Why Sports Betting Lines Aren’t Predictions of Scores

Sports Betting Lines Sportsbook Background

I’ve bet on sports for close to 40 years. Over that time, I’ve seen the final scores of games match the lines the sportsbooks post more times than I can count.

For a long time:
I thought that the books were setting lines predicting what the books thought the final score was going to be. Then I learned that the lines have nothing to do with predicting scores. Believing that lines are predictions is dangerous if you bet on sports.

However, understanding what lines really are can help you make money betting on sports. In this post, you’re going to learn what betting lines are and how to use them to make money.

A Betting Line Example

I’m sure most readers of this post are familiar with betting lines and how they work. But if you’re not sure, here’s an example.

If you understand betting lines, you can skip to the next section.

The Dallas Cowboys are playing at the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL. The Bengals are favored by three points. The line for this game looks like this.

Dallas Cowboys +3 at the Cincinnati Bengals

Or like this:

Dallas Cowboys at the Cincinnati Bengals -3

If you bet on Dallas, you get three points. If you bet on Cincinnati, you give three points. These things mean that when the game is over, you add three to Dallas’s score or subtract three from Cincinnati’s score.

After adding or subtracting the three points, if the team you bet on would win the game, you win the bet.

When you bet on this game, and the Bengals win by three points, neither side of the bet wins. Tied bets are called a push.

Why Bettors Believe Sportsbooks Are Predicting Final Scores

If you watch the game used in the example in the last section, and the final score is 20 to 17, it looks like the sportsbook accurately predicted the final score.

So if the Bengals win by two or four points instead of three, it still looks like the sportsbooks did a fairly good job predicting the score. Of course, many games every week don’t match the lines. But the sportsbooks don’t care if their lines match the outcomes of the games.

So the online sportsbooks can make a lot of money no matter how close their lines are to the results.

Why Sportsbooks Set Their Lines

An argument can be made that the public sets the lines in the sportsbooks. Of course, the sportsbooks set the original lines, but the public can make lines move. Sportsbooks make money by balancing their handle on games.

For example:
If a sportsbook takes bets worth $110,000 on the Cowboys and $110,000 on the Bengals in the previous example, the sportsbook makes $10,000 no matter which team wins.

When the Bengals win by four or more points, all of the people who bet on the Bengals get back their money, which is $110,000 in this case, and win a total of $100,000. When this happens, it leaves a profit of $10,000 for the sportsbook. The same thing happens if the Bengals win by one or two points or if the Cowboys win.

The Cowboys bettors get $110,000 back, plus $100,000.

You can see why it’s important for a sportsbook to set a line that creates an equal amount of action on each side of a game. When the sportsbook sets a line that creates equal action on each side, the book makes a guaranteed profit.

Please Note:
When a sportsbook evaluates a game and sets a line, they set the line where they believe they can receive an equal handle. Before the game starts, if the public puts too much money on one side of a game, the sportsbook often adjusts the line to try to get more money on the other side of the game.

Now you know why the lines provided by the sportsbooks aren’t predictions of final scores. The next step is to learn why this is important and how to use this information to make money when you bet on sports.

Why Understanding How Betting Lines Work Is Important

The reason why it’s important to understand how betting lines work and how the sportsbooks set their lines because it changes the way you think when you’re handicapping games.

When you realize that the sportsbooks are setting their lines based on a balanced book, you know that there are games that have value if you can predict the final scores. In other words, your goals aren’t the same as the goals of the sportsbook. Both you and the sportsbook want to make money, but you make money in different ways.

You also need to understand that public perception plays a big role in how the sportsbooks set lines. For example, a popular team is more likely to receive a bet than an unpopular team, so the sportsbooks move the line against the popular team.

For example:
If the Dallas Cowboys are popular and more bettors tend to bet on them than their opponent, if the sportsbook thinks the Cowboys will win a game by four, the book might set the line at six or seven.

When the sportsbooks adjust the line like this, it encourages more action on the other side, and it takes advantage of the gamblers who bet on the Cowboys no matter what.

Please Note:
A simple trick you can use is looking at all of the lines involving popular teams. The odds are good that the value is on the opposing team.

Never forget how the sportsbook set lines. Understanding how the books set their lines can help you find value because you’re handicapping to predict final scores.

How to Use Betting Lines for Profit

Now you understand how sportsbooks set their lines and at least one way you can use this information to make money. Of course, the most important thing you can do is learn how to handicap games to predict final scores.

Predicting final scores isn’t easy.

You have to build your handicapping skills over time, and you have to learn from your mistakes quickly. But it’s worth the effort and time needed to master your handicapping skills.

Once you learn how to predict final scores, you can find lines that offer value every week. Most of the lines you find that offer value differs from your predictions because of what the public thinks. In other words, most of your profit when you bet on sports comes from betting the opposite of most of the public.

The same things you’ve learned about spread betting lines are true for over under lines and run or puck lines. You can also use this information when evaluating moneyline bet lines.

For example
If two high-scoring teams are playing in college football, the public believes that the final score will be high. The sportsbooks know how the public feels, so the sportsbook pushes the line higher than they think it should be set.

The value is almost always on the under if you look at the total line for a game with two high-scoring offenses. The same is true for a game with two good defenses. As a result, the value is almost always on the over.

Try to think like the sportsbooks think.

Look at how the public might view a game, and then think about what the sportsbook might do to take advantage of the public. Once you determine how the public views a team or game, you can usually find value on the other side of the game.


Sportsbooks don’t set their lines based on what they think the final score is going to be in a game. Instead, sportsbooks set their lines based on balancing their books.

Now that you know why the lines are set the way they are, you can start working on finding value when you predict a final score that doesn’t match the available lines.

It’s going to take you a long time and a lot of work to learn how to predict final scores. But when you learn how to do it, you can find profitable betting lines every week.


Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.

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