What is reverse line movement?

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Reverse line movement — or RLM — is something that is referred to often in sports betting circles. It can be a powerful tool when used correctly because it can identify which teams are being targeted by professional bettors.

Before we can fully understand RLM, we need to define why betting lines move in the first place.

Why do betting lines move?

Sportsbooks typically set the line for most sporting events well in advance of gametime. The initial line is set using a variety of factors — power ratings, home field advantage, rest, injuries, etc — but there is no guarantee it will remain stagnant for long.

Betting lines can move for a few key reasons, the biggest one being public action. Let’s say for example that the Kansas City Chiefs open as seven-point favorites at home vs. the Denver Broncos. Unsurprisingly, the public is siding with the defending NFL champions, with 90% of the bets coming in on Kansas City. Ultimately, the sportsbooks decide to move the line to eight in response to the overwhelming action on one side.

What is reverse line movement?

Occasionally, the line will move in a direction that does not reflect the public betting patterns.

Let’s go back to our hypothetical example involving the Chiefs and Broncos. Even though the public is pounding the Chiefs, this time the line actually drops from KC -7.0 to KC -6.5. This would be a clear case of RLM.

But why would the sportsbooks move the line in reverse? If the public is all over the Chiefs, why would they give them even more incentive to bet on them?

The answer is typically found by examining the professional bettors. The pros — or “sharps” — have much more power to move lines than the general public. After all, these guys are proven, long-term winners. Their dollars mean much more to the sportsbooks than Freddie the plumber’s.

If the majority of professional action coming in on a game is on the opposite side of the public, the sportsbooks are almost always going to side with the pros.

Atlanta, GA, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) runs against the Atlanta Falcons during the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

How can I identify reverse line movement?

The easiest way to identify reverse line movement is by tracking the public betting figures. These are available from a variety of sources, and used to track all the betting data available at a majority of the major sportsbooks.

That said, it’s important to keep in mind the two different factors than go into this data: Betting tickets and betting dollars.

Betting tickets

Betting tickets are quite simply the number of bets that are placed on each side of a given game. The dollar amount is not reflected in those numbers, so a $10 bet and a $10,000 would both count as just one ticket.

This is important information when identifying who the public likes in a particular game. If the public has an overwhelming preference — typically on the favorite — you would expect to see a large percentage of the betting tickets in their favor.

Betting dollars

This is where you can find who the sharps like, a vital data set when looking to identify RLM.

The pro bettors are wagering significantly more than the public when they like a game. It could take dozens or even hundreds of public tickets to balance the betting money on one big-money ticket from a pro. In games where the pros are on the opposite side of the public, the betting dollars will likely look significantly different from the betting tickets.

Let’s go back again to our hypothetical example where the Chiefs drop from -7.0 to -6.5 vs. the Broncos. Upon further examination, the public betting data looks like this:

  • Betting tickets: 90% Chiefs, 10% Broncos
  • Betting money: 55% Chiefs, 45% Broncos

In that instance, the Broncos betting money percentage is 35 points higher than their ticket percentage. That’s a clear indication that the significant sharp money is coming in on the underdog.

When should I bet on reverse line movement?

This is a difficult question that can be tough to answer. Betting on teams that qualify for RLM is certainly profitable in the long term, but only if you can grab those teams before the line moves against them. That said, how do you identify RLM teams before the line moves?

Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer.

You can try to anticipate which teams the sharps will be backing through research. If a majority of smart bettors are on the opposite side of the public, you can potentially anticipate some reverse line movement in those contests.

The easiest way to take advantage of RLM, however, is to simply have accounts at multiple sportsbooks. Not all sportsbooks are completely uniform when it comes to line movement. Some books that cater to professional bettors — aka “sharp books” — are going to be aggressive in moving the line against them.

That might not be the case at a book that caters to the public. If they’re not getting the same professional action to balance out all the public money coming in on a particular team, they don’t have the same incentive to move the line in the opposite direction.

These public sportsbooks can be a major resource when you’re looking to fade the general consensus. If you see the line move at one book but stay stagnant at another, you can take advantage of the information from the reverse line move while still getting the line the sharps targeted.

Late line movements also mean more than early line movements. If a line moves in the reverse manner closer to gametime, that’s typically a better indicator of sharp activity than if it moves early in the day. The betting limits are typically increased as the day progresses, so late RLM indicates big money confidence from the sharps.

Summary

Ultimately, reverse line movement can be a powerful sports betting tool when used correctly. It can give you insight into games where the sharps have a differing opinion from the general public, and you’ll want to be on the side of the sharps in those situations. After all, there’s a reason why those guys are professional bettors.

That said, blindly following reverse line movement is a losing proposition. Getting the best of the number is still one of the easiest ways to become a profitable sports bettor, and targeting teams after the line moves against them ensures you won’t be able to accomplish that.

Anticipating reverse line moves can be difficult, but the easiest way to profitably follow the pros is by having access to multiple sportsbooks. If the line moves at one location — preferably a known “sharp” book — you can likely still get the best number at a public book before they catch up.

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