In the world of sports betting there are many things that are treated with an almost mythical devotion. Concepts like smart money and wise guy plays are viewed by many people as the secret key to betting success. Another topic of keen interest to many is the opening line. Some people think that the opening lines, since they are developed by experts, are an indicator of what is going to happen in the game, and a key tool for handicapping success. This may be true, but only if you really understand where the lines come from and what they can mean.
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Before the Internet sportsbooks changed everything the opening lines were straightforward. The Stardust Casino put up the first line, and those virgin numbers were made available to wise guys for early play. That play would correct any errors or soft spots, and then the public could have their way. With the Internet, more information is available and there are more people interested in providing early lines. Offshore books release lines soon after the previous games have been played. Some interesting information can be gained at times from looking at how those early lines move compared to the lines the Stardust releases. On top of that, overnight lines, such as the Glantz-Culver Line which is created by Keith Glantz and Russell Culver and is provided to sports books clients and syndicated to many newspapers, provide another source of information. Their lines are set primarily using power ratings, and act as an estimate of where lines should open.
Regardless of which early lines you see, it is important to think about what is behind them before you make any decisions based on them. It has traditionally been thought that opening lines are set so that books will get equal action on both sides of the bet. That would eliminate any exposure that the sportsbooks have and guarantee them a profit. Though that makes sense in theory, it is not always the case. Lines can be set for other purposes, and you can make a bad decision if you use the opening lines to make a selection without considering them.
In some cases a book could have a clear opinion about what is going to happen in a game and will look to profit from that. If they are very confident that one team is going to win the game because of a handicapping factor or inside information, then it would be in their best interest to set a line that will attract action on the team that they feel will lose the bet. In that way the book can make more than just their commission on the game. That's known as a trap line, and it is clearly constructed to maximize profit. Though it is open to debate how often trap lines actually are in place (not nearly as often as the more paranoid handicappers would have you believe), you nonetheless need to include the potential for them in your thought process if you want to take the best advantage of opening line information.
A line can also be used to limit action on a game that a book doesn't particularly want to be heavily involved in. This can be done especially effectively with totals. A line can be set that seems tight no matter how you look at it. In that case, most handicappers will reject it in favor of a juicier proposition, and the books succeed in avoiding a game they don't like.
Opening lines are set by experts with a lifetime of experience and access to the best information. Observing where they are set and how they move from there, when done with your eyes open, can certainly help you pick winners.