Point Spread Betting Explained

The rapid spread of sports gambling across the country has led to a wave of new gamblers taking on the sportsbooks. All those people who screamed at their TVs while they watched a game and felt like they knew everything now have a chance to put their knowledge to the test.

When this army of new gamblers goes to bet on their sport of choice they will be met with the point spread, the great equalizer applied by sportsbooks for gambling purposes. The point spread is a great tool that opens up many more gambling options for those looking to make bets.

While many professional sports games may feature a matchup between two teams of uneven strength, the point spread helps bridge that gap. This means that gamblers don’t have to accept terrible odds to bet on the selections that they want.

This guide will cover everything there is to know about the point spread and betting on it. From a basic description to advanced examples of why the point spreads move, keep reading to learn all about one of the most key concepts in sports gambling.

What is point spread betting?

Point spread betting is a bet type offered by sportsbooks that works to equalize two teams of uneven strength. It works by applying a handicap to the favored team and forcing them to win the game by a certain number of points. That number will be displayed next to the team with a minus (-) besides their team name.

The underdog will have their point spread displayed with a plus (+) sign in front of it. This number represents how many points that team needs to come within for a bet on them to win.

That is the basis of what point spread betting is and how it works. It’s one of the most basic and popular bet types and a staple at any sportsbook.

Is spread betting just for the NFL and NBA?

The traditional point spread is only used for basketball betting and wagering on football games. These do include both professional and collegiate levels of the sport. This is because the scoring systems of these sports allow for the spread to be used.

However, lower-scoring sports, such as baseball and hockey, cannot use a spread in the same way that basketball and football do. Instead, they have a different system known as the runline and puckline. These are spreads of -1.5 that are applied to every game and will be explained in further detail below.

Overall, spread betting is just used in basketball and football, but at all levels of the two sports.

How to read point spread odds

To read point spread odds you should look at the two teams in the contest offered by your sportsbook. Beside each contest, you will find some pieces of key information that will help you make the correct wagers.

Some of that key information is the point spread. This is usually listed beside the names of the teams, and one selection will have a number with a minus (-) sign in front of it while the other has a plus (+) sign. The spread will be the same for both teams.

The team with the minus in front of their number must win by at least that many points for a point spread bet on them to win. On the other hand, the team that has the positive point spread can lose, yet if they come within that many points, a bet on their point spread will be determined a winner.

If the final score lands exactly on the pregame point spread, then this is called a push. In this case, your original wager is returned to you and it’s considered a tie. This would happen if the spread was -7 and then the final score ended with the favored team winning by exactly seven points. For spreads with half points, such as a spread of -7.5, there are no pushes possible.

Point spread betting examples

Let’s say that the Chicago Bears are playing against the Detroit Lions. The sportsbook thinks that the Bears have a better chance of winning so it sets the odds as follows:

  • Bears – 3
  • Lions +3

You like the idea of the Bears winning by a large margin and decide to place a bet on the Bears -3. After the game is finished, the final score is Chicago 34 – Detroit 24. Since the Bears won by more than three points, your bet is a winner and you collect your winnings.

Similarly, let’s say that the Chicago Bulls are playing against the Milwaukee Bucks. The sportsbook lists the Bulls as the underdogs and sets the odds as follows.

  • Bulls + 6
  • Bucks -6

You think that the Bulls have been playing well of late and decide to bet on them plus six. The final score is Bucks 130 – Bulls 127. While the Bulls lost the game, they covered the spread, and thus your bet is a winner.

How to place a spread bet

Placing a spread bet works much like placing any other bet at a sportsbook. The good thing about a spread bet is that it’s offered at virtually every single sportsbook, though the actual spread may vary slightly.

If you’re betting in-person, visit any regulated location and find the spread listed next to the team names on the board. For online gambling, betting the spread works much the same, only virtually on your electronic device.

The spread will always be one of the prominently featured bets offered because of its simplicity and how popular it is. Alongside the spread will be the other two most popular bet types: the moneyline and the total.

Live betting point spreads

The point spread is a great option for live betting because of its volatility, making it ideal for betting apps and mobile sites. Depending on how the game begins, the point spread can shift and offer gamblers a much more attractive number than what was offered before the match began.

Gambling on a point spread live during a game works much the same as it does before the game. Check the odds as well as the spread by looking for the number listed beside the names that have the respective signs in front of them.

If one team takes an early lead in a game, the spread can shift in a major way towards them. If this is the weaker team, it is often a good idea to take the favored team if there is still plenty of time to come back.

One good thing to keep in mind when live betting point spreads is how accurate the pregame spreads are. Spreads are developed using some of the best computers and minds in the world and they are very accurate. Many games end their score right around the projected spread and it’s very rare to have a contest where the final score is wildly off what the spread was.

Thus, if during the game the spread offered is vastly different from what was offered pregame, it’s a good idea to examine if it’s likely that the score will end closer to what the online sportsbooks predicted. While sometimes a factor has revealed itself after the game started that affects the outcome, often it’s a solid bet that the score will be close to the pregame spread.

Why do point spreads change?

The spread changes constantly to reflect the changing reality of the game before and during the game.

Before the match begins, there are a few factors that can affect the spread offered to you. The first is the changing reality of the probabilities of the two outcomes. For example, if a player suddenly announced that they weren’t going to play, that would make the spread swing.

Another big factor that can affect the spread before the game is the amount of money being bet by gamblers. If the public is loving one side and continues to bet disproportionately on one outcome, the sportsbooks are going to make that spread less attractive.

They do this to limit their liability in case of that outcome occurring. They don’t want to be on the hook for paying out a lot of bets and then have to suffer a financial loss. Thus, they try to encourage relatively equal betting on both sides and will adjust the lines in an attempt to make this happen.

During the game, the lines will move to reflect the new reality of the contest and the events that are happening. If one team takes a large lead, their spread is going to change to reflect their increased probability of winning by a large margin. However, remember that team strength will always be factored into the point spread odds, even during live games.

Who determines the point spread?

The spread is determined by the larger sportsbooks and then often copied by smaller sportsbooks before being offered to gamblers. To determine the spread, the sportsbooks use oddsmakers, as well as computers, to crunch the numbers and produce the final spread.

Many different factors go into making the spread that sportsbooks need to take into consideration. The first and largest one is the strength of the two teams and how they match up against each other.

Beyond that, sportsbooks must consider a variety of other things, such as how much rest each team has had, where the game is being played, and potential story lines for the game.

They take all these factors into account and weigh them all before creating the lines that are offered to the public. As a gambler, you can come up with your own lines and compare them to the ones released by your sportsbook to see where you can find differences for potential wagers that you may want to make.

Spread betting glossary

Here are some of the key terms to know when it comes to sports spread betting:


The underdog is the team that the oddsmaker has determined to have the lesser chance of winning. This is the outcome that is less likely to happen. This selection will have its odds displayed with a plus (+) sign in front of it. That number represents how much a $100 bet on that selection would win.


The favorite is the team or outcome that the oddsmaker has determined has the more likely chance of winning. This selection will have its odds displayed with a minus (-) sign in front of them. That number represents how much needs to be wagered to win $100.


The spread is the handicap that is applied to each team. This allows for games with uneven teams to have a betting option with better odds than the moneyline. The favored team needs to win by at least the spread, while the underdog needs to come within that number of points.


The “juice” is an informal term given for the vigorish when gambling. For example, if the point spread had odds of -120 on each side, instead of -110, that would be considered to have high juice.


A pick’em occurs when the sportsbooks have determined that the two teams are equal and thus no spread is required. In these situations, the spread doesn’t exist and instead, both sides will have equal moneylines, usually offered at -110.


In baseball, because of the low scoring, there is no traditional spread applied like there is in football and basketball. Instead, there is a runline. It works much the same as the spread except the favored team always has a runline of -1.5 and the underdog of +1.5. The odds will vary depending on the teams.


Like baseball, hockey is also a low-scoring sport and thus cannot use a traditional spread like basketball and football. Therefore, they have the puckline that works the same as it does in baseball. The favored team has a puckline of -1.5 and the underdog has one of +1.5.