Public Betting – Understanding Sports Betting Trends

If you spend enough time in sports betting circles, it’s inevitable that public betting will be a topic of conversation. In a nutshell, it means which side of a bet most bettors (the “public”) have put their money on.

That’s the abridged version, but there’s much more to it than that. A full understanding of public betting is a real eye-opener as you build out your own successful handicapping strategy.

Public betting can influence the lines and odds that you see at any VA online sportsbook. When the numbers move, there’s a very good chance that the way the public money is flowing is the driving force. But there are also times when the public hammers one side and the sportsbooks don’t seem to budge.

Why does that happen? We’ll answer that and more right here in our complete guide to public betting. We’ll cover what it means, how you can figure out which side the public is betting on, and how it might influence specific sports such as the NFL or NBA.

What is public betting?

When sports betting odds are released to the public, the real fun begins. Bettors get to have their say on which side they think will win. They start making their bets, and a preference begins to emerge before too long.

Public betting is the general term used to describe which side is more popular among bettors. There are times when it’s an overwhelming preference such as 80% betting on one side over the other, and times when it’s just a slight edge like 51%.

After the public starts betting, sportsbooks may respond to lots of action on one side by tweaking the line on the game. They’ll make the side that’s not seeing as much action a bit more attractive while lessening the appeal on the more popular side.

As an example, let’s say that an opening NFL betting line has the Baltimore Ravens as a slight moneyline home favorite over the visiting Kansas City Chiefs. The public leans heavily toward the Ravens, so the oddsmakers respond accordingly.

The same thing happens in various other situations, such as with NBA totals. If books release an opening number of 209.5 for a game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers and the public loves the over, then an adjustment will be in order.

Public betting can serve as somewhat of a consensus opinion on an outcome. It’s a “wisdom of the crowds” approach that can be beneficial in certain cases. Of course, the public isn’t always on the correct side, so blindly following the public money is not a wise move.

Who is the public betting on?

As sports betting continues to go mainstream, there is an increasing amount of chatter about which side the public is on. The more you hear it about a certain game, then the more certain you can be that a clear preference has emerged on the outcome.

But how do you know which side the public is really on? There are a couple of ways to figure it out. For starters, it’s important to remember that sports betting odds don’t stay still after the initial release.

As we covered earlier, once the public has its say, sportsbooks can respond by making adjustments to the lines. When examining the odds for a game, you should not only be looking at the current numbers, but also where they opened.

Once you get a handle on understanding line movements, you can see where the money is flowing. If you remember back to the concept of which side is now more attractive since the release, then you’ll be on the right track.

The next main way of tracking public money is even easier. Several websites track the betting percentages from several operators. This provides a consensus view of where the public money is going on games.

Sportsbook operators will often directly release how much wagering is on the different sides of a game. You can usually find this content on the web or on Twitter.

Knowing which side the public is betting on can be a key tool in your handicapping arsenal. However, it’s important to remember that it’s just a single piece of the entire puzzle.

Public betting trends 

In the world of sports betting, there’s an old adage that suggests “the trend is your friend.” It’s a blanket statement that can sometimes be true, but there are also plenty of times when it amounts to little more than noise.

When it comes to public betting, the story is similar. There will be times when the public is right on the money. Of course, the opposite situation happens plenty of times, as well.

There are times when there’s overwhelming support by the public on a certain side. Then the game goes ahead and turns out in a completely different fashion than almost anyone was expecting. Such is life in sports betting, but it doesn’t mean that we should be disregarding trends and merely throwing darts at a board to make our picks.

Instead, we can remember that the trend can be our friend in terms of it being a valuable part of the overall handicapping equation. Public betting trends simply point out which way the winds are blowing in terms of the overall call on an outcome. It refers to where the majority of bets are flowing, and it’s a valuable piece of intel to glean.

Sportsbooks track the numbers in house, while several outside websites also gather the data for public consumption. But just because most of the tickets are heading one way doesn’t necessarily mean that the majority of money is doing the same. Let’s dig deeper on that.

What are public betting percentages?

Knowing which side most of the public is on is great, but it’s even better when you have even more data to go on. After all, most of the public could mean a really slight majority. When that’s the case, the public call doesn’t mean all that much.

A small edge on one side or an even 50-50 split basically tells you that the public is divided. As the betting public sees it, the outcome is a veritable toss-up. Sportsbooks are pretty happy in these situations, as the built-in juice means they’ll come out ahead.

To truly understand the strength of the public betting trend, you need to see it in percentage form. A standard listing for public betting percentages will tell you which of two outcomes is seeing most of the betting tickets, such as on this NBA moneyline bet.

In this case, the Celtics are seeing 62% of total bets. That’s a pretty strong majority. Does that mean that most of the money is on the Celtics side? Not necessarily. Here’s why.

Public betting percentages can be expressed as the percentage of total betting tickets or as the percentage of the total amount of money bet on the game. The information that’s easily accessible online is generally expressing it in terms of total tickets.

The total money percentage can point out which way the proverbial sharp money is flowing. Which side would you rather be on — sharp or public? The answer is fairly obvious. A handful of subscription sites offer up this data to subscribers.

What does public betting consensus mean? 

In sports betting, a consensus forms for each and every game in terms of where the money is flowing. If you can deduce which side the public favors more, you’ll know what the general consensus is. When you can dig deeper in terms of actual money percentages, then you can build an even stronger case in one direction or the other.

The consensus opinion on an outcome can be very helpful for handicapping purposes. Once again, you shouldn’t rely on that alone, but it’s certainly worthy of being one of the steps you take while handicapping a game.

Consider a game in which you’re confident of an outcome. Let’s call it the New England Patriots -6.5 points at home over the Las Vegas Raiders. When you get to the public betting step, you actually find that 58% of the public likes the Raiders plus the points.

Does this mean that you should flip the script and roll with the public? No, but it does mean that you should spend some time reviewing the game to see if there’s something that the public has caught on to that you may have missed.

As the week moves along in advance of the game, pay close attention to the line. A large amount of money on the Raiders side could lead to a shift in the odds or point spread. That can be an even bigger piece of intel for you to digest and analyze before placing your bets.

Should I bet with or against the public? 

There’s no hard and fast answer to this question that covers every situation. If someone tells you to always bet against the public, then that person will have some explaining to do when the public turns out to be right.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. In fact, the answer will depend on the contest at hand.

While oddsmakers at sportsbooks are very good at what they do, there are times when they’ll be off on a game. Members of the public will hammer one side when it happens, and they may even go on to cash some tickets.

It’s important to remember the ultimate goal that you have when making bets. You’re looking to beat the numbers — or sportsbooks — and not simply to outsmart the public. While we all like to make the calls that others aren’t seeing, that’s not what it’s all about.

Those who set the lines are talented professionals, and there are also lots of sharp bettors out there. The size of both camps will continue to grow as legal and regulated sports betting continues on its upward trajectory.

Instead of getting hung up on always going with or against the public, the focus should be on eventually joining the ranks of the sharp bettors. The folks in that category aren’t too worried about outsmarting the public. Instead, the focus is on profitability.

What is ‘fading the public?’

When choosing a side in sports betting, you should base the decision on what you view as the most likely outcome. While that may seem like a no-brainer, the reality is that far too many bettors get sidetracked by shooting for the moon or attempting to outwit everyone else.

That said, there will be times when it makes a lot of sense to go against the public. This is known as taking a contrarian stance from the general consensus, or simply fading the public. Here are a pair of situations in which it can be wise to do so.

First up, when the percentage of betting tickets and the money bet aren’t in alignment, it might be a good time to go against the public. This information isn’t always easy to uncover, but it’s worth taking the time to dig in.

As an example, if you come across a situation in which 60% of overall tickets are on the Minnesota Vikings plus the points versus the Green Bay Packers while the money is heavier on the other side, lean toward the Packers as the wiser choice.

The next case doesn’t come up as often, but it’s definitely worth keeping in your back pocket. For some background, we’ll quote the legendary investor Warren Buffett:

  • Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.

If everyone plus their brother, sister and cousin are on one side, it’s a good time to take a step back and analyze further. There are simply no sure things in sports betting, so situations like this could be ripe for making a lot of people unhappy in the end.

NFL public betting

The NFL is the most heavily bet sport in the US, and teams only play once per week. That means there’s tons of information out there for betting research, and lots of time to break down the odds before the next set of games.

Since each NFL game attracts tons of action, the public percentages can mean even more than they do with other sports. The extra time in between games also allows more chance for a consensus to build, and it can become pretty pronounced as kickoff approaches.

The weekly nature of the games also means that it can be easier to track betting line movements in the NFL. By extension, it can also be simpler to get a handle on which way the momentum is going in terms of public betting.

Additionally, the extensive media coverage of the NFL means that there are tons of hot takes out there on each and every game. When lots of pundits and talking heads are on one side, a good amount of the casual betting public may follow.

This can especially be true for the games that attract even more of the casual fans: Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.

Examining the public betting numbers should be a key part of your NFL handicapping routine.

NBA public betting

While there’s a clear-cut king at the betting window, the NBA is firmly entrenched in second place. The high-scoring nature of the league and dozens of ways to bet on the individual games translates into scores of bettors.

The daily nature of the NBA can make staying on top of the latest odds challenging, but there are resources to lean on. To fully assess the NBA odds, it’s important to know the opening numbers and the current odds, as well as any news that may have caused the shift.

The movement could simply be because of which way the money is flowing, but injuries and uncertainty over playing status are among the challenges of handicapping the NBA.

While each NBA game draws action, the marquee contests get the most. For the NBA, this means the nationally televised regular-season games, as well as the NBA playoffs and NBA Finals.

Public betting numbers are also very useful for breaking down the games, especially when you can get a handle on where the sharp money is going.

To find out, lean on the resources that track public betting numbers. Additionally, things move fast in daily sports, so staying in tune with the chatter on social media can help. This is also a place where you can find additional nuggets of intel from top handicappers.

NCAA college football/basketball public betting

College hoops and college football are also two huge attractions at online sportsbooks. On the basketball side, the daily slates are jam-packed with games during the regular season, and March Madness betting brings the interest to a whole new level.

For college football betting, the average Saturday in the fall is also filled with games, and interest intensifies even further by the time bowl season and the College Football Playoff roll around.

The sheer number of games in both sports can make them seem intimidating at first glance, but there are two important points to remember:

  • You can take a targeted approach on which games to bet on.
  • You can also follow the money.

The biggest games on the slate — think nationally televised contests with larger programs — will attract the most betting action. However, plenty of sharp handicappers prefer to focus on games that don’t receive as much attention.

In either case, you can get a good sense by tracking the NCAA public betting percentages. You can also watch for big line moves in one direction or the other for clues on how the money is flowing on the game.

MLB public betting

MLB has the stage to itself for much of the summer in the world of sports. As such, the betting action is really heavy that time of year for MLB, but there’s also plenty of interest right from opening day on through to the World Series.

The regular-season schedule is a lengthy one in MLB at 162 games per club. Anything over .600 is a really good winning percentage, so let that sink in for a second. Even the best teams can lose up to 40% of the time.

Said another way, upsets happen in baseball regularly, and that’s part of the appeal of betting on MLB. The moneyline is the most popular MLB bet, and there’s not always lots of value on the bigger favorites.

However, if you can mix in some well-timed underdog bets along with your calls on the favorites, then a profitable season could be in your sights. Studying the MLB public betting numbers can be one of the keys to help you get there.

If a lot of bets are heading toward an underdog that you weren’t already on, then it may be time for closer inspection. When it’s a game in which almost everyone is on the same side, it’s a good time to look and see if a contrarian approach makes sense for that contest.

NHL public betting

Of the major North American sports, the NHL trails in overall interest level. However, don’t misinterpret that as a lack of interest in hockey. There are tons of passionate NHL fans out there, as well as plenty of handicappers who focus on it.

Similar to MLB, a large portion of the betting action in the NHL is devoted to the moneyline. The puck line and totals have their advocates, but the majority of the conversation revolves simply around which side will win the game.

Once again, scouting for potentially profitable underdog situations can be a key to a solid NHL campaign. The best teams in the league are going to have their off nights, and you’ll want to pounce when you think one could be in the offing.

Among the good places to look have to do with:

  • Rest
  • Travel
  • Momentum

If a lesser team is at home, has had some extra time off in advance of the game and has been playing relatively well, then an upset wouldn’t be stunning.

The other spot to look for valid clues comes from paying attention to public betting and line moves. While the public isn’t always right, when lots of folks are thinking the same thing, then it can certainly be worth taking a closer look.

Public betting systems

As mentioned earlier, sports betting isn’t as simple as always going with or against the public. If it was, then there’s a really good chance that the ranks of those following such a system would grow to an inordinate amount.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t work the public betting numbers into your overall handicapping system. In fact, you should; just don’t make the mistake of allowing it to be the final word in one direction or the other.

Additionally, it can be helpful to understand that the general public — as in casual bettors — has specific tendencies. People like to bet on:

  • Favorites
  • The over

So keep this in mind whenever you examine public betting data.

You could technically build out a betting system on public betting, but it doesn’t mean it will be foolproof. For example, if you tracked the public numbers on the moneyline, spread and totals for several weeks, you might find that the public is on to something.

Of course, that could simply be a case of a hot streak for the public or a stretch of betting lines that were off the mark. It’s safe to say that the sportsbooks and the oddsmakers on staff will catch back up before too long.

The key takeaway to remember is this: Public betting information is a valuable piece of research that you can use for handicapping, but it’s not the end-all and be-all when it comes to making your final decisions.