Point Spread Betting: What is a Spread Bet?

Point spread betting is the most popular form at US online sportsbooks. Point spreads help even the odds between favorites and underdogs, thus allowing bettors to make wagers on either proposition. When a person bets on a point spread, they believe the oddsmaker set the point too far one way or the other. Thus, betting on point spreads is a way to pit one’s sports knowledge against the expertise of an oddsmaker.

Read our guide to point spread bets to learn what the point is, what these odds mean, what the vig is, and what goes into setting the point. Once finished, you’ll know everything you need to make point-spread bets at the top online sportsbooks.

Point Spread Betting vs Moneyline Betting

The other major way to bet on teams is moneyline betting. To highlight why bettors make point-spread wagers, let’s compare these two major types of sports bets.

Point Spread Bets: Pros Point Spread Bets: Cons
Makes betting on underdogs feasible Moneyline bets are simpler
Keeps blowout games interesting Late scores lead to bad beats
Helps bettors shop for the best lines Need to bet at specific times to line shop
Showcases an insider’s knowledge of the game Line shopping requires access to multiple sportsbooks
Learning how odds work helps you exploit mistakes Requires a 52% success rate to break even

What is a Point Spread?

A point spread is a disadvantage given to the favorite in a sporting event. Sports like college football are a lot of fun, but they also have a lot of blowouts. Point spread betting is a way to keep games interesting because it gives bettors a roughly 50/50 chance whether they bet the favorite or the underdog.

Let’s say the Alabama Crimson Tide is a huge favorite to beat the Vanderbilt Commodores. Most college football fans would expect the Crimson Tide to roll over the Commodores, so a moneyline bet would not attract much betting. Sure, someone who bet on Vanderbilt and won would collect a lot of money. Since Vandy hasn’t beaten Alabama in its last 22 tries, few would make that bet.

The last three results had Alabama winning 55-3, 59-0, and 34-0 for an average margin of victory of 48.3 points. A sportsbook might place a point spread of 48 points on the game, thus making it interesting to bet on either side.

Would you bet on Alabama covering a 48-point spread? Would you take Vanderbilt knowing that Alabama would have covered a 48-point spread 2 of the last 3 times they played? Smart bettors will take both sides of the wager, which is what the sportsbook wants.

Spreading Betting: The Favorite

The favorite is given a minus (-) designation when noting the bet. That’s because you take points off the favorite’s total when the final score is determined. In the example above, the point spread would be noted Alabama (-48) and Vanderbilt (+48).

If the final score was 55-3, then you would take 48 points off Alabama’s score to make it 7-3, so the Crimson Tide would have covered the spread. If the final score was 59-0, then the final score would be 11-0, so Alabama once again would have covered the spread.

Spreading Betting: The Underdog

But if the final score was 34-0 and the point spread was -48, then the final result would be Alabama -14 and Vanderbilt 0. That would be a win for Vanderbilt. In all three games, gamblers would be entertained until the last few minutes of the game, because the final total was within 2 scores.

Favorites Covering the Point Spread

To cover a point spread, the favorite not only must win — but they must win by a certain amount of points (or runs or goals). If the Kansas City Chiefs won the Broncos’ game by a touchdown, then the Chiefs would have covered the spread. Those who bet on them would win their bets.

Another outcome is possible. If the Chiefs won the game by a field goal, they would have “failed to cover” the spread. In this case, Chiefs’ bettors still lose their bet.

Underdogs Winning a Point Spread Bet

Conversely, underdogs can win a point spread bet in several ways. One, the underdog can win the game outright. If the Broncos upset the Chiefs, then those who bet on the Broncos as an underdog certainly collect a payout.

Two, if the Broncos lose to the Chiefs but keep the game close enough (say 3 points), then the Broncos still win the bet. Three, if it’s a regular season game and the Broncos and Chiefs tie after the 10-minute overtime, then the Broncos would still win the bet.

What is the Vig in Sports Betting?

The vig is how sportsbooks make their money in sports betting. “Vig” is short for vigorish, which amounts to a rake taken by the sportsbook for posting odds, hosting the bet, and assuring fairness. Most sports bettors call the vig “the juice”.

If you make a sports bet where the Kansas City Chiefs are -6.5 favorites over the Denver Broncos (+6.5), the vig is administered in the payouts.

Most of the time, the payouts would be -110 for both sides of the bet. That means you must wager $110 in order to win $100. If you were getting true odds, then you would only need to wager $100 in order to win $100. The vig thus is those extra $10 charged for making the bet.

Bettors wagering $100 on the favorite would end up winning between $90 and $91, so the vig is thus between 9% and 10% on most point spread bets. For the sportsbook, they hope that both sides receive an equal amount of betting action, so they would make a risk-free profit from collecting the vigorish.

For instance, if a sportsbook receives $500,000 in bets on the Kansas City Chiefs and $500,000 in bets on the Denver Broncos, they could collect the $90,000 to $100,000 in juice and make a profit without risking a big payout either way.

Live Point Spread Betting

Many online bettors prefer to engage in live point spread betting. The live in-game betting or in-play betting section of an online sportsbook updates the betting lines in real time as the game unfolds. If the Denver Broncos score an early touchdown, the live point spread would change to favor the Broncos more than it did before the game. The bettor then could make a new bet on the live spread.

In that case, you might think the Chiefs will make adjustments and mount a comeback, so you would double down on the Chiefs bet. Or if you think the Broncos are likely to pull off an upset, then you might back the Broncos in the next bet.

As the game transpires, sportsbooks update all live bets. Many gamblers believe it’s easier to exploit live in-game betting because the oddsmaker must work on the fly to update a whole bunch of different point spreads and totals. The bettors have to adjust, as well, so don’t just assume in-game betting is a place you can exploit the bookmaker’s mistakes.

Factors That Determine Point Spreads

When betting point spreads in the pregame phase, a number of key factors are considered when creating a point spread. Bookmakers have turned the point spread into a science, so people should assume that the bookmaker knows a lot more about the game factors than they (the bettor) do. With that in mind, here are the key factors.

Home and Away

In NFL point spread betting, the bookmaker tends to give 2.8 points to the home team. Most bettors simply state that the home team receives 3 points, though it’s a bit more precise than that. In NBA point spreads, the home team usually gets 3 to 4 points.

Consider all the reasons that home teams have an advantage. They get to stay home and have the same practice schedule they normally use. The away team must deal with air travel, hotel rooms, strange food, and strange practice facilities.

Once on the field, the away team deals with weather conditions they might not be used to. A dome team must deal with natural grass, while an outdoor team might deal with turf when they don’t normally play on turf. One of the teams might be built for turf (speed and quickness), while the other is built for grass or inclement weather (size, running game).

Also, home teams have a crowd of 20,000 to 100,000 fans on their side. This leads to an adrenaline boost when the home team gets momentum. It leads to away teams being distracted by the crowd. In either case, the referees or umpires might be affected by the home crowd and give the home team calls they otherwise might not.

Injury Report

In sports, injuries play a huge part in the point spread. The point spread can change if a key receiver or several offensive linemen are out due to injury. If a key pass rusher or cornerback is out, then the point spread can change. If the starting quarterback is injured, that will move the line. Obviously, if a star QB like Patrick Mahomes or Jalen Hurts is out, a sportsbook might not even post a point spread.

Weather Conditions

When rain, ice, snow, and windy conditions are expected, that can affect the line. If it’s September and 95-degree weather is expected in Miami or Charlotte, that can affect the line. Bettors should pay attention to weather conditions.

For instance, if a team has speedy pass rushers who use quickness to get to the quarterback, muddy conditions or icy conditions could affect their play. If the quarterbacks face 25 to 30 M.P.H. winds (or worse), that could change the point spread. Certain quarterbacks and teams handle inclement weather better than others.

Quality of a Team’s Roster

The quality of a roster can affect a point spread. A team’s depth (or lack of depth) has a key effect on games. For instance, if a team’s left offensive tackle is going to miss the game and the other team has a Pro Bowl or All-Pro right defensive end, that can give one team a huge boost.

At the same time, if the team that lost the OT has a solid backup or is moving a young stud to that position, it might not affect the game as much as one would expect. The quality of coaching also affects the point spread, too.

How the Point Spread Changes

Sometimes, most bettors make a lot of bets on one side of a point spread. For big games, the line often changes once betting starts. In Super Bowl 57, the Philadelphia Eagles were -2 favorites and the Chiefs +2 underdogs.

The betting public bet on the Chiefs enough that most sportsbooks moved the line to Philadelphia Eagles (-1.5) and Kansas City Chiefs (+1.5). Sometimes, the line moves by several points, though this is rarer these days.

Picking Against the Betting Public

Finally, readers should remember that point spreads are not the sportsbook’s prediction of the game. When they set the Detroit Lions as a 7-point favorite over the Green Bay Packers, that doesn’t mean they expect the Lions to win by 7 points.

Remember — bookmakers want half of the betting money on the Detroit Lions and half of the betting money on the Green Bay Packers. Thus, their betting lines are not so much their prediction on the game, but their prediction on what the betting public is going to do.

Sometimes, bookmakers appear to be offering a sucker bet to the betting public. If you think the Bills versus Bengals is largely a tossup but the Bengals are 5-point favorites, then the bookmaker might know something that the betting public doesn’t know. They might be offering seemingly one-sided odds to get most bettors to bet on one side of the point spread.

Point Spread Betting FAQ

Should I bet on a point spread or make an Over/Under bet?

Point spreads are a great way to bet on the underdog because you can bet on the underdog and still feel like you have a 50/50 chance to win. Some NFL bettors only bet on home underdogs, which is a legitimate way to bet. Those fans assume that parity is the NFL’s purpose and that home teams do better than expected. Such bettors always bet on home underdogs.

Over/Under bets are great for people with no confidence in who will win but have a hunch on the type of game which will happen. For instance, if you think a high-powered offense is playing against a helpless defense, then you might bet the over. Or if you think that one team’s defense will slow down another team’s high-powered offense, then you might bet the under.

This also happens when weather conditions change. If bettors expect ice or high winds, many bet the “under” proposition. If you want to learn more about over/under betting, read our page on Totals Bets.

What is the hook in spread betting?

The hook is a half-point a sportsbook adds to the point spread to assure a push doesn’t happen. A “push” is when both sides of a bet have the same score. In this case, the sportsbook voids the bet and returns the stake to both sides. Sportsbooks don’t want to do that, so they add a hook to assure this doesn’t happen.

For instance, let’s say the Kansas City Chiefs are 6-point favorites over the Denver Broncos. If the final score was 34-28 in favor of the Chiefs, then it would be a push. Thus, in this case, the sportsbook gives bettors on both the Chiefs and the Broncos their stake back.

If the sportsbook adds a hook of 0.5 to the bet, then they would collect the stakes from one side. If the point spread was Chiefs (6.5), then the Chiefs’ bettors would lose the bet on the 34-28 score. But if the point spread was Chiefs (5.5), then the Chiefs would cover the bet. Subsequently, the sportsbook collects the Broncos bettors’ stakes.

What are pick’em bets in spread betting?

Pick’em bets are the rare case in which the sportsbook declares that the game is a complete tossup. A bookmaker who considers the Kansas City Chiefs versus the Buffalo Bills a tossup list it as a pick’em game. Bettors would see Kansas City Chiefs (Pick’em) and Buffalo Bills (Pick’em). Again, this is a pretty rare situation.

What does a +7 spread mean?

A +7 point spread means that a team is a 7-point underdog. If you see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers +7, it means they are a touchdown underdog. Bettors on the Bucs win the bet if they (1) win outright or (2) lose by 6 or fewer points. Conversely, a -7 point spread means a team is the favorite.

Add +7 to the underdog’s score to determine the winner of the bet (or subtract 7 from the favorite’s score). Thus, if the Buccaneers lose a 20-14 game, they still win the bet because you add 7 to their score.

What does a minus spread mean?

A minus spread next to a team means it is the favorite. If you see the Baltimore Ravens -3, that means they are a 3-point favorite to win the game. In betting terms, you would subtract 3 points from the Ravens’ score to see if they won the bet.

Let’s say you bet on the Ravens with a -3 designation. If they beat their opponent 24-20, then the Ravens would cover the point spread and win the bet. But if they beat their opponent 23-21, then the Ravens wouldn’t cover the point spread. Thus, the Ravens lose the bet.

What is a +1.5 point spread?

A point spread with a 0.5 point spread has a “hook”. Sportsbooks add the hook to a score to assure that ties don’t happen. When a tie happens, sportsbooks void the bet and pay back bettors on both sides of the bet. To avoid this, bookmakers add a half-point to the point spread. Doing so assures the sportsbook won’t have to pay back betting stakes.

In the scenario above, let’s say the Cleveland Browns are +1.5 underdogs against the Baltimore Ravens. If the Ravens beat the Browns 23-21, then they would have covered the 1.5 spread and won the beat. But if the Ravens instead beat the Browns 21-20, they would have failed to cover the 1.5-point spread.