What is Chasing Steam in Sports Betting?

Online sports betting will launch in Ohio on Jan. 1, 2023. This page will be updated with the latest news, odds and promos once Ohio sportsbooks are live.

Sports bettors can employ a variety of betting strategies. One fairly popular tactic is “chasing steam,” though it comes with some ominous warnings from other members of the sports betting community.

Some bettors swear that if you chase steam, your sports betting account will end up restricted or completely banned. But is there any truth to that? What are the pros and cons of chasing steam? Is it anything like fading the public?

We answer those questions and more below.

What is chasing steam?

First, let’s define steam in this particular context. Steam is, at the most basic level, a sudden shift in the line on a particular game that happens at nearly the same time at many sportsbooks.

Sports betting lines shift for a variety of reasons, but the two main causes are breaking news and one side of the bet receiving most of the action. This is usually due to a betting syndicate or sharps who are pouring their money into a wager. Steam refers to money-based shifts and not the news.

When you “chase steam,” you keep tabs on the lines for large shifts as we mentioned above, and then you hunt down a sportsbook that hasn’t made the shift yet, and you place your wager before it can adjust to match its peers.

An example of chasing steam

Suppose, for instance, that the Cleveland Browns are facing off against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns are the underdogs at +3.5 points, and then a shift occurs to +2.5 on the spread. As you’re likely aware, crossing over the three-point barrier for an NFL game indicates a significant shift.

If there hasn’t been any news, such as an injury to a star player, then you can feel fairly confident in expecting that the shift is due to an influx of money.

While most sportsbooks may shift their spread betting lines fairly quickly to the new +2.5 spread, some may be slower to do so. As a bettor, you could still jump on a +3.5 to give yourself that extra point in breathing room. If you did, that would be chasing steam.

Line shifts due to injury news aren’t the same

Most bettors and sportsbooks don’t consider it to be chasing steam when the line begins to shift due to breaking news, such as an important player suffering an injury. Instead, the strategy requires the line to shift without new information entering the equation.

Of course, there really isn’t much difference when you think about it. If you’re jumping to another sportsbook to take advantage of a slower line shift in order to give yourself a higher potential return on your wager, then you’re still essentially chasing steam.

In either case, there are benefits to being a bettor who keeps tabs on the line movements and is quick to take advantage of them. But what do the sportsbooks think?

Pros and cons of chasing steam

Is chasing steam profitable? As with most sports betting strategies, there are pros and cons to chasing steam in sports betting. Below we outline each side of the discussion.

Pros of chasing steam

The largest of the benefits of chasing steam is definitely the potential for higher returns on your wagers. Will you become the best bettor of all time just by making the pursuit of steam your primary betting strategy? Most likely not, as you won’t really see a ton of long-term success when you are sticking primarily to that kind of betting tactic.

Using it to get the best return possible? Well, if you’re already planning on making that wager, then of course it can be beneficial to you. In reality, you should be doing plenty of line shopping online anyway, so this just kind of falls into that category.

Cons of chasing steam

There is always a risk when wagering on sports, but that risk can grow when you’re betting on line movements. Large groups of bettors known as syndicates can apply pressure to the line for particular games simply to force it to move into a more favorable position. They then aim to make money by wagering even more on the opposite side with the new odds they’ve helped create. Because of this, you never really know if you’re betting on a line shift because of sincere wagers, or if you’re on the wrong side of a plot by expert bettors who are using their massive bankrolls to manipulate the lines.

The largest potential drawback is the possibility of a sportsbook limiting or suspending your account because it discovers you are chasing steam and using its lines to your benefit. If the powers that be at the sportsbook believe you were taking advantage of their slow response to a line change, you could end up feeling repercussions.

Some bettors think such reactions from sportsbooks are fictional boogeyman tales, but sites like Reddit and other forums are homes of plenty of stories that claim that exact situation occurred. If that is the case, then chasing steam could be beneficial, or it could be potentially damaging to your account and any future dealing with the sportsbook that suspended your activities.

Should you be chasing steam?

There is little doubt that taking advantage of the best lines is going to be beneficial to your pocketbook when you’ve had successful wagers. However, using a single betting strategy isn’t likely going to help you too much in the long run. And neither is having your account limited or banned completely.

Instead, if you’re interested in chasing steam as a part of your wagering tactics, you should do so as just a small part of your overall process. Use such line shifts as just a part of your complete strategy, but not in replacement of your overall research and approach to sports betting in Ohio.

If you’ve already locked in a wager and you see the line shifting due to steam, then of course you might want to consider chasing it to help hedge your bets and keep yourself profitable. But keep in mind that a well-planned and executed comprehensive betting strategy is likely to be more valuable than a single tactic.

What’s fading the public?

Fading the public is another betting strategy much like chasing steam. In short, the idea is to keep tabs on which way the public is betting on a specific contest and then bet the opposite of where the majority of bettors are putting their cash.

Why? Well, professional bettors have discovered — and it isn’t very surprising — that casual or recreational sports bettors are often wrong. Many of them just place bets with gut feelings or guesses. Sharps know that casual bettors are going to lack the same amount of research and strategy that they are employing, so when they see a heavy number of bets going on one side of a wager, they often take a deeper look to see why.

One way to discover if it is the public betting or large sums of money that are shifting the line is to look at the breakdowns between the total number of bets and the overall amount. Are they on the same side of the bet? Or is the number of tickets higher on one side and the amount of money higher on the other? The latter situation would typically indicate that sharps are betting against the public on that particular bet.

As you can see, fading the public is almost the opposite of chasing steam. The former has you betting against the majority of bets being made, while the latter has you betting with the line shift caused by an influx of large money wagers.

In either case, using such tactics should only be a smaller part of your overall betting strategy.