What’s the spread? For sports bettors, that’s one of the first questions that comes to mind when there’s a game they’re interested in wagering on. After getting the answer to that question, a whole new round of questions pops up.
The point spread is one of the most popular offerings at legal and regulated sportsbooks across the nation, including right here in Michigan. Numbers posted by oddsmakers are constantly analyzed as bettors look to find some kind of edge that will lead them to success.
For those new to sports betting, the point spread can be a subject of confusion and can even seem intimidating. However, we’re here to tell you that it’s not as challenging as it may seem.
While beating it consistently can be tough, understanding how it works and all of the ins and outs is just a matter of practice and patience. We’re here to help get you there quickly and efficiently with our complete guide to point spread betting. Read on.
How to bet on the point spread
For each game on the docket, sportsbooks will release odds for bettors to consider. Beyond the standard moneyline odds for each game, certain sports will also have a point spread attached.
A point spread is a number attached to the contest in a bid to level the playing field in two ways. First, it represents an estimated amount of difference between the two squads that will be competing. It can be helpful to think of it as an estimated margin of victory.
Both favorites and underdogs will have the spread attached, albeit in different ways. The points are negative on the favored side and positive for the underdog. For a favorite to cover the spread, it needs to win the game by an amount greater than the spread.
Underdogs can cover by either winning the game outright or by keeping the final margin of victory closer than the spread. There will be odds on both sides of the equation, as well. We’ll walk through what you need to know there in a bit.
The second way that spreads level the field is by potentially evening out the action on both sides. Sportsbook operators attempt to limit their liability by attracting equivalent amounts of action on both sides of a contest. The point spread is one thing that helps them do that.
Point spread betting odds
There are two sets of numbers that you need to be concerned with when it comes to point spreads. The first one is the spread itself, while the second is the odds attached to it. Consider the following NCAA football example:
- Wisconsin +2.5 (-110)
- Michigan State -2.5 (-110)
In this example, the Spartans are a slight 2.5-point favorite over the Badgers. On both sides of the equation, there are odds of -110. For most sportsbooks, odds of -110 are the standard starting point for point spread odds.
Once the betting public has its chance to weigh in, the odds may begin to move in one direction or the other. Continuing with the same example, let’s say that a good amount of money came in on the Michigan State side. Sportsbooks may respond by adjusting the odds like this.
- Wisconsin +2.5 (-105)
- Michigan State -2.5 (-115)
The odds are now more attractive on the underdog side, so more bettors may come in on that side as a result. The spread can also move depending on volume or other factors in advance of game time. In the below example, the spread has become even tighter.
- Wisconsin +2 (-110)
- Michigan State -2 (-110)
An important note to keep in mind on odds and spreads is that not all lines are created equal. The offered lines can be different by a tick here and there at other sportsbooks. Don’t be afraid to do a little line shopping, as these seemingly small differences can add up to a lot.
Placing a point spread bet
The act of placing a sports bet is really simple, but beating the lines isn’t that easy. We’ll walk through some handicapping tips that can help point you in the right direction shortly. For now, let’s understand what we’re looking at for a typical game listing in a sportsbook betting lobby.
There are three main parts to the listing: point spread, moneyline and totals. The order they appear in may vary depending on the operator. For a quick example, let’s say that the sequence is the same as the one we just mentioned.
The two teams will typically appear with the home team on the bottom and the visitor on the top, but keep in mind that there are neutral site games from time to time. Next to each of the teams in the listing will be the odds for all three bet types, like so.
- Indianapolis Colts -7 (-110) -300 O 46.5 (-110)
- Jacksonville Jaguars +7 (-110) +245 U 46.5 (-110)
If we look at this line real quick, we can discern that the Colts are 7-point favorites, favored on the moneyline, and that the over/under for the game is 46.5 points. When you’re ready to place a bet, it’s just a matter of clicking on the box that corresponds with your choice.
The bet will automatically be added to the slip. Next, enter your wager amount. Review the bet slip in total to make sure everything looks good, and then click to submit. Online sportsbooks and mobile betting apps are quite smooth and user-friendly.
Point spread betting examples
Point spreads are mainly used for basketball and football betting. Baseball and hockey also use something similar to a point spread, known as a run line and goal line, respectively. In both cases, the line is typically 1.5 runs or goals.
For the point spread sports, the numbers will vary and be all over the map. You’ll come across tight spreads such as 1.5 points, bigger ones like 10.5 points or more, and all points in between.
As mentioned earlier, practice with point spreads will help breed familiarity. To that end, we’re going to walk through several examples using the major sports in which you’ll find this bet type.
NFL point spread betting
The NFL is the biggest driver of betting action at sportsbooks, and point spread bets account for a good deal of it. Lines are available well in advance of the weekly slates, so that leaves plenty of time for speculation and handicapping.
Here’s what the opening line might look like for one of the games on the docket.
- Miami Dolphins +6.5 (-110)
- New England Patriots -6.5 (-110)
The Patriots are favored by 6.5 points, which means they would have to win by an amount greater than that to cover the spread. If they win by a score of 28-21, they have covered. However, if the margin is only 24-21 in their favor, they haven’t.
For the Dolphins, they would need to keep the game closer than 6.5 points to cover or win the game outright. If the Dolphins lose a blowout by a score of 40-19, then they haven’t covered, but if they lose a tight 21-19 game, they have pulled out a cover.
NBA point spread betting
NBA betting is a different animal compared with the NFL. Games are going on every night during the regular season and playoffs, so lines are constantly being released. In general, you’ll start seeing odds either the day before a game or no later than the morning of the contest.
The exception would be if there was something that could impact the line, such as the playing status of a star player. Here’s an example line for a random game.
- Miami Heat +2.5 (-110)
- Detroit Pistons -2.5 (-110)
For this game, oddsmakers are expecting a relatively tight affair and have installed the Pistons as 2.5-point favorites. If they win the game by a score of 108-105, they have covered the spread. A tight Detroit win of 100-99 means that they haven’t.
The Heat can cover the spread either by winning the game outright or by keeping the final margin closer than 2.5 points. If Miami loses by a score of 106-104, bettors on that side have winning tickets. A big 111-98 victory for Detroit would make bets on the Heat a losing proposition.
College football point spread betting
Betting on college football is similar to the NFL in that there is a good deal of time in between games. That means that handicappers have plenty of time to break down the lines while looking for potential edges.
Point spreads for NCAAF can be on the large side when there’s a powerhouse program facing off with a small school, such as in the following example.
- Miami-Ohio +21.5 (-110)
- Ohio State -21.5 (-110)
Ohio State is favored by more than three touchdowns, so oddsmakers envision a blowout is coming. For handicappers, the goal is to not only figure out if that will be the case, but also which side has the better chance of covering the hefty spread.
To cover 21.5 points, a victory such as 45-19 in favor of Ohio State would do it on that side, but a 30-20 win for the Buckeyes wouldn’t. If Miami-Ohio keeps the game closer than expected, such as 31-17, then it has covered. However, if a blowout comes and Miami-Ohio loses by a score of 49-14, that won’t do it.
College basketball point spread betting
For our last example, we’ll look at NCAAB betting, which is a very popular option for seasoned handicappers. Like the NBA, there’s a constant flow of games, but the individual programs typically have a few days off between contests.
Similar to NCAAF, there can be big spreads when mismatches are in the offing, but there can also be some very tight lines when it comes time for conference play.
- Virginia +1.5 (-110)
- Duke -1.5 (-110)
When top programs are set to square off, the spreads can be really tight. In this case, Duke is the slight favorite to win a close game. If Duke defeats the Cavaliers by a score of 70-68, that’ll do the trick. However, a 67-66 win will not.
Virginia can cover by pulling out a small upset or by keeping the final score closer than the spread. The Cavaliers will cover with a 69-68 loss, but a 70-64 win for Duke means that bettors on the Cavaliers side have come up short.
Point spread bet payouts
One of the good things about point spread bets is that you’ll get to the point where you have a good idea what the return will be for winning wagers. As mentioned, point spread bets typically have odds in the range of -110.
That’s not the case with other bet types such as moneyline. For that wager, you’ll see odds all over the map, such as -120 or +240. You’ll be able to see potential returns by plugging the wager into the betting slip and adding in the amount.
Make sure you don’t submit before you are ready. There are also online betting calculators that help you figure out returns in an instant.
When it’s a point spread bet at odds of -110, the profit potential is 90.9%. That means if you bet $100 and go on to win, you’ll get back a total of $190.90 — the initial stake of $100 plus winnings of $90.90.
So why isn’t it a straight doubling of your bet, as in bet $100 to win $100? That’s thanks to what’s known as vigorish — or the juice — which is the amount the sportsbook charges for facilitating the bet.
To think through the vig, envision a bet that starts at odds of +100. Every tick to the negative side is in favor of the book, as this is part of how it makes its money. If the odds go in the opposite direction on the positive side, then you’ll do more than double your bet.
For point spreads, it’s pretty rare to see positive odds that go beyond +100. The typical number of -110 is standard for most operators, but there are some that will offer spread bets at -105 as promotional or frequent offerings.
Here are the payout amounts you can expect for point spread bets in the most general range of odds, using $100 as the baseline wager.
- Winning bet at odds of +100 returns a total of $200 — the stake plus $100 profit.
- Winning bet at odds of -105 returns a total of $195.20 — the stake plus $95.20 profit.
- Winning bet at odds of -110 returns a total of $190.90 — the stake plus $90.90 profit.
- Winning bet at odds of -115 returns a total of $187 — the stake plus $87 profit.
- Winning bet at odds of -120 returns a total of $183.30 — the stake plus $83.30 profit.
Remember that odds can vary depending on the book. While most major operators start in similar ranges, the numbers can vary based on betting action. As such, you should shop around to find the best prices. While the difference between odds of -105 and -110 may seem small, it can absolutely add up over the course of a betting season.
Handicapping sports betting point spreads
So how exactly do you beat the spread? This is a question that new bettors ask frequently. Seasoned handicappers will ask a similar one: How can you beat it consistently enough to earn a profit?
In both cases, there’s not a magic answer. However, If you take the time to handicap the games and learn some techniques along the way, you could be on the path to having more winners than losers.
That’s the name of the game in the long run. If you can consistently beat the spread and get it to the point where you also cover the vig, you’ll turn a profit. At basic odds of -110, you’ll need to win more than 52.5% of your bets to make that happen.
For new sports bettors, handicapping can sound intimidating and seem like a lot of work. However, you can start with the basics and build out from there.
- Odds and lines: Understand what the odds board is telling you.
- Team strength: A realistic assessment of how the two teams stack up.
- Recent play: How things have been going for both sides as of late.
- Key stats: Statistics that really move the needle and verify capabilities.
- News and notes: Watch out for key pieces of intel that may impact the game.
Those five simple steps can form the basis of a simple handicapping system. Once you’re comfortable with each step, you can begin building out a more detailed process that works for your strategy and available time.
You may decide that you need to look at more advanced stats or consider historical matchup data, for example. The key is to work toward building a system that works for you and leads you to success more often than not.
There are plenty of handicapping strategies on the interwebs, so don’t be shy about researching and picking up some tips that can help in your quest.
For point spreads, there’s also another tool that can prove to be invaluable while you break down the games. Power ratings attempt to quantify teams into a single number that you can use for calculating a fair spread between two opponents.
Once lines are available, you compare the rating numbers for the teams involved and factor in home-field advantage. The difference points you to a fair spread, which you can then compare to the odds. There are a number of free rating systems online that are quite good, including TeamRankings and Sagarin.
Last but not least, there is also plenty of betting advice and picks for sale. You can certainly go that route, but approach any paid or subscription-based services with skepticism. If anyone is attempting to sell “guaranteed winners” or “never lose again” systems, treat that as a red flag.
The concept of “too good to be true” applies here. Before investing any of your hard-earned dollars, be sure that you can see verified results and a system that has proved to be consistent.
Key takeaways on point spread betting
Point spread bets mainly appear for basketball and football. They are two of the most popular offerings on the wagering menu. Oddsmakers install a line for each game on the docket, and bettors make their choices from there.
You can think of the point spread as an estimated margin of victory. In order to cover, the favorite will need to win by an amount greater than the spread. The underdog covers by keeping the margin less than that or by winning the game outright.
Point spreads can be tough to beat consistently, but there are a number of handicapping strategies you can employ. In a perfect world, you’ll get to the point where you have more winners than losers and also beat the vig that sportsbook operators charge.