It was somewhere around 25 years ago – an eon in the prospering life of modern sports betting – that Nevada’s licensed bookmakers first began employing money lines. The action was one of necessity as bet takers, in an effort to limit their susceptibility at being caught between two numbers (a situation called being middled or sided) sought a profitable (for them) but reasonably attractive (for bettors) alternative to moving point spreads.
With moneylines, (which are the wagering standard for baseball), players don’t lay or take points. They lay or take a price. For example, if the Colts are a three-point favorite over the Broncos, on the money line, Indianapolis might be -160 (bet $160 to win $100) while Denver is +140 (bet $100 to win $140). No point spread is involved.
“The time when a money line is really used in force is on a game such as the Super Bowl. That’s where a side or a middle literally could cost you millions of dollars,” explained a noted Las Vegas bookmaker with vast knowledge of the intricacies of money line management who asked not to be identified. “At a really large sportsbook, getting sided on the Super Bowl could cost the house well over $1 million.
“The time that a money line is really valuable is when the line is -3. Rather than moving the spread to -2 1/2 or -3 1/2, I like using a moneyline, especially if my jeopardy is going to be around seven figures.”
Of course, a bookmaker’s jeopardy or risk is a relative factor.
“Again, it’s up to the guy running the joint,” pointed out the bet taker. “Obviously, if you’re on -3 and you’re $2 million high, if you go to -3 1/2 you know you’re going to get money back. How much do you want to risk? It all comes down to how much belly you have.”
Bookmakers also use moneylines when they hang halftime lines, a game within a game where point spreads based solely and independently on single halftime scores are offered.
“Halves are pretty treacherous,” admitted the bookmaker. “Using a money line is a tactical move because I think that’s the only way you can really book halftimes. If it’s pick with the money line and the game comes tied, all you do is give the money back. But it’s dangerous to go from pick to 1, pick to a 1/2 or pick to 1 on the other side because, quite obviously, if the game winds up 7-7 at the half, you’re going to lose a lot of money.
“That’s a strategic move because there are a lot smarter people betting the halftime than in a normal situation. When you take decent sized bets – say $10,000 to a number – using the pick money line point spread for a halftime, I believe, is the best theory.”
Sharp Action Dictates Point Spreads
Sports betting action usually dictates change but point spreads don’t always move in tandem with money line shifts, and vice versa.
“It all depends,” said another bookmaker who also felt a bit squeamish discussing internal oddsmaking deliberations and demanded anonymity.
“If wiseguys (informed bettors) are laying a side up, yeah, most of the time I will move the point spread. But if it’s square (unsophisticated) money that moving the number, I’ll just leave it there because I don’t want to kill all the action.”Las Vegas Bookmaker
“Sometimes, if you leave it there, they’ll bet that up, too. But if games are moving, especially in college, a point, a point and a half, two points a crack in an afternoon, you’ve got to move the money line. With the NFL, you can stay a little longer and take a hit.”
If there’s a player edge with money lines it’s probably in taking the odds with small underdogs. Since NFL games are decided by 1 or 2 points only about a combined seven percent of the time, some gamblers feel if you like the underdog you might as well forget the points and take a plus on the money line.
In the end, money lines are just another option sports betting option.