How to Bet the Spread

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Points spreads are one of the ways sportsbooks entice action and help bettors find interest in unevenly matched games.

Point spread betting is extremely popular in the United States, so you’ll find this market on every single betting site in Florida. If you’re a novice bettor who doesn’t know the first thing about point spread betting but are curious about how it works, we’ll explain how to bet the spread below.

What is a point spread?

Point spread betting was invented in the U.S. by Charles K. McNeil, a mathematician turned bookmaker, in the 1940s. From then, the point spread quickly caught on and became one of the main markets in worldwide betting shops. So, how does spread betting work?

Point spreads are commonly referred to as a great equalizer. This means that in the case of a game or a match featuring two mismatched sides, the point spread will even out their appeal to bettors by giving a certain number of points to the underdog and subtracting those same points from the favorite.

If you bet on the favorite, they need to “cover” the spread by winning by a margin larger than the set points. Alternatively, a bet on the underdog is successful if they lose within the given number of points or if they win the game outright.

This essentially means that even the worst teams have a chance of “winning,” at least from the point spread perspective.

How to read point spreads

To clearly explain how point spread betting works, we’ll use an example. And what better example than the event that accounts for the most point spread bets in the U.S.—the Super Bowl.

In the 2021 Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs matched up against Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here’s what the point spread for the Super Bowl looked like in most sportsbooks:

  • Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5)
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5)

Since the Chiefs were considered slight favorites, they were given a handicap of -3.5 points. The Buccaneers, as underdogs, received +3.5. This means that a point spread bet on the Chiefs would win only if KC won by four or more points. Meanwhile, betting on the Bucs would be profitable if they won outright or lost by three points or fewer.

Tampa Bay ended with a landslide victory of 31-9. Thus, betting on them through the point spread market was the right choice. (It also was correct for a moneyline bet.

While spread betting is most popular for football games, it’s still available in almost all other sports. It especially makes things interesting in high-scoring sports, like basketball, for instance.

Let’s say the Miami Heat are playing an NBA game against the Orlando Magic. As the favorites, a bet on the Heat means they must cover the spread of -7.5. Meanwhile, betting on the Magic means they need to lose by fewer than 7.5 points or simply win the game.

Tips for point spread betting

Point spreads give any bet a better chance of going either way. That’s true when the two sides are greatly mismatched. However, you should be cautious about the games in which a point spread is too large.

The main goal of an NBA team is to win a game—the margin of victory is mostly unimportant. Say the Heat need to cover the spread of 13.5. They’re obviously big favorites to win the game and likely will, but the spread isn’t any extra motivation to win by a large margin. If they’re well ahead in the fourth quarter, they’ll likely take their foot off the gas pedal and rest their starters. This would allow the underdog to close the point margin substantially.

In turn, though, large spreads can create a good opportunity to bet on the underdogs. That’s especially true for in-game bettors, once the starters for one team have been pulled from the floor.

Another thing to consider when betting on points spreads is the so-called “hook.” This is the half-point mark used in our examples thus far. Bets featuring the hook make any outcome swing one way or the other, as final scores in most sports must end on a whole number.

But some spreads can also have a whole number appointed to each side. If a favorite needs to cover the spread of eight points and wins the game by exactly eight points, the bet would be considered a push. In this case, you’ll get your stake back.

Nevertheless, some sportsbooks offer a tie/draw bet on even-number spreads. Taking this bet is very risky. It involves guessing the exact winning margin, but it comes with very high odds.

What does -110 mean in spread betting?

The whole purpose of point spreads is to make both sides appealing to bettors. You can also expect the moneyline odds to be the same or at least similar on either side.

The odds associated with point spread betting are usually set at -110, although they can sometimes be -105 or -115.

You should not confuse the minus sign with the spread itself, as it only refers to how much money you can win in relation to the size of your bet. Moneyline odds of -110 mean that you need to bet $110 to earn back a $100 profit. Of course, you can bet more or less than $110. If you decide to wager $22, for example, your profit would equal $20.

You might wonder why you’re not making even money on evenly matched bets. In other words, why aren’t the odds -100 instead? Well, this is because the sportsbooks need to guarantee themselves a profit.

Assuming that each side of the bet attracts equal action, the sportsbooks make sure that they’ll come out on top by taking 10% more on each wager than they need to payout. This is the same as commission in some casino games. In sports betting, it’s called the vigorish, or “juice.”

Who sets the point spread?

Who decides that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ odds on the point spread in Super Bowl LV will be exactly +3.5? In short, the point spreads are determined by oddsmakers using a formula that considers everything that might affect the outcome of a given game.

The factors for determining the exact spread include things like the teams’ overall quality and rating, the advantage of playing at home, recent form, rest, and injuries. Once all of this is taken into account, the oddsmakers can predict which team is the favorite, which is the underdog, and to what extent, thus coming up with an appropriate spread.

Of course, being that sports can be very unpredictable, oddsmakers can often be very wrong in their estimate. The Bucs were technically an underdog at the Super Bowl, but they recorded a landslide victory by 22 points.

Why do point spreads change?

Points spreads are often posted days before the game, or even months for more important games. In the time before the actual game starts, a lot can change. Hence, the point spreads change, too.

As the day of the game nears, bookmakers get more information about starting lineups, potential injuries, weather conditions for open stadium games, and other factors. This can make bookmakers nudge the point spread in one direction or the other and correct the odds.

Another reason for changed spreads and odds is the information that comes in the form of bets. The sportsbooks’ goal is to attract equal action on both sides of the bet, but if more bets come pouring in on one side, the sportsbooks will look to make the other side of the bet more favorable.

Shopping for the best spread bet odds

You will often find that point spreads and their associated odds happen to be the same on different sportsbooks. That’s because when one of the main sportsbooks opens the market, competitors follow up and copy them. Still, with so many sportsbooks available, there’s bound to be more than a few whose lines and betting odds are a bit different.

Let’s say that the point spread on the Orlando Magic is +5.5, and it was changed to +4.5 on your favorite sportsbook. First, you should decide whether you still like your chances with the line moving to +4.5. If you’re not so confident in that bet anymore, you may want to go line shopping and search for sportsbooks that still have the Magic at +5.5.

Line shopping is a well-known strategy bettors use to find the best available lines and odds. To be ready to take action, you should create an account on as many different Florida online sportsbooks as possible. This will let you constantly compare the sportsbooks’ lines and bet on the most favorable ones.

If you’d prefer to skip betting on the spread (or winner of the game at all), check out the over/under betting odds instead.