What is Reverse Line Movement?

If you spend enough time in sports betting circles, you’re bound to hear the same terms over and over again. While many terms are common knowledge, others can leave folks scratching their heads.

One of the phrases that fall into that category is reverse line movement, which happens with odds from time to time. We’re going to explain what it means, why it happens and how you can potentially use it to your advantage. Let’s get to it.

What is Reverse Line Movement?

Reverse line movement refers to odds that move in the opposite direction from what one would expect based on the number of wagers placed. If the majority of bets — call it 70% — come in on one side, but the odds move more toward the other side, that’s a reverse line move. It’s an indicator that most of the money is backing the less popular option.

As a quick example, let’s say that the Green Bay Packers are favored by 3.5 points over the Minnesota Vikings. The public loves the Packers to the tune of 72% of all wagers. As the week moves along, the spread drops to where the Packers are only favored by 2.5 points. So, why did this happen and what does it tell us?

Since the line dropped despite most bets heading in the direction of Green Bay, that means more money is coming in on the Minnesota side. This is the inverse of what one would expect if they were solely tracking public betting numbers. It’s also an indicator that the proverbial “smart money” has a different take on the game than the public.

Sports Betting Opening Lines

When a game is on tap, sportsbooks will release odds on the proceedings. These are known as the opening lines for the event. The odds may move after the initial release right up until game time. We’ll explain why that happens in a bit.

The release time for the odds will vary by sport. For sports teams in the NFL and NCAAF, where they only play once per week, the numbers will start coming out as the current slate is wrapping up. With sports teams that play daily, including the MLB, NBA and NHL, the odds will come out either the day before or the morning of the game.

The opening lines give the betting public a first look at the perceptions of the matchup from the perspective of the oddsmakers. When handicapping, one of the first stops should be checking out the current odds for the game, and it can be quite beneficial to see how much movement there has been from the time the odds were initially released.

Why Do the Odds Change in Sports Betting?

After the betting lines are released to the public, wagers will start flowing in. If a clear preference emerges in terms of which way the money is flowing, the sportsbook may tweak the odds in a bid to even things out. Sportsbooks don’t like being lopsided on games as this opens up a liability on their end.

If the majority of the money is right, then they’ll take a loss. To even out the playing field, they’ll make the side that’s not attracting as much money more attractive while lessening the appeal for the more popular choice. If this doesn’t have the desired impact, there may be additional adjustments. This can continue right up until game time.

While the book can’t guarantee they’ll have an equal split of action on every game, they’re for-profit entities that do their best to limit exposure to losses. When you see the lines move, take the time to note the direction and glean what you can from it while keeping in mind that there could also be a reverse line move at play.

Importance of Line Shopping

While the top shops are generally in range when it comes to odds, that doesn’t mean that they’re always the same. Due to betting action, that’s simply impossible. One book may receive lots of action on one side of a game and tweak the numbers as a result, while its competitor sees more balanced action and doesn’t adjust much at all.

To demonstrate, let’s consider a simple NBA moneyline bet. While researching the game, you find the following odds on the contest available at DraftKings.

New York Knicks    +170
Brooklyn Nets          -200

The Nets are a pretty healthy favorite at -200. You like that side of the equation but would love to see a more favorable return, so you decide to see what FanDuel has to say:

New York Knicks    +165
Brooklyn Nets          -190

Over at this book, you can get a bet in on Brooklyn at -190. While that might not seem like much of a difference, it impacts your potential return for a winner. For a quick calculation, you’d have to lay out $200 to get $100 back at DraftKings, while staking $190 at FanDuel gets you the same.

If you didn’t take the time to look around, then you wouldn’t have caught the more favorable scenario. There are ticks of difference to be found on the odds all the time. By engaging in what’s known as line shopping, which means checking the prices at multiple shops, you can spot the more appealing numbers before placing your wagers.

How Do I Know Which Way the Money is Flowing in Sports Betting?

To know where the action is going, you need to know how far the lines have moved from the initial release. There are times when the movement will provide a definitive answer and others for which you’ll have to do a bit more digging.

For a simple example, consider a standard spread bet in which both sides come out with odds of -110. After bets start coming in, the sportsbook tweaks the odds with one side at -105 and the other at -115. This is one of those clear-cut situations. The side that has been dropped to -105 isn’t seeing as much action, so the book makes it more appealing.

Meanwhile, the other side has seen most of the money head that way, so the operator responds by making that side a little less attractive. When you learn how to read the odds board correctly, it can reveal lots of intel useful in your handicapping.

When a reverse line move happens, it can be a source of confusion, especially when you know for sure that the majority of wagers are coming down on one side. The side attracting fewer wagers but more money is the catalyst in this situation, and it can take a keen eye to spot it. The good news is that moves of this nature become more apparent with some seasoning.

For insight into where the public is betting, there are a number of sites that track this information. They pull together the info from various operators and present it in percentage form to readers, such as 53% on the side of the favorite and 47% on the side of the underdog.

Other resources go further and do the same thing with betting dollars in percentage form. When there’s a mismatch between the public betting and total dollar percentages, that’s a clear sign of a reverse line move.

Reverse Line Movement Example

To fully understand the concept of a reverse line move, it’s helpful to see one in action. Let’s consider this opening point spread from Caesars for a fictitious NFL game:

Chicago Bears            +7.5 (-110)
Kansas City Chiefs     -7.5 (-110)

The Chiefs are big favorites over the Bears, and it looks like the public loves them, as 74% of all bets are headed in that direction. However, something interesting happens to the spread later in the week:

Chicago Bears             +6.5 (-110)
Kansas City Chiefs      -6.5 (-110)

Despite the fact that most bets are on Kansas City, the line has dropped a full point. This means that the majority of the money has taken Chicago plus the points. The sportsbook has adjusted the spread in response.

A reverse line move can also happen on the moneyline. Let’s consider the odds for this random MLB game from Bally Bet:

Colorado Rockies      +155
St. Louis Cardinals    -175

The Cardinals are pretty big faves here. The public tends to flock toward the favored side, so it should be no surprise that 72% of bets have been on St. Louis. However, the line takes a sudden shift as game time approaches:

Colorado Rockies +135
St. Louis Cardinals -155

The odds for the underdog have lessened in spite of more money coming in for the favorite. This is a clear indicator that a reverse line movement situation is in play. Reverse line moves can happen for all sports and bet types. To spot them, you’ll need to know the opening lines and where the public money is going to notice the movement in the opposite direction.

What Does Sharp Money Mean in Sports Betting?

The terms “sharp money” and “smart money” are used interchangeably in sports betting circles. They refer to where the most successful handicappers are placing their bets. The sharp bettors may be on one side of a game while the public is backing the other. As a general rule, the public money isn’t always right.

For confirmation, consider that the top shops aren’t in the business of handing out money. They’re good at what they do, and it can take some doing to beat them consistently on a long-term basis. The mythical sharp bettors have a better overall track record than the public, so tracking their picks has become quite popular.

Naturally, there are no guarantees that either side will be right between the public and sharps. If it was as simple as following one or the other to cash tickets, there would be a lot more successful long-term sports bettors out there. Seeing what the smart money has to say certainly makes sense, but the decisions on what you wager on should ultimately be your own.

Should Reverse Line Movements Influence My Bets?

When a reverse line move happens, it’s an indicator that the majority of money is heading in the opposite direction of the public. It’s a good indicator that sharp bettors see things differently, so it’s certainly worth factoring into your overall handicapping assessment.

That said, it shouldn’t make you entirely shift gears on your research. If you’re confident in what you’ve found, then take reverse line moves as a sign that you need to go back and review your work. After all, you could have missed something the sharp bettors caught.

If you walk away with the same thoughts after double-checking, then it’s time to listen to your instincts. The line moving in an unexpected fashion will not automatically translate into a win for bettors on that side. It certainly can, but it also may not. If you have a solid handicapping system in place, stick to what it reveals and look for areas of improvement as needed.

What to Remember about Reverse Line Movements

A reverse line move happens when the balance between the money wagered and the number of bets placed is off-kilter at a sportsbook. When the majority of bets are on one side while the line moves in the opposite direction, that’s an indicator that most of the money is on the less popular side.

Reverse line moves are signs that the sharp bettors are going against the grain of public perception. While there are plenty of times in which that’s the case already, the reverse line move makes it readily apparent. To know when it’s taking place, you’ll need to know the opening lines and have a handle on which side the public has favored.

You can easily track the lines and public betting percentages online, but the percentage of total dollars placed can be a bit more challenging to uncover. While a reverse line move can indicate where the smart money is going, don’t mistake that for a sign that they’re automatically making the correct call. After all, even the sharp bettors can be wrong when wagering on sports.