‘Trap Games’, And How To Avoid Them

When sports betting odds seem too good to be true, oddsmakers might be hoping you take the bait. (Google image)

When it comes to picking winners in sports betting, we can all use a little help sometimes.

Occasionally, those sports betting tips can come from the oddsmakers themselves.

Ever see a spread or a moneyline that leaves you scratching your head and wondering what the bookies are thinking?

Perhaps there’s a NFL football betting matchup that you instantly think will be an absolute blowout, but the point spread is a field goal. Or maybe there’s a NHL hockey betting favourite that you think should only be in the -150 range, but they’re laying -200.

Typically, if you can find major discrepancies between the betting lines on a game and what you think the odds should be, you have yourself a great bet. Getting 50/50 odds on a game you think you have a 60% chance of winning is what it’s all about.

But if it looks way too good to be true, you’re likely missing a major element in your handicapping process.

Oddsmakers sometimes take a side

Or perhaps the oddsmakers are tilting the line in one particular direction, almost daring you to take the other side, because they feel extremely confident about what is going to happen.

An example of this was when the Toronto Maple Leafs visited the St. Louis Blues in December 2013.

Over the first couple months of the 2013-14 NHL season, the Leafs had never been dogs of greater than +185 (games they lost in Pittsburgh, Boston and Chicago). St. Louis was only eight points ahead of the Leafs in the standings, nearly halfway through the campaign.

Yet, the Blues were a whopping -240 favourite when oddsmakers opened the NHL betting lines, and they closed as high as -280 at Sports Interaction.

In this case, there was more than just met the eye.

The Leafs were coming off a very tough loss one night earlier, when they played perhaps their best game of the season but still lost 3-1 to the LA Kings, and had flown into St. Louis late the previous night. The Blues had enjoyed a night off after earning a 2-1 victory in Winnipeg earlier in the week.

Sure enough, St. Louis took advantage of what was a very flat Leafs team, scoring three times in the opening period to chase starting goalie James Reimer. Toronto, demoralized, never recovered and the 6-3 final score was extremely flattering to the Leafs.

How can you tell?

So how can you tell when the oddsmakers are taking a position on a game, rather than simply inflating odds on a team they expect the majority of people wants to bet on?

Two nights before the Leafs lost to the Blues, the San Jose Sharks were whopping -365 NHL betting favourites over the New York Islanders at Sports Interaction — and lost the game.

If you thought the oddsmakers were telling you something by making San Jose nearly 4:1 favourites, you lost your shirt on that outcome.

There’s no way to know for certain, but a good tipoff might be that the oddsmakers have no reason to try and make people bet on the Sharks against the Islanders.

Anyone who follows hockey knows San Jose is a much better team than the Isles, so their natural inclination would be to take the Sharks at any price.

The Leafs, on the other hand, are a team that made the playoffs the previous season and are also one of the most popular teams in all of sports. Oddsmakers didn’t need to jack up the price on the Blues in order to get people to bet on Toronto.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that if the odds look too good to be true, they probably are.

Re-evaluate your handicapping process to determine whether you missed an angle (motivation, fatigue, confidence, etc.) or identify what the sportsbooks are thinking.

If you can think along with the oddsmakers and pick up some sports betting tips from them, you’re more likely to be on the winning side.