You hear a lot of sports bettors say it, "I beat the closing line on that bet" but what does it really mean and why is it important to winning when it comes to betting on sports?
The closing line is the betting line at the sportsbooks when all betting is closed and the game is about to start. It is the most accurate line because all of the money has been bet and all available information and opinions have been factored in. Closing line value is determined by comparing the line on a bet placed at an earlier time with the line at game start time. If you placed a bet at +4 and the line closed at +2, you have 2 points of line value. Many studies have been done on the closing line and all point toward the same thing, the favorite and underdog covering at about the same rate of 50%. Therefore we can assume that getting a better line than the close will result in +EV bets in the long run.
Lines move throughout the day as bets are placed and new information becomes available. The playing status of certain players and weather information is always more accurate closer to game time than it is when a line first comes out. The bettors who win the most, generally have the most money, best resources, best information, and most followers, and therefore will have the most influence on a line. These bettors or in some cases influential sports handicappers, often play a big role in determining where a closing number will land. As more money pours in, and more information and opinions are exposed, the stronger and more accurate the line becomes.
Most bettors are too results-oriented when determining if they or a handicapper they are considering following have an edge, meaning they judge primarily on past results, often with an emphasis on recent results. Now surely winning bets is and always will be the #1 goal, as they don't pay you for just making good bets, but actual results can be swayed heavily by positive or negative variance, particularly when looking at a limited sample size. To be able to determine if the handicapper in question is truly making good bets you need to dig a little deeper. You need to look at how past plays have done against the closing line. This is a common strategy used by professional bettors when evaluating handicappers but is often ignored by recreational bettors. Sportsbooks on the other hand will openly admit that they gauge the “sharpness” of a player more by how their bets do against the closing line than by their actual results. If you were to ask any bookmaker who he is more scared of taking a bet from going forward, a sports bettor who is winning 60% of his last 100 bets but is losing to the closing line or a sports bettor who has broke even on his last 100 bets but has consistently beat the closing line, I can promise you the bookmaker will be more scared of the break even player.
What I like to do is go to pinnaclesports.com and find the game I am betting. Let's say for example at Pinnacle just before the game starts Seattle is -104 against Oakland who is also -104. So I figure the no vig line (as if the book wasn't charging any juice) and we now have the closing line as Seattle -100/Oakland -100. I now use these numbers as a barometer and hope that my bet can beat this number. Let's say I placed a bet of Seattle at +108 earlier in the day, I would indeed have beaten the no-vig closing line by a total of 8 cents and have a solid +EV bet. FOR EVERY 2 CENTS BETTER ON AVERAGE PER BET THAT YOU MAKE YOU HAVE A 1% EDGE OVER THE BOOKS (a 1% ROI). So this particular bet would give me a 4% ROI over the long run. It's that simple.
One should always be focusing on trying to find and place bets that will beat the closing line. There are many ways to beat the closing line from trying to originate your own numbers, following service plays that moves lines, betting steam or just playing any "off" number that is better than the current no vig line. It's not easy to do but through hard work it can be done. In fact I know many winning sports bettors who can't name a single player in the sport they are betting but they are winning because their entire focus is on finding ways that they will beat the closing line. Sometimes it's not about working harder when betting sports it's about working smarter. If you are beating the closing line over the long term then you are playing with an edge and you will be a winning sports bettor.