2016-17 NHL Betting Against the Public Report
Before the start of every season, Sports Insights posts a series of articles that highlight the ideal threshold for contrarian betting. By utilizing our public betting trends from seven contributing sportsbooks, we are able to see which teams are being pounded by a majority of public bettors. This simple strategy encourages bettors to identify the most popular teams and bet against them; thereby capitalizing on artificially inflated lines created by public perception.
Because hockey is a low scoring game, the majority of bets are placed on the moneyline. This differs from football and basketball, where the bulk of money is bet on the point spread. For spread sports, bettors must win 52.38% of their games (assuming a vig of -110) in order to break-even. This can be confusing to new hockey bettors who are confused by losing records and profitable returns.
As an example, last season our NHL contrarian plays went 44-57 (43.6%) yet they finished with +10.7 units won. That’s because underdogs pay out at plus-money. Despite the losing record, bettors wagering $100 on each our NHL contrarian plays finished the season with a profit of $1,070 ($100 x 10.7).
To highlight how this works, let’s look at the last five NHL underdogs to close at exactly +175.
Although these plays went just 2-3 (40%), a $100/game would have actually earned a $50 profit on these five wagers — $350 won from the two victories and $300 lost from the three defeats. Casual bettors have a tendency to pound favorites, which has historically created value on underdogs. I have also found that bettors tend to place too much weight on the importance of home-field advantage, which has created additional value on road teams.
Since 2005, NHL visitors have gone just 6283-7640 but they have actually produced a higher return on investment than home teams as you can see from the table below.
|Criteria||Record||Win Rate||Units Lost||ROI|
In order to understand why betting against the public is an effective strategy, it’s crucial to understand the machinations of a sportsbook. There’s a common misconception that oddsmakers are looking to balance their book by attracting 50% of the action on each side to thereby mitigate any risk. The truth is that sportsbooks can shade openers to exploit public perception and allow their most-respected clients to shape the line.
It’s also worth noting that public bettors are highly averse to taking large moneyline underdogs. For that reason, you’ll often see that extreme contrarian strategies will often have more profitable returns despite lower win rates. That’s exemplified in the table below, which examines the performance of road teams being ignored by moneyline bettors.
|Public Betting||Record||Win Rate||Units Won||ROI|
In the past, I have explained that the value derived from betting against the public is directly correlated with the number of bets placed on each game. Although sportsbooks aren’t looking to evenly balance their books, they are looking to minimize their liability in the most heavily bet games. Oddsmakers shade their lines to take advantage of casual bettors; however, public money is still an important factor in line movement.
When a majority of public bets are taking the home team in a heavily bet game, sportsbooks are forced to adjust their moneyline to encourage action on the visitor. These artificially inflated lines provide tremendous value to contrarian bettors willing to go against the grain.
For more information on this subject, I spoke with Scott Cooley, an Odds Consultant for the market-setting Bookmaker.eu. “We will adjust [the moneyline] more regularly for public action on lower-volume sports such as hockey,” according to Cooley. “The adjustment for high-profile or big-market hockey teams isn’t nearly as great as the major sports, but it still happens.”
While oddsmakers are hesitant to adjust NFL spreads based on public money, that’s clearly not the case for NHL moneylines. This creates additional value for contrarian strategies in heavily bet games with one-sided public betting.
The table below displays the performance of NHL road teams when the number of bets placed on their game was at least equal to the daily average. That means if there are 15 games on a given day and we tracked 150,000 total bets, we would only include games where we tracked at least 10,000 bets.
|Public Betting||Record||Win Rate||Units Won||ROI|
As you can see, the ROI improves at every single data point when we focus on these heavily bet games. In terms of overall units won, the sweet spot for NHL betting against the public comes when teams are receiving no more than 25% of moneyline bets. Interestingly, every single team fitting these criteria have been underdogs.
It’s worth noting that it’s not advisable to take large moneyline underdogs since sportsbooks will typically charge prohibitive juice in these games. The table below displays the performance of heavily bet NHL visitors at the 25% threshold based on the closing moneyline.
|ML Range||Record||Win Rate||Units Won||ROI|
|+215 or less||390-571||40.6%||+75.80||+7.9%|
|+200 or less||349-488||41.7%||+73.55||+8.8%|
|+185 or less||298-392||43.2%||+71.26||+10.3%|
|+170 or less||221-275||44.6%||+51.22||+10.3%|
|+155 or less||131-156||45.6%||+22.86||+8.0%|
|+140 or less||78-68||53.4%||+32.07||+22.0%|
|+125 or less||27-20||57.4%||+12.09||+25.7%|
You will notice that as we examine smaller and smaller moneyline underdogs, the ROI and win rate both improve exponentially. That said, the ideal moneyline range for these heavily bet road teams comes when we look at underdogs of +185 or less. Teams fitting these criteria went 49-47 (+26.1 units) last season and 298-391 (+72.26 units) all-time.
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