What Is Point Spread Betting?

With how much of a mainstream topic sports betting has become, you’ve likely heard the term point spread whether you participate or not.

If you’re new to sports betting, we’ll walk you through the basics of point spread betting, from identifying the favorite and underdog, to why the spread changes and more.

How does spread betting work?

What is spread betting in sports? Quite simply, the point spread aims to even the playing field between two teams. For example, if an NFL game features the best team against the worst team, there’s not a ton of skill in predicting which team will win. However, predicting the outcome with the inclusion of a point spread is often much trickier.

If the favorite is at -13.5 points, that team will need to win by more than 13.5 for spread bets on that side to win. The underdog, meanwhile, receives a head start of +13.5 points. Oddsmakers will do their best to set the perfect number that will attract bets on both sides of the point spread, which in turn will ensure a profit for the sportsbook.

Point spread betting examples

Below is an example of what the point spread might look like in an NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.

  • 49ers +3.5
  • Cowboys -3.5

A positive number indicates the underdog, while a negative number indicates the favorite. So, in the case above, the 49ers are 3.5-point underdogs, and the Cowboys are 3.5-point favorites.

For San Francisco to cover the spread, the 49ers can win by any score or lose by less than 3.5 points. Meanwhile, if you would like to bet on Dallas to cover the spread, the Cowboys need to win by more than 3.5 points.

Switching sports for our next example, let’s take a potential upcoming matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. Here’s what the point spread might look like:

  • Lakers -9.5
  • Kings +9.5

Very similar to the above, Los Angeles is a 9.5-point favorite, and Sacramento is a 9.5-point underdog. For the Lakers to cover the spread, they need to win by more than 9.5 points, while the Kings need to either win the game outright or lose by less than 9.5 points.

Note that it’s common for spread numbers to end in .5, as was the case in both of our examples. This is to keep the final margin from landing exactly on the spread number. If that happens and it’s the favorite that’s ahead, bets will push and the sportsbook must return them.

Spread betting tips and strategies

That .5 at the end of point spread numbers is often referred to as a hook, and it is very important especially in a sport like football when so many games are decided by key numbers. This leads us to our first spread betting tip:

  • Identify key numbers: Because of how scoring works in football, more games tend to end with margins of 10, seven, or three points than would be the case if it were entirely random. If you can get the favorite at -2.5 instead of -3, then, that .5-point difference can give you a significant advantage. Similarly, if you get the underdog at +3.5 instead of +3, that’s a ton of value.
  • Get bets in early: When a point spread first comes out for a game, that number is likely to change as it gets closer to game time. This can happen for a variety of reasons — see below— but if you place your bet quickly after the spread comes out, you could end up with a better number than somebody who waits until right before the game begins.
  • Identify trends: If you’re serious about sports betting in California, you’ll need to put in research to maximize your chances of winning. Sports information is everywhere these days, and you can use it to search for potential trends involving teams you’re considering betting on. It may be how well a team does after a loss, how it performs as the favorite or what its record is at home versus on the road.

What does the -110 mean in a spread bet?

Looking back at our earlier example between the 49ers and Cowboys, we left the odds out so we could focus on the actual point spread. Here’s what the wager might look like with odds:

  • 49ers +3.5 (-110)
  • Cowboys -3.5 (-110)

The -110 number is standard for point spread odds, though it can fluctuate a bit in either direction.

The easiest way to explain how this would pay out is that a negative number like this represents how much you’d need to risk for a chance to win a $100 profit. If you won a bet with -110 odds, that means a wager of $110 would win $100. Basically, if you risk $110 and win, you receive $100, and if you risk $110 and lose, you lose $110.

This means when you’re getting half of your bets correct at -110 odds, you’re actually losing money. You’d need to get around 52.38% of your bets correct just to break even. This is a prime example of the vig, and it’s how sportsbooks make money and why they try to attract an equal amount of betting on both sides of a point spread wager like this.

What determines the spread?

Sportsbooks employ oddsmakers to set the point spread. They will put all sorts of stats and information into their handicapping systems to set spread numbers for each game. Because of what we mentioned earlier with the -110 odds, oddsmakers aim to have an even amount of action on each side to ensure a profit for the sportsbook.

Why does the point spread change?

The point spread will often change from the time the opening odds come out to the moment before a game begins, and that will happen for a variety of reasons.

The most basic reason is that oddsmakers are adjusting to what bettors are doing. They will have the betting splits at their disposal, and if they see one side of a point spread getting a high percentage of wagers, they will change the number to try to entice more bettors to place money on the other side to minimize the risk if things don’t go the sportsbook’s way. Sportsbooks also will keep track of successful bettors and adjust numbers based on what they are doing.

The spread could change for other reasons, as well, such as injuries to key players, player movement, and coaching decisions. For outdoor games, the weather could also play a role in where the point spread moves.

Where to find the best spread bet

Shopping for point spreads is just like shopping for most other things. In general, you want the best price possible. In sports betting, you can do this by registering for accounts at multiple sportsbooks and comparing the odds and lines for each game at each book.

Generally, the point spreads will be similar or the same from book to book, but they’re not always exact. If you want to bet on the favorite and you see that it’s a 3-point favorite at DraftKings Sportsbook California but a 2.5-point favorite on FanDuel Sportsbook, that difference can loom large. This may not seem like a big deal, but sports betting is all about gaining slight edges, and it could make a huge difference in the long run.

How does live spread betting work?

Live betting allows you to place a wager on a matchup that is currently happening. You could be watching a game from your couch and bet on it at any time you’d like with the best sports betting apps.

Sportsbooks use algorithms that can change by the second based on what is happening in the game, so it’s important for you to get your wager in when it’s best for you. You will need to be on your toes because the point spread and odds could change between when you select the bet and when you decide how much money you’d like to risk.

Being successful at live betting can still rely on putting in a decent amount of research prior to game time. You can check trends like which team tends to adjust well at halftime or which team does well to start but tends to fade later.

Spread betting rules and regulations

As we send you on your way, here are a few quick reminders of potential rules to keep in mind when it comes to betting the spread:

  • Your wager is final at the time you place the bet. If the point spread moves in your direction or against you after you place your wager, you’re stuck with whatever the point spread was when you made the bet.
  • Sportsbooks may void bets for a variety of reasons. If a game ends early or ends up taking place later or at a different venue, there’s a possibility for everybody to simply get their money back as if nothing happened. Check your preferred sportsbooks for how they handle situations like these when they arise.
  • All bettors get their money back when there is a push. Sportsbooks don’t want this to happen, which is why they will generally add .5 to point spread lines.
  • Sportsbooks will use official league data for their decisions. If there is a controversial finish, what the league says is final, and that’s what the sportsbooks will go with.

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