What is an Alternate Line in Sports Betting?

Legal sports betting has arrived in a big way in Maryland with both retail and online sportsbooks allowed inside state borders. Due to the number of licenses offered, it’s expected that the public will have a huge range of options for Maryland online sportsbooks. This is a great thing for sports fans and potential bettors because increased competition leads to more online sportsbook bonuses, promotions, and betting options.

Modern online sportsbooks cover dozens of sports from around the world, which ensures all bettors can find odds they’re interested in. With that said, the most popular sports to bet on are the major North American leagues — the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, along with NCAA football and basketball.

For most of these leagues, every game on the schedule means a range of betting options for the public to choose from. Among those options are alternate lines, a market that is growing in popularity thanks to the versatility it provides to bettors.

What is an alternate betting line?

Alternate betting lines are, well, alternate versions of the point spread and totals lines posted by the sportsbooks. It means you can choose nearly any point spread or over/under you want if your preference deviates from the posted line.

Alternate lines are about giving the bettor choices. But before making any of these alternate bets, it’s important to know how the traditional point spread and total work.

Point spread betting

A point spread bet is a figure set by oddsmakers to even out the game from a betting perspective. One team is a favorite and the other an underdog, and the spread tells us exactly by how much each needs to win or lose by to be a successful wager. Favorites need to win by more than the point spread to ‘cover’ the number. Underdogs can win the game outright or lose by fewer points than listed on the spread.

In baseball, the spread is referred to as the run line. In hockey, the spread is known as the puck line.

Totals betting

Totals, also known as over/under bet, are simply a bet on whether the combined score of a game will go over or under a number set by oddsmakers. If an NFL game has a total of 44 points, any combined score of 45 or higher is a win for over bettors. At 43 points or fewer, the under is a winning bet.

How to bet on alternate lines

When you check betting lines, the site displays the current spread and total of every game. But most online sportsbooks also allow bettors to wager on different versions of those markets, each with a modified line to account for the difference in the spread or total. Let’s take a look at a conventional example from the DraftKings Sportsbook app:

Totals lines at DK Sportsbook

What is buying and selling points in sports betting?

If you’re betting on alternate lines, you’re either “buying” or “selling” points. Buying points involves making the betting line more favorable in exchange for lesser odds.

Many sportsbooks allow bettors to move the number in half-point increments up to 10 or 12 points from the current line, but the exact range depends on the site.

The total for this Wizards-Hawks matchup is 238 (-112). Let’s say you’re interested in taking the under but willing to pay for some extra cushion. The option is there to buy points to increase the total to a higher number.

For example, taking an alternate total of 245 (-195) can be done in exchange for a less bettor-friendly price. Rather than risk $112 to win $100, the bettor is required to risk $195 for $100 in profit to account for the extra points being given.

Each half point you get away from the current total will see the line get worse when buying points. But when it comes to selling points, things are the other way around.

Say you’re interested in the hometown Wizards, which are the underdog at +7 (-110). You aren’t sure if they’ll win but you feel they don’t need all of that cushion. Bettors can take an alternate line of Wizards +4.5 (+132) and earn a larger payout. The payout would be $132 for a $100 wager instead of $90.91 with the original line because you are selling the points and taking a lesser spread than oddsmakers currently have posted.

On the other hand, maybe you’re convinced the Wizards can win this game by a few points. There’s an option to make Washington the favorite in exchange for a much higher-paying line, such as Wizards -4 (+360). By moving the spread so many points against the side you’re taking, the potential payout increases massively.

When selling points, each half-point you get away from the current spread will increase the potential payout for that wager. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and this type of bet leaves so much up to the bettor to decide the exact odds and price that works for them for each spread and total.

Betting on alternate NFL lines

Betting on NFL alternate lines is similar to betting NBA basketball, and the process would mirror our example above.

One thing that makes alternate lines different from NFL betting is the fact that football has specific key numbers to look out for with both spreads and totals, so that needs to be taken into account.

For spread betting, the key numbers are 3, 4, 7, and 10. This is because these are the four most common margins of victory in NFL games. Depending on which side of the spread you’re on, it may be wise to make sure these numbers are covered.

Let’s look at the following example from William Hill Sportsbook site:

Betting Lines at WH Sportsbook

The Washington Football Team is a slight underdog at +1 (-110). If bettors are interested in WFT but want to guard against a close loss, the option is there to buy a couple of points up to +3, which could drop the line to around -130 or -140 (the exact price per half or full point depends on the game and sportsbook).

But if the bettor wants to wager on a Washington victory and desires a larger payout than the moneyline odds (+115) offers, the play would be to turn the WFT into the favorite and take an alternate line. A -2.5 spread could boost the line up to the +140 or +150 range and still cover the key number of three.

If you’ve got supreme confidence in a wider margin of victory, selling more points would lead to an even larger payout, but keep the key numbers in mind as you stray further from the original spread.

Key numbers exist for totals, too. The numbers 37, 43, 44, 47, 51 are all popular point totals to varying degrees. These numbers should be considered when choosing whether to buy or sell with totals.

Alternate MLB run lines

There are no point spreads in MLB, as they are instead referred to as run lines. They are virtually the same thing as spreads in basketball and football, but there is one main difference. Run lines in baseball are always -1.5 for the favorite and +1.5 for the underdog. Here is an example:

In baseball, the run lines don’t vary, but the price that comes along with the line does change. Runs come at a premium in baseball, and every half or full run will cause a larger change in odds than in basketball and football. Here are some of the alternate run lines for our Nats-Phillies game above:

MLB alternate puck lines

The Phillies are the favorite in this game, but if you’re a Nationals fan and think they’re going to win the game, the choice is there to flip around the run line. Rather than +1.5 (-154), you can sell a few runs and make the Nats -1.5 (+220). They would need to win by two or more runs, but your price is significantly boosted for making the line worse for the side you’re taking.

Selling points means turning underdogs into favorites and current favorites into larger favorites, and these are the ways to increase the potential payout. Playing things safe and buying points can also be profitable, the odds that come with it will just be less appetizing.

Alternate NHL puck lines

Puck lines in hockey are very similar to run lines in MLB. Standard puck lines are always -1.5 for the favorite and +1.5 for the underdog, with the odds to go with those lines varying wildly. Below is an example of NHL alternate puck lines from FoxBet betting app MD:

NHL alternate puck lines from FoxBet

The middle of the three puck lines above is the one set by oddsmakers, with Boston +1.5 (-250) and Washington -1.5 (+200). The other two are alternate versions with lines accompanying lines that are quite different based on which direction you go.

Just like baseball, goals are hard to come by in hockey, and each alternate line away from the original puck line results in a huge odds shift. Buying goals will result in risking more in favor of a more beneficial puck line. Selling goals involves making the puck line tougher to win but gaining a huge boost to your potential payout.

Alternate lines betting tips

Alternate lines can be a valuable tool for any bettor, and they can be used in several ways to execute a wide range of strategies. Keep the following strategies in mind to give yourself the best chance at success.

  • Line shopping: This is the case with standard spreads and totals, and it remains true with alternate lines. Sportsbooks always have some variance when it comes to betting odds and the lines associated with them. Having multiple sportsbook accounts and doing some line shopping will help you get the best price for whatever alternate line you’re considering placing a bet on.
  • Buy points for parlays: The more points you buy, the worse the line becomes. For favorites, that means risking more than you win. For underdogs, it means sacrificing some of your potential payouts. But settling for reduced odds can be easier to take when adding them into parlay bet. Parlays are a bet in which every leg needs to win. You may as well get the line you want even if it hurts the payout. Plus, with several teams in the same bet, the blow is easier to take because the overall odds of the wager are still enhanced.
  • Selling points means bigger payouts: If the goal is to increase the amount you can potentially win, the way to do it is by selling points. This means making a favorite an even bigger favorite or making an underdog less of an underdog (or even making them the favorite). The strategy is a risky one, but if you’re able to employ your strategy with any success, the opportunity for profits is there.
  • Remember your NFL key numbers: Bettors should never be afraid to buy or sell points, but this is especially true when wagering on the NFL because the key numbers are so important. If the spread or total you are betting on is close to one of them, moving the number in your direction can be the difference between a win and loss. For example, if you want to bet on an NFL team that is -3.5, don’t hesitate to buy that down to -3 or even -2.5 to cover the key number.

Alternate betting lines FAQ

Which sports offer alternative lines?

Alternative lines are offered for a variety of sports, and most of the options are professional leagues. If betting on the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, alternate lines will be available. There is also a huge range of alternate spreads and totals for various soccer leagues all around the world.

What are the pros and cons of betting alternate lines?

The biggest advantage to betting alternate lines is that you can effectively choose any spread or total (within reason) that you want for a particular game. For so long, bettors were required to bet with just one line, but oddsmakers have since adapted to offer more options.

The only negative, if you’re looking for one, is that alternate spreads and totals can be quite overwhelming because there are so many choices. And if buying points on favorites, bettors are forced to risk much more than they stand to win.

Should you exclusively bet alternate lines?

Every game and spread/total is different, but the short answer is no unless you are only altering the number by a half-point or so. In reality, the oddsmakers are either on the money or close enough that bettors may not want to venture too far away from the original line.

There is a time and place for alternate lines, whether you’re buying or selling, but it may not be a sustainable strategy. The truth is that buying points all the time involves taking on too much risk, and selling points all the time means constantly challenging that sportsbooks have the line wrong.