Comparing Odds and Line Shopping
Ever wondered what the super-secret golden rule to crushing sports betting is? Well, if you have, you're in luck today. Okay, so it's not really that big of a secret, but it certainly is the single best sports betting tip that you will ever get. What are we talking about? We're talking about line shopping. Whether you're an amateur bettor or a serious player, line shopping is the key to your longevity in the industry.
By definition, line shopping is the practice of going to multiple sportsbooks to find the best payout odds or point spreads for your bets. As each sportsbook tries to balance their books on each bet individually, it's very common to find different betting lines on the exact same bet. In this guide, we're going to talk about why line shopping is important and how to properly compare lines and odds; we'll also give you tips for line shopping as effectively as possible.
If you're ready to take your sports betting game to the next level, buckle up and let's get to it.
The Importance of Line Shopping
Let's start this section off with a simple example that will illustrate the importance of line shopping. You are interested in betting $100 on the Dallas Cowboys in an upcoming NFL game. You go to your local sportsbook and see that the Cowboys are +150 to win the game. This means that if the Cowboys win as you are predicting, you will walk away with $150 in profit! Is this the best bet you can make?
Even if you're right, this might not be the best bet you can make. You see, what you don't realize is that the sportsbook a few towns over is offering the exact same bet at +165. This means that if you place your bet there and the Cowboys win, you'll walk away with $165 in profit! The bet is no different. It's exactly the same.
The answer is that most likely you aren't aware of the better payout odds at the second sportsbook. This is where line shopping comes into play. Line shopping is taking the time to check several different sportsbooks to see who is offering the best odds or the best payouts on the bet you are looking to make.
By doing this, you guarantee that you're going to give yourself the best chance to win your bet and the best payout when you do win. By not doing this, you are effectively setting money on fire and telling the world that you don't like to win. In the older days of betting, we understand people not line shopping. When you only had one option to place your bets (the local sportsbook or the local bookie), line shopping wasn't feasible. Sure, you could hop in your car and drive to the next sportsbook hours away, but that is just plain silly. Not only would it waste a bunch of time and money, but there's also no guarantee there will be a better line when you get there.
With the internet and online sportsbooks now, there is no excuse. It takes a matter of seconds to check a bunch of different lines and find the one that is best for you. We can't stress how important this is. Not only are you going to be able to get better payouts, which make things better when you win, but you'll also end up winning more bets.
How? Well, not only can you line shop for payout odds, but you can also line shop for point spreads. Imagine you are making a bet on the Cowboys and you decide you want to make a point spread bet. You look at your local sportsbook and see that the line is Cowboys +4. Great, right? Well, the second sportsbook is offering the exact same bet, except they have Cowboys +4.5.
Sports betting operates on tight margins, and a half point is huge. If you don't believe us, ask someone who has been betting for years what they would be willing to do to get an extra half point on every game. They might try and offer you their kidney.
In our example, that half point could be the difference between a push where you make no money or a win. If the Cowboys win the game by 4 points, you'd push at the first sportsbook and make no money, but you would win your bet at the second sportsbook. You'd move a bet from zero profit to full profit just by taking the time to bet at a secondary location. Sometimes, you can even get lines better than a half point, which makes things all that sweeter.
The bottom line here is that line shopping is the single most important thing you can do if you are trying to take your sports betting seriously. Don't be lazy. Put in the extra minute or two of work to ensure you're not setting money on fire. The goal is to make the most money possible, right?
Comparing Odds and Lines
So, you've decided that line shopping is that important. But, how do you tell what the better line is? Well, thankfully it's fairly simple and only takes a basic understanding of the bets you are making. In the sections below, we're going to walk you through how to compare moneyline bets and how to compare spread bets. While this is going to be fairly simple, make sure that you 100% understand what we're trying to say. If you go out line shopping and select the worse line, then you're just wasting time and still setting money on fire.
Moneyline bets are bets on which team will win the game. It doesn't matter by how many points they win, just as long as they walk away victorious. To balance their books and get the action they want, the sportsbooks move the payout lines. So, to compare moneylines, you want to find the bet that is going to pay you out the most money.
Moneyline bets will have a favorite and an underdog. You can tell which is which by looking at whether or not the moneyline has a plus sign or a minus sign in front of it. The plus sign is the underdog, and the minus sign is the favorite.
When comparing underdogs, you're going to want to take the line that has the largest number after the plus sign. For example, +165 is better than +150, and +300 is way better than +120. The number technically is telling you how much money you would get if you were to bet $100 (remember you don't have to bet that much, it's just what the number depicts). So, if we bet $100 at +300, we would get $300 in profit. If we bet $100 at +120, we would only get $120 in profit. On the same token, if we bet $10 at +300, we would get $30 in profit. If we bet $10 at +120, we would get $12 in profit.
When comparing favorites, you're going to want to take the line with the smallest number after the minus sign. For example, -120 is a better line for you than -150, and -140 is way better than -550. It's really that simple.
Here's an all-inclusive way to think about this. You always want to be taking the bigger absolute number. When we say an absolute number, we mean to take into account the negative sign. So, negative 150 is a smaller number than negative 120. This means you'd want to take -120. Because -300 is smaller than -140 you'd want to take -140. On the underdog side, +300 is bigger than +120, so you'd want to take +300. If this all-inclusive rule confuses you, just ignore it and follow what we laid out in the first two paragraphs. It's the exact same information just presented differently.
When it comes to comparing spreads, you're going to want to follow a lot of the same guidelines that we laid out in the moneyline comparison section. Just so we are all on the same page, a spread bet is a wager where your team can win or lose by a certain number of points. The sportsbook will "spot" points to the underdogs and "take points away" from the favorites to try and even the playing field. Whichever team outperforms their expectations will win the bet.
With spread bets, you're going to want to look at each bet differently depending on who is the favorite and who is the underdog. As was the case with moneyline bets, the plus sign signals the underdog and the minus sign signals the favorite.
When comparing spread underdogs, you are going to want to take the biggest number. For example, +10 ½ is much better than +5 ½. When you see +10 ½, it means that your team can lose by up to 10 points and you will still win the bet. That is obviously much better than your team only being able to lose by 5 to win your bet. Remember, you might not think that half points are a big deal, but they are huge. If you're able to squeak out a few half points here and there, you're going to end up much better in the long run, especially in close games.
When you're comparing spread favorites, you're going to want to take the smallest number after the minus sign. For example, -4 ½ is much better than -9 ½. When you see -4 ½, it means that your team has to win by more than 4 ½ points for you to win your bet. This is way better than your team having to win by 9 ½ points for you to win your bet.
Comparing moneyline bets and spread bets is simple, but it's essential to effective line shopping. You need to be able to quickly determine which line is better and pounce on it before other sharp bettors take advantage of it, and it shifts out of your favor. Honestly, this will become second nature to you in a matter of no time. You won't have to think each time you look at a line. Just make sure that your second nature is correct.
Tips for Effective Line Shopping
At this point, you should understand the importance of line shopping and how to spot the better lines. What we'd like to do now is give you some additional tips and pointers to make you the most effective line shopper on planet Earth. While the process is simple, there are small tweaks that you can make to give yourself more of an edge.
You MUST realize that small edges are extremely valuable with sports betting. Half a point or even a few extra points on a moneyline are monstrous. It might only seem like a couple of bucks now, but when you extrapolate that out over hundreds and thousands of bets, it's a big deal. It literally can be the difference between you being a winning bettor or a losing bettor.
The extra half point or full points you find on point spreads might not come into play every game, but the first game they do where you don't take the better line, you're going to learn the hard lesson that they were important. Save yourself the heartache and take advantage of the small edges now.
A theme you may have picked up on throughout this post is that line shopping in person is not practical or feasible. Line shopping on the internet, though, is the "way of the future," without trying to sound cheesy. The key to taking advantage of line shopping is to check several sportsbooks and make sure that you have the process set up to be easy.
Our advice is to join two to four different sportsbooks and create an account so that you're ready if you need to make a bet. Sometimes there can be hang-ups during the sign-up process, and you don't want that happening while you're trying to get a bet in before a line moves out of your favor. It does not cost you anything additional to create an account, so why not make things easy on yourself?
This would be the sportsbook where you'd make a bet if the line were the same at everywhere else you checked. This would also be the site that you kept the majority of your bankroll on. We recommend having some money on your other sites or at least making a small deposit to make sure it works without a hitch so that if you ever need to quickly load money to make a bet, you can.
Finding sites that operate through some of the same payment processors also makes things easier, but is not necessary. For example, if every site you were using allowed you to use Skrill, that would make moving money easier. Sometimes this isn't feasible, so don't break your back trying to line things up. Focus more on finding quality sportsbooks that you trust to take your action.
While you can join a ton of sportsbooks to line shop, after about four or maybe five, it begins to become overkill. While we are huge advocates of always finding the best line, it seems a little over the top to join every sportsbook under the sun. Sure, you can do it, but we don't think the headache is worth the gain unless you are a huge player. For most people, checking two to four sportsbooks is probably plenty.
In prior versions of this guide, we neglected to mention this, because we thought it was something people just understood. However, after talking with some bettors, we realize that this needs to be pointed out. You don't have to make all of your bets as a block. What we mean is that it's okay to have a few bets on this site, a few on that site, and one on another site, or something like that.
You should be shopping your bets individually and not as a whole block. It's not like, "Well, there are a few better lines, so I will be making all my bets today at this site." If you make half your bets at one site and half somewhere else for better lines, that's the idea. You don't have to spread things out evenly. Find the best line for each bet individually and make your bet where that line is.
When you start line shopping, your money is going to start moving all over the place. You won't be able to check one balance and see how much money you have or know whether or not you are winning. The more disorganized you are with your betting records, the harder it's going to be to make correct decisions on how to proceed with your bets.
Take the time to set up a system to keep your betting records in line. We've put together a dedicated guide to help you through this process.
The Final Word
We're trying our best to express just how important line shopping is without sounding overdramatic. In all seriousness, if you have any hopes and dreams of being successful as a sports bettor you MUST be line shopping, and you MUST be doing it regularly for all of your bets. It might seem like small margins and edges when you look at it as one bet, but as soon as you extrapolate it out, those small edges turn into big results. If you're not line shopping, those big results are going to be big...just big in the wrong direction.