What is ‘steam’ in betting?

0 Comments 📁 Slider 🕔28.October 2014
What is ‘steam’ in betting?

It isn’t often that a sportsbook puts out a simply terrible number, one that the public and wiseguys alike attack on the same side. When that does happen, it’s known as a “steam game.” You know a line that’s getting steam when you see it, because the books are forced to drastically adjust it as the money piles up on one side.

Naturally, steam games create a boatload of liability for the books, because in addition to having to navigate the treacherous waters of one-sided action, the door to middling the game swings wide open for the wiseguys.

A prime example of a steam game came on Monday night in Week 8, when the Rams hosted the Seahawks. The books opened Seattle as 10-point favorites, at which point everyone and their mothers pounced on the Seahawks and continued to do so throughout the week. By kickoff, Seattle was giving anywhere from 13.5 to 14 points, and the books were trembling.

Side note: The wiseguys typically like to make their plays at two points during the week: right as the lines open (which enables them to use their power rankings to square off directly against the bookmakers and expose any potential flaws in a number) and just before kickoff (which enables them to get the best value, because the public pours into Vegas on gameday and is almost always aligned in laying money on the favorite).

Back to Seahawks-Rams. Not only did the books realize they originally hung a bad number and were forced to open themselves up to a juicy middle if the game landed on anywhere from 10 to 13, but their liability was even greater because the handle of Monday Night Football is always the largest of the weekend.

As everyone knows, the game played out with the Rams never in remote jeopardy of failing to cover even the original 10-point spread, and they ultimately came within a play of winning the contest outright. Thus a game that very well could have put the books in a substantial hole ended up turning into one of their biggest paydays of the season.

While it’s a misnomer that the books prefer to have equal action on either side of a line (they are in the gambling business for a reason), the scenario they found themselves facing in that Monday night game was nonetheless one they strive to avoid at all costs. They hung a bad line, the steam started rising and they happened to get bailed out by one of the handful of outlier games of the NFL season.

The lesson, as always: Where there is steam, there will be sweaty bookmakers.

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