Even if you are new to the world of sports betting as Ohio moves to make it legal, you likely are already familiar with the point spread or at least have heard the term. An industry that has long been an underground discussion has reached the mainstream media. Because of that, sports fans likely have never been more educated on sports betting lingo.
With the point spread, bettors and oddsmakers try to handicap how many points a particular team is better than another team. It may seem fairly obvious which team will win a game outright, but if the lesser team gets a virtual head start, that’s when things can get tricky. Consistently beating the point spread on a regular basis is something only a small percentage of bettors can do, as the system is tilted in favor of the sportsbooks.
In this guide, we will take you through the basics of the point spread with examples and betting tips to get you started.
What is the point spread?
On a basic level, not all teams are equal. Some franchises and organizations are better than others, and that’s where the point spread comes into play. The point spread is essentially the sportsbooks’ way of evening the playing field from a betting standpoint, and bettors can decide whether a particular team is better or worse than the oddsmakers’ projection.
Oddsmakers use an array of tools and information to determine how many points the lesser team should receive in a given matchup. The goal is to entice even betting action on both sides, with 50% taking the favorite and 50% siding with the underdog.
If the oddsmakers decide one team is 5.5 points better than its opponent, the underdog will receive five and a half points before the game even begins. For the underdog to cover the spread, it will need to either win the game outright or lose by less than 5.5 points. The favorite, meanwhile, must win the game by more than 5.5 points for a spread bet on that side to win.
Point spread odds explained
The standard odds for a point spread are -110 on both sides — underdog and favorite — to come out on top once we take the spread into account. That number may vary slightly on either side, but it typically will hover around -110 in almost all cases. This indicates that if you bet on either side, you would be risking slightly more than you would stand to win on a successful bet. When people refer to “the vig” or “the juice,” this is what they’re talking about. It helps tilt sports betting in favor of the books in the long term.
When betting on point spreads at -110 odds, you would actually lose money if you were correct half the time. Instead, you would need to correctly predict 52.4% of wagers just to break even, giving sportsbooks a slight edge.
If you bet on a team to cover the spread at -110 odds, that means a bet of $110 would win you a $100 profit if correct. Similarly, if the odds were -105, you’d need to risk $105 to net $100. It’s not exactly a fair system for the sports bettor, so make sure you understand that before you start placing wagers.
Examples of spread bets
Now that you have the basics of the point spread down, let’s go through a few examples of what a spread bet would look like for NFL, NBA and MLB games.
NFL spread betting
The NFL remains king when it comes to sports betting in the United States. And the most popular way to bet on the NFL is via the point spread. Below is an example of what an NFL point spread bet could look like at DraftKings Sportsbook in Ohio:
- Cincinnati Bengals -4.5 (-110)
- Cleveland Browns +4.5 (-110)
The -4.5 indicates that the Cincinnati Bengals are 4.5-point favorites. This means that the Cleveland Browns, at +4.5, are 4.5-point underdogs.
If you’ve done your research and determined Cincinnati will perform better than the oddsmakers project, you can place a bet on the Bengals and root for them to win by more than 4.5 points. On the other hand, if you’re convinced the Browns can cover the spread, they will need to either win the game by any score or lose by fewer than 4.5 points. As we went over earlier, a $110 wager on either side would result in a $100 profit.
NBA spread betting
NBA gambling is another popular pastime for sports fans, especially down the stretch of the season during the playoffs and into the NBA Finals. Just like with the NFL, the point spread is a popular betting option. Below is an example of a potential matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat at FanDuel Sportsbook Ohio:
- Miami Heat +10 (-110)
- Cleveland Cavaliers -10 (-110)
By looking at the numbers, you’ll notice Cleveland is a 10-point favorite, and Miami is a 10-point dog. For Cleveland to cover the spread, it needs to win by more than 10. Without a half-point as part of the spread, though, there is a third outcome that could occur.
In this example, if the Cavaliers won by exactly 10 points, that would be a push, and the sportsbook would return all bets, with no winners and no losers. Sportsbooks tend to try to avoid a situation like this because it means they lose out on the vig.
MLB spread betting
While NFL and NBA point spread betting are the same in a lot of ways, it’s different for betting on MLB games. Instead of a point spread, in baseball it’s a run line bet. With the run line, the standard spread is 1.5 runs. Here’s an example taken from the Caesars sportsbook app:
- Cleveland Guardians +1.5 (-170)
- New York Yankees -1.5 (+150)
Just like with the above examples, this shows that the Cleveland Guardians must either win the game outright or lose by less than 1.5 runs against the New York Yankees. However, there’s a twist. You’ll notice that the odds are not -110 on both sides.
The oddsmakers are suggesting there’s a high chance that the Guardians cover this run line, so you would need to place a $170 wager on the Guardians to net a $100 profit. The Yankees, meanwhile, are getting +150 odds to win by more than 1.5 runs. That means a $100 wager would result in a $150 profit if it’s correct. If the odds were +135, you’d win $135 with a $100 wager.
Live spread betting
As the name suggests, live betting means you can bet on a game as it is playing out. While you are watching a game or following it in some other way, you can pull out your phone and check an Ohio sportsbook app — DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, etc. — to see if there are any bets you would want to place.
Sportsbooks will adjust the sports gambling lines based on the game situation, meaning they could change from minute to minute. This can be thrilling for sports bettors because they need to be on their toes to take advantage of any numbers they like. One of the options you’ll likely see in the live betting menu is updated spread numbers based on how the game is playing out so far.
What does it mean when a point spread moves?
One of the key aspects of sports betting to understand is line movement. The point spread can change from the time the opening odds come out all the way up to moments before the game begins. For example, a team could open as a 3.5-point favorite. Then, minutes before game time, it could be a 6.5-point favorite based on a variety of factors.
One of the biggest reasons for line movement is where the betting action is going. Sportsbooks will generally want around half of the betting action to be on either side to minimize their risk. Therefore, if the favorite is getting 75% of the money, oddsmakers will adjust their numbers in an effort to even out the betting.
Placing a bet before the numbers move against you can create a ton of value and make for a better chance at consistently winning wagers, though predicting line movement can be difficult. Other reasons for the point spread moving could be factors like roster transactions, team news, injury updates or the weather forecast.
Spread betting tips & strategies
Now that you have a better grasp of what the spread is, here are a few sports spread betting tips to take with you:
- Do your homework: With the legalization of sports betting, anybody can now pull out their phone, look at the board and place a bet via a sportsbook app in seconds. With how much betting information is available for free right now, there is no excuse for not putting in the research to make an informed bet. Putting in the time could make a huge difference in the long run.
- Shop the lines: Different sportsbooks will generally offer similar point spreads for each game, but they’re not always exactly aligned. If you see a team as a three-point favorite at one sportsbook and a 2.5-point favorite at another, you’d want to use the book that has a better number for the bet you want to place. This becomes even easier if you have accounts at multiple sportsbooks.
- Identify your niche: An example of developing your own sports betting niche is focusing on the teams you know, like the division that your favorite football team plays in. Obviously, you know your own team better than most, and you likely have a good feel for the teams it competes against most often. By becoming an expert on a small group of teams, you could focus on the little details that many bettors might miss.