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The Decline of the "Widely Available" Line
The standards for pick tracking have slowly eroded over time.
A "widely available" line was once an agreed-upon standard in the sharp community. This standard was used to grade those who wished to publish or track picks.
I first came across this term in the late 1990's on Stanford Wong's now defunct Sharp Sports Betting message board. Back then, the consensus was that for a line to be considered "widely available," it had to be accessible at three or more books.
As years passed and the gap between sharp and recreational books expanded, many professionals realized the importance of quoting at least one line from a "sharp" book. Such books were more likely to accept higher limits and were less inclined to ban a player. They typically offered sharper lines, which were more challenging to beat. Today, these would include sportsbooks like CRIS, BetOnline, Pinnacle and Circa.
At RAS, we've always chosen our release lines from a conservative consensus of sharp book line sets. If the four books we weighted the most had 40.5, 40.5, 41, 41 we'd most likely use 40.5 if it was an Under, and 41 if it was an Over. I'd argue we have the fairest and highest standard for widely available lines in the entire industry.
Over time, most pick tracking transitioned from message boards to automated platforms. Sites such as TrackPicks and, more recently, Pikkit, Action Network, and BetStamp, became popular. These platforms allow handicappers to select the best available line from a wide range of books.
Understandably, this method of tracking was highly favorable to the handicapper. As a result, the practice of adhering to the "widely available" standard started to wane.
Why is this important?
When evaluating a handicapper for potential betting partnerships, free rolls, or even merely considering following their picks in some fashion, it is critical to know what type of lines they are betting and grading against. Are they using openers? Overnights? Betting early in the morning before sharp book limits rise and the PPH market has matured? Or just before the game when market maturity is highest? Or something in between? A handicapper who hits 60% with good volume against soft book openers can easily end up with no edge at all if you ask them to adhere to a "widely available" standard or put enough restrictions on when and where they can bet.
This is not in any way meant to shame people who are winning in lower limit, smaller, or early markets. Everyone starts somewhere and any sort of winning in sports betting should absolutely be commended. But there are huge differences in winning for yourself, being able to win for others, and winning at scale.
This is one reason why you see so many handicappers fail when they move from free to paid. When releasing free you do what you want and follow fewer standards. When you charge for picks you have set release times, standards for where lines should be available, and maybe even a release warning. Each of these things deteriorates your edge and your volume.
A great example was the RAS props service—run by a group of pros who definitely win, and still do win. But when we added release windows, widely available line standards, and even release warnings, things became much more difficult, and we eventually decided it was no longer a viable product.
Standards are needed
Today there are very few handicappers who even attempt to beat markets against any sort of widely available standard. The reason? Because it makes it so much more difficult to win! Even if you do succeed you still aren't going to compare favorably to the folks claiming they hit 60 percent while beating soft books and rogue/stale lines on the tracking sites. There simply isn't any upside. The end result is unhealthy, unrealistic and unsustainable expectations for everyone involved.
There will always be a huge demand for picks, and there will never be a shortage of people making them. Instead of blanket characterizations (never buy picks, etc.) that have become so rampant, we as handicappers, followers, and the sharp community as a whole must get better at educating how to identify and evaluate all the different types of picks and pick makers, and this starts with holding ourselves and others accountable to more standardized forms of recordkeeping.
This article was also posted in the newly launched RAS app, available to iPhone users in the App Store. For more articles like these, and other content from the RAS team, download the app here.
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