Should You Bet Sportsbook Mistakes? (Bad Lines)

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Pinnacle Pulse
The inside line from by Simon Noble

As of Tuesday morning, Pinnacle Sportsbook was offering spreads, MLs and totals on 131 different Games plus another 548 wagering options on match-ups, props and futures. On Wednesdays and weekends, there are even more events to wager on at the Pinnacle Sports book.

Although very few books offer such a comprehensive range of events and wagering options, no matter how big or how small the operation, pricing mistakes – though infrequent – can and do occur. When pricing mistakes happen, they are always a major cause of friction between the player and the book as canceling wagers tends to be a lose-lose situation that only generates negative publicity.

From Our perspective at Pinnacle Sports, canceling wagers because someone has bet into a bad line can be a real logistical headache. A supervisor must evaluate what happened, an attempt must be made to notify the players concerned and the players’ accounts are flagged for future reference.

If you see a Game line at “+7” when it should be “-7”, it’s pretty clear someone flipped a sign and this would be a clear case of a “bad line”. At reputable sports books like Pinnacle Sports, you can expect these wagers to be cancelled, but at a dishonest book, you could be asking for trouble. Less reputable shops will take a shot at the player – only canceling the wager after the event IF the bet wins.

But what if a “bad line” is not so clear-cut? How do you know if a number is a “bad line” and not just the house taking a position on a Game?

A general rule of thumb is that a number is bad if it gives you a 7% EV (expected value) versus the market price. Consider a baseball moneyline with a no-vig market price of -120. This suggests that side will win (120/220) = 54.5% of the time. If you found this Game priced at +100, the EV is (0.545 – 0.455) = 9%. This is probably a bad line.

In the NBA and College hoops, a number off 2 full points, or a total off 3 full points could be considered “bad”. It’s unlikely that a book will attempt to cancel wagers in this scenario, but these situations often cause uproar across the gambling forums.

That being said, using the 7% EV rule it’s much harder to argue that there are bad lines on futures. Consider the future “Arizona Diamondbacks to win the World Series: +15000,” which is the current price available at Pinnacle Sportsbetting. Would +30000 be a bad number?

If you assume +15000 is the correct price, this wager will win (1/150) = 0.66% of the time. The EV on Arizona at +30000 would be 0.0066 (300) – 0.9934 = 0.99%. While the number may look bad, a bookmaker really isn’t giving up that much by offering higher odds on a long-shot. However, these are the situations where the public will be more sympathetic to the book if bets are indeed cancelled.

To avoid possible disappointment, if you see a number that might be a bad line and have any doubts, don’t bet into them. Contact the sportsbook first, preferably by email. You might be surprised to learn that many books will reward your honesty by awarding you a bonus. If a sportsbook emails you back saying the line is good, you can fire away knowing it would be very hard for them to cancel it later.

The alternative – betting into a bad number – only works if 1) it isn’t caught before the Game, and 2) they don’t free-ride you through the Game. Keep your life simple, notify the book and pass on bad lines.

With the many questions I received from readers after last week’s column, I thought it would be a good idea to share some more answers in this week’s edition of the Pinnacle Pulse.

Eivind wrote:
I’ve heard Pinnacle will not limit winning players, at least in the high volume sports like MLB, NBA, NFL. What about lower volume sports like soccer? I mostly bet soccer over/unders in smaller leagues, where your limits are not that high. Will my limits be lowered if I am a consistent winner on soccer totals?

At Pinnacle Sports, we do not discriminate against winning players – although you will find that other books will attempt to lower a player’s limits or deal dual lines. If we’re losing money in a smaller sport, we’ll try to make adjustments to make that area profitable. For instance, we have found that the first few bets against opening numbers are usually on the right side, so lowering the opening limits means paying less until a fair number is found. Occasionally if a player is really sharp, we might even try to hire them on a consultancy basis if they are beating us badly, but it is not Our company policy to kick out winning players or lower an individual’s limits.

Will wrote:
I have a few questions about professional players. Do they have insider information, or do they crunch numbers, stats and trends? Do they use the Don Best?

Any winning player utilizes a combination of all of the above. Some pro players always seem to be able to bet a Game before a key injury is announced. Others will do extensive handicapping and bet numbers early to get the best price on a side. One thing that they all have in common is that all professionals price-shop aggressively by using line services such as Don Best or they just simply open many windows on their PC.

Peitza wrote:
What important factors are considered when handicapping football and basketball, as I am just starting to venture into handicapping. Also what is involved in breaking down a Game to make a selection on a team?

There are hundreds of factors to consider when handicapping and these can differ from sport to sport. If you’re new to handicapping, you should focus your energies in two places: the online gambling forums and gambling books. There are many talented individuals online who share their ideas freely and they can also steer you toward the books worth reading and away from the bad ones that you should leave on the shelf.

If you’re more of a recreational player and don’t want to spend a lot of time handicapping, you can get a reasonable opinion with just a few key concepts. Power rankings are used by many players to set spreads. These can be obtained for free online at places like USA Today that display the Sagarin Ratings for every sport. One piece of advice with power ratings though is to understand how home field advantage affects the line. Finally, as power ratings usually ignore injuries, you should also try to understand how injuries can affect a team.