Sports Betting Lines Explained

Written by: Joseph Falchetti, Editor-in-Chief, Pro Sports Bettor and Casino Expert
Last updated:
7 minute read

Sports Betting Lines ExplainedSports betting markets cannot exist without sports betting lines and both have come a long way since the early beginnings of sports betting. Sports gambling in the United States today has its roots as far back as the 1800s when Major League Baseball was established and eventually became a national obsession. Even before the league’s nationwide popularity, there was widespread wagering on horse racing.

As technology improved, and sports became more popular due to television broadcasts, sports betting rose in popularity as well. The advent of legal bookmaking in Nevada truly jump-started the industry into legitimate. Today, we not only have Las Vegas sportsbooks and local bookies across the country but thanks to online betting sites – there is a massive global sport betting market. Sports betting is now more popular than ever. The key to successful wagering it having an in-depth understanding of various sports betting lines. If you have ever wondered why betting lines move we have the answer for you.

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Sports Betting Lines – Origins

There’s no particular group of people that come up with the sports betting lines for each day slate of sports betting action. Instead, the best minds in the industry do their best to come up with the sharpest lines as possible. As discussed in our article regarding fading the public, the days of looking to solely balance action and factoring public opinion are long gone. Some recreational gambling sites might shade their lines to take advantage of the public, but this strategy is a dangerous one for a betting site that caters to high volume professional level bettors.

The oddsmakers have to be good at what they do, their jobs, and their business is on the line if they are posting inefficient odds. The global betting market is massive. There are billions of dollars bet every single day. Though sports betting online isn’t legal in every state but only with licensed sportsbooks that have land-based operations, there is a thriving offshore industry based online and local bookies in every city in the country.

There are millions wagered each day by US bettors, with the vast majority of it wagered ‘illegally.’ The number of bets that Las Vegas sportsbooks takes in each year is a fraction of the amount truly wagered by Americans. In reality, the unregulated US market and international bookmakers shape the odds for all major events.

Opening Sports Betting Lines Explained

The opening line, also known as the overnight line is the first opinion the oddsmakers give on the coming day’s contests. How early lines are posted varies quite wildly between sportsbooks, but the upper tier ones with the sharpest odds generally post their lines sooner than more recreational gambling sites.

The overnight line is essentially a bit of a ‘feeling out’ period for the oddsmakers. If you happen to look at your sportsbook’s wagering limits for overnight lines, they’re drastically less than the amount they will accept the next day. This allows betting websites to keep betting limits low until the market moves in the morning, and the number becomes more efficient. It keeps sharp bettors under wraps until the following day, when betting limits are increased, and numbers get hit hard from professional level gamblers.

Why Do Betting Lines Move?

Known sharp bettors won’t tip their cap the night before by wagering a much smaller amount on a line that they feel is inefficient. Instead, they will pounce on the odds early the next day (once the betting limit increases) usually around 9 or 10 am.

NFL moneylinesAt this time, anyone watching online betting markets will see a flurry of line movement as sharps pound their favorite bets. These experienced and profitable bettors will shape the market for the day or week, and will actually help the bookmakers produce more efficient odds. These line movements created by sharp bettors are known as steam moves. These bets are much larger than the average public wager from a random sports bettor. They’re all in the five-figure range and can be much larger depending on the sportsbook.

Keep in mind that we haven’t mentioned anything in regards to the betting public so far. The line moves early in the day or early in the week for NFL or college football contests will always be caused by high-volume professional bettors. There are two simple reasons for this. For one, recreational bettors don’t bet so far ahead of time before the games begin.

Professional Sports Betting Line Movement

For sports, such as NBA basketball betting line or MBL baseball betting line, public bettors often wait to wager a few hours before game time or even later. Most of these same bettors usually wait until later in the week to bet on NFL or College football contests, rather than getting an early jump on the lines late Sunday or early Monday.

Secondly, as mentioned above, the amount they wager is much smaller. Oddsmakers don’t respect their opinion when it comes to handicapping sports, even if they’re betting large amounts of money. Sharp bettors aren’t simply people with money to burn at a betting site. They’re proven winners, which sportsbooks take seriously.

Public Betting Action Move The Sports Lines

Lines do move from public betting action, but these usually don’t come until closer to game time and if they’re coming from players who are losing bettors or don’t fit the profile of a sharp sports bettor – the gambling sites won’t take their wagers quite as seriously.

Major betting markets will move quickly when a top betting site changes their odds. Since many sportsbooks don’t take professional level action, they will watch the top sportsbooks in the market and adjust their odds accordingly as they move their lines.

Of course, lines will move for other reasons as well. There may be surprise scratches or news that a player will suit up, which will affect the betting line or total. The public may also move the line, but that usually doesn’t happen until a few hours before game time in like MLB, NBA, and NHL but can affect football contests 1-2 days before.

Sports Betting Line Movement – Conclusion

By the time most of the public is wagering, we’re looking an extremely efficient market. The major sports betting line moves late are normally because of injury issues or information being leaked. This doesn’t mean bettors can’t find a good price by line shopping, they absolutely can, but the sharpest books are at their best the closer we get to the event starting. Remember, much of the betting market is a copy-cat game. The sharpest books that take the biggest action will be the ones to move their lines due to wiseguy action and the smaller, more recreational focused sportsbooks move their odds to match the industry’s top opinions.

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Major Sports Betting Markets – Important Advice

It’s important that bettors realize that the above advice is for major markets, including sides, totals, and to a certain extent team totals, along with possibly halftime or first half lines on major sports. All of these markets are widely wagered and have significant betting limits at most online gambling sites, particularly when it comes to NFL football, NBA baseball, MLB basketball and NHL hockey. For other markets, such as player and team proposition bets, betting limits are much lower. Although these are derivatives, the betting market for these sports is much smaller. Many propositions and other smaller markets have maximum betting limits of just $500 or lower.

The line movements for these wagers are frequently but not always automated. They’re among the most profitable markets for bettors who know what they are doing, but their low maximum bet and automated line movement makes them an outlier in terms of the worldwide betting markets. Be sure to check out our hub about all types of betting strategies for your betting needs and for all sports you might look out for.

Check Out The Best Sports Betting Strategies Around

About the Author

Joseph Falchetti

Joseph Falchetti

Editor-in-Chief, Pro Sports Bettor and Casino Expert

Joe is the author of the majority of sports betting pages on SBS and he serves as a gambling consultant to our content team. He's been mentioned on as a gaming analyst, and his articles have been linked by larger publications, such as the New York Times.

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