First Half Betting
by Jeremy Martin
For most sportsbooks, first half betting makes up only a small portion of their weekly handle during football weekends. Just because the bettors aren't lining up in droves to wager on the first half of games, however, doesn't mean the oddsmakers can afford to skimp when it comes to setting lines for the first 30 minutes of a game.
These types of 'fringe' bets are attractive to both recreational bettors and the savvy players alike. Public or 'square' bettors feel like they can get a better price in the first half on a big favorite and the professional players play first halves because they know they can get a wide variety of numbers by shopping around at different books.
Since favorites tend to play well in the first half of NFL games, the bookmaker must set the line with the public in mind. But, at the same time, they don't want to give the sharp bettors too many chances to beat them. When it comes to betting on halves in the NFL, most bookmakers say that the professionals prefer the first half. Since the pros like to bet against the public, there are many opportunities for them in the opening half.
"I think the sharper bettors bet the first half rather than the second half," said Leo Shafto, head linesmaker for BetRoyal online sportsbook. "I think (the professionals) are looking for a better number and I think you can find better numbers or more variance of numbers in the first half than you will in the second half."
For the sportsbooks, it's not as simple as chopping the number in half in order to create the first half line. They must explore different options depending on the number for the full game. And, as always, they must also take their own customer's betting patterns into account. Following are some examples of how an oddsmaker might set his line for an NFL first half:
--If the number for the full game is in the area of four to seven, the bookmakers do, in fact, usually opt to cut the number in half (with special emphasis on the number three). In situations where the number is five or six, bookies tend to set the first-half number at three, since the favorite has a good chance of entering the half with a field goal advantage. If the line is six, the bookmaker will set the number at three and increase the juice on the favorite. If the line is five they tend to set the number at three with the inflated juice for the underdog. When bookies adjust the juice without moving the actual number it is called an off-standard line.
"If a game is at five, then you open at three, minus $1.20 (for the dog)," said Doc from Rio, the head oddsmaker for Skybook. "It has a good chance of (pushing) but 2 ½ is too risky to open at because if the favorite (is ahead) by a field goal then you are going to lose almost every bet because most people are going to lay 2 ½ on a game that is five."
--All football betting revolves around the number three. One bookmaker recently said, "The number three is death, obviously, in our industry." NFL games fall on this number approximately 12 percent of the time. As a result, three is the most popular pointspread number each and every NFL weekend. But bookmakers would be exposing themselves if they just cut threes in half for the first two quarters of a game by setting the first half line at 1 1/2. The ratio of games that land on three at the half is similar to that of the full game. Therefore, bookies must get creative so they won't get burned. The books must be very careful when setting their first half lines when the full game is between one and three.
"With a favorite of one, I obviously wouldn't make (the game) ½ point in the first half," said Shafto. "By giving someone a half point in a very competitive game, it really entices them to take the dog and it makes the dog a very smart play. In instances like that you would make the first half on a one-point favorite 'pick' minus $1.20."
When the line is three most bookmakers will give the favorite a ½-point edge in the first half. If they were to make the game 'pick' with heavy juice on the favorite the pros and value hunters would most likely attack the line.
--With lines of ten or higher, bookies usually shade or add points to the favorite. If a line is 10, for example, the book may set the line at six. This is because recreational bettors tend to take big favorites in the first half. In addition, strong teams usually play their best football in the first half.
"A good team tends to play well in the first half and kind of coast," said Doc from Rio. "That's the theory behind it. The first half will usually be a little higher than half the pointspread once you get over seven. You want (the squares) to lay six (on a 10-point spread) you don't want them to lay 5 ½ because a couple of field goals and it could be six and he wins his bet. At least you want to catch him on the tie."
Most books offer first half action for college football. However, many shops choose to reduce their exposure by limiting the number of games they post lines for. Because of the large lines for some college games, books have some different rules than they have in the NFL.
"In college football you generally see a lot of bigger spreads when the Nebraskas play the Utah States of the world," commented Shafto. "You will get a spread of 32 for the (full) game and the spread will not be 16 in the first half - it will be closer to 20. And the reason for this is that what you expect is for Nebraska - if they are going to be winning by close to 30 points in the fourth quarter as the spread would indicate - that they would not be playing their first and second string. They would be playing their third and fourth string. So, consequently, they are telling you that if Nebraska plays their starters the entire game they would be closer to a 40 point favorite rather than 32. But you do know that for the first half Nebraska is going to play their first string for the entire 30 minutes of the first half. So consequently the numbers are shaded a lot towards the favorite in those instances."
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