Point Spread in Sports Betting: Definition, Examples, How to Make a Spread Bet


Jamie Sabau/Getty Images. Pictured: Sean Clifford

Jun 30, 2020, 12:30 PM EDT

It’s impossible to separate sports betting in America and the point spread. They will forever be linked.

Point spreads are most commonly associated with higher-scoring sports like basketball and football, but can be used in any sport.

They’re the great equalizer, allowing bettors to wager on even the worst teams with some confidence.

So what is a point spread, how do you read it, and how to you make a spread bet? Let’s dive in.

Click the links to jump to each section.

  1. Point Spread Definition
  2. Point Spread Examples, How it Works
  3. What Does -110 Mean Next to the Spread?
  4. How to Make a Spread Bet

Point Spread Definition

A point spread is a bet on the margin of victory in a game.

The stronger team or player will be favored by a certain number of points, depending on the perceived gap in ability between the two teams.

A minus sign (-) means that team is the favorite.

A plus sign (+) means that team is the underdog.

Here’s how DraftKings displays its point spreads for football, with the point spread boxed in red.

Point Spread Examples, How it Works

Let’s use Ohio State at Penn State in college football as an example of how point spreads work.

The Ohio State Buckeyes are -6.5, meaning they’re the favorite. Remember that minus sign means they’re favored, and therefore the perceived stronger team.

The Buckeyes need to win by 7 points or more for their bettors to win.

Penn State is +6.5 and needs to either lose by 1-6 points, or win the game, to cover the spread and win the bet. The plus signs indicates they’re the underdog.

If the point spread is a whole number — like Penn State +7 — and Ohio State wins by exactly seven points, it’s a push and all bets are refunded.

What Does -110 Mean Next to the Spread?

You can read more about how to read American odds, but the number next to the spread is the juice associated with that bet. Most spread bets will be -110, so the sportsbook takes a 10% cut.

That means for every $1 you want to win, you have to risk $1.10. So if you want to win $20 on a bet, you’ll have to risk $22.

If you bet $22 on Ohio State -6.5 and the Buckeyes win by 10, you’ll win $20. If they only win by 5, you lose $22.

Point spreads have an even tax on both sides because we expect each team to cover the point spread about 50% of the time.

When betting moneylines — which requires you to pick the winner straight-up — you can get bigger payouts because the likelihood of the worse team winning the game outright is much lower than it just covering the spread.

How Do I Make a Spread Bet?

It’s easy to bet point spreads at a book like DraftKings. Here’s how it works:

  • Navigate to your desired sport.
  • Click on the spread you want to bet in the game module (it will be lined up with the team you want to bet).
  • Head to the bet slip on the right side of the page (on your phone, it will pop up automatically).
  • Click “Login to Place Bet” and login, then submit your bet.

How Are Point Spreads Made?

We could write another 5,000 words about how point spreads are truly made, but in the simplest terms, it’s a 3-step process.

  • Oddsmakers build mathematically-driven ratings for each team before the season and continue to tweak them as games are played.
  • They use those ratings, plus factors like home-field advantage, rest, and injuries, to create a point spread in advance of a scheduled game.
  • Bettors then begin wagering on that initial point spread, which will influence the spread and move it to the most accurate possible number.

What Does Covering the Spread Mean?

“Covering the spread” is another way to say that a team won a point spread bet. In the above example, Ohio State winning by 7 points or more as a -6.5 favorite means they covered the spread.

If Penn State lost by 6 points or fewer, or won the game, they covered the spread.

ATS Definition

What does it mean when a team is 9-2 ATS this season? ATS stands for “against the spread.” So an ATS record is simply wins and losses against the spread.

Run Lines & Puck Lines, Defined

Low-scoring sports like hockey and baseball do have point spreads, but they’re almost always -1.5 and +1.5.

In hockey, a spread is referred to as the “puck line.” In baseball, it’s the “run line.”

The odds are just changed depending on the ability of the team — you won’t get -110 on both sides.

So you’ll get paid less for betting the Yankees -1.5 against the lowly Orioles than you would for betting the Yankees -1.5 against the Astros, when the two teams are more evenly matched.

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