. Be aware of these trends before you bet to become a sharper sports bettor.

If you believe there will be a winner decided before overtime, you can bet on a 60-minute line. If the team you bet on wins the match without having to go to overtime, your payout will be higher than that of the standard moneyline. It’s certainly a riskier play but has the potential to increase your profits.

For point spreads, remember a game that goes into overtime can only win by one goal. If you selected a team to cover a 1.5 spread, or win by more than one goal, it would be impossible for you to win. In hockey, the spread is referred to as the puck line.

How do Baseball (MLB) Lines Work?

Similar to puck lines, baseball spreads are known as run lines. They work the same in which a team must cover your chosen spread to win.

For example, taking the Seattle Mariners at -1.5 means they must win by two runs or more. Winning by one means you lose. It’s worth nothing that if a baseball game goes to extra innings, your chances of covering a 1.5 spread aren’t impossible like hockey, but it does get interesting.

In extra innings, one run can win the game if it’s the bottom of the inning, or if a team scores that run at the top of the inning and the home team fails to match. Therefore, you’d need a team to score multiple times or hit a walk-off home run of more than one run to win your bet.

There are also a number of baseball bettings lines that are unique to the sport, such as over/under strikeouts, runs based on innings, player over/under hits or runs and more! One of the most popular is the NRFI (No Run in the First Inning). It’s a quick win or loss that makes what can be boring starts to the game a bit more exciting.

How do Football (NFL) Lines Work?

With football, the spread and moneyline bets are the same as all sports, but you must factor in the numbers in which teams can score. Touchdowns are six points, extra points are one point, field goals are three points and safeties are two points. When calculating a spread line you like, it’s important to keep these values in mind.

Football has some of the most fun prop bets in sports, such as the ‘Anytime Touchdown Scorer’ or ‘First Touchdown Scorer’. These are great bets to take if you feel a specific player has a huge advantage over another in a particular game.

The NFL also has fun futures bets. There’s the obvious ones like Super Bowl winner, but there are also very profitable bets based on awards. If you feel a player is trending towards a major comeback season, you might want to bet on them being the Comeback Player of the Year in January. The odds on these bets are very high and offer great payouts.

How do Basketball (NBA) Lines Work?

Similar to the other sports, basketball has the standard spreads, moneylines and totals bets. You can bet on a team to win a game, or win by a specified margin. You can also bet on an underdog to not lose by more than their spread, better known as covering the spread.

The NBA has player props, the most popular being over/under points, assists and rebounds. These are generally numbers pulled from a player’s average statistics and then deciding whether you think they’ll have more or less than that in a specific game. You can also customize the player props for better or worse odds, depending on what you think will happen.

Like most leagues, NBA bettors can also take part in futures bets. There are plenty of awards in basketball like MVP and Coach of the Year. Getting ahead on these picks can result in huge payouts.

How do Soccer Betting Lines Work?

While many of the above sports are similar in their bettings, soccer has a ton of unique betting lines.

For example, soccer games can end in a tie, unlike many other sports. Bettors can take three-way moneylines, which means betting on a specific team to win OR a tie. Two-way moneylines, on the other hand, are similar to standard U.S. sports betting moneylines in that your chosen team must win the game.

Three-way moneylines are going to be lower odds since you do have the insurance of a tie to win your bet, while two-way moneylines are for when you are very confident in a team outright winning a game.

Aside from this, soccer has a number of betting lines similar to other sports. Bettors can take player props like goals scored, or game props like number of corner kicks.

How do MMA Betting Lines Work?

UFC and MMA lines are a bit different in the sense that betting is on the individual, not the team.

In general, UFC fights are classified by weight as to not give one fighter an extreme advantage over another. For example, heavyweight fights have a maximum of 265 pounds to qualify.

UFC betting lines are a bit different. For example, bettors can take lines called TKOs, or a knockout. TKO’s happen when a fighter is mentally or physically unable to continue fighting as a result of a serious hit taken by their opponent.

Since a fight can end at any time due to a knockout, there are game bets that include betting on how long a game will last. This typically revolves around a fighter being able to finish the 15 minute fight.

How do Boxing Betting Lines Work?

Boxing is very similar to the MMA in the sense that you can bet on standard moneyline wagers and knockouts. In boxing, you can bet on the decisions of the judges, as in what fighter the judges will favor.

As for player props, boxing bettors can bet on punches thrown, punches landed and more. Players can also bet on whether or not a fight will go the distance, as in one of the boxers won’t be knocked out or have to forfeit the match. These can often be risky, but where this is risk there is large payouts in betting.

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