What Are Alternate Lines in Sports Betting?

As you gain experience with sports betting, you’ll realize that oddsmakers are quite good at what they do. An extra half-point on spreads and totals can often make the difference, as many results hover right around the listed numbers.

Thanks to the rise in legal single-game wagering, Canadian sports bettors will become familiar with that reality before too long. While there are no viable ways to beat the book every time, there are ways to have more say about your bets.

Alternate lines open the door to additional wagering options. You still have to be correct, but you get more say on the goal of the bet. Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about betting on alternate lines.

Alternate betting lines explained

When there’s a game on tap, legal Canadian online sportsbooks will be on standby with odds and lines for the main pregame bets. For example, the Toronto Raptors game lines at DraftKings may look like this:

NBA game odds at Draftkings

For the spread, bettors have the choice of taking the Raptors at +7 or rolling with the favoured Orlando Magic minus that number of points. On the total, DraftKings has set the line at 219.5 points. While you can certainly take your chances with the listed numbers, you can also find more options by clicking on the game listing:

NBA alternate lines at Draftkings

You’ll find variations of the spread and total, with different odds to reflect those new numbers. If we wanted to drop the total to 207.5 points, we could get odds of -315/1.32 for the over or +230/3.30 on the under.

Are alternate lines available for all sports?

You can bet on alternate lines for all of the major team sports. If there’s a spread or total involved, the vast majority of top sportsbooks will have alternate numbers for you to check out. Here are the top options for alternate lines:

There are also alternate lines for the major American college sports (college football odds, college basketball odds) and various international hockey and soccer leagues. You can even find alternate lines for some individual sports, such as different options for the number of sets to complete a tennis match or the number of rounds it’ll take for a UFC fight to wrap up.

Can you find alternate lines at all legal sportsbooks?

You’ll find alternate lines available at pretty much all of the top books. Just select an individual game listing to see the additional wagering options. Once you do so, you’ll find plenty of online prop bets and alternate lines to choose from. Here are the top books to check out:

While all four of the above have alternate lines available, the exact range of options may vary by game. In addition, the odds for specific lines may vary by sportsbook. This is actually a good thing, as you can shop to compare prices before placing your bets to set yourself up for the most favourable possible returns if you win.

Examples of alternate line betting

To further understand alternate lines and how you can use them, let’s walk through a pair of examples. For an upcoming NBA game, the standard lines may look like this at BetMGM:

NBA betting lines at BetMGM

The Brooklyn Nets are slight road favourites over the Charlotte Hornets in a contest that the sportsbook expects to be pretty high-scoring. If you click on the “all wagers” link, you’ll find plenty of alternate lines:

If you think the Nets can do more than cover the listed spread, there are lots of options to choose from. The same holds true if you have a different read on the game and think the Hornets are in line for a better-than-expected night. You’ll also find a host of alternate totals to choose from.

The standard over/under line is pretty hefty. Thanks to the different alternate point totals, you can go up or down to your comfort level, with the odds moving accordingly.

How do odds and payouts work for alternate lines?

The odds for alternate lines differ from the numbers that you’ll see for the main listings. At most legal sportsbooks, the starting point for the odds for spread and total bets is -110/1.91. As always, the odds will fluctuate from there in response to betting action and any potential news.

For the alternates, the odds will vary based on how far they deviate from the original line. Naturally, this impacts payouts, as the amount that you can expect back on winning bets will depend on the odds when you placed your wager.

On a standard spread or total bet at -110/1.91, a winning bet of $100 will bring back $90.90. If we go back to our example from above, here’s what we can expect back if we take on some more risk with the Nets:

Alternate point spread betting

In this case, we’ve bumped the spread up by two full points. If all goes well, we stand to win more than we would from the standard spread. On the other hand, here’s what happens if we take on some more cushion on the side of the Hornets:

Alternate lines for point spread

If we take an extra two points with Charlotte, our potential return goes down since we have more of a safety net. One of the big positives about alternate lines is that they provide you with the chance to bet at your comfort level as opposed to just using the book’s standard line.

As for totals, let’s say that we think 239.5 is too high. Here’s what happens if we drop it by four points and take the over.

Alternate lines for totals

The teams now only need to surpass 235.5 points for our bet to win. Since oddsmakers have set the bar four points higher, our potential return dips since we’re giving ourselves more leeway. On the opposite end, we could go under 235.5.

Alternate totals lines betting

We’re now taking on some more risk — at least as far as the main betting line is concerned — and we’ll be in line for a better return if we turn out to be correct. Beyond the different options for spreads and totals, alternate lines place more control in the hands of bettors over the risk-to-reward relationship.

Tips for betting on alternate lines

Alternate lines expand the options for sports bettors, but the same rule applies: In order to win, you have to make the right call. Here’s a trio of sports betting tips for alternate lines:

  • Compare spreads and totals at multiple sportsbooks: While many of the top sportsbooks will be in the same range on spreads and totals, that doesn’t mean they’ll always be the same. By taking the time to look around, you can often find a half-point of difference here and there, and sometimes even more. From there, try to find a consensus of a fair range and then contrast that with the alternate line odds to find your perfect sweet spot for the games you’re interested in.
  • Review matchup history and team betting records: Teams that cross paths often leave behind a treasure trove of data. The past may be no guarantee of what’s to come, but it can provide potential clues. By having a sense of what typically happens when two teams meet up, you can approach the lines with more confidence. If you add in the betting records for both squads, you’re well on the way to making an educated guess.
  • Consider current trends and recent play: Throughout the course of a lengthy season, teams will go through ebbs and flows. Teams that appear to be at the top of their game are worth making note of, and the same holds true for clubs that are going through rough patches. The overall track record is important, but recent play can provide more clues on what may happen next.

As with any other bet, success with alternate lines requires taking the time to dig in and research. Simply getting or giving up a few extra points is no guarantee that you’ll be cashing tickets at the end of the day.

When to bet on alternate lines vs. main game lines

OK, so you’ve done your due diligence on an upcoming game. You’ve made a case for which way to go on the pregame betting lines, but you also see a path to success with an alternate line or two. Now what? If you take the time to work through the steps below, the answer should reveal itself.

  • Start with the odds and lines: First, make sure that you’ve given the main pregame odds more than a once-over. You’ll want to examine recent play, betting history and how the numbers are stacking up at other books, for example. From there, make the case for all of the possible choices — favourite minus the points, underdog plus the points, over or under on the total — and assess which ones sit right with you.
  • Are you seeing something different? While oddsmakers are good at what they do, they’re not infallible. It’s possible that they could be off the mark with their initial lines, in which case sharp bettors will pounce with heavy action. As always, the odds will move in response to betting action. Are you seeing something different from the oddsmakers and the general public? If so, it may make sense to check out the alternate lines.
  • Your overall confidence level: Now that you’ve made a case for pregame lines and considered whether you have a different interpretation of the game, it’s time to decide which direction to go. Most importantly, never force it. If you aren’t confident, take a pass.

When starting out with sports betting, it’s best to gain a full understanding of how the main bets work. As you gain experience, you can start exploring other bets, including alternate lines. Before too long, your instincts will begin to take over, and you’ll have a much quicker sense of how to bet.

Are alternate betting lines worth it?

Alternate lines provide bettors with more options. At times, you may not be comfortable with the main spreads and totals at a sportsbook. If you’re looking to take on more risk or provide yourself with more of a cushion, alternate lines can definitely fit the bill.

As always, there are no guarantees when it comes to sports betting. Alternate lines are not a path to instant success, nor are they always the best call if you aren’t confident. However, they can absolutely be a viable part of any sports betting strategy if you implement them correctly.

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