Beating the closing line is a major indicator of whether a bettor holds an edge over a bookmaker and a strong signal of a bettor’s potential for long-term profitability. Anyone who regularly beats the closing number holds a measurable edge over the market and is well on the way to becoming a winning handicapper over the long run.
First things first, let’s run through the lifespan of a betting line. Bookmakers set an initial number for an event. For a typical NFL or college football game, that opening line is posted about a week before kickoff. The line (along with the vig, or price) then moves as bettors make wagers and additional impactful information becomes available. Those forces contribute to further line movement right up until the game starts, at which point the game is removed from the board. The final number available for betting is called the closing line.
There are many market forces that drive line moves. There is betting action, and specifically the weight of money or bets from sharp players whose success has earned them the respect of the bookmakers. There is team-related information, like the health of a player or a change in coaching strategy or a disciplinary move resulting from an off-field incident. There are external factors such as weather or flight delays or ground conditions.
Timing is also critical. Bookmakers tend to react aggressively to early action, but as the contest draws nearer their confidence increases, as there is less likely to be any further unexpected information.
To beat the closing line, bettors must bet early and at the right time. To do this right, bettors must have a complete understanding of how a particular betting market operates. They need to understand how the public will bet. They need to look for bet signals that suggest sharp action. They need to know when certain teams get bet. They need to understand the relative importance of weather factors and player availability. They need to be dialed in to information sources. All of this is on top of the work bettors need to do in assessing teams and matchups and analyzing trends.
Let’s look at a simple example. Let’s say the Patriots are favored at home by 14 points against the Jets. In this scenario most sharp bettors will likely take the Jets or pass. If their handicap indicates the Jets should be less than 14-point underdogs, they will bet the opening number. The Patriots are a public team so bookmakers are likely to inflate their line, which is to say 1) there’s built-in value on the Jets side; and 2) the number is unlikely to extend beyond +14. Any early sharp money on the underdog will likely result in an initial move down to New England -13.5 or -13.
Now imagine the weather forecast then takes a turn, with heavy winds and rain forecast for Foxboro. Poor weather conditions mean lower scoring, which means it’s that much tougher to cover a big number. This should further move the line in favor of the Jets, pushing it into the +12 range. Finally, say Rob Gronkowski was still playing and decided to announce his retirement right before the game. With Gronk out, the line drops to as low as -10.5.
This is an extreme example but getting +14 on a line that closes +10.5 gives a bettor a major edge — not to mention the option to play a middle of three full points and potentially hit both sides. Even if the +14 is missed early, as long as a bettor is on top of other factors such as the forecast, injuries and other personnel-related info, he or she can get ahead of the market.
The importance of beating the closing line — and preferably getting the best of the number — cannot be overstated. Boiled down, winning bettors know how to routinely get ahead of the market.