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US Gambling Sites / Betting Guide / How To Read Line Movements: A Guide to Live Sports Line Movements

How To Read Line Movements: A Guide to Live Sports Line Movements

Publish Date: 16/05/2024
Fact checked by: Josh Schwartz

Knowledge is power when betting online. While no odds can ensure your bet is a success, having an understanding of how to read line movements does have the potential of providing even greater returns if your predictions are a success.

It’s also one of the most misinterpreted subjects in online betting for more casual users. That’s partly because it looks complicated initially. But once you start to peel back the simple layers of meaning behind the odds, it’s clear that anyone, with a little bit of thought and perseverance, can improve their betting strategy by understanding betting line movements.

Understanding betting lines

In order to understand any sort of movement – from pre-game to live sports line movements – you need to first wrap your head around what we mean by betting lines.

Put simply, betting lines refer to a set of numbers and odds which provide information on a particular market. This includes the odds themselves – so how much you would win if your bet is successful – and also numbers which set the terms for your wager.

You can think of these as being like the bookmakers' predictions.

So there’s some variation in what we’re talking about, and to help you learn how to read line movements, here’s the three most common examples of betting lines you’ll come across.

Moneyline

This is the simplest type of betting where you choose which team or competitor will win a particular event. It’s the most relevant betting line for live sports line movements.

In American odds, the betting line with a minus sign indicates how much you’d need to bet to win $100, and the plus sign indicates what you’d win if you bet $100.

So, let's say in an upcoming contest,

  • Miami Heat have odds of -350 and Detroit Pistons have odds of +275

This would mean that if you bet $100 on the latter, you’d win $275, whereas you’d need to bet $350 to receive $100 on the Miami Heat.

This means the minus sign indicates favorites and the plus sign underdogs. This is how American odds work for all sports by the way – so NFL line movements, NBA line movements and NCAA football line movements on the moneyline can all be understood in the same way.

Do note that some operators will use fractional and decimal odds, which are just different ways of expressing the same thing, for instance:

American odds Decimal odds Fractional odds
+275 3.75 11/4
-350 1.79 2/7

Point Spread

Essentially a type of handicap betting, the point spread adds or subtracts points from a team’s final score to even out the betting field as much as possible.

In theory, this allows people betting on either the favorites or the underdog to have an equal chance of winning, adding excitement to any game.

For instance, let’s say there’s a baseball game between the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros. Bookmakers think that the latter is a slight underdog so the points spread is set at:

  • Texas Rangers: - 1.5
  • Houston Astros: +1.5

This means that if you placed a bet on Texas Rangers, they’d have to win by two or more runs for your bet to be successful, whereas a point spread bet on Houston Astros would merely require them not to lose by two or more points.

When the margin is met, it’s said that you have ‘covered the spread’.

This can still be relevant to live sports line movements, but tends to move less rapidly.

Points total

Not all betting lines or betting line movements are about who’s going to win, but rather the kind of game that’s going to be played.

A points total over/under market, as the name would suggest, is a type of market where you predict whether the total number of points scored will be above or below a certain amount. For instance, it could be that a points total betting line is set at 210 for an NBA basketball game.

What’s a line movement and how to read line movements

The great news here is that once you’ve understood betting lines generally as a concept, most of the work on knowing how to read lines is done – NCAA football line movements to test cricket, the whole shebang. That’s because line movements simply mean when these lines change.

For instance, it could be that Miami Heat’s +275 odds raises to +300, meaning they’re considered even greater underdogs and even larger returns would be possible compared to the original odds.

Or it could be that the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros point spread moves from +/- 1.5 to +/- 0.5. This means that someone backing the former to cover the spread would now only see their team win by one run as opposed to two.

So, you can see here how line movements can literally determine whether or not your wager will be a winner.

A movement in total points is even easier to underdogs. Let’s say it moved from 210 points to 200 – that would mean a score of 205 would lead to an entirely different result.

As far as how to read line  movements goes on a practical level, it’s simply a case of checking and reading the lines as they're updated from top bookmakers. If you’re methodical, you can even make a note of them to ensure you don’t miss any changes.

Line changes are typically the result of bookmakers reacting to heavy betting on one side or as a result of real life events affecting the implied probabilities inherently suggested by these lines.

For example, if a star player got injured, that would reduce the likelihood of that team winning and might see all these lines shift.

Tackling live sports line movements

There’s not much new to learn here – line movements during live sports are exactly the same as above except they’re happening in real time based on what’s happening in-play.

For instance, in the case of NFL line movements, a single touchdown could create a series of changes as it has implications for every one of those predictions.

Making the most of line movements

It’s easy to understand line movements, and to make the most of them. Here’s five simple ways you can utilize them to your advantage:

Use multiple quality bookmakers.

This is all about making the most of the odds, and your best chance of that under any strategy is to have the choice of multiple quality bookmakers with competitive odds.

Watch for line movements if backing the underdog.

The favorites are usually the ones most popular with bettors, so if you’re backing the underdog, it’s often worth waiting to see if the lines move to more favorable terms closer to the start of a contest.

Bet early on favorites to avoid unfavorable movements.

Conversely, it’s probably best to back the favorites early for the same reason.

Note when the lines don’t move after a significant event.

Keep an eye on the news to see if anything that might impact the results has occurred, and make a note if the bookies haven’t reacted. If so, you might be able to gain a tactical advantage as the chances have changed, but not the odds.

Utilize in tandem with promotions.

Knowing how to read line movements is just one tool in your arsenal, as there’s also plenty of great promotions which can improve your betting terms. 

Best sites for reading betting line movements

Any site which offers quality odds is worth checking out to get the most complete picture of betting lines out there. And to get you started, we’ve picked three that consistently provide quality betting lines.

Caesars: Consistent odds, varied markets

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While the physical Caesars might be all glitz and glamor, Caesars online betting is all about getting the important stuff right. A quality site, great mobile experience, accessibility, reliability, and yes, vital to this subject, odds that update fast and are competitive with the best in the world.

They’re also an exceptional live betting site. In terms of performance, statistics, and what’s on offer odds wise, they’re an ideal pick for those with eyes on live sports line movements.

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One of the things BetMGM does that we absolutely love is provide state-specific versions of their site and app. That way, you know where and what’s available at a glance. An important part of how to read line movements is speed and accessibility, so this is immensely handy.

They’re especially great for the big American sports. If you’re after the likes of NBA, MLB or NFL line movements, there’s arguably none better.

Betfair: Two ways of getting the odds advantage

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If you’ve looking for world-class pre-game and live markets, have no doubt that Betfair are up there with the very best in their traditional sportsbook offering. But they have that not so secret weapon in their chamber too, which is that they’re arguably the finest betting exchange in the world.

This gives you a whole new set of markets and returns to consider, providing greater choice to utilize alongside the traditional betting lines

Conclusion: Line movements are like a vital betting language

Knowing how to read line movements is no empty piece of knowledge. There are two key practical benefits. One is it allows you to precisely understand how bookmakers are reacting to betting activity and updates which may affect the probability of an event. This is vital intel for the strategically minded.

In addition, by understanding what the odds changes mean, you can attempt to select the best possible terms. This can mean bigger returns and even successful bets where others may fail. Want to improve your betting tactics? There’s no simpler way with greater results.

FAQs

💻 Can I sign up to multiple sites in order to best read and utilize changing betting lines?

Absolutely. In fact, it’s what we recommend if you want to have the broadest spectrum of betting lines to read and utilize.

You can sign up to as many betting sites as you wish (the only time multiple accounts are an issue is when they’re on the same site) and don’t even have to necessarily deposit anything to have them on standby in case some betting line movement catches your interest. 

💰 How can promotions be used alongside reading betting lines?

It’s all about getting the best odds and betting terms possible, and both promotions and reading betting lines can help with exactly that.

In the case of bet boosts, quite specifically, as it improves the odds on offer. Our advice is simply to be on the lookout for as many advantages as you can, whether it’s the movement of a betting line or via  generous promotion. 

❓ Are there multiple types of betting lines?

Yes. Often when people talk about betting lines, they’re talking about the moneyline. These are your odds for backing a winner. But there’s additional lines well worth paying attention to as well.

There’s the points spread, which adds a points handicap to even the playing field between mismatched teams, as well as over/under total points betting line which is the number you base your total points predictions on.

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