Spread betting, also known as the points spread (or simply, spread), essentially evens out the playing field for wagering by creating a handicap, accounting for the varying skill level of teams and players. It is popular in US mainstream sports betting, particularly in the NFL, NBA, NCAA basketball, and college football. Read on for more!

In sports betting, the point spread is simply the number created by sportsbooks between two teams (the favorite and the underdog) to drive wagering action on both sides. The spread is a wager on the margin of victory in a game or match, where the favored team must win by more than the stated points to cover the betting spread.

Typically, the underdog will start with positive points (+), while the favorite starts with negative points (-).

To understand this form of betting better, here’s an example from the WNBA at DraftKings — one of the most popular sportsbooks in the United States.

draftkings spread betting desktop screenshot
(Source: DraftKings)

The Atlanta Dream team is the favorite at moneyline odds of -148, while the Indiana Fever is the underdog at +124 moneyline odds. To even out the odds, the bookie applies a point spread of 3.5, so the ATL Dream’s odds are -105, and the IND Fevers have odds of -115.

Given that the Dreams are the favorite, they’ll have 3.5 points deducted from their final score; whereas the Fevers get 3.5 points added to their final score as the underdogs.

For instance, if the match ends with Dreams at 107 and Fevers at 110, the punters who bet on the favorite lose the bet. This is because 3.5 points are removed from the ATL Dream’s final score, making it that the Dreams have 103.5 and the Fevers 110. The reverse would be true for bettors who put their money on the underdog. Punters who bet on the IND Fever would win as 3.5 points are added to the Fever’s final score, which would mean that the Dreams have 107 points and the Fevers 113.5 points.

Now that you know what spread betting comprises, let's take a look at how to read a point spread.

fanduel spread betting desktop screenshot
(Source: FanDuel)

Handicap

Let’s follow the above example, from the NBA finals featuring the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks. FanDuel sportsbook applied a handicap of (1) point between the two teams, represented by ‘-‘ and ‘+' symbols. The favorite is usually expected to win by an amount greater than the points stated by the bookmaker, while the underdog is expected to lose by fewer points than the spread.

Favorite

The bookie has determined that the Celtics are more likely to win the game, so they picked them as the point spread favorite in this match. You can easily identify the favorite by the minus sign preceding the handicap. As you can see in the example above, the Boston Celtics have a spread of -1.

This simply means that the sportsbook expects them to win by one or more points. Consequently, for a point spread bet on the Celtics to win, they need to win the match by a number bigger than one point. So, even if the Celtics win by a point, the bet’s a loser.

The Underdog

In the above example, the Dallas Mavericks are the likely losers in this game; therefore, they’re the point spread underdogs. This is indicated by the plus (+) symbol in front of the handicap. The oddsmakers are convinced that the Mavericks will lose the game by one point.

In order to win the point spread betting with the Mavericks, they would have to win the game outright or lose by exactly one point. As a result, if they lose by two or more points, then the bet loses.

Vig

In spread betting, there’s usually a second set of odds attached to each spread known as the vig or vigorish, serving as the price of wagering. In other words, think of the vig as the sportsbook's fee for taking the wager.

The Vig, also known as the betting juice, usually ranges between -120 and +100. Additionally, you stake much less placing this type of bet than you otherwise would on an uneven moneyline bet.

In our case above, FanDuel assigned a vig of -110 to both teams. This means you would have to bet $110 to win $100, in addition to your original stake, as the vigorish is a negative number in this case.

A vig of +110, on the other hand, would mean the reverse is true. To win $110, you must wager $100. The math remains the same for smaller numbers too. So, if you stake $10, you should just divide the vig by 10 — odds of -110 would mean you have to bet $11 to win $10, and so on.

You should determine which team you think will cover the spread if you’re going to be successful in spread sports betting. Moreover, you’ll need to decide the best moment to place your bet as the spread keeps changing. Then, you must understand the juice/vig on the bet as well as the potential winnings.

We’ve explained these points below:

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    Who will cover the spread? — Covering the point spread is when your chosen team beats the assigned handicap. As such, you ought to decide on which team you think will ultimately beat the spread stated by your bookie. Then, you can go ahead and bet on the favorite or the underdog.

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    Why does the point spread change? — The point spread market is normally dynamic, and sports betting sites can change the spread based on several factors. Oddsmakers' decision to change the spread can be influenced by how professional bettors are wagering, and the amount of money accumulated between the teams. Moreover, breaking news concerning the game, such as weather and injuries, can have an impact on the spread points.

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    What is -110? — This is called the vig, which is the price betting sites charge you to wager on this market. With a juice of -110, it means you will need to bet $110 to win $100, as indicated in our example earlier.

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    How much can I make? — The odds attached to spread bets are usually decent, and the prices significantly influence how much you can win. The amount of money you bet impacts how much you can make. For consistency, let’s use the -110 example; to win $100, you’ll need to bet $110. Similarly, if you have odds of -120, you must wager $120 to win $100.

Spread betting in sports is determined by a number of factors, the biggest being the variance in the level of skill between different teams. Usually, sportsbooks have metrics in place for ranking teams' skill and strength, which ultimately help them decide the spread for every game.

Another factor that an oddsmaker will consider includes injuries. If a key player is injured, and therefore wouldn’t be playing at their optimum performance, the point spread is likely going to reflect that.

The location of a game also has an impact on the spread. Specifically, NBA home teams are normally favored with a couple of points to account for the home advantage.

Form also comes into play, where a team’s recent performance (i.e. win-loss record/data, as well as the margin in victory) have an impact on the spread.

Other factors that can influence the point spread are weather, head-to-head performance, and game situation.

Point spread betting in the NBA is an exciting way to place bets on various teams. Regardless of whether you predict a favorite will win by a margin or wager on the underdog to pull an upset, you can always expect a thrilling experience with many ups and downs during the NBA tournament.

Let’s follow the example below from the Olympic men's basketball between the USA and Serbia, at DraftKings sportsbook.

draftkings basketball desktop screenshot
(Source: DraftKings)

From our example, the US is listed as a nine-point favorite, drawing a -12.5 spread, while Serbia draws a spread of +12.5.

If the USA wins the game by 13 points or more, they’ll be the winners against the spread (ATS). Should Serbia lose the game by fewer than 12 points or win the game outright, they’ll be the winning side against the spread.

In case the United States wins by exactly 12 points, neither side is the winner; the bet results in a push and your bet gets refunded.

draftkings hockey desktop screenshot
(Source: DraftKings)

In hockey (NHL), the spread is known as the ‘puck line’, which is commonly set at 1.5. This means that it’s a requirement for the favorite to win the game by two or more goals for your bet to win.

As the example above indicates, the EDM Oilers are the underdogs with a betting spread of +1.5 and a vig of -225. Therefore, you must wager $225 to win $100 on the Oilers puck line.

The FLA Panthers are the favorites at -1.5 odds and a vig of +185. Consequently, a wager worth $100 would win you $185.

(Source: FanDuel)

In some betting sites, you’ll see the MLB spread stated as the ‘run line’. Just like in hockey, the baseball spread is mostly set at 1.5. Additionally, the vig comes juiced at higher odds (or lower) than the usual -110.

In our example from FanDuel, the St. Louis Cardinals are the favorites with a spread of -1.5, juiced up at +108 odds. So, you’ve got a winning potential of $108 on a $100 wager if the Cardinals win by two or more points.

The Miami Marlins are the underdogs at +1.5 and a spread betting price of -130. It would therefore take a bet worth $130 for you to win $100, providing The Marlins cover the run line by winning outright or lose by one point.

Point spread is among the most prevalent betting forms in football and basketball, offering better odds than moneyline bets for unevenly matched teams. The downside of point spread betting is that it can be a bit complex for newbies to understand. However, with our guide, you should be better equipped to predict the margin of victory effectively.

Spread betting in football involves predicting a match where the favorite must win by a specific number of points, while the underdog must win outright or lose by a certain number of points.

An alternate spread bet refers to betting on a different line other than the official line of a given game. The spread points you can wager on change, along with the associated odds. Typically, more points on the favorite mean a better payout.

In the simplest terms, a negative spread shows the side/team expected to win the game by specified points.

In spread betting, the underdog must lose by fewer points than the stated spread, or win the game outright.

Commonly used in the NFL, because of landing a touchdown and successfully point, this means that the underdog must either win the match outright or lose by fewer than seven points to cover the spread. The favorite team must win by more than seven points for your wager to win.

It’s mostly used in baseball spread sports betting as the standard runline for MLB. A +1.5 spread means the underdog must win the game outright or lose by one point exactly.

WRITTEN BY David Camilleri View all posts by David Camilleri

David is a sports fanatic with a particular interest in stats and figures. When not writing about sports, you would probably find him playing or watching football, researching stats or sharing the latest news with anyone willing to listen.

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