Sports Gambling 101: What Is Steam?

Our Sports Gambling 101 series continues with a look at what causes betting odds to "steam." How do bettors recognize this odds phenomenon and is chasing steam advisable?
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Steam: How Is It Best Explained?

Betting strategies are as varied as the daily sports options offered by top rated sportsbooks. Amongst them, betting on odds that are steaming is a strategy that recreational bettors can easily follow. To understand how the term originated, consider a kettle heating up on a stove. When the water reaches peak boiling point, a massive amount of steam is released and the kettle whistles loudly. Odds that are steaming have reached a new betting line peak.

Steaming odds don’t come with a whistle, but steam refers to betting odds that change suddenly at virtually every sportsbook. Steam moves occur when sharps and/or syndicates bet heavily on one side of a betting line. Odds that move at one sportsbook, and not at any others, are not considered steaming since that change is a decision made by a single bookmaking crew. As a whistle, some sportsbooks offer an option to receive notifications when lines move.

In order to wager on steaming odds, players need to be quick when placing their bets. Major sportsbooks, which accept heavy volume and large wagers, are usually the source of steam. If they move an NFL line, from (-3) to (-4) odds, other sportsbooks often do the same. In this instance, bettors need to quickly search around at other shops to see if (-3) odds are still available anywhere. For that reason, players should have accounts with a few top rated bookmakers.

Do Steaming Odds Always Indicate a Best Bet?

Bettors are reminded that steaming odds do not always indicate which side the sharps are betting on. There are instances when wise guys bet heavily on one side to move a line so they can wager on the other side. If Green Bay (-8.5) is a favorite over Detroit (+8.5), a syndicate may bet heavily on the Packers in an attempt to move the line to 9.5 points. Once the odds move, they will wager an even larger amount on the Lions with the new +9.5 point spread.

Should Bettors Chase Steam?

Odds can steam on any betting option offered at a sportsbook. The term “chasing steam” refers to recreational bettors who place bets when they see a major line move. In the example above, recreational bettors may view the line move as an indicator that sharps like Green Bay over Detroit. As noted, that is not always the case, so don’t get burned by steam. Noticing lines that steam should be part of a solid betting strategy, but they shouldn’t be wagered on blindly. 

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