Spread Betting: What is a Point Spread Bet?

Posted by Cliff Spiller . Last updated:

When it comes to sports and sporting events, point spread betting is the most popular wager. This guide will help you to better understand betting against the spread, how to read point spreads, what sports spread outcomes are, and teach you the basics of how to make a point spread bet.

Point Spread Betting Online Sportsbooks

Here are the best online sportsbooks for bets against the spread:

What is a point spread?

The goal of any point spread is to level the playing field between the two teams via a numerical handicap that either adds or decreases value of the superior or inferior team. If, on paper, Team A is more talented than Team B, Team A will be the point spread favorite and Team B will be the point spread underdog. This means Team A will be giving, or laying, points to the underdog, while Team B will be receiving, or taking, the points, which will added to their final score.

The Favorite

The favorite in a point spread bet will look something like this:

Matchup Point Spread
Dolphins +6.5
Chiefs -6.5

Kansas City is favored by 6.5 points over the Dolphins and need to win by 7-or-more points for the wager to win.

The Underdog

The underdog in a point spread bet will looking something like this:

Matchup Point Spread
Steelers +4.5
Browns -4.5

Pittsburgh is 4.5-point underdogs to the Browns and must lose by 4-points-or-fewer OR win the game outright for the beth to cash.

The Hook

The hook in point spread betting refers to the 1/2 point after the decimal and avoids the chance of a push or point spread bet tie. So, if the Chargers are 5.5-point favorites, the 0.5 is referred to as the hook because they must win by six to cover the hook.

PK / Pick'em

It doesn’t happen that often, but sometimes two teams are so evenly matched a point spread doesn’t exist and oddsmakers create a quasi-second moneyline via the pick’em, PK option. In those cases, a team doesn’t need to cover a point spread, they just have to win outright.

Point Spread Betting Outcomes

a white scoreboard displaying 7 to 3

Win

Another way of saying “winning a spread bet” is “covering the spread.” When you win a point spread bet, your team either wins by a certain number of points, loses by a certain number of points or the underdog you backed wins outright.

a coin flying away to represent wasted money

Loss

The easiest way to explain a point spread loss is with a real-world example:

Say, the Giants are -5.5 favorites over the Jaguars.

New York wins 25-20. You subtract 5.5 points from 25 to get 19.5. Because Jacksonville scored 20 compared to 19.5, the Jaguars and not the Giants covered the spread and your bet is a loss.

a white scoreboard displaying a 3-3 score with an X through it

Push

Remember when we defined “the hook” in the section above? When a point spread is a whole number like -4 or +7, your bet has a chance to push. This means the final score is the exact difference of the spread. Case in point, if the Patriots are 3-point favorites over the Bills and New England wins 27-24, that’s a push because when you add or subtract three to the favorite and underdog, respectively, the score becomes 27-27 or 24-24.

What is Spread Betting Vig and Juice?

Simply stated the vig, vigorish or, in slang terms, juice is the baked-in tax/fee you pay the sportsbook for accepting your wager. How this works is simple. Let’s say the vig is (-110), if you wager $100 on a bet and it wins, you don’t win $100, you win $90.91. In order to win $100, you’d have to wager $110 on (-110) vig.

Live Betting Point Spreads

Live sports betting point spreads is a great option if you don’t have strong lean before the game starts. If you notice something about either team after opening kickoff, the best online sportsbooks offer live betting point spreads throughout the game. So, say a below-average NFL team like the Jaguars jump out to a 7-0 lead against the Titans and Tennessee is now favored by fewer points, live betting allows you to place a wager on the losing team – with a more favorable point spread compared to pre-game- if you think they’ll come back to beat Jacksonville. These live betting odds also apply to moneyline and point total bets. Odds update in real-time.

How Much Do I Win Spread Betting?

two white cash money bills stacked on top of each other

Minus Money

When it comes to sports betting odds, minus money is when a team is favored and/or an outcome is more than likely to occur.

For example, the Chiefs -3.5 (-110), you’d need to risk $110 if you wanted to win $100. If Kansas City won by 4-or-more points, the bet wins.

a band of cash bills

Plus Money

Referred to more often in moneyline wagers, there are instances when plus money odds can be enjoyed on a spread bet.

For example, the Bills +3.5 (+105), you’d risk $100 to win $105 rather than (-105) requiring you risk $105 to win $100.

a white icon of a banker holding a bag of cash

Cash Out

After your minus-money or plus-money wager hits, head to the online sportsbook cashier to request a payout or start building your bankroll and start researching your next point spread bet.

Factors Determining Point Spreads

When bookmakers set a point spread, they aren’t just tossing random numbers up on the board. They apply a calculated formula with varying factors impacting the favorites and the underdogs.

a green football, soccer ball, and basketball

Home and Away

Home field advantage does play a small factor in determining the point spread. A good rule of thumb is that Vegas oddsmakers believe home field is worth approximately +2.8 points to the spread. This is typically rounded up to three (+3). So, when you see a home team favored by 3 points (i.e. -3), bookmakers continue the two teams evenly matched. This edge is 3-4 points when applied to NBA spreads.

green question mark in the center of a circle

Injury Report

One of the worst injury designations a star player can receive in the lead-up to a sporting event is “questionable” because the line won’t budge until we know if the athlete is active or inactive. Even then, at times, the player’s injury is already baked into the active spread and it doesn’t move after news breaks. Point spreads obviously move more when a quarterback or leading scorer on an NBA roster is out due to injury, but don’t dismiss the loss of a key offensive lineman or defensive back. These injuries might not sway the spread, but they can give you an edge on the available line.

a green coach's playbook icon

Quality of Team Roster

It’s not uncommon to see a double-digit point spread during any given week of the NFL regular season. Just like in other sports, like MLB, NBA and NHL, some rosters are loaded and some rosters are rebuilding. The quality of the players taking the field, court or ice are without question going to impact the point spread. This is why when the Packers send Aaron Rodgers out to start and he’s facing the Vikings second-string quarterback due to injury, Green Bay’s point spread is going to soar above double-digits. Minnesota’s downgrade at a key position sullies the quality of the team roster and thus impacts the point spread from, say, Vikings +4 to Vikings +12.

Point Spread Betting on the MLB and NHL

Unlike in football betting and NBA betting, where points are accumulated, betting the spread in baseball and hockey is obviously different as runs and goals scored are counted. New sports bettors will notice that MLB spreads are referred to as run lines and NHL spreads are known as the puck line. They should be read as you would point spreads.

For example, a baseball game with a run line of -1.5 / +1.5 means the favorite needs to win by more 2-or-more runs or the underdog needs to lose by one run or win the game outright. A puck line of -1.5 / +1.5 in a hockey matchup means the favorite needs to win by 2-or-more goals or the underdog needs to lose by one goal or heads to an overtime shootout.

Because run totals and goal totals are typically way lower than NFL and NBA over-under point totals, bettors typically avoid run and puck lines in favor of the respective sports moneyline odds.

Moneylines vs Point Spreads

As in anything related to sports betting, there are pros and cons to point spread wagers compared to say a moneyline or point total. Here’s a quick-hit breakdown of the pros and cons to spread betting.

Pros of Point Spreads

  • Higher $$$ return
  • Keeps any game entertaining
  • Showcases sports knowledge

Cons of Point Spreads

  • Not as easy as moneylines, point total bets
  • Need to get more than 52% right to break even with juice
  • Line shopping takes time

Point Spread Betting FAQs

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