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How the Sports Betting Line is Made
Las Vegas Sports Consultants (LVSC) is the world's premier oddsmaking company and the most respected authority on making the lines. Mike Seba is a Senior Oddsmaker at LVSC and has been making lines for the last six years. In our extended interview, Seba explained that there are 4-5 oddsmakers assigned to make lines for each of the major sports (pro & college football and basketball; MLB, NHL, boxing, golf). Each of these oddsmakers bring unique opinions, strengths and weaknesses to the process.
Oddsmakers at LVSC are professional sports junkies who love what they do and would probably do it for nothing if you asked them, but they do get paid for it. By necessity their approach is very research-oriented and concise, since with millions of dollars at risk there is little margin for error.
"You either have a passion for it or you don't," Seba said.
"The #1 thing for us is to make a line for each game that creates good two-way action. We do this by drawing from past experiences and applying them to current situations. People think it's much more complicated, but it's not."
What Is the Line Trying to Accomplish?
There is a common misconception that point spreads represent the oddsmakers' prediction of how many points the favorite will win by. That is not the case at all - their intent is NOT to evenly split the ATS result between the teams; rather, their goal is to attract equal betting action on both sides. Stated another way, they want to create a line that half the people find appealing to bet one way while the other half find it appealing to bet the other way (known as 'dividing the action').
Divided action means the sportsbook is guaranteed a profit on the game because of the fee charged to the bettor (called juice or vig - typically bet to win ).
How the Opening Line Is Made
The opening line is the first line created by the oddsmakers, which is then sent out to sportsbooks. Of course there is an entire method to the madness on how the opening line is created. Seba explained that it all starts with each oddsmaker creating a line on each game based upon their own personal approach. This usually includes having up-to-date power ratings on each team.
Power ratings are the oddsmaker's value of each team and are used as a guide to calculate a "preliminary" pointspread on an upcoming game. The power ratings are adjusted after each game a team plays. Examples of non-game factors that would require an adjustment to a team's power rating are key player injuries and player trades.
Once a game's power rating based pointspread is determined, the oddsmaker will make adjustments to that line after considering each team's most recent games played and previous games played against that opponent. Also, adjustments are made after reading each team's local newspapers to get a sense of what the coaches & players are thinking going into the game.
Since the oddsmaker's ultimate goal is equally dividing the betting action, public perception and betting patterns must be taken into account. For example, the public might have heavy betting interest week after week on a popular college football team such as USC. If an oddsmaker comes up with a preliminary line of USC -7, then an adjustment up to -7.5 or -8 would be made in response to the public's expected USC bias.
The last step in the line-making process for each oddsmaker is taking one final look to determine whether or not the line "feels right." This is where common sense and past experience with how games are bet enters into the picture.
A round-table discussion among the 4-5 oddsmakers involved in making the line for each sport is then conducted and a consensus line is decided upon by the Odds Director before it is released to the sportsbooks. Of the 4-5 oddsmakers, generally the 2 most respected opinions are weighed more heavily by the Odds Director before he decides on the final line.
Why the Line Changes
Once the opening line is released by LVSC, the individual sportsbooks decide if they want to make any adjustments before offering it to the public. Reasons for such adjustments include:
Experts working for the individual books having a strong opinion on the game
Individual books having players who consistently bet with certain tendencies (such as an extreme bias toward favorites or toward a certain popular team like USC)
The purpose of these adjustments, like all line adjustments, is to more equally divide the betting action.
Once betting begins, sportsbooks can adjust the line at any time. In doing so they attempt to make more attractive the team that is getting less action. By moving the line, sportsbooks can influence how the public bets on a particular game.
For example, if the pointspread on a game is 7 and most of the money is coming in on the underdog (taking the +7), sportsbooks will then move the number down to 6 ˝ to try and attract money on the favorite.
Moving the line is the oddsmaker's effort to balance betting action, and often times such moves can have a major impact on a bettor's decision.
Oddsmakers can also change the line depending on various event-related factors such as player injuries or weather. Obviously, if the line comes out a week ahead of the event (which is the case in football), there is much that could happen during the week leading up to the event that could affect the line. Oddsmakers have to determine if any changes are necessary and send out an "adjusted line."
"The main objective is that our clients get equal action on both sides," Seba said. "We're not trying to pick the team that covers the spread, we're trying to make it a coin flip, a tough decision (for the bettor). If we've done that, we've done our job."
About the Author: RJ Bell is the founder of Pregame.com - Where sports bettors get ready. RJ has been an expert contributor to Maxim Magazine, CNN.com, About.com, and ABC News - and has won 3 world handicapping championships! Located in Las Vegas, the Pregame.com team works at adding to your betting confidence with powerful game insights and sportsbook reviews. FreePicksByEmail.com, the biggest daily sports betting newsletter, delivers help from famous handicappers.