Fading the Public: The Most Misunderstood Sports Betting Strategy

Fading the Public

If you study basic sports betting strategy for 15 minutes, you’re bound to come across a concept known as fading the public. The idea behind fading the public is simple: you want to bet opposite of the majority because most sports gamblers lose.

It seems like you can win with this strategy simply by finding whom the public is betting on and choosing the other outcome. Of course, nothing in sports betting is this easy.

Many people get confused with fading the public and oversimplify the strategy. Doing so can lead to many lost bets, especially if you’re overconfident in thinking that you’re going to win.

I’m going to discuss why fading the public requires more in-depth thought and if you can use this concept to win more often.

What’s the Basic Concept Behind Fading the Public?

Many sports gamblers start out with the idea that they can be a winning bettor because they’re fans of a particular game. They think that they’ll use their knowledge of players and teams to earn profits.

The reality, though, is that beating sports betting over any measurable amount of time is difficult. When gamblers realize this, they may embark on a quest to learn more about sports gambling strategy so that they can improve their win rate.

Fading the public is one of the first strategies that people come across. This strategy involves figuring out whom the public (a.k.a. squares) is taking, then betting the opposite way.

Here’s an example:

  • The line is New England Patriots -3.5, New York Jets +3.5
  • The public is betting heavily on the Patriots
  • You bet on the Jets

Fading the public seems like a great strategy because it puts you on the opposite side of squares. It’s also a simple plan, which is another appealing factor.

The underlying theme behind fading the public is that you want to bet differently than squares. These gamblers lose money through sports betting, which makes it good to bet opposite of them.

Recreational bettors normally take the favorite. After all, the favorite has the best chance of winning the game and delivering a successful bet.

But bookmakers attach odds to each wager to make the underdog more attractive. Given that the public likes wagering on favorites, fading squares normally involves taking the underdog.

Of course, all you would have to do is wager on underdogs every time if this strategy always worked. As you might’ve guessed, wagering against the public isn’t so easy.

You used to be able to fade the public and make decent profits in decades past. Sports betting markets weren’t as sharp as they are today, especially during the dawn of internet gambling.

Bookmakers could still make larger profits by attaching more unprofitable odds to favorites.

Here’s an example:

  • The Seattle Seahawks are playing the San Francisco 49ers at home
  • Seattle is favored to win the game
  • Modern bookmakers would set the line at Seattle -6.5
  • But bookmakers a couple of decades ago might’ve set it at Seattle -8.5
  • They knew that the public would likely still bet the favorite, even with worse odds

The public isn’t so easily fooled these days. Many gamblers know basic handicapping skills and aren’t going to take such a poor line.

Bookmakers have adjusted by creating sharper lines. The public still loves to bet on the favorite, but they at least get more reasonable odds to do so.

How Do Gamblers Get Confused with Fading the Public?

Many sports bettors mistakenly assume that fading the public is all about being opposite the squares. While this is one part of the strategy, you can’t simply bet on the opposing side and expect to win consistent profits.

If it were this simple, all you’d need to do is look at public betting percentages online. Certain websites list public betting percentages, which show the amount of tickets on both sides of a line.

Here’s an example:

  • Brooklyn Nets +4.5 (22% of tickets)
  • Miami Heat -4.5 (78% of tickets)

The Nets would be the obvious choice in this instance if you’re fading the public. After all, 78% of the betting slips are on the Heat.

Many gamblers are thrilled when they discover public betting percentages. They may even feel like they’ve stumbled upon the holy grail of sports betting.

Again, nothing is ever this easy in sports wagering. You can’t just visit a website, quickly check whom the public is betting on, and wager the opposite.

Fading the public isn’t just about betting against squares. It’s also about getting in at the right price, just like the pros do.

A professional sports gambler will usually wager on underdogs. However, they don’t just blindly take the underdog; they first handicap a bet to make sure that they’re getting the right odds.

You may not be a professional sports bettor. But you can at least follow line movement to get an idea of when you’re getting the wrong price to fade the public.

Here’s an example:

  • Line is North Carolina State Wolfpack +5.5 (19% of tickets), Duke Blue Devils -5.5 (81% of tickets)
  • Line shifts to North Carolina State +4.5, Duke -4.5

You can see in this instance that the public is heavily backing Duke. However, oddsmakers have shifted the line to make the Blue Devils even more enticing.

This likely means that sharps (notable professional bettors) have made large bets on the underdog and forced bookmakers to act. Even though the public betting percentages suggest that Duke is drawing the most action, NC State now has a worse price.

Sportsbooks pay special attention to sharp action before making line movements. A bookmaker is fine with unbalanced action as long as they’re facing off against the squares – not the pros.

The last thing they want to do is have the majority of money on the sharps’ side. After all, this leaves sportsbooks with more liability against pros, who win most of their wagers.

This is why line movement sometimes goes against the grain. NC State, even with just 19% of the betting slips, is proving too attractive. Therefore, sportsbooks have shifted the Wolfpack’s line to create a worse price.

You should be wary against taking NC State at +4.5 in the previous example. They now have to cover another point, and you missed out on the better odds.

Can You Rely on Fading the Public?

Wagering against the public can still be an effective strategy. However, the key is to understand that you can’t just blindly take the opposite side.

You instead need to consider multiple factors beyond just whether you’re fading the public. It’s especially important to check out line movements beforehand so that you don’t take a bad price.

Fading the public doesn’t work like it did two decades ago, where you could have more success just by betting opposite squares. You can still look at public betting percentages and how heavily squares are wagering on the favorite.

The key, though, is to avoid getting wrapped up in the notion that any bet against the public is a good one. You should also work handicapping, tracking line movements, and good timing into the equation.

Sports betting is harder today thanks to all of the available information at gamblers’ fingertips. Bookmakers also have to be sharper in order to continue making profits.

Gone are the days when a simple strategy like fading the public could bring reliable profits. You instead need to put more work into the matter.

Chasing Steam Is Similar to Fading the Public – Yet with More Success

Chasing steam bears certain similarities to wagering against squares. But the key difference is that this strategy still has a proven track record of success.

A “steam move” is characterized by a drastic line change across the industry. Steam moves are generally caused by a group of sharps (a.k.a. syndicate) simultaneously making bets with different bookmakers.

Bookmakers have to act by moving their lines in near unison. Their goal is to avoid leaving themselves open for more sharp action on a favorable price.

Here’s an example of a steam move:

  • Online bookmakers have the Pittsburgh Steelers at -6.5 and the Cleveland Browns at +6.5
  • A syndicate bets heavily on the Browns across multiple sites
  • Bookmakers quickly react by changing Pittsburgh’s odds to -5.5 and Cleveland’s odds to +5.5

As mentioned before, sportsbooks pay a great deal of attention to how the pros are betting. Seeing an influx of money coming in on one side across multiple bookmakers is a clear indication of which team the sharps are backing.

Nevertheless, one or more bookmakers may be slow to change their price. This is when steam chasers can pounce by betting on the favorable odds before they’re changed.

Chasing steam involves tracking odds across various online bookmakers and trying to take advantage of potential steam moves. It’s a long and boring process, but one that can pay big dividends when you spot syndicate action.

Chasing steam is much like fading the public in that it only works at the right price. If you’re too late to jump on the favorable odds, then you may be better off avoiding the bet.

A Word of Caution on Chasing Steam

Many skilled gamblers prefer chasing steam to the long and hard road of becoming a professional bettor. The former can sit back and wait for the pro gamblers to make a move, then take advantage of their knowledge. But there are some clear challenges involved with monitoring steam moves.

The first is that bookmakers hate these kinds of bettors. Steam chasers are just as bad as pros in that they can continually make profitable bets and leave sportsbooks open to more liability.

You always run the chance of having your betting limits reduced or even being banned when following steam. Some of the sketchier sportsbooks even go as far as to confiscate your winnings and close your account.

One more aspect to think about is fake steam moves. Syndicates may want a better price on a specific outcome, then initiate fake steam on the other side.

They bet less to cause bookmakers to make a steam move. The syndicate will then wager more money once the odds move and they get the desired price.

These fake moves don’t usually happen. However, they can put a dent in your bankroll if you get caught on the wrong side of a steam move too many times.


Fading the public is an oft-mentioned strategy that sounds too good to be true. And it definitely is too good to be true these days.

Betting opposite the public once worked to bring gamblers consistent profits. But those times are long gone, with bookmakers creating much sharper lines.

You can still make fading the public part of your strategy. Check public betting percentages online to see who the squares are backing. This gives you an indication of how many betting slips are on the public’s side.

However, you can’t rely on fading the squares alone. You should also integrate other points into your betting strategy, including handicapping, tracking line movements, and looking for attractive odds.

You might also consider chasing steam, which bears similarities to fading the public. Just be aware that you’re taking certain risks when chasing steam.

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Jim Beviglia
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About Jim Beviglia
Jim Beviglia has been a gambling writer at LegitGamblingSites.com since 2018. During that time, he’s written just about every type of article related to gambling, including reviews of betting sites, guides to popular casino games, betting tips on both casino and sports betting, sports and casino blog posts, and game picks. In addition to online gambling, one of Jim’s other major interests is music. He has been doing freelance work for various music sites and magazines for two decades. Among his outlets past and present are American Songwriter, VinylMePlease, Treble, and The Bluegrass Situation. Jim has also written five books on music that were published by Rowman & Littlefield.