Alternate Lines In Sports Betting

Key points

  • Alternate lines provide bettors with more options beyond the main pregame lines.
  • Alternate spread and total lines are available for all of the major sports.
  • Odds for alternative lines will vary based on how much they differ from the standard lines.

The main betting lines for a game are all popular spots to put some money down, but bettors also like having options. Enter alternative lines at online sportsbooks. Here’s what you need to know.

What are alternative lines in sports betting?  

An alternate line provides bettors with options beyond the main spread and total bets on individual games. For example, let’s consider a standard NBA game listing:

Your choices for betting on the spread are the Philadelphia 76ers minus two points or the Miami Heat plus two. With alternative lines, however, you can expand that range of options:

You could flip the script to have the Heat as the favorite, or increase the number of points that the 76ers are giving up. The choice is up to you, but remember that the betting lines will move as well depending on how far the numbers deviate from the sportsbook’s original listing.

Alternate lines may be worthwhile if you are particularly confident in how a game will play out. They can also work for games where you’d love to have a little more wiggle room for your bet. However, alternate lines aren’t a foolproof route to victory. Your betting decisions still need to be on the money for you to win.

Are there alternate lines for all bets?  

You’ll most often see alternate lines for these bets:

  • NFL and college football point spreads and totals
  • NBA and college basketball point spreads and totals
  • MLB run lines and totals
  • NHL puck lines and totals
  • Soccer goal lines and totals

While other bets may have a range of choices, such as player props and futures, alternate lines are generally available just for spreads and totals for the major team sports. 

Why do sportsbooks offer alternate lines?

Alternate lines provide bettors with additional choices. As a result, they can attract more wagers for the sportsbook. While not every alternate line will get a lot of bets, all of the options can add up.

So the sportsbook can benefit from the extra action, and bettors can benefit from more options to pick and choose the lines on which they want to bet.

How the odds work on alternate lines

For standard spread and total bets, the odds will usually be around -110 on both sides. There’s much more variance for other spread-like bets, such as baseball’s run line and hockey’s puck line.

The odds on alternate lines will also vary widely. The further that the line gets away from the main game listing, the more of a difference you’ll see. For example, here are the odds for a standard MLB run line in the left column:

There’s already a pretty big difference in the odds in that column. If we check the alternate run lines for that game, we’ll see some even bigger discrepancies:

If you take on more risk with an alternate line, as in giving up more points, then your potential return increases. If you give yourself more breathing room, as in accepting more points in your favor, then the profit potential decreases.

Alternate betting line examples  

Using an NBA game listing for an example, here are the main NBA betting lines:

But if you don’t like that particular spread, you can peruse the alternates:

On the main spread, the Milwaukee Bucks are one-point favorites. Say you wanted to bet on them on the spread, but as slight underdogs instead. You can do so, but if you win you’ll be looking at a smaller payout. You can do the same with totals:

The original total is 212.5 points. Depending on what you’re looking for, you could instead choose an alternate line that would make your bet easier to win but with a lower potential payout — like under 215.5 (-145) — or tougher to win but with a better reward if you do — say, under 209.5 (+115).

For a standard spread or total bet at odds of -110, you’d have to bet $110 to win a profit of $100. If you take on more risk and get odds of +120, then a $100 bet would stand to win $120 in profit. In the opposite direction, odds of -120 mean a potential profit of $100 would take a $120 bet.

Should you bet on alternate lines?  

While far from a must, alternate lines are great options to have. At times, you might find that you’re simply not comfortable with the main spread and total lines. Alternate lines may offer a number that works much better, as you get more say in the risk to reward.

If you give up more points, then the potential return grows, while more protection in your favor translates into more muted profits. However, even if you use alternate lines, remember that there are no guarantees when it comes to betting on sports. Moving the line in either direction will not change that.

The best advice is to check them out and see if they fit with your strategy. There’s no need to use alternate lines heavily or exclusively, but they are there as needed.

How do I find alternate lines in a sportsbook?

Alternate lines are available at all of the top sports betting apps. To find them, simply locate the game on which you want to bet.

For the above example at DraftKings Sportsbook, you can click on the alternate tabs to see available options.

FanDuel Sports app includes alternate lines in the “More wagers” section.

Select the link in the lower right to see additional wagers, including alternate lines.

Are alternate lines better value than the standard spread/total?

The answer to this will really depend on your perspective and individual assessment of the game. When you come across a spread or total that seems to be off, then you may find some value by moving the number in an alternate direction.

For a quick example, if the oddsmakers have set a tight line and you think the favorite is likely to win by a larger amount, then you can bump the spread up to your comfort level.

The Boston Celtics are 6.5-point home favorites at odds of -106. If you think that they can exceed that margin, here are some of the possibilities:

If you take on some additional risk, which in this case is covering a larger spread, then you’ll receive a bigger payout if all goes well.

Alternate lines can also provide some help in the opposite direction. If you’d like a little more cushion on the Celtics to cover, then you can make the line smaller. However, your potential returns will drop as the line moves.

For value, it really comes down to what you’re looking for in terms of the potential return. As always, don’t base your betting decisions just on what you might win, as there are simply no guarantees when it comes to wagering.

How do oddsmakers price alternate lines?  

When it comes to the pricing of alternate lines, keep these two ideas in mind:

  • If you take on more risk, the potential return is greater.
  • When you take on less risk, the potential return is less.

To demonstrate, let’s go back to the game between the Heat and Celtics. The main pregame betting line at DraftKings has Boston as a six-point favorite. Here’s what the odds look like if we move the number:

If we drop the line down below six for a bet on the Celtics, then our potential winnings decrease. The same thing happens if we give ourselves some more cushion on the side of the Heat.

Alternate lines place more control into the hands of bettors, as you can adjust spreads and totals more to your liking. However, oddsmakers still control the pricing and resulting payouts that you can expect on winning bets.

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