A Guide to Point Spread Betting

There are many different types of bets that can be placed in online sports betting. One of the most popular is point spread betting.  

Point spread betting encourages bettors to bet on both teams - the favourite and the underdog. This is because when betting on the spread, the team you bet on doesn’t necessarily have to win the game for you to win your bet.

Let’s take a closer look at point spread betting, how it works and some strategies you can use when betting on the spread. 

What is Point Spread Betting? 

A point spread involves placing a wager on which team you think will outperform a predicted result. Predicted results are set by the sportsbook.  

Point spread betting on a favourite is slightly different than betting on an underdog. 

When betting on the favourite, the team must:

  • win the game 
  • win by more than the number predicted by the sportsbook  

When betting on an underdog, the team must: 

  • win or lose the game 
  • lose by less than the sportsbook prediction

Spreads are displayed as a number with either a plus or minus sign before it.  

You will know which team is the favourite because the spread will have a minus (-) symbol in front of it. On the other hand, the underdog’s spread will have a plus (+) symbol in front of it.

Point spread betting may seem confusing at first but it’s simple once you understand it. Here’s an example to make things more clear. 

Point Spread Example: 

Celtics +4.5 
Raptors -4.5

Let’s say the Toronto Raptors are playing the Boston Celtics. The sportsbooks will begin by deciding who they think will win, or determining the favourite, and how many points they will win by.

Here, we can see that the Raptors are the favourite. This is because they have a minus symbol before their spread. Likewise, the Celtics are the underdog because they have a plus symbol before their spread.

Based on the point spread above, to win a bet placed on the Raptors they will need to win the game by at least 5 points or more. 

To win a point spread bet placed on the Celtics, they can either win or lose, but must lose by 4 points or less. 

Remember, the team you wager on doesn’t necessarily have to win for your bet to be successful. The team you bet on only has to do better than the sportsbook prediction. 

As a result, you can win your bet even if the underdog team loses the game. However, this also means you can lose your bet when the favourite team wins but they don’t win by enough points.

Now, what about the decimal point.

Why do spreads commonly use decimal numbers or half points? To understand this, we’ll first have to discuss what a “push” is.  

Push 

Consider a game that ends in the following score:

Celtics: 100 
Raptors: 104 

Here, the actual point spread at the end of the game would be 4. If the sportsbook had set the point spread to 4 then all wagers would result in a push. With a push, or wash, no one wins, and no one loses - all bets are refunded.

As a result, no one makes any money, not even the sportsbook which would normally collect a fee from all winning bets. 

Since teams cannot score half points, .5 is used. This is called “the hook” and it guarantees that one side will win the bet. 

A point spread using a half point (.5) indicates that the final spread must be either greater or less than the number. 

Using the point spread above, the final spread will have to be either:

  • greater than 4.5 (i.e. 5) or 
  • less than 4.5 (i.e. 4) 

The favourite team is always the “greater than” number and the underdog is always the “less than” number. That is, the favourite will have to win by an amount greater than 4.5 (i.e. 5) and the underdog will have to lose by an amount less than 4.5 (i.e. 4). 

What is Line Movement? 

Line movement is when the line set by the sportsbook (e.g. +4.5/-4.5) moves in one direction or another. This is done to encourage people to bet on a particular team. For example, if one team is experiencing significantly more betting action, the sportsbook will increase or decrease the spread to try and adjust the betting pattern.

It’s important to the sportsbook that an equal number of bets are placed on each team. Equal betting on both sides allows the sportsbook to:  

  • Payout the winners with the money invested by the losers  
  • Make a profit of 5 to 10% from the winning bets. This tax that the sportsbook collects is known as “vigorish”, “vig” or “juice”. 

Line movement occurs during the period after bets open but before the game starts.

Point Spreads Payouts 

An advantage of point spread betting is that the payout will typically be the same regardless of which team you place your wager on. This is because sportsbooks use line movement to encourage equal betting on both sides. Having equal betting on both sides means that they don’t have to adjust payouts to make up for one-sided betting.  

Let’s look at an example of a payout, using the American odds format.

Example: 

Seahawks -5.5 (-110) 
Patriots +5.5 (-110) 

Here we can see that whether you bet on the favourite, the Seattle Seahawks, or the underdog, the New England Patriots, you will be paid out at -110.  

If payout odds (-110) are not listed beside the spread, you can assume the odds are -110. This is the most common point spread odds. 

If you placed a $100 wager and won a point spread on the Seahawks, you would earn $90.91, plus your original $100 wager back. Therefore, your total payout would be $190.91.  

You may wonder why this does not produce an even number. That is because the sportsbook takes a percentage off for their profit. In this case, they profit $9.09 from a $100 winning wager.  

The easiest way to determine your payout is to use an odds calculator. 

You can also determine a rough estimate by assuming that you’ll earn a profit of approximately 90% (when the payout odds are -110). This means on a $10 bet you can expect about $9 in profit and a $19 total return. Likewise, on a $50 wager, you could expect about $45 in profit and a $95 total return.  

Benefits of Point Spread Betting

Point spread betting is often a preferred betting type due to its high payout, simplicity and betting options. 

Here are some of the benefits of utilizing point spread betting: 

  • High Payouts 

Payout odds in point spread betting are usually around 90%. This provides a good opportunity for bettors to win big. Seeing a total return of over $190 on a $100 bet is what often attracts bettors to point spreads. 

  • Simplicity 

Some lines in betting can be confusing and hard to read. With point spread betting, once you understand how to read the spread and how to determine the odds, placing a wager and knowing exactly what you’re betting on is simple.  

  • More Betting Options 

Point spread betting allows you to place a wager on a team that you think is going to lose. This is a nice alternative to other betting types, such as moneyline betting, which require you to place a wager on the team that will win the game. Therefore, if your favourite team doesn’t often win, you still have an opportunity to bet on them (and win) by wagering on the spread.

Tips and Strategy

When you’re ready to try your hand at point spread betting, keep the following tips and strategies in mind.  

  • Determine your own spread 

Try determining your own spread before considering what the sportsbook has predicted. By doing this, you will see how fair and appropriate the sportsbook lines are. If the sportsbook prediction is close to what you determined, chances are it’s a good bet.  

  • Track and take advantage of line movement 

Do your best to predict how the line will move and then decide when to bet. It is important to know whether to bet right away, to wait for the line to move and then bet, or to not bet at all.  

Track lines and watch how they move before a given game. Sometimes you will see patterns based on player injuries, player suspensions, or weather. 

Note: once you bet on a point spread, you cannot change the line that you bet on. This is why it’s crucial to make timely decisions on when to place your bet.  

  • Place multiple bets 

Although you cannot change a line that you have already bet on, you can place additional bets if the line moves.  

Sometimes line movement offers a more likely point spread. If this is the case, place another bet to try and increase your payout.