Point Spread Betting: A Guide to This Popular Betting Market

There are some markets you’ll find on sports betting sites around the world with complete consistency. These are the most popular markets, the ones everyone should know about. One such market is point spread betting. Point spreads are a market centered around score differential. One team is favored by a certain line, which is what is known as the point spread. Bettors will then place bets revolving around this line, whether a team will exceed or not exceed the spread.

This market is popular on betting sites for sports like football, soccer, basketball, hockey, and more. It is used by beginners because it is relatively easy to understand, and by experts because it provides a lot of value. In this guide, we're going to break down everything you need to know about this crucial market. We'll explain point spread rules, strategies, and other key information, so you can leave this guide ready to start winning big betting the spread. Ready? Let’s get started!

What is Point Spread Betting?

Behind the Moneyline, point spreads are the second most popular and important betting market. Whether you are an expert or a beginner, understanding and utilizing this market will be a significant component of a successful gambling strategy. Let’s dive into what point spread betting is, what it looks like on a sportsbook, and how to know whether you’ve won.

A point spread is a line that represents the projected score differential in a sporting event in favor of one team. Bettors will have to decide whether they believe that team will exceed that projected differential or if they won’t. Betting on the team to exceed the differential is known as betting for the spread, and betting on the team not to exceed the differential is known as betting against the spread.

Point spreads are represented as lines, either - or +. If a team has a - with a number next to their name, that means they are favored by that number. If a team has a + with a number next to their name, that means they are the underdog by that number. There will often be odds below that number that show you the payout if you bet for or against the spread. Typically, the payout in the spread is -110 for both betting for or against the spread.

To win a point spread bet, the outcome your projected needs to occur. That means if you bet a team with odds of +6.5, they need to lose the game by six or fewer points or win outright. Or if you bet a team -2.5, they need to win by three or more points.

An example of engaging with the point spread in betting would be if you wanted to bet an NFL spread and headed to the top NFL betting sites. The Philadelphia Eagles are playing the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles are a -3.5 favorite, while the Cowboys are +3.5. If you bet the Eagles on the spread, you need them to win by four or more points. 

What makes it so popular

Point spread betting is wildly popular. Let’s look at why:

  • Can Earn Money Betting on Favorites: If a team is heavily favored in a game, there’s almost no reason to bet them on the Moneyline. However, with point spreads, you can still make money on nearly even odds if the favorite exceeds their differential.
  • Can Win with Underdogs: Betting underdogs is a risky bet on the Moneyline. Most of the time, the better team wins. However, with the point spread, there is more of a margin for error. The underdog just has to stay within a requisite amount of points, and you can win.
  • Relatively Straightforward: Once you get the odds and differential aspect of point spreads, it is a very straightforward market and easy to follow.

Point Spread Betting Parlays and Single Betting

Single betting and parlay betting are two different ways you can bet the spread. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages. We won’t advocate for one over the other because they both can give bettors upside.

Single betting is when you bet on a single outcome. For example, if you went on NHL betting sites and bet the Toronto Maple Leafs on -1.5. There is only one single outcome that bettors are betting on to occur, and that is that the Leafs win by two or more goals. Single bets have limited payouts for the spread, as they are typically just -110. However, bettors just need one outcome, so the risk isn’t significant.

Parlay betting is when people tie multiple bets into one. For example, if you were on soccer betting sites and added Arsenal -1.5 with Tottenham -1.5. Both Arsenal and Tottenham would need to win by two or more goals. These bets are riskier, as multiple outcomes need to occur for the bet to cash. However, the payouts are much higher as the odds multiply. If you parlayed two odds of -110, all of a sudden, you’d be looking at a line of +264.

Parlay bettors are typically better for experts, as it requires more significant sports betting knowledge. But beginners should experiment with them, too, without going overboard on their selections.

Understanding the odds

Before you can fully grasp how does point spread betting work, you need to understand the odds. Odds are the lines that show you the probability of something occurring. These lines reflect to you the payout you’ll receive from a bet you make. While this information might be for beginners, it never hurts to brush up on this information. Below, we’ll break down how odds work for spread betting.

There are three primary kinds of odds that you’ll see online. The most common one used by Canadian bettors and in point spread betting is American.

American odds use the +/- system. + odds show you how much you’d make in profit on a $100 bet. - odds show you how much you’d need to bet to make a $100 profit. For example, if something is -150, you’d need to bet $150 to make a $100 profit. If something is +150, betting $100 would earn you $150 profit. The typical line for point spreads is -110 for most sports.

An example of the odds for a point spread would be the Bears vs. Packers, with the Packers a -7.5 favorite at -110. The Bears would be a +7.5 underdog at -110. Betting on the Bears at +7.5 would yield a $100 payout for bettors who bet $110.

Decimal and fractional odds are two other popular types of odds. Decimal odds show how much a bet of $1 would make you, including your stake. So decimal odds of 2.0 means if you bet $1, you’d get $1 of profit back. Fractional odds are similar, but they’re represented as a fraction. If you bet $1 on 6/1 odds, you’d get $5 back in profit.

Point Spread Betting Strategy

Understanding the odds and the point spread payout process is important, but the most crucial thing is having a strategy in place. Betting with a strategy is a must because this will allow you to make informed decisions. Point spread betting requires a strategy, just like all other kinds of betting do. Let’s look at some of the important strategies you may need to get the best results when betting the spread.

  • Look at Teams’ Performances Against the Spread: A lot of time, people get caught up looking at the wins and loss numbers next to a team’s name. However, there is more to betting the spread than that. It is important to look at teams’ performances against the spread. Certain teams perform extremely well against the spread; looking at those numbers before you bet will help you make an informed decision on your bets.
  • Bet on Midsized-Larger Spreads: Spreads vary in size. There are many spreads that are small, like -1.5 or -2.5. In football and basketball, I would advise bettors to stick with larger spreads. If a team is a favorite or underdog by -1.5, you might as well bet the Moneyline. Instead, focus on midsized-larger spreads, as these have more value for bettors that want to point spread bet.
  • Use Bonus Offers if Available: Many sportsbooks will offer sports betting bonuses, some specific to spread bets. For example, these could be sportsbook bonuses like boosted winnings on point-spread parlays. These all can provide additional value to bettors. Checking the promo offers in a sportsbook will allow you to see if there are any promising offers that can value to bettors.
  • Be Careful of Large Division Game Spreads: Division games in sports like football tend to be close and unpredictable. The element of familiarity has a big impact on the results. Often, division games are closer than the spread expects. If you are looking to bet on a division game with a huge spread, consider betting on the underdog. There is a heightened chance they’ll keep it close.
  • Live Bet to Hedge Your Bets: Many sportsbooks, like 888Sport, Bodog, and Powerplay, allow bettors to bet on games that have already started. Using these live betting sites to hedge your bets can guarantee bettors some winnings. For example, if you bet a team at -3, and they score instantly, and their line shifts to -7 live, betting the underdog at +7 will give you a wider window of results that can end with you making money.

Favorite vs. Underdogs 

A key element of understanding point spread betting is getting who the favorite or underdog is. It is quite simple. If there is a - in front of a team’s number, they are favored. For example, if a team is -7, they are favorited by 7. If a team has a + in front of their number, they are the underdog. If a team has a line of +4.5, they are projected to lose by 4.5 points.

Point Spread Outcomes

There are three primary outcomes that can occur with a point spread bet. These are a win, loss, or push. Let’s look at exactly what each of these entails.

Win: If you bet either for or against the spread, and the result you picked happens, the bet will cash. For example, if the Red Sox are +1.5 against the Yankees, and the game ends in a final score of 3-2 for the Yankees, the Red Sox have kept the game within 1.5 runs. Your bet cashes.

Loss: If you bet for or against the spread, and the opposite result you picked happens, your bet does not cash. For example, if you bet the Canadiens at -1.5 against the Canucks, and the Canucks win 4-2, your bet does not cash.

Push: A push is what it is called when the final differential matches the line. Push results are only possible when the line is not a decimal. For example, if the Detroit Lions are favored by -7, and you bet that line, and they win by 7, that is a push. With push results, your staked money is returned.

Other Popular Betting Markets

Point spread betting is incredibly popular. You can’t match the thrill and excitement of monitoring close final scores with money on the line. However, this is far from the only betting market available to gamblers. There are many other popular betting markets that will offer excitement and opportunities to bettors. Let’s look at what they are.

  • Moneyline: A Moneyline bet is a bet on the final outcome of the game, essentially who will win. If you pick a team on the Moneyline, that means you’ve projected them to win their game.
  • Over/Under: The Over/Under is a line that represents the total combined points/goals/runs in the game scored between both teams combined. Bettors can choose to bet the over or the under. Over means the teams exceed that number, under means they don’t.
  • Futures: Futures are a type of long-term bet within a league. If you are betting on something that isn’t determined in a single game at the start of a season, that is a future. This includes betting on a team to win a championship or a player to win MVP.
  • Game Props: Game Props are the most expansive market. Game props include a huge host of bets on outcomes within a game based on a team or both teams. These outcomes might not directly impact the final score. Game props can be things like which team will score first, whether both teams will score, or how many three-pointers the teams will combine for.
  • Player Props: Player Props are like game props but for individual performance. It can be something like which player will score first, an over/under line for a player’s touchdown total, and a line for the number of assists a player will have.
  • Double Chance: Double chance is a soccer market where bettors can pick two of the three outcomes. The outcomes are Team A wins, Team B wins, or a draw, and bettors can pick two. Typically, this market doesn’t have a big payout.

Point Spread Betting FAQs

If there is a + next to a team’s name, that means they are the underdog by a certain amount of points. If a team is +2.5, they are projected to lose by 2.5 or more points. If you bet this line, they need to keep the game within 2 points or win outright.

One of the best parts of the spread is you have some margin for error when betting on an underdog. They don’t have to win outright; they just have to keep the game within a certain score. This benefits bettors that want to bet on the dog but don’t have full confidence.

There are always advantages and situations where betting the spread makes sense. However, sometimes, betting the Moneyline makes more sense. If you are betting an underdog in football or basketball on a line of +1.5, you might as well bet on the ML and get better odds.

Sports with lower score differentials will have different kinds of spreads. Baseball and hockey are both low-scoring games, so they have run and puck lines, respectively. This is a base line of -1.5, with only a few deviations. The odds are also different on these lines and not as uniform as basketball or football spreads.

How a team performs against the spread shows bettors how that team has delivered for bettors that bet on their spread every week. For example, if the Los Angeles Chargers are 4-1 against the spread this year, that means in the five weeks of the season, if you bet their spread, you would have won four of those weeks.

Cameron is a 2020 graduate from the University of Southern California’s Journalism program. He is an avid sports fan and bettor, whose favourite teams include the Toronto Raptors, and the Chicago Bears. Cameron has been writing about and following sports since the age of 10, when he first fell in love with the NFL and NBA.