This is part of VSiN's Sports Betting 101 series: Read Part 1 of Contrarian Betting.
One of the main reasons contrarian betting is a smart strategy, aside from the fact that the house always wins and public bettors are victims of bias, is that you almost always get better odds by taking the contrarian side.
You have to remember that oddsmakers aren't setting a line in a vacuum. Their No. 1 goal is to make money and maximize their profits. Because the overwhelming majority of bettors are public and not professional, oddsmakers always set lines with public opinion in mind.
In other words, oddsmakers know that the public is biased toward betting favorites, home teams, popular teams and overs. As a result, they will capitalize on public bias by shading their lines accordingly. Shading means setting a line further toward the popular side. This forces public bettors to assume added risk by betting artificially inflated or worse lines.
For example, in Major League Baseball, the sportsbooks know that big-market teams such as the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs will almost always get an overwhelming majority of bets from the public. Why? Because they're the most popular teams that Average Joes gravitate toward. So instead of opening the Red Sox or Yankees as -150 moneyline favorites, they might shade Boston or New York to -160 or -170. Public bettors could care less if the line is -150 or -170. They will bet the popular big-name team regardless. This means that public bettors are constantly getting a bad number and overpriced line on the popular big-name teams.
To put this into perspective, take the 2016 Chicago Cubs. They broke a 108-year curse to win their first World Series since 1908. The Cubs were a wagon all season long, going 103-58 in the regular season, winning almost two-thirds of their games. However, because they were a public darling all season long and almost always a big favorite at a shaded price, a $100 dollar bettor taking the Cubs in all 161-regular season games only finished the year with a profit of $155 dollars. This speaks to how popular teams can win the vast majority of their games but barely turn a profit- or be a losing a bet- because they are overvalued. Some might even have a winning record but are actually a losing bet because their prices are so steep.
While shaded lines hurt pubic bettors who want to back the popular side, they help contrarian bettors who are brave enough to back the unpopular side. Taking the example from above, just as the oddsmakers will shade the Red Sox or Yankees line negatively from -150 to -160, they will also shade the opponent's line positively. In this case, the opposing team may open at + 145 instead of + 135. A contrarian bettor willing to back the unpopular side just got an artificially inflated line of 10 extra cents. A $100 bet now pays out $145 instead of $135 simply because public bias toward the popular side forced the oddsmakers to shade the number.
While shaded lines can increase potential payouts to contrarian bettors on the moneyline, shaded lines are even more valuable in spread sports like football and basketball where a single half points can make a world of difference. Let's say the undefeated Green Bay Packers are playing at home against the winless Cleveland Browns. The oddsmakers known that the betting public will want to pound Green Bay as a home favorite against an inferior opponent. after consulting their models, formulas and power ratings, they come to the conclusion that the line should be set at 14-point in favor of Green Bay.
However, knowing that the public will be inclined to bet Green Bay no matter what, the oddsmakers shade the Packers further from -14 to -14.5 or -15. As a result, contrarian Browns bettors are awarded bettors odds of a free half point or full point. Instead of betting Cleveland at + 14, contrarians can now get Cleveland + 14.5 or + 15. Now if Green Bay wins by exactly 14 points, Browns contrarian bettors win thanks to the + 14.5 or + 15 shaded line.
The key with being a contrarian bettor is sticking with it and playing the long game. If you pick and choose when you bet against the public, you won't see the results you're looking for. To succeed, you have to make it a daily mindset. It's a marathon, not a sprint. There will be days when popular favorites sweep the board and the public cleans up. But you can't lose sight of the forest amongst the trees. Stay the course and think long term.
A rallying cry among contrarians is "Grinders with Blinders." Just keep grinding. As a contrarian, you accept the ups and downs because you know that over the course of the long haul you will slowly build your bankroll by betting against the public, placing yourself on the side of the house and getting better numbers.