Why shopping for lines is important. Tips from a sports bettor
A Sports Bettors guide to Line Shopping
Line Shopping is when bettors actively look for a better potential return on their investment by comparing betting lines across different sportsbooks. Much like a person who is grocery shopping might compare the prices at various grocery stores before deciding where to buy food, a line shopper will actively look at the lines on offer at multiple sportsbooks before deciding where to place their bets.
What is Line Shopping and why is it important?
At its core, line shopping is just the act of looking for the best deal on the market, a market which in this case involves odds for us to bet on. Much like when we shop for any real-life products, over time, shopping around for the best deals will mean you save money – and have more money in your account at the end of the year than if you didn’t shop around.
With sports betting, line shopping is important because every small tick up or down in the odds impacts our overall return on investment or ROI. For example, getting a line of -105, vs. a -110 or -115 line, may not seem like a huge deal but over time the additional profits we’d be seeing with the -105 line really does add up. As evidenced below, small line advantages can add up quickly, especially for higher volume bettors.
- $100.00 x -105 = $95.00 return
- 60% win rate over 100 bets ($100.00 unit size) = $1700.00 profit
- $100.00 x -110 = $90.00 return
- 60% win rate over 100 bets ($100.00 unit size) = $1400.00 profit
- $100.00 x -115 = $85.00 return
- 60% win rate over 100 bets ($100.00 unit size) = $1100.00 profit
Much like a small drip that can turn into a flood over time, getting better lines will show you better profits in small doses, but also add up to significantly more units in your bankroll over longer periods.
How do you shop for lines?
Shopping for lines involves comparing the offerings across a variety of different bookmakers and betting sites, and finding the most favorable odds available. Obviously the more sportsbooks you have access to the better variety of odds you’ll have to choose from, so having access to multiple online sportsbooks is a key part of successful line shopping.
The best part about line shopping is the fact that you'll often get generous welcome offers when signing up for different sportsbooks. Many will offer bonus bets, with BetMGM being one of them.
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How to compare lines, spreads, and totals at sportsbooks
Bookmakers can be very different in how they operate, as well. Some will open their lines with worse odds than the general market, while others will be very aggressive in moving their lines on certain news or public betting tendencies. Knowing the tendencies of how each betting site operates is an underrated key in line shopping and can help you make quick decisions about where to look first.
As we can see from the above example, sportsbooks often won’t just offer different odds on the same event, but they’ll offer different spreads as well. In this win total bet on the Giants from 2022, we have the option of either taking a 7.0 game total or a 7.5 game total, to bet on. As you can see, we are getting better odds (+135) to take the over 7.5 wins, but are still getting plus money odds, at +105, to take over 7.0 wins.
The 0.5 difference in a spread is just as key as the betting odds in this instance as a 7.0-win season would mean the bet would push (we’d get our bet back with no extra return) while the same win total would be graded as a loser on the 7.5 win total.
In this case, grabbing the smaller total at slightly worse odds may even be a better long-term play given the added cushion factored in.
Types of line shopping
When we’re line shopping then it’s not just different odds that we should be looking for, but different spreads or totals as well. Below we’ll cover the main types of bets you should be considering when line shopping.
Line Shopping for money lines
Money Line bets ask us a simple question, who do we think will be the winner of a match between two teams. In money line bets, line shopping becomes very simple as there’s no spread or total to worry about, we only need to find the best odds available.
- Giants to win +150
- Potential return on a $100.00 bet = $150.00
- Giants to win +165
- Potential return on a $100.00 bet = $165.00
As you can see from above, even a small move in odds of 0.15 points can push you to far bigger profits on a single bet, profits that can also help insulate your bankroll during inevitable downswings.
The decision on money line bets then is very simple. You go with the sportsbook who is offering better odds at the time you place your bet.
Line Shopping for spreads
Line shopping for spreads becomes a bit more of a tricky task as we not only have to consider the odds being offered but the spreads on offer as well.
If the spread across multiple sportsbooks is the same, then simply looking for the line with the best payout (exactly like our money line bet above) is all we need to do.
However, it is not uncommon for multiple sportsbooks to offer different lines on the same game.
- Sportsbook A: Giants +7.0 (-110)
- Sportsbook B: Giants +7.5 (-120)
Obviously, if these odds were the same for both totals, we want to snap-take the +7.5 offering since it would be giving us a bigger spread for our underdog Giants (e.g. a loss by 7.0 points would result in a win and not a push) for the same odds. However, even in the above scenario, where the odds for a +7.5 spread are at -120, it may be worth paying for the worse odds to get an extra half point (+7.5 vs +7.0).
Key numbers are an important part of betting NFL spreads as most NFL games tend to end on specific margins, with the most common margin of victory being 3.0 or 7.0 points. Line shopping on spreads then can become an even more important task than shopping on simple money line bets. Since shopping on spread bets can offer us an advantage in two different areas, it’s important we utilize as much time as possible looking for the best offers.
While key numbers aren’t as important in other sports as they are in the NFL, it’s still important to look around before making any spread wager, regardless of the league you’re betting on. Oftentimes certain sportsbooks will have a tendency to be late to move lines on big news – or an influx of bets on one side – and will leave certain spreads “hanging”. The NBA is a league notorious for late-breaking injury or player personnel news that can shift lines dramatically right before tip-off and create massive +EV opportunities for bettors.
On the flip side, certain online sportsbooks (usually the larger ones) may react and move their lines with light speed. This kind of difference between sportsbooks can result in some great value opportunities and is a huge reason why line shopping is important.
Line shopping for totals and over/unders
Much like spreads, line shopping for totals involves not just looking for the best odds on offer but also looking to see if we can get an edge on the actual total numbers being offered as well.
While getting 0.5 points in NFL spreads can often result in a massive swing in value, the same can’t really be said for NBA totals. However, in leagues like the NHL and MLB where scoring is much lower, a 0.5 move on a total score can have a massive impact.
- NHL: Avalanche at Lightning under 6.0 goals (-105)
- NHL: Avalanche at Lightning under 6.5 goals (-110)
In a sport like hockey where the average total is around 6.0 for a regular-season game, seeing the over/under move 0.5, either way is significant. Thus, if you’re inclined to bet a total one way or another (in the above case we are going under) then a line difference of 0.5 goals between two books, with very close odds, would offer up a potentially great betting opportunity.
Line shopping for futures
Line shopping for futures bets employs the exact same set of principles we outlined above in our spread and money line bets. The nice thing about futures is that, oftentimes, we can find significant differences in prices between online sportsbooks, especially during the slow season when sportsbooks are not necessarily taking a ton of action on a team's future odds – and aren’t necessarily moving lines quickly on off-season news or moves.
As you can see from this 2022 off-season example of the NFL Super Bowl futures, sportsbooks will often have larger differences in their futures odds on offer in slow periods. In the above comparison, line shopping between just two sportsbooks would allow us to secure odds of +1200 on Green Bay at Sportsbook B (vs. +1000 at Sportsbook A) but also allow us to grab a 300-point differential on the Ravens, who are at +2200 on Sportsbook A and just +1900 on Sportsbook B.
Futures line shopping often isn’t as time-dependent either, as lines don’t shift rapidly in the off-season unless there’s huge breaking news. Taking your time and looking at as many different lines as possible before getting down your wager then is vital in futures where better deals upfront will allow for more opportunity to hedge once the season begins.
Line shopping for props
Player props is an emerging field of betting and one most online sportsbooks have been expanding in over the last couple of seasons. Most player props involve betting totals based on player performance in a specific statistical area. Line shopping with player props is just as vital as when we’re betting spreads and totals, then, and can often be one of the most profitable experiences given the wide range of prop offerings from sportsbook to sportsbook.
Jan 8, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) reacts after a play during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Much like spread betting, with player props, we are focused not just on the betting odds available to us, but also on the totals or over/unders being offered as well.
- Sportsbook A – A.J. Brown over 4.5 receptions (-115)
- Sportsbook B – A.J. Brown over 5.5 receptions (+100)
The type of situation from up above is not an uncommon one to find on an NFL receiver during the year. Different sportsbooks will often set props at very different totals, and odds, giving us a variety of different ways to bet on a player.
In the above example, with catches for an NFL wide receiver being such a hard thing to come by, and prone to a number of different factors (game pace, defensive performance, injury), there will often be a great case to take the lower total (from Sportsbook A) when betting on the over. As with any point spread or total bet though, the odds and situation have to be factored in as well before making a final decision.
Frequently asked questions
How does line shopping work?
Line shopping is merely the act of looking at various odds, point spreads, and bet offerings across as many sportsbooks as possible, and comparing them for investment purposes. The point of line shopping is to obtain the best line, spread, or total possible and maximize the return on your investment. Line shopping entails:
- Comparing money line odds and looking for the line with the best return on investment
- Comparing different point spread offerings and checking if certain books offer better odds at key numbers in sports like NFL
- Comparing the totals on offer from various sportsbooks and checking if there are key differences you can take advantage of
- Having access to as many legitimate sportsbooks as possible so as to maximize the different types of odds and offerings you have access to for each slate
Is line shopping worth it?
Yes, much like driving to a different gas station with lower prices can save you tens or even hundreds of dollars a month, line shopping allows you to gain small edges which add up over time.
Some of the main benefits of line shopping include:
- Getting better odds so that you can maximize your winnings, but also minimize your losses
- Better odds mean we have to invest less for a similar return, hence line shopping improves our long-term ROI not just when we win, but when we lose as well
- Getting access to better player props and point spreads
- Getting certain key totals in player props and spread bets can have drastic effects on your win rate
- For futures, line shopping allows you to invest early and at better odds
- Makes hedging out on a futures position easier later in the year
Not only does line shopping allow you to gain small edges, but it also opens you up to generous welcome offers from sportsbooks. Take Caesars Sportsbook, for example. You can get your first bet (of up to $1,250) completely on Caesars to give you a head start on your shopping spree by following the below offer.
Why do sportsbooks provide different lines?
While popular sports and betting markets like the NFL (specifically NFL point spreads) tend to have similar odds for the most part across most major sportsbooks, each sportsbook is ultimately also run by its own set of human decision-makers and therefore prone to having some discrepancies as a group.
Factors that tend to move lines at sportsbooks include:
- Large amounts of money being placed on one side over another
- Ultimately sportsbooks want to have their action balanced so when one side gets too much action they will move the odds in the other side's favor to entice future bettors to take the other, less wagered-on, side.
- Injuries, player movement, or recent outcomes
- If a team loses a star player it often will affect the spread or line of a game
- If a team is in the midst of a long winning or losing streak, their odds will often start to correct as more and more people begin to either fade or chase the team in future events