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Why Do Sportsbooks Circle Games?

March 2, 2019
sports betting odds circling a game

“Circling” a game is when the sportsbook puts a limit as to how much can be bet on it. It also usually means the game cannot be placed within parlays and teasers. The term “circling” came from the old betting boards where the sportsbook would literally draw a circle around the line on the board. Spreads, moneylines and totals can all be circled.

The reason for the circling of games is to limit exposure on a game that has an expected variable factor such as injury, impending severe weather, player illness or suspension, or any other questionable factor that is expected to change the outcome of the game. Most often this only occurs when team stars/playmakers are questionable. If the left defensive end is questionable, it probably won’t cause the sportsbook to circle the game. If the QB is questionable, it probably will.

Circles can also be used on overnight lines at online sportsbooks. Part of a sportsbooks job is to react to heavy action and adjust the lines and possibly even layoff some action. To prevent major action in the middle of the night the sportsbook often times will circle a game.

In the early days of internet betting, bettors would get on the web and watch live weather updates and team websites regarding player injuries. They would then try to catch their local (call-in) bookie with a weak line. It wasn’t long before the local street bookie had to subscribe to a live line service as well. He had to react to last-minute player changes and steam action. Steam is when the line suddenly moves by a point or more because of heavy action by sharp players. Back then, you may have caught your bookie on a steam play once or twice, but he would probably warn you to knock it off or even cut you off right away.

In the image above we created an example of what today’s modern day circle may look like.

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