Point Spread Betting Explained
Ever want to bet on an event and find yourself questioning what it means to bet the point spread? Here’s what you need to know about point spread betting.
The large majority of wagers involve bettors are picking a side in a game between two teams or individuals. Not all sides are created equal, though. A point spread is used by oddsmakers to even out a matchup from a betting perspective, assigning more or fewer points to a team’s final score. In order to win a point spread wager, a bettor must “beat the spread.” As a result of a more even matchup, point spread betting offers flatter payouts that are often even on both sides.
What is a point spread?
This is one of the most common questions in sports betting, especially to new sports bettors. The point spread is how teams or sides of varying skill levels are handicapped against one another. It’s the number of points one side is giving or receiving as compared to the other.
Although each team may roster the same number of players, play by the same rules, or even run some of the same plays, the two sides are almost never equal in skill. To account for that inequality between the two teams, a point spread is used to handicap the two sides of a matchup.
If you look at the odds board and see a team’s or individual’s name followed by a minus sign and a number, that reflects that side is favored by that number of points. In the case that you see a plus sign and a number, that side is the underdog in the matchup. The minus sign means that the final score will have the spread number subtracted from it. The plus sign means that the team’s final score will have the spread number added to it.
In summary, the point spread is a calculated prediction of how much a team will win or lose by.
Why do sportsbooks use point spreads?
As we said before, not all teams are created equal. Sportsbooks use point spreads to handicap a matchup in an attempt to attract equal betting on both sides and even out the competition. Without a point spread, it would be too easy for bettors to simply take the favorite in every matchup. That’s similar as to why you see moneyline betting odds priced accordingly.
In a perfect world, sportsbooks and oddsmakers would draw perfectly balanced 50-50 betting action on both sides of a point spread. This alleviates a sportsbook’s or oddsmaker’s need for one side to win. The large majority of point spread bets come with a juice applied to the payout odds. The juice is another term for the “vig” or “rake,” and it is the money a sportsbook or sports betting operator takes on a wager.
Perfectly balanced betting on both sides would allow sportsbooks and oddsmakers to collect the juice free of liability.
How to know if a point spread bet won or lost?
In order for a point spread bet to be declared a winner, the side wagered on must “cover” the point spread. The favorite, which is the side with the minus number as the point spread, must win by more than the point spread dictates. The underdog, which is the plus number as the point spread, cannot lose by more than the point spread dictates.
Are ties allowed?
Yes, ties can happen when point spread betting. If the point spread is an even number and the difference in the competition’s result falls directly on that number such that the teams are then evenly scored, it is a tie. In point spread betting, a tie is called a “push.”
In the case of a push, all bets are returned to the bettor. If you wagered $100, you would receive your $100 back.
In many cases, point spreads will not be an even number. Rather, point spreads will display a half of a number, .5, and that is called the “hook.” When there is a hook involved, the bet cannot be a push because there are no half points in sports scoring. More information regarding the hook can be found below, in the section about key numbers.
Example of point spread betting
Point spreads are most commonly used and referred to in football betting. Using an example, let’s say the Buffalo Bills are facing off against the New England Patriots and that the game is in New England. When reviewing the oddsboard with the list of games, you see a number of -8 next to the Patriots team name and a number of +8 next to the Bills team name. This means that New England is favored by 8 points and that Buffalo is the underdog by 8 points.
What you’re seeing might be displayed something like the following:
- Buffalo Bills +8 (-110)
- New England Patriots -8 (-110)
Using another example of the Pittsburgh Steelers as -3 favorites over the Dallas Cowboys, let’s say the game results in a score of Pittsburgh 20 and Dallas 17. This final score would result in a push, as it fell on the exact 3-point spread that was being applied.
Do note that when it comes to point spreads, the underdog number isn’t always shown. Rather, a sportsbook will most likely only display the favorite’s spread and it’s assumed the underdog’s spread is simply the opposite.
Whatever the final score of the game turns out to be, New England will have 8 points subtracted from its total if that’s the side you bet on. If you bet on Buffalo’s side, the final score for the Bills will have 8 points added. If the final score results as 30-20 in favor of New England, bettors holding a Patriots -8 ticket would win the bet because the Patriots won by 10. Bettors who wagered on the Bills +8 would lose because the Bills lost by 10.
How much can I win on a point spread wager?
It’s most common in point spread betting to have odds of -110 on both sides. This means that if you bet $110, you’d win $100. There is where the juice comes into play. If sportsbooks were able to attract perfectly even betting action on both sides, they’d be keeping $10 of every $110 wager placed.
Sometimes, you may see a point spread bet listed with odds of -105, -115, or even -120. In those cases, you would need to bet $105, $115, or $120, respectively, to win $100. Then there are also times in point spread betting when a wager has even odds, listed as Even or +100, so whatever you bet you’ll get back.
Because oddsmakers will adjust point spreads as they see fit, another way to alter the handicap is by changing the odds slightly.
Wait, point spreads can change?
Yes. Sportsbooks and oddsmakers may very well change a point spread to keep the handicap even. Injuries, starting lineups, weather, and volume of bets on one side or the other are a handful of the reasons for a point spread to change. Don’t let the thought of a changing point spread scare you, because these changes can work to your advantage. Of course, they can also work to your disadvantage.
Sticking with the previous example, here’s how the betting line for the Bills and Patriots looked to start.
- Buffalo Bills +8 (-110)
- New England Patriots -8 (-110)
That’s where the line opened, but then later in the week, much closer to game time, the line changed to the following.
- Buffalo Bills +7 (-110)
- New England Patriots -7 (-110)
This shift signifies that New England moved to become less of a favorite than at the opening line. If you’re a bettor who placed a wager on the Bills at +8, this is good news for you, as you’re now getting an extra point that isn’t available anymore. If you placed a wager on the Patriots -8, you now need to overcome an additional point to win.
Many sharp bettors make a practice of watching and predicting line movements. This is done in an attempt to get the best number possible.
Just as points spreads move, they aren’t uniform from venue to venue, so be sure to shop around at various sportsbooks to get the best line that you can.
Understanding key numbers
When it comes to a point spread, it’s important to understand the key numbers. This is especially true for bettors wagering on football, because football point spreads are where the key numbers tend to have the most significance.
Due to how the scoring is structured in football, with field goals being worth 3 points and touchdowns being worth 7 points when you include the 1-point extra point, the most common margins of victory are 3 and 7 points. Knowing and understanding the importance of these key numbers can allow a bettor to make better wagers.
In point spread betting, you’ll often hear bettors reference the “hook.” The hook is the extra half point attached to the spread, very commonly seen in football betting. When betting on a favorite and understanding the importance of key numbers and the hook, it’s beneficial for a bettor to lay fewer than 7 points or fewer than 3 points. Similarly, it’s better to lay 7 points with a favorite than have to cover 7.5 points. The same can be said for 3.5, 3, and 2.5 – having to lay 3 points is much better than having to lay 3.5, and having to lay 2.5 is far greater than having to lay 3.
This also works for the other side of a point spread, the underdog. Any time a bettor can, he or she will want the benefit of having the hook in his or her favor. It’s much better to have an underdog if you’re getting 3 points than just 2.5, or 3.5 points instead of 3. Understanding the importance of key numbers and the hook can be the differences between winning a bet or not.
Although more attention is given to key numbers in football, they are worth paying attention to in basketball, too. Key numbers in basketball come into play less often than in football, but they’re still worth knowing what they are. In basketball, the most common margins of victory are between 5 points and 8 points, followed by 3 points and 4 points.
Puck line and run line
Point spreads are used mainly in football and basketball. In hockey, the point spread is referred to as the “puck line.” In baseball, a point spread is called the “run line.” In hockey and baseball, the puck line or run line are commonly -1.5 or +1.5 and the lines themselves don’t change but the odds might.
For more definitions of common sports betting terms, check out SharpSide’s dedicated glossary page.