Point Spread Betting
If learning about moneyline betting is considered Sports Betting 101, then mastering point spread betting must be Sports Betting 102. Anyone familiar with sports betting knows that virtually every game is accompanied by a betting line or a point spread.
They’re most common with basketball and football, but they can be present in other sports, as well. Understanding how point spreads are created, what they mean and how to react to them is essential for anyone interested in sports betting.
Fortunately, point spreads aren’t that confusing. They only look that way at first to people who aren’t familiar with them. Once you get the hang of them, you’ll be ready to start making bets against the spread, and, more importantly, making smart bets against the spread.
What is a point spread?
A point spread is a number that oddsmakers assign to sporting events with the ultimate goal being to provoke an equal amount of betting on both teams involved. In different sports, it’s given different names.
For instance, it will be called a puck line or a goal line for hockey and a run line for baseball. However, the purpose is the same regardless of the specific name or the sport.
The number assigned by oddsmakers can be considered an educated projection of how many points will separate two teams at the end of the game. It means the bookmakers believe that one team will win by a certain number of points, and that number becomes the point spread, at least initially.
The favorite in the game, according to the oddsmakers, will have a negative number while the underdog will have a positive number.
For example, a college football game between Alabama and Vanderbilt might be listed as Alabama (-24.5) vs. Vanderbilt (+24.5). This indicates that Alabama is a 24.5-point favorite to beat Vanderbilt.
Sometimes, only the favorite will have a number next to its name. This is because there will always be symmetry in the point spread, so if you see Alabama (-24.5), you can assume that its opponent is a 24.5-point underdog.
In this instance, bookmakers believe that Alabama is roughly 24.5 points better than Vanderbilt. They believe that a lot of people will bet on Alabama to win by more than 24.5 points, but also that a near-equal amount of money will be wagered on Vanderbilt winning the game or losing by fewer than 24.5 points.
In most cases, the point spread to a game will be halfway between two whole numbers. For low-scoring sports like soccer, baseball and hockey, spreads are commonly .5 goals/runs or 1.5 goals/runs, and only rarely go higher than that.
In football and basketball, the range of possibilities is a lot greater, sometimes as large as 40 points for perceived mismatches.
However, regardless of the exact number, the point spread will often be X.5 points. This is so that the game creates a clear betting winner.
In our example, if Alabama was a 24-point favorite over Vanderbilt and Alabama ended up winning by exactly 24 points, the game would be a push, and all bettors would have their money returned. While it’s possible for the point spread to be a whole number, it’s less common than a spread of X.5 points.
Betting the spread
When you bet on a game using the point spread, you don’t necessarily pick the team you think is going to win. You pick either the favorite or the underdog to win against the spread.
Essentially, you take the final score of the game and add the point spread to the underdog’s total. That will tell you what team won the game against the spread. As a bettor, your job is to decide whether the team that’s favored is going to win by more points than the spread. This is called covering the spread.
In our example, if you bet on Alabama as a 24.5-point favorite against Vanderbilt, you would need Alabama to win the game by at least 25 points to win the bet. If Alabama wins the game by 24 points or fewer, you will lose the bet because the Crimson Tide didn’t cover.
On the other side, if you bet on Vanderbilt against the spread, you don’t need Vanderbilt to pull off the upset. You only need Vanderbilt to keep the game respectable and lose by 24 points or fewer. Obviously, a competitive loss doesn’t do Vanderbilt any good, but it would be a winning bet if things turn out that way.
Of course, even when you make a bet against the spread, there is still a moneyline involved. The moneyline will tell you how much money you make if you’ve picked correctly.
When there is a point spread, the moneyline is typically -110. This means that you’ll have to bet $110 to earn a profit of $100. As we’ll see later on, the moneyline for point-spread games doesn’t always stay at -110, but that’s usually the starting point.
It’s important to understand the -110 moneyline for betting against the spread because it’s how bookmakers come out on top. For the Alabama-Vanderbilt game, if every bet is made with a moneyline of -110, it means all people who win their bets will have a profit of slightly less than the amount of money they risked.
Remember, if you risked $110, you would have made $100. If someone you know bet $110 on the opposite result, that person lost all of that money. The bookmaker took your friend’s $110 and gave you $100 of it for making a winning bet, giving the bookmaker a $10 profit.
Of course, oddsmakers want more than two people betting on a game, but if an equal amount of money is bet on both sides of a game, the bookmaker can guarantee a profit, which is its goal.
Point spread vs. moneyline
As you may know, it’s possible to ignore the point spread of a game and make bets only based on the moneyline. It’s important to understand the difference between the two methods so you can follow a betting strategy that works for you.
It’s also possible that you’ll want to bet on some games on the moneyline and other games against the spread.
With moneyline bets, there will be no spread. Instead, you will bet on the winner of the game straight up. If we return to our Alabama vs. Vanderbilt example, you simply pick what team will win the game.
The catch is that the moneyline won’t be -110 on both sides. The favorite will have a lower moneyline, usually a negative number, while the underdog will have a positive number.
In a perceived mismatch like Alabama vs. Vanderbilt, the betting matchup might be Alabama (-500) vs. Vanderbilt (+400). This means you would have to bet $500 on Alabama to receive $100 in profit if the Crimson Tide wins.
You might think that Alabama winning is a safe bet and an easy way to make money. But that’s why bookmakers force you to risk a large amount of money to earn a substantial payout.
On the other side, the probability of Vanderbilt winning the game is low, which is why bookmakers offer such a large payout in the event of an upset. They know they probably won’t have to pay the people who bet on Vanderbilt while also knowing the payouts on Alabama should be reasonably low because of the -500 moneyline.
You should be able to see the connection between the point spread and a straight-up moneyline. In both instances, oddsmakers let you know which team they believe is the favorite and how much of a favorite.
It’s just done in different ways. Sometimes it’s a 24.5-point spread, and other times it’s a -500 moneyline. Either way, you have an understanding of how sportsbooks believe the game will play out.
Deciding whether it’s best to bet against the spread or on the moneyline depends on several factors and can change from one game to the next. With a point spread, you don’t have to worry about risking a certain amount of money to earn a specific profit. You know that the payout will likely be on a -110 moneyline, or at least somewhere in that neighborhood.
However, it can be more difficult to spot easy wins because the point spread serves as the great equalizer between two teams, even if there’s an obvious mismatch like in our Alabama-Vanderbilt example.
Moneyline bets, on the other hand, are a little more simple and straightforward in the sense that you only have to pick the winner of a game. For games like Alabama vs. Vanderbilt, that’s usually easy.
Of course, moneylines usually force you to look beneath the surface for games that offer the most value. If you make bets based only on the moneyline, it’s possible to win a majority of your bets but still lose money, which will never happen if you stick with point spreads and win a majority of your bets.
How bets influence the spread and line
If you decide to start making bets against the spread, one thing you should keep in mind is that betting lines don’t always stay stagnant. Remember that bookmakers usually prefer betting to be relatively equal on both sides of the spread.
If public betting leans heavily toward one side or the other, bookmakers can alter the spread at any point to influence the way people are betting on a particular game.
If we return to our example, the Alabama-Vanderbilt game may have opened with a line of -24.5 in favor of Alabama. But if the public heavily favors the Crimson Tide covering that spread, bookmakers may decide to increase the spread.
Most of the time, the spread won’t change by more than a couple of points. However, oddsmakers will keep pushing the line until bettors start to wager more money on Vanderbilt.
One day, Alabama could be favored by 24.5 points, while the next day, it is favored by 28.5 points. That increase is usually a reaction to a lot of betting on Alabama to cover and a small amount of betting in Vanderbilt’s favor.
It’s designed to entice more people to bet on Vanderbilt against the spread. A lot of people might think that Vanderbilt can’t keep the final score within 24 points, but that thinking could change if Vanderbilt can lose by 28 points and still beat the spread.
At the same time, oddsmakers could also change the moneyline for a point-spread bet. As mentioned, most games will start with -110 odds on both sides of the point spread.
But if one side is getting all of the action, that number could increase while the odds for the other team could move in the opposite direction. This is another attempt by bookmakers to even out the betting on both sides of the point spread.
In our example, Alabama may have opened as a 24.5-point favorite with a moneyline of -110, but a day or two later, perhaps it is a 28.5-point favorite with a moneyline of -130 attached to that bet. In that scenario, betting on Alabama to cover the point spread won’t be as appealing as it was a couple of days ago.
As a result, more bettors will start to consider betting on Vanderbilt against the spread, as there is now less value in picking Alabama.
Handicapping the point spread
At first, handicapping games based on the point spread may seem a little advanced if you don’t have a lot of betting experience. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated if you want to keep things simple.
However, you should have some kind of system in place so that you’re not randomly placing bets all over the place.
One of the first things you should do is look at the betting line of a game, as well as the history of that betting line. As we mentioned above, bookmakers are at liberty to change point spreads if they wish.
If a line has changed by more than a point, it should be easy to figure out what team the general public favors. That’s usually something you’ll want to know before making a pick. You won’t always bet the same way as the public, but you’ll still want to know what direction public opinion is leaning.
Next, you’ll want to think about the strengths and weaknesses of both teams involved. This is where it helps to bet on sports you’re familiar with and watch regularly.
Look at the record of both teams, as well as what teams they’ve played to get to that record. Also, don’t forget to consider what team is playing at home and if either team has been considerably better or worse based on playing at home or on the road.
You should know that oddsmakers typically consider home field advantage when setting the point spread, so bettors also need to take it into account.
It can also help to get the opinion of others when handicapping a game. This doesn’t mean blindly following someone else’s advice.
But the internet is full of people making predictions, sometimes straight-up and sometimes against the spread. Try checking out how three to five other people view a particular game to see if there is any consensus.
It can also help to examine the power rankings published by a reputable site. This can give you some insight into whether the point spread is an accurate representation of the difference in quality and talent between the two teams.
Finally, look at the statistics of each team and key players on both teams. Again, this is where being familiar with the sport you’re betting on can come in handy. Even if you’re not a paid analyst, you should still know what stats are important and whether one team stands out over the other.
If that sounds like a lot, don’t feel as though you have to do everything mentioned. There is such a thing as paralysis by analysis, so you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too much information.
That being said, you need to do a few things when handicapping a game against the spread. Whether you’re a novice or have some experience, you don’t want to think of it as gambling. Instead, you want to be making educated guesses. This requires gathering important information, but not so much information that it stops being useful.
The bottom line for point spread sports betting
In the end, if you’re interested in betting on sports, it’s important to become familiar with point spreads. While point spread betting can be a little more complicated than betting straight up based on the moneyline, there are many advantages to betting against the spread.
The trick is to understand why certain games have the point spread they do and what side of the spread gives you a better chance of winning. It’ll take some time and effort, but having an understanding of point spreads can lead to success when it comes to betting on sports.