What is Point Spread Betting?

What is Point Spread Betting?
Kelsey McCarson for Bookies.com

By Kelsey McCarson | | 4 mins

Point Spread betting is a type of wagering where bookmakers offer betting options on point differentials between two sides of an upcoming event in order to handicap the betting favorite. This type of wagering goes beyond simple win/loss outcomes such as those offered within moneyline betting and instead focuses on margins of victory and defeat.

In short, oddsmakers add point spreads to the equation so winning bets are those which accurately predict the accuracy of the point spread prediction by the bookmaker on any particular matchup rather than who actually wins or loses the contest.

In simplest terms, bookmakers give varying amounts of points to underdogs and take them away from favorites to entice more bettors to place wagers on underdogs than they would otherwise get.

Point Spread Betting Explained

The goal of bookies when setting up point spreads for matchups is to set the spread in a way that ensures an equal amount of bets on both sides of the wager.

Favorites are noted by the minus symbol (-) and must win by more than that number of points for bets to pay out. Underdogs are noted by the plus symbol (+), and so long as they at least lose by less than the number of points set by the bookmaker, bets placed on the underdog will still pay out.

Point spread bets are common in high scoring sports such as soccer and basketball. For example, in NFL betting if the Dallas Cowboys are favored to defeat the Green Bay Packers in a soccer game, the point spread might be listed as follows: Cowboys - 10, Packers

In order for winning bets on the Cowboys to pay out, Dallas must win the contest by more than 10 points. For bets on the Packers to payout, they must do anything but lose by more than 10 points.

Point spread bets are tremendously popular for two reasons. First, they are always profitable for bookmakers so long as the spread is set in a way where an equal number of bets are placed on both sides. Second, astute gamblers who understand how point spreads are created can sharply make educated bets to win regularly on the market for solid returns.

This is because the point spreads offered by bookies are solely focused on getting an equal number of bets on both sides of the equation rather than accurately predicting the actual outcome of the event.

Moreover, point spread bets offer 10/11 returns, meaning that for every $110 dollars one wagers correctly, the return on winners is $100. This is sometimes noted by bookmakers in money line format (-110).

What Do You Win in Point Spread Betting?

As previously noted, in order to win $100 on point spread bets, one typically has to wager $110.

In order to successfully play the point spread betting market, one needs to understand both how the numbers are set by bookmakers as well as what factors can induce them to change.

Point spreads are not static. As with other betting options, bookmakers often change the point spread of an event as bets come in from punters to ensure enough money is placed on both sides of the bet.

What Happens If Point Spread Changes?

Point spreads can change when bookmakers receive too many bets on one side of the equation. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including player injuries, personnel decisions, changing weather forecasts and other things outside the bookmaker’s control.

It can also happen when a bookmaker sets a point spread incorrectly for the market, meaning that the line is set in such a way that the bookie receives too many bets on one side of the bet from the start. Sometimes, a sharp bettor can single handedly change a bookmaker’s line by placing a large sum of money on one side of the bet.

Whatever the reason, bookmakers adjust point spreads for upcoming matchups as the money rolls in, so it’s important to keep track of the line as it changes to ensure the best bet possible can be made.

Some bettors place more than one bet on a particular matchup hoping to snag winning bets on both sides once the line moves. For example, take the following line move for an NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants:

  • Monday: Eagles -4.5, Giants
  • Wednesday: Eagles -2, Giants
  • If the final score was Eagles 27-24 (or any score with the Eagles winning by a field goal), a smart bettor who bet on the Giants +4.5 on Monday and the Eagles -2 on Wednesday wins both bets after essentially having bet on both teams.

    What Kind of Point Spread Betting is There?

    While point spread bets are most popularly offered by bookmakers on final results of contests, bookies also offer point spread betting options on shorter time frames such as quarters, periods and halfs.

    These kinds of point spread bets work the same way as they do for final results except that the timeframe for totals is limited to the specific timeframe.

    For example, in NBA betting if a point spread bet is offered for the first half of an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics is Celtics -6, and the Celtics are winning the game at halftime 67-60 (but end up winning the game by less than 6 points or even losing the game entirely), bets on the Celtics -6 for the half still win.

    What Does it Mean to Push?

    A push happens when neither side of the bet wins. Bookmakers usually cancel the bets made on both sides in these instances.

    Since this can only happen for whole numbers, some bookmakers will set point spreads at half points (e.g., -6.5) instead of whole numbers to ensure there are winning and losing bets on both sides.

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