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Show me the Money … Line
October 24, 2006

Just like last week, I bet (and release) a lot of dogs on the money line. Why? It means more money!

Often when bettors bet underdogs, they look at the points they get in the bet as a type of insurance. In my opinion, rare is the instance when they are not paying more for this insurance than it is worth. Assuming accurate handicapping they would make more money by passing on the insurance and laying the same percentage of bankroll on the odds offered by the money line.

In the NFL, favorites and underdogs go about 50/50 ATS over the longer term. This means that for any given 100 games, on the average, in 50 the favorite will win and cover. The other 50 games are made up of those in which the favorite wins but does not cover and those in which the underdog wins (and covers as well obviously).

Historically, the winner of the game covers about 83% of the time. If we subtract the 50 favorite covers from 83, we get 33 games where the underdog wins straight up. So if the underdog covers, only a third of the time (17/50) does it need “insurance” to do so.

There is a correlation between the pointspread and the likelihood of an underdog covering by winning, the higher the line the less likely an outright victory; but the money line can usually more than make up for it. So what does the money line have to be to make the insurance too expensive at any given pointspread? Below are the "break-even" money line odds for different pointspreads based on the NFL results of the past 10 years. If you've already decided you're betting the dog and you can get these odds or better, you'll make more money in the long run by betting that dog on the money line.

Less than +3: +110
+3: +125
+3 1/2 to 4: +140
+4 1/2 to 5 1/2: +175
+6 to 7: +220
+7 1/2 to 9 1/2: +280
+10 or more: +375

Last week I released 7 moneyline plays: Nebraska +230, San Diego St. +470, Kansas City +198, Tampa Bay +220, Carolina +155, Washington +410 and Minnesota +254; all @ 4% of bankroll. Their record was 4-3. In a fairly typical week, one money line bet cost us a cover (Nebraska), another a push (Carolina) and the third (Washington) didn't matter. What was the difference to the bottom line?:

If you had a hypothetical $10,000 bankroll and bet the recommended 4% ($440) on each... +$3,705. Making these same bets with the points, you go 5-1-1 ATS for... +$1,560.

Your only other consideration in money line wagers is your "Mental Bankroll". If your money line dog loses but still covers (e.g. Nebraska) will you be able to take it in stride, or will you need to cannonball a six-pack to keep from yelling at your wife and kicking the dog (pun intended)? Personally, my Mental Bankroll would be more affected if my 6 1/2 point dog paying +254 (i.e. Minnesota) won SU and I had only bet them with the points.

Reed Hogben M.D.

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