The point spread is perhaps the most commonly played sports bet. Overall, it’s a fairly straightforward wager. You’ll find versions of the spread used in all major sports where point differentials can be substantial. In the U.S., the point spread is the lifeblood of NFL and NCAA football betting, as well as NBA and NCAA basketball wagering.
Baseball and hockey do not use the spread because their games are typically low-scoring. Instead, they utilize the money line and offer a small spread, usually 1.5 runs or goals. In MLB, this small spread is called the run line and in hockey it is the puck line.
Point Spread Explained
The job of the sports handicapper is to make it difficult for bettors to decide on which team they should wager. They try to produce fairly even wagering on both sides so that, overall, the money wagered is uniform. This allows them to pay out as little as possible. One way in which bookies make it tough for people to know who to wager on is by utilizing the point spread (often just called the spread).
A typical point spread takes points away from the favorite and gives points to the underdog. How large the spread is on a given game depends upon the perceptions of those setting the betting lines. If they feel that one team is dominant, then the spread will be much larger than if they perceive the contest to be between two evenly matched teams.
When you bet on the underdog, they don’t have to win the game outright for you to win your wager. They simply need to lose by less than the spread. Likewise, if you put money on the favorite, in order for you to collect some cash the team must win by more than spread.
Point Spread and Vig
All point spreads include vigorish or vig, which is the bookmaker’s commission. Commonly, the vig on a point spread is 10 percent and is expressed as a negative number. If a spread is listed as (-110), that means that for every dollar bet, the sportsbook receives 10 cents. This being the case, in order for you to win $100 on a spread listed at (-110), you’ll need to wager $110. Of that amount, $10.00 is kept by the bookie whether you win or lose.
Example of a Point Spread
Below is a typical example of an NBA point spread. It includes the starting time of the game, the teams and the spread along with the basic info on the vig. The Atlanta Hawks, who are listed first as the visitors, are the underdog at +5½. If you wager on the Hawks and they either win or lose by fewer than six points, you’ll win your bet. Put your cash on the favorite, the Washington Wizards who are at -5½, and as long as they win by six or more points, you’ll make money on them.
7:10 pm Atlanta Hawks +5½ (-105)
Washington Wizards -5½ (-115)
One important thing to note about the above spread: The sportsbooks have reduced the vig on the underdog Hawks to 5 points (-105) and increased it on the favored Wizards to 15 points (-115). This is an attempt to make the Hawks a more attractive wager, which could result in more action on the team. The idea is that you can risk less to win the same amount on Atlanta, which is not the favorite in this matchup.
The reason for doing this is that bookmakers love to have about equal amounts of money on each team, which ensures that they will make money on the vig. If one team is bet a lot more heavily than the other, then the books stand to lose a lot of cash if the heavily wagered team wins. Thus, the spread and reduced juice are ways to curb people from betting on the favorite.
Point Spreads Favor the Underdog
The point spread always favors the team that is given the points. Therefore, when you bet the underdog, two different outcomes will make you a winner: If they lose by less than the spread or if they win outright, your bet is good. With the team that’s favored, only one outcome results in your collecting cash: if they win by more than the spread.
The betting public tends to wager on the favorite, and bookies know this. That means when they create the spreads, they do so at the expense of the vast number of people who they know will take the team that is expected to win. In many cases, you are better off wagering on the underdog, as it’s more common for teams to not cover the spread than it is for them to do so.
Before Making Your Bet
Before you make any bet, it’s important to do your homework. Read analysis by the pundits, do your own matchup comparisons and statistical diagnosis, read injury reports, and cover as many different facets of the game as you can prior to making your wager. During this time, you are attempting to determine the strength of the spread; that is, how accurate it is. If you feel that you can’t determine this, then do one of two things: go with a money line bet on the game or don’t wager on the contest at all.
Win, Lose or Push
One of three things can happen with a point spread bet. You can win, lose, or push. A push occurs when, due to the spread, the two teams tie. This is rare, as most point spreads include a half-point, which makes a tie impossible.
Keep It Simple
Here are a few final words about the spread. The first is to keep it simple by making individual spread bets rather than parlays. Parlays, which allow you to wager on anywhere from two to seventeen teams at the same time, only pay out when you get every game right. Bettors like them because the payout odds are much better than those you get with a spread wager.
As an example, a three-team parlay pays 6/1. Wager $100, and if you’re correct on all three games, you’ll win $600. Sounds good, right? However, even a three-team parlay is very hard to hit. That’s why the odds are so attractive. Bet the spread individually without any frills and only after having done your homework. Keep it simple, and you’ll build lasting success as a professional sports bettor.