Sports betting is all about finding the best odds and bargain wagers, so it's especially noteworthy when you see a reverse line movement. All this means is that the line on a game is moving in the opposite direction of the side where the majority of bets are being placed.
In other words, the oddsmakers have reason to believe that there's good reason to reverse the line, and that's often due to the action that sharp bettors place on the contest. Sharps are bettors who have a long track record of betting success, so their wagers can have a direct impact on the sportsbooks' lines. A sharp better often causes reverse lines against the popular side, or where the betting public is placing the most bets.
This tutorial is a little more advanced, yet it's a betting tactic that's fairly easy to understand and can help you find great market value in the long run, or save you from potentially perilous bets that may seem obvious at first.
You can do this manually and keep checking back in on sportsbooks to see how the lines are moving, but that requires either a good memory or a personal log of data to maintain. There are websites out there that track the line movement for you on any game you could want.
The key is, you need to not only have access to the sportsbooks and have a big-picture view on how odds are changing, but you also need to know the number of bets being placed on each side. If a line is moving and you're uncertain which side is causing the shift, you won't know whether it's a reverse line movement or if it's the oddsmaker siding with the betting public.
As mentioned, sharp bettors can single-handedly move lines with how they wager, but even casual bettors who skew the bets too far to one side can cause bookmakers to do a reverse line pivot.
To be more specific about this phenomenon, sharp bettors engage in what's known as a "steam play" — or a massive single bet on a game that catalyzes a reverse line move. This can be very sudden, so especially if you're just coming into your own as a regular bettor, it's key to keep an eye on this.
Sharps essentially see an opportunity to strike when they drive a line movement reverse. In any given bet, it's probable that your chances of winning are 50%. You win or you don't. These seasoned bettors tend to win way more often, and when they arrive at a bet they really like, it's because they see a significant gap in the implied winning percentages given by the oddsmakers versus what they believe will actually happen.
For instance, if a sportsbook offers the Philadelphia Eagles at +280 to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL's Week 5 action, without getting too granular about the math involved, that moneyline converts to a 26.3% implied probability that Philadelphia will win. Here's the line in advance of that matchup:
Perhaps a group of sharps see an opportunity and think the Eagles actually have more like a 50% chance of winning, so they bet big on that +280 Philly moneyline. This can cause not only the moneyline to drop acutely, but it would also make the +7 point spread drop.
To move beyond the sharps for a moment, there's another main reason oddsmakers might be motivated to pull off a reverse line movement. If a sportsbook is seeing way too much action on one side, there's the danger that the public's preferred team will in fact cover the point spread (or win, in the case of a moneyline). To counter this, a book may reverse the line against that action to give bettors who want to wager the other side a better deal. What that move also does is at least instill a little doubt in the average bettor that maybe they're overlooking something.
It's advantageous for a sportsbook to get action closer to 50-50, because that virtually guarantees a profit. Even if the bets are split pretty evenly, there could be more confidence on a certain side, too. That is to say, if Team A has 53% of the bets and Team B has 47%, it's possible that Team A might actually have 75% of the handle or total amount of money wagered for that game.
The Denver Broncos opened as favorites against the New York Jets in what's quite frankly a putrid prime-time matchup in Week 4's edition of Thursday Night Football. But despite Denver garnering the majority of bets, leading up to kickoff, you can see how the action moved toward the Jets to the point where they were favored.
Thanks to this line graph from SportsInsights.com, you can see how the Broncos opened as two-point favorites, with their spread going as high as -3:
Whether it was the announcement that Brett Rypien was starting at quarterback or sharps siding with the Jets as head coach Adam Gase fights to keep his job, or any other number of factors, something caused the money and spread to skew way in New York's favor in the couple days leading up to kickoff. As of mere hours before kickoff, the Jets spiked to two-point favorites before settling in at -1.
That's as clear a reversal as you'll see in any sport. The percentage of betting tickets that had money on the Broncos was at 75% of the total share before drastically flipping. It wound up getting really close to 50-50 money on either side, with Denver having a slight edge.
If you really get into tracking such lines, reverse movement attunes a bettor's senses and sharpens one's research into any specific game. Once you get the hang of being able to spot reverse line movements, you'll have a few key elements that, you suspect, could've triggered the reversal to one side.
But the bottom line is, these situations present an opportunity to earn value, which is what you want as a bettor. The neat trick you can start to deploy is betting against a reverse line movement. If the sportsbook is taking too much action on one team, the line may change to encourage more bets on the other team. That actually works to your advantage if you're intent on betting on the heavy-action team regardless of how the line moves prior to the start of the game.
To call back to that Broncos-Jets clash: say you're all about Denver's defense under head coach Vic Fangio, and really think his counterpart, Gase, will be hard-pressed to dial up anything effective on offense against the Broncos' D, despite the fact that the visitors have a shaky quarterback situation with Rypien under center. If the action starts trending in the Jets' direction and you wanted to bet on Denver all along, that's great news for you! Now you get them at a better bargain than you would have before if you exercised enough patience.
One more edge this type of betting gives you: it helps you avoid wagering too early, and then getting victimized by some unforeseen circumstance that likely derails your team's chances of winning. Whether there actually is a reverse line movement or not, the fact you're willing to wait is a great way to cultivate the practice of mindful, responsible betting.
Well, it's hard to diagnose what's causing the line to reverse. It takes some digging to get to the bottom of it. Reverse line movements are kind of a shot in the dark, and you're tasked with doing your own research and drawing your own conclusions as to why the line has reversed to such a degree.
Key personnel factors, such as a serious injury to a star player, are worth monitoring in the days and hours leading up to a game. If a particular star is, say, a game-time decision, their call on playing or not playing could have a massive impact on the line at the last second. The tough thing is, you can't really anticipate that, and it really takes paying extremely close attention to any game this could be applicable to.
But sometimes it's not even something that simple. Again, chasing reverse line movements is kind of a wild time with tons of variables to weigh in a short time window, and if you're not too keen on the particular matchup in question, it can get you in trouble and throw off your betting strategy.
There's a temptation to shoehorn in a wager, because a reverse line movement feels like an opportunity you'd miss out on by not betting on it. Sometimes, that's exactly what the oddsmaker wants you to think, and it can be deliberately misleading.
If you're plugged in to sports betting enough to be reading and understanding this article, chances are you'll perk up and notice when a reverse line movement has happened. It's not exactly in a beginner's strategy guide, although it's not a bad way to look for value if you're just starting out.
The best thing to do is begin by betting single games in the sport or two you're most knowledgeable about. If it so happens the reverse line movement aligns with what you feel to be true about the teams involved in the game you're preparing to place bets on, that's where you can pounce.
If you're looking at all the games in a particular sport and notice a line has reversed, don't blindly bet on the side that's more favorable without trying to deduce why that is. Should your rationale be sound and you can talk yourself into why there was such a shift, place the bet. If there's any lingering doubt, stick to a game where you know the teams better and bet on that instead.
For more from abe's betting tutorials, visit our "How to Bet" hub, which features plenty of content for beginners and seasoned bettors alike who are looking to improve their skills and enhance their upside in this exciting, rising industry.
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