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 and it’s worth paying attention to.
Line movement can help get the best possible price on your wagers and it can also give you valuable information on how to bet.
We’ll get into all the reasons betting lines move in more detail in this guide but most commonly, it happens when more money is being bet on one side of the bet compared to the other.
This page is your guide to line movements and how it relates to sports gambling.
- We explain exactly what line movement is and why it occurs.
- We help you understand exactly how you can use this information to your advantage.
- We look at common betting situation where line movement is a factor, including live betting.
- We check in with some of the major sports so you will know what line movement looks like in each sport.
- Finally, we give practical tips and strategies on different ways you can use this information to win more bets.
Line Movement and Betting at a Glance
Line movement matters. Knowing the best time to place your bet can be the difference between a modest win and a big profit. As you become more confident and experienced in sports betting, considering line movement will become second nature.
You will get a feel for how lines are likely to move and learn when the best time to place your bets is. Using line movement to your advantage is a great way to maximize betting profits.
Depending on which side of the bet you want to take, you may be better off waiting until the line has moved in your favor. Alternatively, it is possible you should get in on the action as early as possible if you think the line will move against you.
As you will see, there are ways to predict which way the line will move, and when you should place your bet.
What Is Line Movement?
The term “lines” is used a lot in sports betting and it can refer to odds on a bet, or specific lines like the point spread or the over/under total.
These lines can change drastically between the time they are initially set by the sportsbook up until when the game actually begins. There are lots of reasons betting lines can move but let’s start with the most common.
In general, sportsbooks like to have as close to an even amount of action on each side of a bet. This means that regardless of who wins, they will make a profit on the commission they charge, which is the cut the sportsbook takes of every bet before it is paid out.
If there is way more action on one side of the bet, the sportsbook risks losing money when that side of the bet ends up winning. The way that the sportsbook can encourage an even amount of money being bet on both sides is by making the less popular side more attractive. This is done by changing the payout odds or shifting the point spread or total.
Line movement can take different forms:
- More valuable odds, such as a higher positive value on the money line
- A change in the number of points given or taken away from a team.
- A change in the predicted points total of a game.
Basically, any time you notice that the odds, points or totals in a bet have changed, that means the line has been moved.
Line movement can occur at any time, and it occurs as a reaction – usually to a majority of money being placed on one side of the bet, but also to external factors such as injuries or suspensions.
Example of Line Movement in Sports Betting
Generally, once the betting lines are opened there is a flurry of bets from the public which indicates which side of the bet most people like. After that initial flurry, it is common that the lines will be moved.
Here is an example of how a typical line might move:
- Kansas City Chiefs -3.5 (-110)
- Baltimore Ravens +3.5 (-110)
The same line, three days later:
- Kansas City Chiefs -5 (-110)
- Baltimore Ravens +5 (-110)
In this case, the line movement has come in the form of a change in the point spread.
The Chiefs started out as favorites, with -3.5 points. When the line moved they became even greater favorites, moving to -5 points. Conversely, the Ravens became an even bigger dog.
In this case, it is likely that a lot of people bet on the Chiefs when the line opened. This leads the sportsbook to give more points to the Ravens, to entice people to bet on them and balance the action.
In this bet, the odds have remained the same (-110) and only the point spread has changed.
Another way the line could move is that the odds change on the money line, without the point spread being considered. That could look like this:
- Kansas City Chiefs -135
- Baltimore Ravens +225
The same bet three days later:
- Kansas City Chiefs -150
- Baltimore Ravens +250
In this example, a $100 bet on the Ravens would pay an extra $25 if you had waited until the line moved.
By making one side of the bet more appealing, the sportsbook can entice more people to bet on it. In the next section, we’ll explain why sportsbooks change the odds.
Why Do Betting Lines Move?
As we have seen, generally lines move because a large majority of money has been placed on one side of a single bet. The sportsbooks don’t like this because if all those bets win, they will lose money.
When the sportsbook wants to “balance the books” it will move the line to make that side of the bet more attractive.
In the example above, the Chiefs started out as favorites and attracted a lot of bets. This would have made the sportsbook concerned that they would lose money if the Chiefs won. In response, they gave the Ravens even more points so that more people would bet on them.
The most common reason for line movement is that the vast majority of public bettors are betting in one direction. Generally, the highest number of people betting on one side means that that side has the highest amount of money.
Other Reasons Betting Lines Move
Another possibility, particularly when the line moves erratically or unexpectedly, is that a lot of money has been placed by a small number of bettors. This tends to take the form of reverse line movement.
Reverse line movement is when the line moves in contradiction to the public betting percentage. That is, even though most people are betting on one side, the line moves to make that side more attractive. This tends to indicate sharp money.
Lines can also move based on external factors separate from the betting. For example, if three key players from one team are suddenly injured a couple of days out from an important game, that is likely to be reflected in the betting lines. Other factors like this include suspensions, team selection, tactical announcements or weather.
Remember, sportsbooks are not always trying to set lines that they think are fair or even. It’s all about making the most money. A lot of the time, this means balancing the action since they can’t lose when there is even money on each side of the bet.
The bottom line is that with the exception of player and team factors, sportsbooks move betting lines because they think it gives them the best chance of making money.
Strategies: How to Use Line Movement
There are lots of different sports betting strategies that let you leverage your knowledge of line movement.
One of the simplest ways is just knowing when to wait for the line to change in your favor.
Another strategy for using line movement is to observe how the odds change to give you an idea of where the best value is.
First, we’ll think about how the line movement affects our bets when we already know who we want to bet on. If you are sure which side you want to back, all you need to worry about is getting the best price or point spread.
Waiting for the Line to Move
One good rule of thumb is that if you want to bet on the favorite you should bet early.
Line movement can be erratic, but generally, favorites are more popular with the public, and so the line tends to move against them after the betting line is opened.
Remember that a lot of casual bettors don’t even consider odds or the point spread too strongly. They simply bet on the favorite as soon as the line is released. Over time, the line tends to move against the favorite, making them a less attractive bet.
Conversely, if you like the road underdog it is often worth waiting a few days after the line is released. Generally, the public bets on favorites which leads to line movement in favor of the underdog. This is known as betting against the favorite, and you can read our guide here.
Line movement is also very important for hedging. If you get in early and the line moves so that your side of the bet comes down in odds or points, chances are you can bet on the other side to reduce your risk. This is only possible when the line moves in your favor.
One more technique to use if you know which side you like: decide on a price that works for you and wait to see if the line moves onto your price. If it doesn’t, don’t bet.
Using Line Movement to Guide Betting Decisions
What about when you don’t know which side of the bet you want to bet on? Well, line movement can help you pick. Take this example:
Opening line in the morning:
- Boston Celtics – 6 (-110)
- Orlando Magic +6 (-110)
Line in the evening:
- Boston Celtics -9 (-110)
- Orlando Magic +9 (-110)
This line movement indicates that a lot of money has been placed on the Celtics in a short space of time. Although movement does tend to go against the favorite, it is often quite gradual.
A big jump like this suggests that the smartest bettors with the most money (or sharps) think that the original line offered by the sportsbook was very good value.
If you spot a situation like this, a good move will be to quickly check other sportsbooks to see if the Celtics are available anywhere else at -6. Since sportsbooks react to the bets they receive themselves (as opposed to bets received by other sportsbooks) lines move at different speeds in different books.
Once you have an idea of the value from the line movement of one book, you should shop around with others to find the best price.
As you gain more experience in sports betting, you will become more familiar with the way the lines move. Generally speaking, if you notice a line moving in a way that “feels” irregular, it suggests that you can find value – either by getting in on the action before the line changes or by shopping around for a better price using your information.
- If you want to bet on the favorite, bet early before the line moves.
- If you are interested in the underdog, consider waiting for an improved price.
- Consider using line movement to hedge your bets.
Both the direction of the line movement and the timing of the line movement gives us information. Dramatic movement over a short period of time indicates big money from clued-in bettors. Gradual movement in one direction indicates public perception.
Different Kinds of Betting Lines that Move
So, we know that sometimes line movement is orchestrated by sportsbooks to entice people to bet on a specific side of the bet, generally to balance the house’s action.
Depending on the kind of bet, line movement will look different. In this section we’ll walk you through some of the most common forms of line movement you’ll see in sports betting.
Point Spread Line Movement
Point spread betting is one way that sportsbooks can level the playing field in a bet.
Basically, the sportsbook decides on the most likely margin of victory and gives each side a points handicap accordingly. The odds are generally -110, meaning you need to bet $110 to win $100.
A typical point spread line will look like this:
- Indianapolis Colts – 3.5 (-110)
- Dallas Cowboys + 3.5 (-110)
If you bet on the Colts, they need to win by four points or more for you to win. If you bet on the Cowboys, you will win provided they either win the game outright or don’t lose by four points or more.
After this line is released and some betting has taken place, it could look like this:
- Indianapolis Colts – 4.5 (-110)
- Dallas Cowboys + 4.5 (-110)
Here, the line has moved so that the Colts are even bigger favorites. Now, if you bet on them they will need to win by 5 points or more for you to win your bet.
Line movement in point spread betting is all about sportsbooks making the suggested margin of victory more attractive or less attractive.
If you notice the numbers in a point spread bet getting higher over time (ie, more points between the teams), it means the majority of money is being placed on the favorite. If the numbers are getting lower, the majority of the money is going on the underdog.
Key numbers are significant for moving point spreads. You can read our more comprehensive guide to key numbers here. For now, just be aware that sportsbooks will be reluctant to move the lines onto key numbers, such as +3 in the NFL. If you see a spread moving on or off a key number, it is worth considering how this could affect a bet.
Moneyline Line Movement
Moneyline bets are probably the simplest form of betting. You are betting on whether a team or player wins or loses, that’s it.
In this case, the sportsbook makes up for the difference in quality between the two teams not with points, but with odds. Betting on the underdog will win more than betting on the favorite.
A typical moneyline might look like this:
- Toronto Maple Leafs -135
- Boston Bruins +125
Here, the Maple Leafs are the favorite – you need to bet $135 on them to win $100. The Bruins are dogs – if you bet $100 on them you stand to win $125.
If the values get larger then the majority of money is being placed on the favorite. If they get smaller, then the majority is going on the underdog.
Point Totals Line Movement
Point total bets involve betting on the total number of points scored in a game. The sportsbook sets a number on which they suggest there is a fifty-fifty shot of the total points being either over or under. The line might look like this:
San Antonio Spurs vs Toronto Raptors
- Total Points Over (+226.5) -110
- Total Points Under (+226.5) -110
In this case, if you bet the over you will win if there is a total of 227 points or more scored in the game. If you bet the under, you will win if there is a total of 226 or fewer points scored. In each case, you need to bet $110 to win $100.
If a lot of bets came in on the Over in this case, the points total might rise to entice more bets on the Under. That could look like this:
Total Points Over (+228.5) -110
Total Points Under (+228.5) -110
In this case, if you liked the Over, you would have been better to bet early before the line moved. However, if you liked the Under, you will have gotten a better price by waiting.
Of the three types of movement here, totals are the most affected by factors like weather and injuries to creative players, since these can have a major effect on the number of points scored.
All of the above examples are different forms of the same activity from sportsbooks. The books move the lines because they want to make one side of the bet more attractive, whether that is through points, odds or totals. Watching how these numbers change gives you information which you can use to time your bets effectively.
Betting the Middle When Point Spreads Change
One of the classic ways to take advantage of line movement is by using a strategy called betting the middle. The situation only arises once in a while depending on line movement, and when it does you have the chance to bet on both sides of a game with a chance to win both bets.
Say the Patriots were playing the Chargers and the line looked like this:
- New England Patriots -4 (-110)
- LA Chargers +4 (-110)
You like the Patriots at this price, so you get in on the action early and bet $100 on them at -4. Now over the course of the next few days, a lot of people bet on the Patriots, so the sportsbook changes the line. Now it looks like this:
- New England Patriots -7 (-110)
- LA Chargers +7 (-110)
This opens up the possibility of a middle bet for you. On the new line, you bet $100 on the Chargers at +7.
So now you have separate bets on the Patriots -4 and the Chargers at +7. This leaves you in a situation where you will win both bets if the Patriots win by 5 or 6 points. If this happens, you will have a $200-dollar profit from both bets, despite betting on opposite sides.
If they win by 4 or 7 points you also get one of your bets back as a push, while winning the other. This would mean a $100 profit
The worst-case scenario, in this case, is you win one of your bets and lose the other. This would result in a comparatively small loss of $10, based on the vigorish for the sportsbook.
Successfully betting the middle depends on you getting in on the right side of action early. Key numbers are important to watch out for when looking for middle bets since they can be very influential in the final result.
A dream middle bet in the NFL, for example, would be one that moves from +4.5 to +7.5, since that represents a two-score difference.
However, middle bets do not require a specific points differential. They are available any time you get in on the action early, and the team you backed is eventually given fewer points when the line changes.
Famous Example of Betting the Middle
A famous middle bet occurred on Super Bowl XIII, what became known as Black Sunday in betting circles. In that game, the Pittsburgh Steelers opened up as 3.5 favorites over the Dallas Cowboys. Before the game, the spread shifted to 4.5. Anyone who bet early on the Steelers at -3.5 and later on the Cowboys at +4.5 were now desperately hoping for a 4 point Steelers win.
When the game finished 35-31 to the Steelers many sportsbooks had one of the worst days in history as bettors won big on both sides.
Live Betting and Line Movement
Live betting is becoming increasingly popular, especially as both betting and mobile technology improve. Live betting means that betting does not stop once a match begins, but instead continues throughout the game, with the lines and odds moving in response to what’s happening in the game.
As you might expect, depending on the sport and the activity of the game, this can cause a lot of dramatic movement.
Points, penalties, suspensions, injuries, goals, home runs – all of these can change the lines in an instant.
Line movement in live betting is a lot more unpredictable. However, if you have a combination of bets on the game it can easily present great opportunities to hedge your bets, or bet the middle.
Just like in the previous example, if you bet on the favorite and they take an early lead there will be a lot more points on offer for the underdog. You can bet on them at the improved price and stand to win the middle.
Something similar exists with money line bets in live betting. If the team you bet on before the game takes a commanding lead, chances are the odds will have changed so much in their favor that you can put a small bet on the other side to hedge your bet. Depending on the odds, this could mean you stand to make a profit regardless of the result.
A similar possibility exists regarding totals in live betting.
Just like line movement in general, the key skills involved in live betting line movement are being able to read momentum, and timing your bets. However, it is worth repeating that live betting is just a lot more unpredictable in general compared with line movement before the game.
Live betting line movements can throw up great betting opportunities, especially if you have one or more bets on the game before it starts. The exact nature of those opportunities depends on a lot of variables, so they are hard to predict. But it is certainly worth keeping an eye on live betting for hedging and middling opportunities.
Line Movement in Major Sports
The basic idea of the line moving depending on the money placed on either side of the bet is the same regardless of sport. However, the way that the line changes does vary somewhat depending on the sport.
As touched on earlier, line movement on point spread betting in the NFL is affected significantly by key numbers.
Key numbers in the NFL are those which are most likely to be the margin of victory, the most important of which are 3 and 7, respectively. Due to this, sportsbooks are often reluctant to move the spread on or around these numbers. Take this line for example:
- Kansas City Chiefs -3 (-110)
- LA Rams +3 (-110)
Even if there is a lot of action on the Chiefs as favorite, sportsbooks may not want to move them to -3.5 and the Chiefs to +3.5. Instead, they could change the payout odds instead which might look like this:
- Kansas City Chiefs -3 (+100)
- LA Rams +3 (-120)
However, not all sportsbooks will do this and sometimes lines can be moved on or off-key numbers. Keeping an eye on key numbers in NFL line movement is a good idea.
Key numbers are less influential in betting on basketball, but they do exist. Furthermore, sportsbooks are likely to not worry about those numbers when they move the spread so they are easier to pick up. Again, you can read more about key numbers in our guide.
All of the forms of line movement we have looked at closely in this section, point spread, totals, and money line, are common in the NBA.
With 162 games per team in the regular season, there is a lot of room for line movement in MLB betting.
The runline is a popular form of betting in MLB, which is like a cross between point spread betting and money line betting. A runline bet involves a 1.5 run spread, accompanied by odds expressed in the same way as the money line.
With the runline, the spread never changes from 1.5 so the line movement is represented by the change in the odds. It may look like this:
- San Francisco Giants -1.5 (+100)
- New York Mets +1.5 (-140)
This looks slightly different from our previous examples but the principle is exactly the same. While the 1.5 spread remains the same, the odds move in response to a lot of money being bet on one side.
As a comparatively low scoring game, point spread betting in NHL is less common than in NFL or NBA. This affects line movement when it comes to NHL totals bets too, which are less likely to move as much as the other sports.
Moneyline bets are most popular in NHL, and they are just as susceptible to line movement as other sports, and follow the same patterns.
Put New Line Movement Strategies to Work
Understanding line movement will make you a more well-rounded sports bettor. The more experience you have in the world of betting, the more you will develop a feel for how lines move.
Truly great sports bettors can smell when something is not right with a betting line, and will get in at just the right time before the line jumps.
Line movement most commonly occurs when the large majority of the money in a bet is on one side. Deepening on the patterns of change, line movement can tell you a lot about how the general public is leaning, and how the sharp money is leaning.
As a rule of thumb: dramatic changes in a short time indicates sharp money. Gradual change in one direction over time suggests casual bettors.
Line movement can also be caused by external factors such as injuries or team selection, so make sure you consider this possibility before you draw any conclusions about why the line has moved.
Remember, in general:
- Heavy favorites tend to attract bets which worsens their odds, so back them early.
- Underdog odds tend to improve over time, so consider waiting to back them if you don’t like the price
These are different forms of line movement, and they behave differently in each sport. However, the basic idea is always the same. Using your understanding of line movement effectively is all about timing your bet to maximize profit.
As you become more comfortable with line movement you will start finding more spots to bet the middle, or hedge your bets using live betting.
If sports betting is currently legal in your state, check the lines on the next round of games when they open, and keep an eye on them for a few days. See how the spread and the odds change and think about why they do so, given the information on this page. Soon you will start seeing value.
If you live somewhere without legal sports betting, don’t worry. Sports betting is growing across the US thanks to the recent Supreme Court decision, and more states are moving towards legalization every day.
It won’t be long until you can put your new line movement knowledge into profitable practice.