In ever-changing sports betting industry, those that adapt the quickest are the most profitable. We’re still waiting for legalization, but the wagering landscape is always in a liquid state. There are a lot of parallels between sports betting and the stock market. You’re buying stock in teams one night and selling it the next. You’re buying stock in players one night and selling them the next.
One of the coolest advances in the industry over the last several years is live betting. With new technologies and a desire for additional markets, live betting, or in-play wagering, has grown by leaps and bounds as more sportsbooks, including the brick-and-mortar shops in Las Vegas, have given their clients more and more opportunities to bet while a game is being played. There are a lot of advantages to live betting versus full-game wagering. There are some disadvantages as well, but those that use live betting are excited about its growth and are even more excited about the growth potential of their bankrolls.
Live betting is a simple concept, but a complex market. As the game is being played, live lines are being adjusted by those sportsbook employees tasked with manning the live betting department. As a general rule, lines are relative to how much time is left in the game, what the score is, and what the pregame betting looked like. With so many commercial breaks in sporting events nowadays, the number of live betting opportunities has increased. Sportsbooks generally open wagering at TV timeouts or injury timeouts and bettors flock to get what they perceive to be value on the game.
To give you an example, let’s say that you’re watching the Utah vs. Denver game on a Tuesday night. The pregame spread may have been something like Denver -1 with a total of 205. As the game plays out, a specific department at the sportsbook syncs up to the fastest television feed and gets ready to put up numbers. If the Nuggets hit the first TV timeout winning 12-8, you might see the number adjust to Denver -2 or -2.5 and the total might have adjusted down to 200.5. If the Jazz are winning 12-8, the number might be more like pick ‘em with a similar total. Live betting gives sportsbooks the opportunity to balance some of the pregame exposure that they may have had or strengthen a position that they had.
As a bettor, there are a lot of good opportunities that come about from following along with games and looking to live bet. Before we get into those, let’s discuss a cautious approach to live betting. Far too many players have gotten into trouble by going overboard with live betting. Every TV timeout or other stoppage gives bettors the opportunity to put even more money down on the game. The risk of ruin can get pretty high with too much of your bankroll tied up into one game and several different outcomes. Action junkies can definitely take things too far when it comes to live betting. You still have to be mindful of proper bankroll management techniques and be smart with your money. Just because a live line pops up on a game that you are watching doesn’t mean that you have to bet it. It’s like anything else. Oddsmakers have to put up a line on every game. Live betting oddsmakers have to put up lines at stoppages on games in which live betting is offered. That does not mean that you need to bet those lines.
Nevertheless, the savvy observers out there are going to see the profit potential and are going to look to take advantage. Let’s consider some examples:
1. Let’s say that you really liked a game at +5.5, but it closed +4 and you weren’t fast enough to get in on it. The underdog starts out the game slow and misses nine of its 12 shots going into the first timeout to trail by eight points. A live betting line might be +5.5 or it could be a better number like +6 or +6.5. You’re now in a position to take that line that you initially liked. Six minutes of the game have passed, so there’s less time for your team to get inside the number, but it’s a way to recoup lost line value.
2. Maybe you had a lean on a team, but weren’t sure how they were going to play. The number was right where you had it in your power ratings or in your head, but there was another angle that you liked. Perhaps the coach made a lineup change or an injured player was coming back into the lineup. Seeing a little bit of the game can be a major help. In handicapping, our entire pregame goal is to eliminate as much variance as possible. At the end of the day, these are still unpredictable sporting events that we have no control over. However, if you’ve seen a few minutes of the game and your team is getting open shots or that star player looks like he’s moving around well on his bum ankle, you can consider betting the game at that point, as long as the spread is to your liking. Or, maybe you can bet the game total over, since that player looks good and he’s helping his team get open shots.
3. Removing as much variance as possible is the goal of the pregame handicap, but a lot of things can happen during a game. What if a star player gets hurt? What if that weather system moves in quicker than the meteorologists thought? Let’s say you’ve got a team that loves to pass against a team that wants to run and the rain and wind have moved in faster than expected. Is that a live betting opportunity? It certainly could be. The oddsmakers manning the live betting department might have 20 or 30 events going on at once. They may be slow to adjust to the changing weather conditions or a player injury. If you can talk advantage of those spots because you’re watching the game, those can really help your bottom line.
4. One of the things that live bettors love to do is get advantageous positions on both sides. Let’s use the Utah and Denver example again. Denver was a small one-point favorite at the open, so this game should, in theory, be close throughout. What if Utah starts 1-of-10 from the field and Denver jumps out to a six-point lead? You can bet Utah at plus money on the money line to win the game and then wait and see what happens. Maybe you get lucky and the Jazz go on a 14-2 run and Denver is now trailing by six points. Perhaps the Nuggets are now listed at plus money. This is called arbitrage or “scalping”. Taking positions in which you can guarantee a profit regardless of what happens puts a bettor in an ideal position. If you have Utah +125 and Denver +125, you’re guaranteed to make .25 units, regardless of how the game plays out, as long as you bet the same amount on both sides.
Similarly, you can do this with the spread or total on a game. Let’s say that you bet Under 205 on that Utah vs. Denver game. At the second media timeout, the teams are building a neighborhood on the rim with a bunch of brick houses. Denver leads 15-13 and both teams have started slow. But, you expect that the action will pick up. Let’s say the teams are 1-of-15 combined from three-point range. The live betting line is 194. If you bet the over, you have an 11-point middle. “Middling” is when you take two different positions and have a nice range of numbers that the game total or spread can fall into and you will win both bets. You’ll hear of middling with people that take the full game under and the second-half over in hopes of winning both bets. Usually, people bet a fraction of the full-game amount on the second half, just so they don’t cost themselves a unit on a full-game winner. But, live betting offers up these types of possibilities as well.
5. As mentioned, these live lines are almost exclusively based on mathematics. They are relative to the pregame betting splits, the time left in the game, and the score. Oddsmakers are going to pick up on really major injuries or maybe stop offering live betting for the game. However, those in charge of setting these numbers usually have a lot of other things going on. By watching the game and picking up on little things, like coaching adjustments, bad shooting performances, foul trouble, a tired defensive line, whatever the case may be, you can find edges over the sportsbooks. If you are watching a game, follow it with the mindset of, “How can this help me with a live bet?”
Let’s use a recent example from the 2017 NCAA Tournament. When USC was playing SMU, the Trojans were locked in another close game and it looked like it was going to go down to the wire. With about three or four minutes left, USC was in the +180 to +200 range to win the game and the spread was somewhere around +5 or +6 for a while. What the oddsmakers hadn’t accounted for is that Semi Ojeleye of SMU and another player were in severe foul trouble. The Mustangs only played six players regularly, so there weren’t a whole lot of trustworthy bench players that could be called upon for defensive stands. As a result, Ojeleye and his teammates played softer defense because of the risk of fouling out. The lines weren’t adjusted for this. The lines were based on the score, the time left, and the pregame action. USC scored some easy buckets by driving to the basket on the players in foul trouble and it really changed the dynamics of the game. USC wound up winning.
Live betting is great, as long as you use it responsibly. Don’t overextend yourself. It may be best to separate your bankroll into what you intend to use for full games on a day-to-day basis and then for playing around with live betting. Another “don’t” when it comes to live betting is you don’t want to keep chasing. If you play a favorite at -7.5 and they suddenly go down to -6.5, maybe it’s time to cut your losses. Similarly, if you play an underdog at +8.5, take your value and enjoy it rather than doubling down at +6.5. Unless you’re able to create significant middle opportunities or arbitrage opportunities to guarantee money both ways, “doubling down” isn’t an optimal strategy with live betting. Take your win and be happy with it. Don’t cost yourself a bet by the game falling on +7 or +8.
There is a learning curve to live betting. Knowing when to hit a live line and when to pass is all part of that learning curve. Watching the game is a massive help and should be considered a prerequisite for those just starting out with in-play wagering. But, if you play it properly and maintain proper bankroll management, it’s just another way that you can bang the books.