With sports betting legalized and prevalent in a growing number of states, online sportsbooks are offering its expanding audience a wide range of options to choose from. Among them are Alternate Lines, which allow bettors to change the spread or total of a sporting event in exchange for a modified price based on the selected line.
For decades, the only choices bettors had were the conventional spread, and total for a given game. Whatever the oddsmakers set the line and the over-under at, that was the number you were taking on one side or the other. Fast forward two decades into the 21st century and online sportsbooks all over the United States are offering variety of additional betting markets in the form of alternate lines.
In this article, we break down the basics of using alternate lines to get higher-paying odds, or generate a safer outcome, in multiple sports.
10 Things To Know Before Betting On Alternate Lines
1. What Are Alternate Lines?
Betting on alternate lines involves buying or selling points on the spread or total for a sporting event. Buying points lowers odds, requiring a larger payout in exchange for a safer outcome. Selling points creates a more difficult wager to win but increases odds and the potential profits which can be won.
When oddsmakers set a point spread or total for an event, they’re generally looking to create a competitive balance that encourages betting on both sides of the line. An alternate line creates a shift in terms of odds by moving that spread or total in one direction or the other. To compensate for the odds change, sportsbooks modify the juice to reflect the alternate line.
Alternate Spread Betting Explained
A conventional point spread is used by oddsmakers to even out the game from a betting perspective. It represents a hypothetical winning margin for the favorite, and a losing margin for the underdog. When betting on point spreads, favorite needs to win by more than the spread to cover, while the underdog can lose by less than the spread and still cover.
Alternate spreads work the exact same way, except the exact spreads and the juice that comes with it will change depending on how far you drift from the original odds. A standard spread will come with a line at or around -110 but buying points will lower the line while selling points will enhance the odds.
Alternate Totals Betting
The total, or over-under, refers to the combined points expected in a given sporting event, with bettors asked to pick over or under the implied total set by oddsmakers. Adding points to a total and taking the Over will result in increased odds and potential payouts since bettors are adding difficulty to the wager. Lowering the total and taking the Over will lead to a lesser payout because the alternate line makes the wager easier to win.
2. How Alternate Line Betting Works
Most online sportsbooks will offer a variety of options when it comes to betting the point spread or total. Often found under a tab called “alternate lines” these options will show how the odds can increase or decrease as bettors choose to move further away from the total or spread set by the sportsbook.
For example, if the Chiefs are -4, betting on Kansas City to cover would include odds close to the standard -110 line. But there will be a number of alternate lines available to take the Chiefs to cover by 4, 5, 6, or 7 or more points. Selling a few points and betting Kansas City to cover a 6.5-point spread instead could generate odds in the range of +150 or higher depending on the sportsbook.
Conversely, bettors can buy points with a favorite, lowering the spread and creating an easier wager to win. The drawback here will be risking much more than you stand to win. For example, say you want to lower the Chiefs’ spread to under a field goal. Taking Kansas City at -2.5 could lower the line to the -140 range.
The same principles can be applied to a game total. Bettors can generate great odds on the Under by lowering the total to, while the juice will grow if the total is raised. If you want to back the Over, attractive payouts will come when tacking on additional points. Lowering the total and taking the Over will lead to lesser odds and a higher likelihood of winning the wager.
3. When To Bet Alternate Lines
Betting alternate lines is a good way to cash in on games that inspire confidence. If you feel that a favorite, in any sport, has a good chance to win in blowout fashion, increasing the spread will generate better odds and an increased payout.
If you feel that an underdog is being undervalued, decreasing the spread so that it is closer to a “Pick ‘Em” game will generate great odds. The same principles apply when picking an underdog to win on the moneyline.
Alternate lines can also be used to gain more confidence in a favorite or underdog by changing the number required for them to cover. Let’s say you believe the Chiefs will win but you expect a close finish and don’t feel comfortable about KC covering four or five points. Take an alternate line to get the number down to 2.5 points and the bet would be successful as long as the Chiefs win by 3 or more points.
4. Shopping For Alternate Lines
Savvy bettors will find inconsistencies in how sportsbooks set their spreads and totals and can pounce on those vulnerabilities. Line shopping allows bettors to compare odds at multiple sportsbooks and choose the line that offers the best payout. It’s one of the main reasons that bettors should have more than one account, and over time it can make a huge difference.
There is no downside to this for bettors. DraftKings could have the Milwaukee Bucks’ alternate spread at -7.5 (+150) while BetMGM has a line of -7.5 (+165). If given the choice, wouldn’t you rather have the option to snag the largest odds possible?
After shopping around, bets are sometimes best placed right away when the line is set prior to key injury news or other considerations. At other times, could also help to wait until public action has shifted the line in one direction or another. Each situation is different but whenever you do choose to wager, ensure you’re checking multiple sites and getting the best odds possible.
For high-profile games such as the Super Bowl, the spread will shift based on how much money is coming in on each side of the line. Bettors who feel that the spread is shifting incorrectly can double down on their selection by taking an alternate line that shifts the spread in the other direction.
The same applies for game totals. In Super Bowl LIII, the Rams and Patriots were expected to play a shootout with the total hovering around 51.5 points. It wound up becoming a defensive battle, with the Patriots prevailing in a 13-3 dogfight, and anyone who bet the Under, but took an alternate line in the range of 44.5 points or lower, profited handsomely.
5. Live Betting Alternate Lines
With online sportsbooks becoming more popular, live betting has become a widely available option. Technically, almost every set of odds available during a game is an alternate line, since odds are constantly changing based on results throughout the game. Those alternate lines are still very exploitable to fans that can use a more predictive mindset.
Sticking with the example of Super Bowl LIII, those watching the first quarter of the game could predict that both offenses would struggle throughout the game. The total was dropping due to those results, but not nearly as low as it would actually hit. Taking the Under on a live line of 44.5 points – or even 36.5 points around halftime – would generate good odds, and taking an alternate line that is even lower would generate great odds.
6. Alternate Line Strategies For Different Sports
While sportsbooks have alternate lines across wide a range of sports, the strategy employed may be different depending on which one you’re dealing with.
In NBA games, betting can be particularly effective since favored teams might start slowly before turning the game around. The Nets could be favored by 10 points in a regular season game, but the live spread could drop to 2 or 3 points if they fall behind by double digits in the opening minutes. Jumping on the alternate line offered by this live action could pay off big if the favorite comes back to win.
In MLB games, alternate lines are often used effectively before the game begins. Most baseball games have a small Run Line in place that backs the favorite to win by 1.5 runs or more. Taking the favorite to win by 2.5 or 3.5 runs would generate much better odds for those who feel the favorite can win easily.
7. Teasers and Parlays
Alternate lines can be used for parlays, which are wildly popular. These bets allow you to combine more than one side into the same wager, resulting in higher odds. The exact payout depends on the odds of each side and the amount of selections in the parlay, but it’s a fan favorite because it has the potential for huge profits from a small investment.
Parlays are tied together and will only pay out if all the bets in question hit. The payout can be greater depending on the odds of each individual bet, and how many bets are parlayed together. Bettors have the option of choosing any alternate line they want and combining it into a parlay. This can help in multiple ways, whether yout want to beef up the odds or slip in a selection with lesser odds after buying points.
Teasers are essentially parlays with alternate lines that are altered by a specific number of points. A teaser will shift the point spread in the direction of each bet, resulting in an even money payout instead of the potential big payouts that can be generated by true parlays. In basketball, teasers are 4, 4.5, or five points and in football, teasers are generally 6, 6.5, or 7 points for each side. The exact payout of the teaser will depend on the amount of teams and points taken to alter the line.
Let’s say we wanted to take the Chiefs (-7), the Rams (-8), and the Seahawks (+3) in a conventional Stanford Wong six-point teaser. This would change our selections to Chiefs (-1), Rams (-2), and Seahawks (+9), with odds of +140 at FanDuel Sportsbook. Adding a half-point to each game lowers the total odds to +130, while a full seven-point teaser pays at +120.
If you’d rather not move each game the same number of points, an alternate lines parlay could be created by customizing the spread for each game individually.
8. How To Bet Alternate Lines in the Playoffs
The postseason brings a different type of environment to every sport and should change how bettors approach alternate lines. In the one-and-done NFL postseason, underdogs rarely go down without a fight. So it makes sense to increase the spread for an underdog in the hopes that they will score late to cover 7 points or greater.
In the NBA playoffs, series will often go back and forth with teams winning a blowout at home before heading on the road. So it makes sense to raise the spread for a favored home team in the hopes that they can coast.
In the MLB postseason, anything can happen, but games are generally lower scoring than they might be during regular season play. So it makes sense to take an alternate total that is even lower in the hopes that both teams sell out their bullpen to keep the game low scoring.
9. Shopping For Alternate Props
Some markets are unique but in many cases, sportsbooks will offer the same prop bets for players and teams. By scouring multiple sportsbooks, savvy bettors can find the best possible line.
Aaron Rodgers might have an Over/Under of 320.5 yards on one sportsbook, with -110 odds on the Over, but another book could have his total set at 316.5 yards, with -105 odds on the Over.
Some books will offer multiple options on the number of touchdowns or yards a player will produce. This is most common in the NBA, where props on points, rebounds, and assists can range widely.
The same applies to Futures markets, i.e. betting on season-long results and awards. Some books offer more value on underdogs to win a division, conference, or championship, and some offer great odds on longshots to win individual awards.
10. Gain an Edge
The purpose of alternate lines is generally to gain an edge against a sportsbook that is not necessarily trying to predict the result, but to encourage competitive betting on both sides of the line.
Fading the public by taking an alternate line is a great way to capitalize on a game where you believe popular sentiment has led oddsmakers to create an incorrect line. Extensive research and line shopping will help identify those trends, but it often comes down to a gut feeling regarding a specific team or matchup that the public is having trouble identifying.
Where Can I Find Alternate Lines?
Alternate NFL Lines
Buying and selling points is arguably at it’s most popular in the NFL, where spreads are set around key numbers such as 3 and 7. A prime example of buying points to make a bet safer is when a favorite can go from a 3.5-point favorite to a 2.5-point favorite, so that a last-second field goal can still result in a successful cover.
This can work for underdogs as well. If a team is +6.5 (-110), bettors could buy a half point up to +7.5 (-130) and pay a bit more for a safer wager that covers a key number. This strategy all depends on whether you’re willing to take on the additional choose for more advantageous odds.
Believe it or not, there are key numbers for NFL totals as well. In no particular order, some of them are: 43, 41, 40, 47, 51, 37, 44, and 33. If the total is set around any of these numbers, bettors may want to consider buying a half point to make sure your selection covers it.
Alternate NBA Lines
Because points are scored at will in the NBA, buying or selling a point here or there doesn’t have the same impact as it does in football. that said, alternate lines can be used profitably in the NBA. And it helps that bettors can find a spread or total that is 10 or more points off the current number in either direction, and those choices remain during games.
Throughout the course of a season, teams oftentimes rest players based on the schedule, which can create value for bettors. Without key players, or at the end of a long road trip, a team can fold and accept a blowout loss, which makes the favorite far more likely to win by double digits. These are just a couple of situations in which to consider alternate lines.
Alternate MLB Run Lines
Baseball doesn’t have a point spread per se, but it does have a run line, which acts as a point spread. The run line for favorites is -1.5 while underdogs are always +1.5, which makes these bets a bit different from spreads in basketball and football. Rather than the run line changing to account for the difference between the two teams, the juice that comes with the run line will vary much more so than your typical NFL or NBA spread.
Runs are at a premium in MLB, so every half or full run will cause a larger change in odds compared to basketball and football. Moving the run line from -1.5 to -2.5 can be very profitable. Going the other way, buying on the run line results in diminished payouts despite creating a safer bet.
The same applies to totals and even team totals, which are often offered at a standard run total. These can generate better odds for those willing to take the Under on a lower total, if they believe the opposing offense is going to flounder against an excellent pitcher.
Alternate NHL Puck Lines
There is no spread in hockey so instead, we have the puck line. It’s almost always -1.5 or +1.5, similar to the run line in MLB. And just like baseball, goals can be at a premium in hockey games, which are often decided by one or two goals.
The most important aspect of the puck line to keep in mind is the fact that a trailing team will pull its goaltender if down by one or two goals late in the game. The empty-net goal (or lack thereof) can be the difference between winning and losing when betting on the alternate puck line, specifically at -2.5 or +2.5.