Reading Betting Line Movements

It is time to look at reading betting line movements.

Key Points

  • Betting lines move for a variety of reasons.
  • Understanding why betting lines move can be the difference between big wins and ugly losses.

Line movement is simply betting slang for any change in the odds and/or lines from the opening numbers of any given game. Identifying a line change is relatively easy. Putting your finger on why the movement occurred is another story.

With the NFL the king of sports betting, it is easy to take a look at an example from the sport. 

Line Movement Example

Let’s say the Cowboys are playing the Raiders. The opening line is the following:

Dallas Cowboys -3 (-110)

Las Vegas Raiders +3 (-110)

The Cowboys are a 3-point favorite over the Raiders. In the NFL, there is quite a bit of time between the opening line and when lines close before a game. A number of things can happen over the course of a week. When you bet football, you need to keep this in mind.

Before the lines close on game day, the line moves to Dallas -4 (-110). Now, the Cowboys need to win by five points to cover instead of previously needing to win by four.

The million dollar question, of course, is what causes betting lines to move?

Public Money

Remember, a sportsbook’s goal is to bring in an equal amount of action on both sides of a bet. In our example, the betting public can cause a shift in the line. Shifts caused by the betting public typically take time.

The public loves favorites too and if this line moved from Dallas -3 to Dallas -4 over a period of a couple days, it is likely due to the fact that the public has hammered the Cowboys. The sportsbooks move the line to -4 to encourage more action on the Raiders.

Sharp Money

Sharps are those professionals who bet for a living, and they like to bet big. When you see a line move quickly, it is because of sharp – or smart – money. 

In the example, if Dallas went from -3 to -4 in a single day it is because sharps really like the Cowboys. Again, to encourage action on the Raiders, the line moves to -4.

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Other Factors

There are other factors that can influence line changes. One of the biggest influences is injuries (and/or illnesses). If the Cowboys were to lose their starting quarterback in practice during the week, the line will shift to reflect that. 

Weather is another big factor. Games that are played late in the season in cold-weather climates will often see a line shift due to a weather report. It’s difficult to score a lot of points in cold, snowy conditions. Those conditions will often cause some line movement prior to a game.

Reverse Line Movement

Reverse line movement is when a line moves away from the side receiving the majority of the bets. In our example, let’s say Dallas goes from -4 to -3 at your online sportsbook but the Cowboys have 75 percent of the bets. 

It kind of doesn’t make sense, right? That’s what is called reverse line movement and it is most often due to smart money pouring in on the other side. 

Tracking Movement

Nowadays, it’s a lot easier to track line movement. There are any number of websites that track lines and odds from opening to closing. 

Understanding these moves and why they occurred can be the difference between cashing or trashing a betting slip.


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