The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012

October 19, 2006

Betting Line Theory

Earlier this week, I saw something odd. When I caught the first college football lines, I was dumbstruck to see that Wisconsin was only a 4.5 point favorite over Purdue. Purdue is 5-2, with only one blowout win, and we lost by a large margin against the only two decent teams we’ve played. Wisconsin, on the other hand, is 6-1, and outside of a respectable loss to Michigan, has blown out everyone else they’ve played.

So, 4.5? How can that be?! I’m partial to overestimating Purdue’s capabilities, but even I would have set that line between 9 and 11. Apparently, a lot of bettors agree with me, because has 96% of bettors taking Wisconsin and the points. In fact, it’s shifted so far that way that the line has increased to anywhere between 6 and 7 (depending what Casino you check). Apparently everyone thinks Wisconsin is going to cover. And there’s no way that everyone is wrong, is there?

Or is there? One of the things a good friend of mine— also a bookie— told me once that any time everyone bets one way, he’s reasonably certain the outcome will go the other. Oddsmakers in Vegas aren’t paid to be wrong very often, and if they’re setting a line so low, there’s a reason for it. Oddsmakers are smarter than the average bettor, and it’s a lot more likely that they’re right than that they’re wrong.

I had a chance to catch up with my buddy this week, and brought up the situation, to pick his brain on it. After the conversation, I posted the below thoughts on a Purdue message board where we were discussing the line.


Okay, so I was talking with a bookie I know, and I told him the situation re: Wisconsin. I now realize that since he is an *amateur* bookie, what he said about “most bettors being wrong” was more related to casual bettors, not the big professional gamblers in Vegas. Since he lays most of his bets with casual gamblers, he typically sees that when they all break one way, they’re usually wrong.

He also mentioned something else. Casual gamblers tend to bet the favorite. It’s partly psychological, where you don’t want to hope the team you bet loses but only by less than 3, you want to hope the team you bet wins the game “by enough”. Professional gamblers, OTOH, tend to be underdog bettors. Professional gamblers lay their bets late (Friday/Saturday) So the fact that the line is quickly increasing (now 6-6.5, depending where you look), may be due to the amateur gamblers (the ones who are usually wrong) betting it up big time, and the professionals will swoop in towards the end of the week and it will start to adjust back down.

But here’s where it gets interesting. He thinks the oddsmakers set it too high at 4.5. Wisconsin is a team with a lot of “hype” at this point in the year, who’s been televised nationally several times, and who have a reputation for covering their spread. Naturally, they respond by setting a line higher than they think, because they think the bettors will bet it up. My coworker thinks, based on the situation, that the oddsmakers probably think it should really be 3.5, but set 4.5 trying to set it high, and now the casual gamblers think they’re getting a steal, and they’re swinging it up to 6 or more.

When the professionals see this, they’re going to see that the oddsmakers set it very high, then that the amateurs pushed it even higher. They’ll come in later this week, and bet the house, because seeing the movement will make them think they’re getting a deal.

All this shows one thing: the oddsmakers don’t believe in Wisconsin the way the fans do. And that’s only a good thing for the Boilers.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 8:25 pm || Permalink || Comments (4) || Trackback URL || Categories: College Football, Poker/Gambling


  1. Hey, thanks for the link! I agree. I think that line is way off even at 6.5. Then again, these are the same people that made us 3 point dogs to Minnesota for our homecoming. You have a very nice blog here. I am going to have to mess around and learn how to do some linking.

    Comment by BoilerTMill — October 19, 2006 @ 9:43 pm
  2. “Professional gamblers lay their bets late (Friday/Saturday)”

    Where did you come up with this tidbit? I have my own opinion about this and think the pros bet early. Pros have the time and experience to check the early lines and make a decision about it early in the week. Casual bettors, in my experience, call their bookie on Sat/Sun and ask what the lines are and bet the games they think they can win. In this case the line is being moved by the Pros – not the amateurs. However, I still agree – the general populace is typically wrong at picking the winners.

    Comment by Hoover — October 20, 2006 @ 10:37 am
  3. I got that tidbit from your bookie… You might want to call him about it :-D

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — October 20, 2006 @ 10:45 am
  4. in the Purdue/Wisconsin case, I would expect that the Vegas bettors (pros) would know full-well what is going to happen with the line…and bet late.

    Same deal for the game tonight. West Virginia has a ton of hype right now. That line has been bet all the way up from 18.5 to 23.5. It may hit 24, but I expect that around 1 hour before kickoff it will start to settle off around 22.5, because the pros will hop on an underdog getting 24 pts, when the line opened at 18.5.

    and I KNOW that the casual bettor loves WV right now. 6 hours to kickoff and I already have a box of ziti on UCONN.

    Comment by Wilson — October 20, 2006 @ 1:34 pm

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