Point Spread Betting Explained

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A point spread is used to even the odds between two teams. Like a handicap, this allows bettors some cushion room to hedge their bets.

In point spread betting, a team just has to do better than the predicted line. This does not necessarily mean the team must win. If you want to bet against the spread, a slightly different approach should be taken.

Basically, point spread betting gives bettors an opportunity to bet on their favorite team even if they are less likely to win. Acting as an equalizer, point spread betting literally evens the playing field. Here’s an example. A point spread of seven points would be listed as follows.

New England Patriots -7
Miami Dolphins +7

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The negative number means the Patriots are favored to win. Conversely, the positive number indicates that the Dolphins are the underdogs in this example. Let’s say you were to bet on the Patriots–the favorites. According to the point spread, the Patriots would have to win by at least eight points for you to win.

If you were to bet on the Dolphins–the underdogs, they would have to either win or lose by no less than six points. In the event that the Patriots win by seven points, this would result in a push. A push refers to a point spread tie; meaning, the sportsbook, and the bettor both break even. The original bet is returned and no one wins or loses anything. Though it generally applies to point spreads, a push can also refer to an over under tie in sports like hockey and baseball.

Generally, a point spread will have set odds of -110. Meaning, you will have to bet $110 to win $100 in profit. These sportsbook odds are known as the vigorish or “vig” for short. While the profit margin for the sportsbook will sometimes be referred to as the “juice”. The juice refers to the -110 payout odds.

How to identify a good spread bet

There are some good incentives to spread betting and some important things to consider when choosing a bet. In other betting styles, it may be harder to determine value. But spread betting uses straightforward numbers dictating real points. You can look at the spread and know exactly what the numbers quantifiably represent.

When looking for a good bet, here are some things to remember.

  • Calculate your bets before you consult the lines. This is an important step. Take whatever game you’re interested in betting on and predict on your own what you think the spread should be. From there, you can compare your predictions with the lines. This is helpful because it helps mitigate any influence the sportsbooks might have over your opinion.
  • Public opinion and the Sharps. Sharps are professional bettors who rarely bet on gut instinct or emotion. In higher profile games, the line typically moves in a predictable fashion. The public tends to go hard on the favorite right before the game. So, if you’re looking to bet against the favorite, it might be best to wait until some of these later bets roll in. The more your team is considered an underdog, the more you stand to win. On the opposite side, there will typically be some big lines shifts the week before a game. This is the big money from sharp bettors. It can help you determine how the professionals are betting.
  • Double down on smart moves. Once you’ve bet on a particular spread, you’re pretty much locked in. However, if you notice the line is moving further in your favor, you can always make another bet.

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Point Spread Betting

Spread betting on high scoring sports

There are some differences between point spread betting in high scoring sports and spread betting in lower-scoring sports. For this reason, we’re going to break down both. Since we’ve already given a football example. Here’s an example of point spread betting for another high scoring sport; basketball. Let’s say the Boston Celtics are playing the Los Angeles Lakers. The point spread would look something like this:

Boston Celtics +8.5
Los Angeles Lakers -8.5

As we mentioned, a team with a + denotation refers to the underdog. This team must either win or lose by fewer points than dictated in the line. A team with a – denotation refers to the favorite. This team must win by more points than dictated in the line. So in this example, the Lakers are favored to win and must win by more than five or more points.

Though sportsbooks often use half points, some will use whole numbers for their point spreads. Since there are no half points, you may be wondering why to include half points in the odds at all. The half points are used to ensure there is no “push” or tie. However, some sportsbooks will have whole numbers in their lines. Let’s look at the above example with whole numbers.

Boston Celtics +8
Los Angeles Lakers -8

In this example, if you bet on the Lakers, they would have to win by five or more points for you to win. If they only win by three points, you would lose your bet. If they win by four, this is a push and you will get your money back. The benefit of half numbers is there is no possibility of a push.

Spread betting on low scoring sports

To give you the full spread betting picture, we also need to discuss point spreads in lower-scoring sports. Unlike basketball and football, hockey, baseball & even soccer generally score in the low numbers. So a point spread in these sports would look a little different. Let’s take a look at a hockey example:

Boston Bruins -1.5
New Jersey Devils +1.5

Like the previous examples dictate, in this example if you bet on the Bruins, they have to win by 2 or more points. Conversely, if you bet on the Devils they have to win or lose by only one point. If this feels confusing, a simple way to determine is to add 1.5 points to the final Devils score.

Though they still work the same way, lower-scoring sports generally have a smaller point margin which in some ways make them the more exciting point spread to bet on. Whatever you choose, make sure you find the best line by consulting multiple sportsbooks before betting.

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