Chasing Steam in Sports Betting Odds: A Good Idea?
A “steam move” is a sudden, significant betting line movement that reverberates through all of the sportsbooks, on land and online. It is indicative of a large amount of money being bet on a particular side or total all at once.
The source of the bets will be a syndicate of gamblers pooling their resources in most cases, but a big-time whale may push enough money into a pool to create a steam move.
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Some people think that you should “follow the steam” and bet with the “smart money” that is moving the line. After all, if wise guys love this play, they must be onto something, right?
In reality, this is an oversimplification. When you are on the outside looking in, you really don’t know the motivation of the syndicate or big money bettor that created the steam.
They may have an ulterior motive. Maybe they actually want to artificially move the line in one direction, assuming others will follow the steam and push the line further in that direction.
All the while, they intend to bet much more money on the other side when the odds get nice and juicy. This is a relatively common ploy, so you are making a rookie mistake if you blindly follow the steam.
During the late 1980s, I worked for the preeminent sports service in Las Vegas. I wrote copy for the handicappers that sold selections through 900 numbers, and I edited the weekly football forecast publication.
There was no Internet to disseminate betting lines, so we sold lines to subscribers around the country. Bookies would call the office and we would provide line updates all day long.
Where did we get the lines? We actually had runners in the three most influential sportsbooks in Las Vegas at that time. One of them was Little Caesars, which was a crappy hole in the wall joint in a strip mall on the Las Vegas Strip.
They had $1 hotdogs and 50 cent Schmidt’s beers that you poured yourself from an iced keg that they rolled in at about 2 p.m. The reason why I know this is because I was the relief runner at Little Caesar’s one day a week.
What does any of this have to do with steam? Little Caesars wasn’t much on the surface, but they took the biggest sports bets in town. This is where the whales could get maximum action, so steam moves that originated at Little Caesars were the real deal.
Bob Stupak was a casino owner, gambler, and self-promoter that got a lot of attention when he won the first $1 million bet in Las Vegas history. This was a wager on the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1989 Super Bowl.
Stupak got +7 on the Bengals, and the 49ers won the game by a score of 20-16. He made the bet at…you guessed it, Little Caesar’s.
The Bottom Line
Just like some guys will follow the steam, there are contrarians that go in the opposite direction. They consistently bet against the line movement, and I’m aware of people that have made a lot of money over the years taking this approach.
At the end of the day, if you blindly follow the steam, you take actual handicapping out of the equation. Unless the game is fixed, the players couldn’t care less about the way the line is moving, and they are the ones that are going to decide the outcome.
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