Line Shopping: A How-To Guide
To get the best bang for their buck, expert bettors (“sharps”) peruse different online sportsbooks to find the most advantageous games to bet on and at the best odds. This is called “line shopping” and its an integral strategy for any aspiring “sharp.” Best of all, it’s not as complicated as it might seem!
Is Line Shopping Really Worth the Extra Time?
Yes, it is. Any “sharp” will tell you that any edge, no matter how small or slight, is advantageous in the long-run. The margins for profitability in sports betting are low, to begin with, and line shopping is one way to beat the “vig” that bookmakers add to their lines.
To the untrained eye, the difference between -110 and -105 might not seem that big. After all, a -5 difference between two lines is pretty negligible, right? Wrong!
Every dollar won and lost adds up over time. No professional bettor got to where they were without scrutinizing every detail, no matter how small it may have seemed. If you want to be a successful bettor, you’ve got to make every single dollar count.
Let’s put things in perspective. If you bet $110 on 250 games at -110, you’ll need to win 131 games to break even. If you bet $105 on 250 games at -105, you’ll only need to win 128 games to break even. This is a difference of three games over a 250-game span.
To maintain a winning percentage, sharps have to beat the books approximately 53-56% of the time.
With such slim margins, three games can mean the difference between being in the red and being in the black. Even the smallest difference between lines will have an enormous impact on your bottom line.
Comparing Sportsbooks: Breaking Down Line Shopping
You’ve determined that betting on the Charlotte Hornets at +7.5 is a smart wager. You think that they’ll cover the spread relatively easily, meaning they’ll either win outright or fall to the Boston Celtics by a margin of 7 points or less.
You head over to Bovada, where the Hornets at +7.5 is available for -110. The odds of -110 indicate that to win $100, you’d have to stake $110.
If you did a little bit of line shopping across sportsbooks, you’d realize that the Charlotte Hornets were available at +7.5, but at -105 instead of -110. It’s the exact same line, but a far better value. You’d only have to wager $105 to win $100 at BetOnline.
If you wager $110 on BetOnline’s line of -105 (instead of Bovada’s line of -110) you’ll come away with winnings of $104.76. The tiniest difference in lines can have an enormous impact on your bankroll over the long term.
We don’t mean to pick on these two books; we’re merely using them as an example. Many times, the lines will be switched around, with the better line on a game available at Bovada instead of BetOnline.
So, what would line shopping do for your bankroll, over an extended period of time?
Betting $110 at -110 on Bovada’s Line
If you placed 50 bets of $110 at -110 odds, you would win a $100 profit 25 times, for a total gain of $2,500. The other 25 times, you would lose $110, for a total loss of $2,750. Put those two figures together ($2,500 in winnings, minus $2,750 in losses) and you’d come away with a net loss of $250. That’s an average of $5 a bet, and 4.5% of your total stake.
Betting $110 on BetOnline’s Line
Let’s say you took the same $110 and placed 50 wagers on the -105 line available at BetOnline. You’d win 25 times, to the tune of $104.76 per bet. This would net you $2,619. You’d still lose the other 50 bets (which would total the same figure of $2,740). However, your net losses would only be $121. This is only 2.2% of your total stake, or $2.42 a bet.
What Would this Amount to, in the Long Run?
Just in this example, the differences in wagering $110 on -105 over -110 would be $2.58 a bet, or 2.3% of your total take over a game bet. You’d lose $119 fewer over 50 games worth of wagers. In the long run, this makes a massive difference to your bankroll. You don’t want to be giving your sportsbook any more money than you have to. The “sharps” sure don’t.
Line Shopping for a Better Spread
Line shopping isn’t all about just crunching numbers. At times, it can be about finding a spread that you think gives you a better chance to win your bet.
Many times, online sportsbooks will have the same spreads listed for basketball, soccer, and football games. However, when lines are first released, there is often some discrepancy between the point spreads available for specific games. When lines initially come out, there is usually an opportunity for line shopping.
Finding Your Best Betting Spread
If you want to bet on the Raptors, you’d be better off heading over to BetOnline instead of Bovada this time around. The Raptors need to win by at least 10 points to cover the spread on Bovada. Over at BetOnline, they also need to win by 10, but if they win by 9, you get your money back. With BetOnline, you get some extra security that Bovada doesn’t afford you.
Conversely, if you want to bet on the Magic, head to Bovada. If they lose by 9, you win your bet!
On the other hand, you’d push to get your money back at BetOnline. That little bit of extra effort is worth it in the end, and it’s the difference between a big profit and zero profit at all.
Think about how many times you’ve lost a bet against the spread because of a half point. There’s a reason it’s important!
Line Shopping for the Moneyline
The value in finding the best moneyline is readily apparent. The more favorable the odds, the more money you stand to win. It’s as simple as that!
Sportsbooks try to encourage equal action on both sides of an event, often by shading the moneyline in either direction in the lead up the game. In fact, they often adjust how much of a favorite a certain team is, or even alter how much of an underdog the other side is.
By affecting potential payouts on either side, sportsbooks can artificially facilitate more action on one side or the other. This often occurs in the lead-up to big games or tournaments, like the Super Bowl or March Madness. If sportsbooks receive a huge volume of bets on a particular event, they’ll go to great lengths to protect their exposure.
Disclaimer: Avoid Line Aggregators!
Many different websites claim to do the hard work of line shopping for you. Remember, if something is too good to be true, it usually is.
Many of these sites display promotional lines, specially-engineered to lure bettors to certain sportsbooks.
In the past, when we’ve tried to access the same lines showcased by line aggregators, we’ve found that they’re often only available to brand new bettors. As in, if you already have an account at a sportsbook you won’t be able to access the lines displayed by line aggregators.
For this reason, we recommend you be wary of websites claiming to be line aggregators. They are often just promotional tools trying to encourage high click-through rates.
When it comes to line shopping, do it yourself. There are no shortcuts: Log in to all the sportsbooks you have accounts with, and compare and contrast the available lines.
Where Can You Find the Best Lines?
Line shopping undoubtedly requires an investment of your time. Exploring the lines at multiple sportsbooks and keeping track of the odds is no small task, so we recommend starting with the top online betting sites identified by our expert reviewers:
- Top online MLB baseball betting sites
- Top online NFL football betting sites
- Top online NHL hockey betting sites
- Top NBA basketball betting sites
- Top college football betting sites
- Top college basketball betting sites
Line Shopping Isn’t Easy, but It’s Profitable
When online sportsbooks were relatively new and existed on a smaller scale, line shopping was reasonably easy.
However, sportsbooks are now massive enterprises who employ hundreds of bookmakers to ensure their lines are in sync with current market value. The influence of the internet has made it easier for sportsbooks to read and react to each other’s lines, too.
Sports betting is a much more efficient market than it was 10 years ago. However, just because it’s a bit harder to shop lines between books now, it’s far from impossible. All it takes is hard work and determination, and the profit is yours for the taking!