Reverse Line Movements Explained

how to bet on sports

Spreads, moneylines, over/unders, and other sports betting lines might not move easily, but neither are they stuck in place. 

In the same way commodity prices increase with demand, lines can also fluctuate based on how the betting market responds to them. One of the reasons for this is that sportsbooks also have to attempt to limit their liability on one side of a given bet. 

The changes are often made with how bettors respond to the favorites. However, this is not always the case; lines can move in favor of the underdog. This is called reverse line movement. Before we see what this is, let’s look at the concept of line movements. 

Line Movements

Most bookmakers aim to get the closest they can to balanced action as possible. Having an equal amount of money on each side means they can take a little of the top and mitigate their risk. 

When one side gets enormous backing, a sportsbook is at more risk of losses, which is bad for business. So what do they do? They move the line to make the other side more enticing and match up a potential vulnerability. This is called a line movement. 

A reverse line movement, on the other hand, is a bit more advanced…

What Is the Reverse Line Movement?

A reverse line movement happens when most bets on a game clearly favor one team, yet the line moves in the opposite direction. 

Let’s look at a reverse line movement to understand the concept better. For this example, let’s consider the following opening point spread in a fictitious NFL game. 

Chicago Bears +7.5 (-110)

Kansas City Chiefs -7.5 (- 110)

Here, the Chiefs are the obvious favorites, and with 75% of all bets backing them, the public seems to like them. 

Later on, in the week, the spreads look something like this:

Chicago Bears + 6.5 (- 110)

Kansas City Chiefs – 6.5 (- 110)

Despite most bets being on the Chiefs, the line has dropped by a whole point. This means most of the cash has taken Bears plus points. The adjustments on the second spread reflect the adjustments sportsbooks have made in response.

Reverse line movements can also happen on moneyline bets. Here is a fictitious MLB bet example;

Colorado Rockies +155

St. Louis Cardinals -175

In the above, the Cardinals are the faves, and naturally, they get 72% of bets from the public. Then a sudden shift changes the line as the game approaches so that we have:

Colorado Rockies + 135

St. Louis Cardinals – 155

In the above game, the underdog’s odds have reduced even though more cash is going to the favorites. This is a clear indicator that an RLM has occurred. 

What Causes Reverse Line Movements?

The answer to this question is pretty simple: sharp bettors. 

A reverse movement occurs when significant amounts of cash are placed on the unpopular side by a small percentage of bettors compared to the popular site.

These small percentage of bettors placing huge amounts of cash on the unpopular side are known as sharp bettors or sharps. Sharps have long, indisputable track records of success, and therefore, their opinions on games are widely respected by sportsbooks. 

Naturally, when sharp bettors load up on the unpopular side, sportsbooks have good reason to believe that the underdog will likely win. This causes them to adjust the lines accordingly to try and strike a balance. 

For bettors, following reverse line movements is akin to following the money train. 

Now, do sharps always win? Unfortunately, no. But they win more than they lose, so following sharps is an excellent winning strategy. 

Sports Betting Opening Lines

Sportsbooks release the odds and proceedings of a game when it’s on a tap. These are called opening lines. 

After the initial release, odds may move at any point up until the start of a game. The release times vary. For NFL and NCAAF, numbers start trickling in as the current slate wraps up. For NBA, MLB, NHL, and other games that play daily, odds are released the day before a game or on the morning of the event. 

These opening lines give bettors an initial look at how oddsmakers perceive two teams. Whenever you are handicapping, one of the things you should always look at is the current odds of a game. It can be interesting to see how much the odds will have changed since the initial release. 

Why Do The Odds Change In Sports Betting: Sharps And Squares

You have likely heard of the terms ‘sharps’ and ‘squares’ when listening to your favorite betting shows. Both are bettors, but approach their betting very differently. 

Sharps are often called the wise guys because they employ an analytical, thoughtful approach to how they place their bets. They are most often veterans and know what to look for in picking winning games. 

Squares on the hand are not systematic in their betting. They win occasionally, but often lose money in the end. 

Sportsbooks trust sharp bettors and use them as a guiding factor to know where overall money is going-and to move the one accordingly. We will see more on this a little later on. 

How To Track and Take Advantage Of Reverse Line Movement

Depending on the sportsbook you are using, you could detect line movements daily, hourly, and at times, none at all. 

There are three ways to track RLMS. 

The first is old-fashioned and time-consuming. Here, you take note of the odds provided for the games you are interested in, then record any changes leading up to the game. 

The second way is by looking at websites dedicated to tracking movements across a number of online sportsbooks. 

The last and most convenient way to track RLMs is by signing up for RLM notifications from a sportsbook. Unfortunately, not all sportsbooks have this feature, so research and find a few that do. 

Should Reverse Line Movements Influence My Bets?

Yes, they should.

Assuming there is a reverse line movement based on sharps opinions of a game. Sharp bettors win more than they lose and profit from their betting. Wouldn’t you want to place the same bet as a professional bettor? You definitely would. 

But it’s not always that simple. This is because once you detect movement, it’s often too late to place a profitable bet. There is also little reason to believe that sharps will still find the revised numbers profitable. 

Similarly, while sportsbooks might indicate an 80/20 split, this is often in relation to the game, not the overall amounts. You still don’t have the complete picture without specifics on how much money has been placed on which end. This makes RLM betting a very flawed betting strategy.

Importance Of Life Shopping

To bet profitably, you must find the best of the number more often than not. This makes line shopping important. 

Simply put, line shopping is finding the best price or number available for a total,pop or spread. 

This is why pro bettors tend to have multiple sportsbooks. While it might be easier to manage, betting with one  bookmaker is a sure recipe for disaster in the long run. 

Combing through different bookmakers is definitely not a glamorous part of betting. It takes some focus and time, but when done well, it’s well worth the trouble. 


Dan Weiner

Hailing from Atlanta and attending college at the University of Texas, Dan is passionate about sports, particularly college football and soccer. He's a diehard Atlanta pro sports and Texas Longhorns fan. He likes every sport and will watch anything and everything the weirder the better. He joined Betsperts after an 11 year career in television production at ESPN.

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