Props are suddenly big business. Once viewed as mostly a marketing tool for sportsbooks, player props are catching up to more liquid markets like point spread and game total in popularity. ESPN’s David Purdum reported in April 2022 that point spread, money line, and total bets comprised just 11% of legs in same-game parlays during the 2021 NFL season. Jay Croucher, former head of trading at PointsBet, noted a similar spike in player prop volume.
As is the case with other markets, the NFL is king when it comes to player props, at least in the United States. NFL props are still incomparably illiquid compared to the larger markets mentioned above. Still, the increased popularity of props has led to a slightly more real market than how it was five years ago, and it’s beneficial to understand how that market functions if you’re hoping to beat the books long term.
At ETR, we spend all week fine-tuning our projections to identify spots to attack and bets to post for our subscribers. That’s the purely mathematical side of beating the props market, the science of it. However, understanding market dynamics is also critical. Today, we’ll discuss how sportsbooks set their player props, what it means when two sportsbooks differ, which books are the sharpest for props, and more. We’ll also detail how the market has changed in recent years and what it means for the future. Let’s get right to it.
THE SHARPEST BOOKS FOR PLAYER PROPS
Ask someone in the betting field which is the sharpest sportsbook in the world and you will hear a lot about Pinnacle, Betcris, and Circa Sports. Those are market-making books taking the highest limits in the world and moving off the action on their own book. They originate their own lines and numbers, while many others just copy after some level of price discovery has taken place (or they undergo their own price discovery at limits so low that many pros don’t even bother).
However, those are not the sharpest books for props. Those books often have a very limited prop sheet that they post later in the week. They simply don’t care as much about props when they are taking such high limits on main markets.
In truth, there is no sharp book for props, at least in the same way there is for sides and totals. The “top-down method” — in which a bettor picks one sharp book as their source of truth and looks for different lines on other books — isn’t really possible with props. The offering is too large every week for one book to efficiently price them all, so they just minimize their liability by implementing low limits. With that being said, some books are necessarily more efficient than others, and Caesars and FanDuel are likely the two standouts among domestic sportsbooks. Caesars in particular typically allows at least $500 limits for sharp accounts, even on openers, and significantly more for untagged accounts. Those limits for player props are fairly unprecedented — perhaps only by DraftKings early in the 2021 season — and lead to sharper lines and a quicker move toward efficiency than what you’d see on DK, despite them getting their numbers from the same source.
Caesars also moves very aggressively on action, so it’s easy to tell when someone has placed a big bet on something by just comparing the juice on Caesars vs. DK. It’s worth mentioning that Caesars sometimes moves too aggressively and you can sometimes get very strong prices fading an initial move if you have conviction. Another caveat with Caesars is that they review larger bets, which makes it very difficult to bet there if you are tailing someone with market influence because the line will likely move while your bet is being reviewed. In other words, Caesars is likely the best domestic book for prop originators and holds value as an indicator because of that, but it’s less useful if you are simply following someone else’s plays.
FanDuel originates their own numbers separate from DK, Caesars, and MGM (who outsource their origination from the same place), and then they undergo price discovery, admittedly at not-terribly-high limits to start. FanDuel does usually respectable limits for most accounts, especially closer to game time.
Many prominent offshores also use an identical tool to set their player prop lines. Limits on an individual site may not be stellar, but when you have a handful of books setting their lines at the same number and juice, you can get down pretty decently when you like a play. This is a very popular way to get down among serious prop bettors and has relatively good lines as a result.
HOW BOOKS SET THEIR LINES AND WHAT IT MEANS WHEN TWO BOOKS DIFFER
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