Losing by the Hook

Losing by the Hook
Captain Hook from the Disney film "Peter Pan"

When discussing a 'hook" in sports betting, people are referring to winning or losing a wager by a half point of a total, point spread, or player prop. To "lose by the hook" is to lose by .5 of the line. For example, if you lose an NFL spread bet of +6.5 because your team lost by a touchdown (7 points) that's a loss by the hook. Meanwhile, if the same team with the +6.5 spread loses by 6, you can thank "the hook" for your winning bet.

More often than not sportsbooks will offer "the hook" on lines, as you can see in the image below from Fanduel Sportsbook. All the listed spreads and game totals have a .5 line rather than any whole numbers.

College Basketball spreads provided by Fanduel Sportsbook

Why Sportsbooks Want to Offer Hooks

The reason books prefer having that .5 on most betting lines is to avoid a push. A push is when a bet neither wins nor losses. In these cases, the bet is voided and the wager amount is refunded to the bettor. So, if a spread was set at 7 for our NFL spread example, that win by a touchdown game would result in both +7 and -7 bets refunded to bettors. Believe it or not, sportsbooks want to avoid this. They want to pay out winners and collect on losing bets.

If most lines were offered at whole numbers, it would allow for a lot more push. Thus, sportsbooks would have more voids that would be neither profit nor loss for the book. Sportsbooks operate to make money and do that largely by collecting juice from both sides of a line.  

Collecting the Juice

Juice or the "vig" on a line is almost like a tax the sports bettor pays to the book.

Most lines with two sides (an over and an under) are set at -110 for both sides of the bet. This means a hundred-dollar wager will payout ninety dollars, not a one-to-one payout. To break even in the long run betting sides at -110 odds a bettor would need to win 52.4% of the time. Hence, one would need to win more than 52.4% of the time to be profitable. On any given -110 bet the book has a 2.4% edge over that bet and overall they have a 4.8% hold over that game before it even starts. Simply put, the sportsbooks want that edge over bettors in the long term, not a lot of voids, and gaining nothing from a line that has a large volume of bets.

Can You Beat the Hook?

As mentioned before, most books offer .5 lines and avoid a high volume of pushes. However, bettors can "buy points" on lines to try and avoid hooks. This is a practice that happens a lot when bettors get fed up with losing by that .5 over and over again. Buying points is an option given by sportsbooks where the bettor can increase or decrease the spread or game total. As you move the spread/total the price of the bet will reduce or increase in payout.

To continue with our NFL example, this would mean if the spread was +6.5 for the team that lost by 7, the +6.5 would be a loss. However, if a bettor decided to buy the .5 on the line, their bet would push. Furthermore, a bettor who bought a whole point to get a +7.5 line would win their wager. But is it worth it?

The vig charged by sportsbooks to buy points tends to cause more harm than good to a bettor.  For a bettor to buy a full point on a 6.5 line, they are liking looking at a -140 bet for the +7.5 line. Thirty cents on a line is a massive difference. That -110 bet needs a 52.4% win rate to break even, while at -140 a bettor will need a 58.5% win rate. In the long term, that extra 6% needed to break even likely proves costly. Not every bet is decided by the hook, which hurts a bettor paying -140 juice for a loss instead of -110.  

All bettors can agree that losing by .5 is never fun and is always heartbreaking. But in terms of expected value and long-term success, it is often better to play lines straights they are set. One of the exceptions to this is bettors that play teasers, but that is a whole other topic.

In order to beat the books, don't let emotions take over. Find the best lines at the best odds using the Pikkit app and try to avoid "the hook" as best you can.