Always fade the public. It’s one of the most basic, yet highly profitable betting strategies. Whenever the public zigs, you zag.
Since the start of the 2005 season, the team over at Sports Insights has released a College Football Betting Against the Public Report before the start of each new season. This article examines the optimal threshold for betting against the public using the percentages from their seven contributing offshore sportsbooks. Oddsmakers are constantly evolving to adjust for recent trends, and this research ensures that bettors are always one step ahead of the books.
They have conclusively proven that betting against the public will produce a positive return on investment, but the value differs significantly for each sport. Using our proprietary Bet Labs software, we have created a new contrarian college football betting system that exploits public perception and takes advantage of artificially inflated lines. The featured system, which is posted in the Think Tank, is available exclusively to monthly subscribers.
For anybody unfamiliar with betting against the public, it’s important to understand that any value is directly correlated with the number of bets placed on each game. Contrary to popular belief, oddsmakers aren’t aiming for perfectly balanced books but rather they are looking to avoid major liabilities. That’s particularly true in college football where there are dozens of games each weekend and the number of bets fluctuates tremendously based on the matchup.
As an example, let’s compare two hypothetical matchups: one between Michigan and Ohio State and another between Ball State and Bowling Green. If Ohio State is receiving 80% of spread bets, sportsbooks will need to adjust the line in order to encourage action on Michigan and mitigate their risk. If Bowling Green is receiving 80% of spread bets, sportsbooks don’t have to adjust for public money because the potential loss is comparatively small.
Earlier this summer, I explained that betting against the public has not been an effective strategy for college bettors unless you focus solely on games where the number of bets tracked is at least the daily average. That means if there are 25 games on a Saturday and we tracked 250,000 total bets, we would only include games where we tracked at least 10,000 bets.
Bet Labs subscribers are able to utilize the “Number of Bets Compared To Daily Avg” filter in order to pinpoint these heavily bet games. Betting against the public is only effective in heavily bet games, so this is a crucial factor when building contrarian systems.
The table below compares the against the spread (ATS) results for betting against the public for games where the ticket count is above and below the daily average. This includes both regular season and postseason games.
PUBLIC BETTING BELOW (ATS) BELOW (WIN RATE) ABOVE (ATS) ABOVE (WIN RATE)
≤50% 2239-2408 48.2% 1794-1729 50.9%
≤40% 1566-1721 47.6% 1249-1210 50.8%
≤35% 1214-1382 46.8% 966-909 51.5%
≤30% 889-1000 47.1% 643-630 50.5%
≤25% 549-615 47.2% 362-381 48.7%
Sportsbooks are far more likely to shade the line in games involving marquee programs. These shades lines are meant to take advantage of public perception from casual bettors that are overwhelmingly prone to taking high-scoring programs that receive tons of attention from the national media. This creates artificially inflated lines that can be exploited by contrarian bettors who are willing to take a dissenting opinion and fade the public.
It’s worth noting that the sweet spot for betting against the public comes on teams receiving less than 35% of spread bets. That’s particularly true for favorites; however, it’s extremely rare to find contrarian chalk. In 1875 heavily bet games fitting those criteria, only 132 (7.04%) teams have closed as the favorite. Although favorites have covered the spread in 59.1% of these games, there have been very few system matches every season. In order to maximize returns, it’s important to look at larger sample sizes.
In the sports betting marketplace, there are two types of bettors: “sharps” and “squares.” Typically sharps are wise guys or betting syndicates who spread five- to six-figure bets across multiple sportsbooks. Widely respected, sharps are a smaller group who move lines across the market.
Most bettors can be classified as squares: recreational weekend warriors who place their wagers based on instinct, rather than data and analysis. These individuals overwhelmingly pound favorites and overs, which has historically created value on underdogs and unders. Squares consistently overreact to recent results and place way too much value on factors like home-field advantage. Oddsmakers can accurately anticipate the behavior of these bettors and shade their opening lines to force square bettors to take bad numbers when playing the popular side of a game.
To determine which schools are offering value, bettors should look for sharp money indicators like reverse line movement. For anybody who’s unfamiliar, reverse line movement refers to betting line movement that contradicts our public betting percentages.
As an example, let’s pretend that Ohio State opens as 7-point favorites against Michigan and the Buckeyes receive 75% of spread bets. Based on this one-sided public betting, you would expect that oddsmakers would adjust Ohio State from -7 to -7.5 to encourage action on Michigan. However, if the line drops from -7 to -6.5, it’s a sure sign that large wagers (typically placed by respected bettors or betting syndicates) have been placed on Michigan.
Our historical database utilizes opening and closing line data from the market-setting Pinnacle sportsbook. When there’s at least one point of reverse line movement at Pinnacle at the 35% threshold, our system results improve substantially. Although the overall sample size shrinks, the win rate jumps from 51.5% to 54.3%.
It’s also important to note that home-field advantage has been historically overvalued by college football bettors. Many websites will argue that home-field advantage is worth 3-3.5 points to the spread, but that number is actually worth closer to 2-points. Obviously that number varies from venue to venue, but home teams have clearly struggled — particularly in games with low totals.
What bettors may not realize is that there has also been a hangover effect for teams following a home game. Since 2003, visitors have covered the spread in 50.9% of all games, but that number jumps to 51.4% if their opponent’s previous game was played at home. Teams often come out flat the week after an emotional week, which is why bettors should be looking to fade teams after a home game.
To summarize, there are three major factors to consider when betting against the public:
- Heavily bet teams receiving no more than 35% of spread bets
- Reverse line movement of at least one point
- The opponent’s previous game was played at home
Since the start of the 2005 college football season, teams fitting these three criteria have gone 207-150 ATS (58.0%) with +45.45 units won and a 13.0% ROI. That includes a record of 23-11 ATS (+11.16 units) during the 2015 campaign.
Being successful as a contrarian bettor typically means you will need to buy on bad news and sell on good news. That means backing teams after a blowout loss, taking unranked teams against ranked opponents, and supporting teams who failed to cover the spread in their previous game. It’s also important to be cognizant about historical trends. That includes taking road teams in conference games and underdogs in games with low totals.
In sports betting, timing is everything. Consistently getting an extra half-point will increase your long-term winning percentage by 1-2%, so it’s crucial for bettors to open up multiple accounts and always shop for the best line.
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10/28/16 Update: This system has gone 7-3 ATS during the 2016 college football season, pushing the all-time record to 214-153 ATS (58.3%) with +50.04 units won and a 13.6% return on investment.