Point Spreads in Sports Betting Explained
Point spreads are quite popular in sports betting, even if you’re a novice punter, the chances are good that you’ve heard about it. Many different sports make use of point spreads, although it was initially popularly used in football and basketball.
That said, it’s not something that many bettors understand. We all know that your basic bet involves picking one team or side over another and placing a wager. Not all of these “sides” are equal, however. That’s where point spreads come in. Think of it as a kind of equaliser for bookies.
In a way, point spreads encourage punters to wager on either team, not just the favourite. Bookies need to keep the wagers semi-balanced, or there wouldn’t be much profit in it for them. Using this tactic is only one of the ways that a bookie keeps punters making wagers, and keeps their books balanced at the same time.
What exactly is a point spread? How does it work? Should you wager on point spreads? We’ll answer these questions in this article.
Here’s what we’ll be covering:
- What point spreads are and how they work
- Understand your winnings
- A basic example of how it works
- Point spread betting odds and odds movement
- Puck lines and run lines
- Frequently asked questions
Let’s get started!
What Is a Point Spread in Sports Betting?
This is probably one of the most common questions in sports betting, among both novice and experienced punters alike. Interestingly, it’s not that hard to understand at all. Point spreads is a system that bookies use to handicap teams of different skill levels against each other.
For example, if you pit Norwich against Liverpool, it would be one of the most uneven matches of the season. The teams have the same number of players, are subject to the same rules and might even use some of the same tactics. However, no one would dare to claim that these two PL teams are equally matched and Norwich would most certainly be the underdog.
To make up for the inequality of the matchup, a bookie would use point spreads to apply a handicap. If you see a minus sign next to the team’s name, along with a number, it means that this team is the favourite to win. The underdog will have a plus sign next to it, as well as a number. At the end of the match, the teams will have their handicap numbers either added or subtracted from their final score.
Point spread wagers create a unique opportunity. Experienced punters with a keen eye for value can make an educated wager on the underdog on such a bet and walk away with a pretty penny. Of course, this would involve a lot of hard work and research.
How to See If You Won or Lost
Instead of betting on the outright winner, spreads work a little differently. For your point spread wager to be a winner, the final score will need to cover the point spread as well.
In other words, if you bet on the favourite, then you’ll need to deduct the minus amount listed next to it when placing the wager. For the underdog, however, you’d need to add the listed number.
We’ll cover this in greater detail in our example below.
Example of a point spread in sports betting
Point spreads are most frequently used in American football, but also several other sports too; for example, European football also uses point spreads. Since we started with that in our explanation above, let’s continue using our hypothetical Liverpool vs Norwich matchup for the example.
Let’s say that you’re perusing the sportsbook looking for a good spread to wager on, and you encounter the Liverpool vs Norwich matchup. This happened in the 2020 season, so we have some real data to work with. The display shows you the following:
- Liverpool -2 (-110)
- Norwich +2 (-110)
Norwich is having one of its worst seasons, whereas Liverpool is at the top of the listings. It comes as no surprise that Liverpool is the favourite, with Norwich being the underdog.
If this spread offer was on offer, then you might have decided to go with Liverpool. After all, Liverpool has dominated Norwich quite spectacularly in previous matchups. In the 2020 matchup, however, Liverpool barely won. Let’s apply that outcome to our spread handicap.
The score is 2 – 1, and Liverpool has won. If you wagered on Norwich, the +2 handicap would put the final point results on 2 – 3 in Norwich’s favour. In other words, you’d have won, despite betting on the underdog. Even though Liverpool won the match, Norwich’s handicap means that you still win your wager.
Push / Draw
If the score is 3 – 1, Liverpool still walks away with the win. In this case, it wouldn’t matter who you bet on. If you bet on Liverpool, the -2 handicap would put the final score on 1 – 1, and the same is true for adding the +2 to Norwich’s final points.
In other words, this would have resulted in a draw, also known as a push. In this case, you would simply get your money back.
Point Spread Betting Odds and How They Work
As you might have seen in our example, the odds for a point spread wager work a bit differently than for regular bets. That’s because the bookmaker needs to include a house edge, or a guarantee of a sort, that ensures that the bookie gets a piece of the profit.
Spread odds are usually set at -110. That simply means that you have to wager £/$/€110 to win £/$/€100. In other words, you need to risk more to win. The odds may differ depending on the match and the bookie, however. Some might list the odds at -105, -115, or even -120.
If you were to see +2 (-105), for example, you’d need to wager £/$/€105 to win £/$/€100. That said, -110 is the most common odds you’ll encounter for point spreads.
Point spreads are a great way for bookies to draw a little extra attention to a matchup. It also gives punters a reason to consider betting on the underdog, rather than on the favourite. However, it will always try to keep the wagers on each side as even as possible – that’s where the profit margin is, after all. That’s also where the odds movement comes in, and we’ll look at that in greater detail below.
Pick’em (Pk) Odds
Pick’ems happen where a matchup is so close that there’s no clear favourite or underdog. The most commonly listed odds are +100. When this happens, you just need to pick the winner on your point spread. If they win, then you’ll get back whatever you’ve wagered; the margin of the victory doesn’t factor in.
The vigorish, vig, or juice are all names used for the odds on point spreads. These are all simply different terms for the same thing – it’s the bookie’s profit margin. That’s why you need to wager a little more money for a slightly smaller win. It might not seem like a big deal, but it does play a vital role in helping a bookmaker to keep its books balanced.
Think of it as a tax paid to the sportsbook. At -110, you’d basically be paying 10% (the juice) to the sportsbook as a kind of fee.
Now, a bookie’s main goal with spreads is to try and get equal money on both sides – the more even the split, the better the bookmaker’s profit. For example, if a bookie managed to attract the same amount of wagers on each side, it would be keeping £/$/€10 of every bet made.
However, this isn’t an easy feat, which is where the movement comes into play. If too many punters place their wagers on Liverpool, for example, a bookie will move the point spread to attract more bets on Norwich. That said, the odds will often change before the spread does.
Continuing with our example, let’s say that too many punters decide to wager on the Liverpool -2. The bookie may opt to shift the vigorish from -110 to -115, or to -120, before moving the spread to -2.5.
Puck Lines and Run Lines
Point spreads are mainly used in football, both European and American, as well as basketball. However, many other sports use these spreads as well. In other sports, though, the spreads aren’t always called point spreads.
Sports like baseball and hockey mostly use moneyline bets, but bookies wanted to find a way to make these sports appeal to point spread punters as well. Many bookies added puck lines for hockey, and run lines for baseball. These are usually set at -1.5 or +1.5, with the +1.5 being on the underdog and the -1.5 on the favourite.
Spread punters prefer to stick to this method of wagering. By adding a type of spread to other sports, bookmakers have created a way for these bettors to expand to new sports while using a wagering tactic that they’re familiar with.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do you still have a few questions about sports betting with point spreads? Here are some of the most common questions that we’ve encountered!
What Happens if I Win My Spread Wager?
The same thing that would happen with any other wager. You would get back the £/$/€110 you wagered, along with your winnings. That’s a total of £/$/€210.
What if I Lose My Point Spread Bet?
You lose your £/$/€110 wager, with the bookie receiving an extra £/$/€10. That way it can keep its books balanced, even if you win your next bet.
What if the Result is a Tie?
This isn’t all that uncommon. There are times when the handicap will result in a tie, even if there was a clear winner in the match. This is called a push; if it happens, you’ll get your money back.
Are Point Spread Wagers Worth It?
First, keep in mind that this is still gambling. Sports betting is a game of chance, and there are no guarantees. That said, this is a great way to use your knowledge of a team or sport to your advantage. The handicap amount can really make a big difference to the outcome.
Which Sports Have Spread Betting Available?
Several sports use it. Bookies may offer it only on American football and basketball, but you may also encounter it with hockey, baseball, European football and several other sports. It comes down to what the bookie has available.
Why Do Some Spreads Feature Halves?
In our earlier example, Liverpool and Norwich were both set at -2 / +2, with no halves. Because of that, we could feature an example where the game ended in a draw. However, the bookie might have chosen to list the spread at -2.5 / +2.5. If it did that, then there would have been no possibility of a push, because teams can’t score half points.
Bookies do this to prevent draws, guaranteeing either a win or a loss.
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what point spreads are and how they work in sports betting. It’s certainly a popular type of wager amongst punters, especially those who have a thorough understanding of a sport. If you want to see if point spread betting is for you, then try it out!
Just remember to always gamble responsibly. There’s always a risk involved with games of chance such as sports betting, even more so with spreads. Having to wager £/$/€110 or even £/$/€120 to get back £/$/€100, for example, is one such risk. Make sure to do your research and check the odds before you lock in your wager.
With that said, we wish you luck. Remember to have fun!