What Is A Point Spread In Sports Betting?

how to bet on sports

While it’s possible to place random bets and get a winning ticket occasionally, having some background information and understanding the different bets available can help increase your chances of placing a winning bet. 

If you are keen on wagering on NFL and NBA games, you need to know what a point spread is and how a point spread works. This will heavily feature in your betting as point spreads are the most popular type of wagering on college football, NFL, NBA, and college basketball.

Let’s get to it.

Betting Strategies: What Is A Point Spread Bet?

A point spread bet is the margin of a win in a sporting event. This is represented as a sports betting number by oddsmakers at sportsbooks.

Point spread betting serves as a handicap between two opposing teams. Naturally, any two teams are unlikely to be equal in skill. As such, oddsmakers will use spread betting to even the playing field.

To cash a bet, the favorite team (or the stronger team) must win by a certain number of goals, runs, or points. On the other hand, the underdog (or the weaker team) can just win the game or lose by fewer than that same number of points.

This system has quickly earned its place in sports conversations, with point spread betting being used widely in the NFL, NBA, and other sports today.

In baseball, the spread is referred to as the run line. In hockey, it’s called the puck line.

What Is A Point Spread Betting Strategy?

A point spread betting strategy is where you bet that a particular team will outperform their expected performance. This bet focuses on the margin of victory. To start this off, a sportsbook will set a line based on how well they expect each team to perform in an event.

Your job is to determine which team will perform better than the set line and then place a wager on it.

Confusing much? Here is a practical example:

How Does This Play Out In A Game?

Let’s look at a point spread bet example from the super bowl.

There was a game between the San Francisco 49ERS and Kansas City chiefs.

The spread looked something like this:

San Francisco 49ERS           Vs.            Kansas City Chiefs


+ 1.5                              Spread                              -1.5

-110                                                                         – 110

Based on the betting odds in the above example, Kansas City is touted to win.

How do we know this?

Favorites vs. Underdogs in Point Spread Betting

The favorite team always has a minus (-) sign indicated before the spread. In this case, Kansas City’s odds are – 1.5.

On the other hand, the underdog gets a plus sign (+) before the spread. San Francisco 49ERS have + 1.5.

What do these figures and representations mean?

Kansas City was the favorite in this game. This means they needed to win the game by two or more points to cover the spread. These points represent the margin of victory. San Francisco was a 1.5-point underdog, meaning they could have won the game outright or lost by one point to cover the spread.

In the game, the favorites with a -1.5 won the super bowl 31-20. Now, remember they only needed to win by two or more points. So this score gave them an 11-point lead, meaning they more than covered the spread.

At times, two teams will be considered to be evenly matched.

How To Bet Spreads

At this point, you should have a better understanding of what the point spread bets figures mean.

Next, you must know how to place bets with this information.

You need to decide two things before placing point spread bets.

The first is at what point to make a bet. You can do this immediately or later (live betting) because spreads do change.

Now, as you already know, all sports betting markets are active markets. The point spread is no exception.

What this means is that oddsmakers can move the spread at different points. Odd makers shift spreads depending on certain factors, including;

·        The amount of money taken in one side of the spread bet compared to the other

·        Breaking news regarding the teams and the game itself. These include the weather, injuries, player trades, and so on

·        The team professional bettors are backing in an event with a spread bet

·        Change of venue ( for example, specific teams are known to win more often when they have home field advantage)

·        Coaching decisions and player discipline

The second thing to determine before wagering is which team you think will cover the spread.

This means picking whether to lay points with the favorite or take them with the underdog.

How Much Can You Win?

Aside from understanding the handicap, it’s essential to be able to read odds as well. In the example above, you notice a -110 indicated next to both spreads. This is the American odds system, and this figure is known as the vig or the juice.

Let’s look at our earlier example again. We have covered what the + 1.5 and -1.5 mean. What about the -110?

San Francisco 49ERS           Vs.            Kansas City Chiefs


+ 1.5                              Spread                              -1.5

-110                                                                         – 110

This is the price sportsbooks charge to place a bet in this market. If you play poker, the vig (short for vigorish) or the juice is similar to the rake in poker.

Now, ideally, your betting endeavors should make you some money. So, how much do you stand to win?

The amount of cash you can win is dependent on two things;

·        The amount of cash you place as a wager

·        The price of the odds at the time you are placing a bet

American bettors typically wager on a ‘to win’ option when betting on odds with a negative sign. This means they choose how much they want to win first, then decide on how much they are willing to risk.

In the San Francisco 49ERS vs. Kansas City Chiefs example above, with a -110 vig, you would need to wager $110 to make $100. Similarly, you would need to wager $120 to win $100 if the odds were -120.

You can always use free online betting calculators to tabulate how much you stand to win, with the given odds at different wagers.

Sports Betting Spread Types

The main categories of sports spreads are:

The NFL Spread

With an NFL point spread, the favorite team gets a spread indicating the projected win margin. This means that the team needs to win by more than the outlined margin for you to win the bet. If you decide to bet on the underdog, they have to win the game outright or lose by fewer points than is stipulated in the spread once the final score comes in.

Most NFL wagers sit around a 7.5 margin or less, while many college games tend to have more serious mismatches based on talent.

A college NFL game can also record very high scores. With this in mind, it’s not strange to see college football spreads with margins of 30 points and even more. As a result, such games offer some exhilarating options for bettors.

NBA Point Spread

The same principle applies as that in the NFL; that is, to win your bet, the favorites need to win by more than the given margin.

The NBA features the best of the best and is therefore associated with highly skilled players that play high-level basketball games. With this comes dynamic odds that can change quickly and drastically. This means you must constantly check the odds to get the best value for your wager. This can also mean trying live betting (placing bets after the game begins) to get good value.

While NBA spreads can be tighter, college basketball games are much like college football games. Margins of over 20 points are not uncommon.

NHL (puck line)

Here, the favorite team is assigned a puck line of (-1.5), and the underdog gets (+1.5). In this scenario, if you bet on the favorite, they have to win by two or more goals.

If you go with the underdog, you win if they win outright or lose by one goal. However, an underdog bet is often costly, priced at (-150) or higher.

MLB (run line)

The favorites here get a run line of (-1.5) and the underdog of (+1.5). If you back the favorite, they have to win by two or more runs. The payout if this team wins is (-130) to (+200).

On the flip side, the underdog can lose by one run or win the game outright for you to win when backing the underdog. In a closely lined game, this can be costly as you are getting 1.5 runs of insurance between two teams that are essentially of equal skill, often the vig on this will be -150 or more.

Soccer spread

This is a wildly popular form of betting.

You sometimes get soccer spreads where a game is between two unevenly matched teams. In such games, the stronger team gets spreads of between 0.5-3 goals.

The favorite team needs to win straight up by more than this spread for you to win the bet.

What Is A Push In Spread Betting?

Part of the excitement of sports betting comes from the fact that you can never really be so sure about what will happen or how a sporting event will end.

One of the outcomes you can get after a bet is a push.

A push occurs when the spread lands on the exact number you bet on.

For example, you have two teams; Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers. You then bet on the Cowboys as a -7 favorite to beat the Packers as a +7 underdog.

If the Cowboys win with 7 points (exact number), instead of more, both bets are said to be a push, and the amount you had waged is refunded.

Scenario two is if you had placed an over/under in the game, which was 42, but it ended 27-20. Then, this bet would be pushed as well.

Pushes are common in football and basketball, though they are possible in almost every sport.

Spread vs. Moneyline

A moneyline bet is the most basic betting strategy we have. Beginners should ideally begin with and master before looking at other options from online sportsbooks.

The best thing about this bet is its simplicity. All you need to do is pick the winner in a game. But, as you might have guessed, the payout is not much. Of course, you can win more by betting on the underdog, but their chances of winning are minimal.

Example of a moneyline bet:

                                    Chicago Bulls -185

                                    Milwaukee Bucks +155

The Bulls are the favorites, and it would take a $185 wager to win $100. On the other hand, betting $100 on Milwaukee Bucks would earn you $155. The latter has a better payout but lower chances of happening.

Compared to the moneyline, a spread is somewhat more complicated to win than the moneyline, but for your troubles, it features competitive odds that pay better.

While moneyline bets pick an outright winner, a spread aims at correctly predicting the winning margin.

In some cases, a moneyline bet can be the best option, though you can’t make any real money from them unless you make accurate multiple bets on one ticket. Always go for a spread bet whenever possible as this offers more lucrative opportunities.

A viable game plan is to learn betting with moneylines as you get your feet wet. Then, once you get more comfortable with betting, definitely get into point spread betting. Then, you can mitigate losses with cash out, which takes us to our next point.

Cash-out Betting Option

While the goal is to be so good at betting that sporting events always go your way, this is a long shot. So instead, expect to win some, lose some and hopefully, cash out some.

Take, for instance, a spread where the favorite leads with too broad a margin or the underdog seems set to pull an upset. Most sportsbooks will allow you to withdraw from a seemingly losing bet before an event plays to a conclusion. This decision is entirely up to you. If you sense things going south, you can stick with your bet to the end or pull out. The latter is called cashing out.

When you choose this route, your sportsbook can offer you a cash-out amount that’s slightly less than what you would have won. You, however, get to avoid the total loss of your wager.

What Is A Hook In Sports Betting?

In sports betting, a hook means a half-point. So if you want a hook, you buy a half-point in the spread.

For example, if you opt for the Patriots – 7.5 (this is seven and a hook) against the Bills, you buy the half point and turn it into -7.

Where Can I Legally Point Spread Bet Online?

While sports betting is legal in 32 states. So fans from half the country can enjoy online sports betting.

 Most states also have platforms where bettors with a gambling problem can get help. Be sure to take up these resources if you or a loved one has a gambling problem. 

Point Spread Betting Faq

Why Should I Get On Spread Bets?

Spread betting is ideal because it allows you to place a point spread wager on favorites minus the financial risk. However, on the downside, it can be challenging for a team to win by the actual point spread. 

A slight change like a team losing their home field advantage from changed venues can alter the final score from what you anticipated. Issues like these, alongside other factors, make even the most seasoned bettors stick with betting lines where they predict a win outright instead of spread betting. 


Dan Smullen

Hailing all the way from Dublin, Ireland, Dan Smullen has BSC. in the Sports and Exercise Sciences from the University of Limerick. He is data obsessed. In the past he has worked both as a video performance analyst and provided biometric performance testing and analysis for professional rugby teams. Dan is obsessed about helping the average punter become more successful at sports betting through the assistance of good sports betting data analysis. He has worked with over 200 journalists at multiple editorial teams in his previous role as Head of Search for the largest national news publisher in Ireland.

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