Ever wanted to bet on a team that you thought was going to do way better than everyone thought but would still lose the game? Or, have you ever wanted to bet on a team that you knew would win, but because they were big favorites the payouts were just way too low? Well, if the answer is yes to either of those questions, you’re looking for spread bets.
Spread bets are a unique type of sports betting wager where the playing field is effectively evened. The winner of the bet is not always the team that wins the game, but it’s the team that outperforms their expectations. If you’re someone who is planning on being involved in sports betting for any period of time, you’re certainly going to want to learn about spread bets.
In this guide, we’re going to introduce you to everything you need to know to get started betting spreads the right way. We’ll talk about what a spread bet is, how they work, how they pay out, why they’re awesome, and finally some great tips to get you moving in the right direction. By the time you finish reading through this guide, you’ll be fully equipped to bet spread bets like the pros do.
A spread bet is a unique type of sports bet that tries to even the playing field and the scoreboard allowing bettors to fairly bet on either side of the contest. One of the easiest ways to understand what a spread bet is is to understand why they are needed. Imagine that there is an upcoming fictitious football game between the Maryland Mice and the Texas Toads. Let’s say that the Texas Toads are an incredible team and should easily beat the Maryland Mice by 21 points.
If you think the Maryland Mice are a lot better than people think, but you still think they’re going to lose (but by less than 21 points), what can you do? Well, you’re certainly not going to make a moneyline bet on the Mice because they’d need to win the game in order for you to get paid. But, shouldn’t you be able to make some money based on your prediction that they’re going to outperform their expectations?
Well, this is where a spread bet comes in. The sportsbook decides how many points they think a team will win by and set that as the spread. In our above example, that would be 21 points. If you make a spread bet, you need the team you bet on to do better than they are expected to do. So, the sportsbook thinks that the Maryland Mice are going to lose by 21. To do better than that and outperform their expectations, all they have to do is do better than losing by 21. So, if they win the game, that’s doing better. But, if they lose by less than 21 points, that’s also doing better!
So, if the Mice lose the game by 20, you’d still win your Mice spread bet because they outperformed their expectations. But, what happens if you think the Texas Toads are going to outperform their expectations. Well, their expectation is to win the game by 21 points. So, for them to outperform that, they need to win the game by more than 21 points. If they win the game by 22 points or more, you’d win a spread bet on the Toads.
That’s all there is to it! The part that is confusing to a lot of people is that you can win a bet on a team even if they don’t win the game. Remember, it only comes down to whether they outperform their expectations or not.
Let’s take a look at what this spread bet would look like at the sportsbook
You’ll notice that there are three things listed for each wager. The first part tells you who you are betting on. The second part tells you whether the team is getting points or laying points. Getting points means that you are getting spotted those points and is depicted by a plus sign. So, in our above example, the Mice are getting spotted 21 points. The minus sign means that the team is “laying the points” which just means they need to overcome that many points to win this bet.
Sometimes you will see payout odds listed as well and sometimes you will not. We will cover that in the next section when we discuss the payouts.
Sometimes you’re going to see spreads set as half points. For example, you might see this for our earlier example.
Now, if you know anything about fictitious football, you know that no one can score half points. The reason that you will see this from a sportsbook is to prevent ties. In our earlier example, the spread was 21 points. If the Toads won the game by exactly 21 points, then neither bet would be a winner, but they would also not be losers. It would be a push (tie), and all money would be returned.
To prevent ties, you will often see the spreads set as half points. Since no one can score half points, there will have to be a winner. In our above example, if the Toads win the game by 22 or more points, a spread bet on the Toads would win. If the Toads win the game by 21 or fewer points or lose, a spread bet on the Mice would be a winner. So, in this example instead of a 21 point win by the Toads being a push, it would be a win for the Mice.
The sportsbook is going to release their initial spread based on what they think the margin of victory is. But, that spread will move based on the bets that come in. If they are getting too much action on one side of the bet, they will shift the spread to try and encourage more action on the other side of the bet. If you already made your bet, you will be locked in at the spread that you bet at. You do not get or have to take the new spread. Once you make your bet, you are locked in.
For example, let’s keep rolling with our earlier example where the Toads are 21 point favorites in our upcoming fictitious game. What happens if all of the money is coming in on the Mice to cover the spread? Well, the sportsbook is going to need to try and slow down the action on the Mice and increase the action on the Toads. To do that, they might try shifting the line like this.
Before the line movement, if the Mice lost the game by 21 points, a Mice spread bet would be a win. But now, if the Mice lose by 21, that will be a win for a Toad’s spread bet. This will hopefully entice more people to bet on the Toads and fewer people to bet on the Mice. If it doesn’t work, they may shift the line even further until people start betting the way they want them to. If it works too well, they would most likely shift the line back in the other direction. This will continue all the way up until the close of action to ensure the sportsbook gets the balanced action that they want.
What happens if the two teams are evenly matched? This is where you will see what is called a pick em’. Instead of seeing a spread, you will see ‘PK’ next to each team. This will indicate that the winner of the game will be the winner of the spread bet. Basically, this is now effectively a moneyline bet.
Spread bets even the playing field allowing you to bet on teams you think are going to outperform but still lose and allow you to bet on teams that are big favorites that you want to make more money on when they outperform. Remember, it’s not always going to be the team that wins the game that wins the spread bet. It all comes down to outperforming the point spread that the sportsbook has on the game.
Now it’s time to talk about the fun part of spread bets – getting paid! The good news about spread bets is that most of them are going to pay out exactly the same. With moneyline bets, the sportsbook adjusts the payouts to try and balance the action evenly on both sides of the game. But, with spread bets, the sportsbooks usually adjust the spread line to balance action and leave the payouts the same. This is not always the case, but it is the majority of the time. Let’s take a closer look at this.
Let’s look at our earlier spread bet example.
This is how you’re usually going to see spread bets written. Sometimes, though, you’ll see them written this way.
In both of these examples, the spread bet is going to pay out at (-110) on either side of the bet. When it’s not written, it is to be expected that both sides are paying out at (-110). So, if you were to bet $10 on either side of this bet if you won you would be paid out just over $9 in profit.
This is the case for a lot of spread bets, but not all of them. There are two specific times when you will see things different that we want to talk about. The first is sports where the total number of points, runs, or goals are very low. We’re talking about sports like baseball, soccer, hockey, etc. In these sports, the total points scored is so low that if the sportsbook were to shift the spread, the amount of money that might come in on the other side of the bet would be way more than they want to achieve their balance.
For example, a baseball team winning the game by 3 runs instead of 2 would be a massive difference. The likelihood of any baseball team winning by 3 runs instead of 2 is incredibly lower. For this reason, the sportsbook can’t just shift the spread line (known as the run line in baseball) to try and balance their action. What they do instead is set the spread always at 1.5 (again, called the run line) and then adjust the payouts for each side of that.
So, let’s say the Braves were playing the Yankees and the Braves are expected to win the game by a landslide. This is what the spread bet (run line) might look like.
As you can see, the Braves have to win the game by more than 1.5 runs, or the Yankees need to lose the game by less than 1.5 runs. In other words, if the Braves win by 2 or more runs, that side of the bet would win. If the Yankees win the game by any number of runs or lose the game by 1 run, that side of the bet would win.
But, notice that you’re not getting paid out the same on each bet. The sportsbook is predicting that the Braves are going to win the game by 2 or more runs pretty easily, so you’re getting paid out less than even money. On that same note, you’d be getting paid out much better than even money if you were to bet on the Yankees run line.
Keep in mind that sometimes the team that is expected to win the game will be an underdog to cover the run line or other spread lines in other sports that stay the same. For example, let’s say in our earlier example that the sportsbook thinks the Braves are going to win, but that they’re only going to win by 1 run. This is what the spread bet (run line) might look like
Remember, this is not a moneyline bet, but a spread bet. This should be understood by now, but we wanted to point it out because some people can get a little confused when it comes to fixed spread bets.
Remember, this is not just going to be the case in baseball. You’re also going to see this in other sports like hockey and soccer where the total points, runs, or goals scored are usually in single digits. Some of these sports will also utilize both slight spread movements and adjusting the payouts.
The second place that you’re going to see payouts different than (-110) is when sportsbook are looking only to shift action slightly. For example, let’s say that we’re looking at our previous example of the Mice and the Toads
Let’s say that there is too much action coming in on the Mice, but only slightly. If the sportsbook moved the spread to +21, they think that there would be way too much action coming in on the Toads. So, instead of shifting the line, they’ll shift the payouts. This is what you might see.
The Mice still need to cover 21.5 points to win this bet, but instead of getting paid out at (-110) you are now getting paid out at (-115). On the other side of the bet, the Toads bet is the same spread but is now paying out better at (-105) instead of (-110). A $10 bet on the Mice would have paid $9.09, but now it only pays $8.70. It’s not much worse, but it does make a difference. A $10 bet on the Toads would have paid $9.09, but now it would pay $9.52. Again, it doesn’t seem like much, but it makes a difference in the long run. The difference in actual dollar amounts also increases as the size of your bet increases.
If that doesn’t move the action far enough, then they may shift the Mice to (-120) and the Toads to EV which is even money. If that still doesn’t get the job done, then they may have to go ahead and move the point spread.
Most spread bets are going to pay out at (-110). If you don’t see a payout listed with a spread bet, you can assume that it is going to be (-110), but you should still check before you confirm your bet. In sports where the total runs, goals, or points are lower and usually in single digits, you may see a fixed spread line and the payout odds adjusted instead.
It should be fairly clear already why spread bets are awesome and can be an integral part of your winning betting strategy. But, there may be some of you out there that are still on the fence on whether or not you want to give these bets a shot. To help you out, we wanted to point out a few of the bigger benefits of utilizing these bets. These are by no means all of the benefits of spread bets, but they are just a few that we think are the most important.
Before spread bets, you could never intelligently bet on a team you expected to lose no matter how well you thought they were going to play. If you had the prediction that a team was going to outperform their expectations but still lose, you were out of luck. Thankfully, spread bets allow you to cash in on these predictions.
For those of you betting for profit, this is huge. It presents so many more opportunities for you to cash in on your predictions. If you’re a recreational bettor who likes to bet on your team, but your team is terrible, you’d just be burning up money if you made moneyline bets. But, you can make spread bets and even if your team isn’t walking away with a lot of wins, you could still be walking away with a lot of money.
Being able to bet more than just the game-winner gives you a lot more room to work when you’re putting together your betting strategy for a slate of games. More options is always going to be a better thing, especially when you’re looking to get a lot of action in. Remember, though, just because these bets are available it does not mean that you have to make them. What we’re trying to point out here is that when you know about spread bets and understand how they work and how to utilize them, you have a lot more weapons at your disposal. Whether you use them or not will depend on what your game predictions are and where you stand to make the most money.
Our final section of this guide deals with the top tips for betting spread bets profitably. The majority of spread betting strategy is going to be sport dependent and can be found in our main sports betting strategy guides. But, there are some spread betting tips that work across the board, and that is what we’re looking to cover today. We highly recommend you take a few minutes to read through these tips and if you’d like more strategy help for the specific sport you’re looking to bet, check out the link we’ve provided above.
It can be a little daunting or overwhelming the first time you try and predict what you think the spread for a game is supposed to be. And for those of you wondering, yes we think that you should predict what you think the spread should be before you take a look at what the book is putting out. The reason for this is that sometimes when you see the spread it can influence the way that you think. If you come up with what you predict it to be first, then it becomes much easier to see whether or not there is good value in the line without being influenced the wrong direction.
Let’s get back on track, though. The best way to approach determining what the potential spread could be is to break the game down into smaller segments. When you look at a game as a whole, it’s challenging to try and put a point value to who you think is going to win. But, when you break things down to smaller chunks, it’s a lot easier to try and put together a point spread.
For example, let’s say that you’re looking at the point spread on our fictitious game between the Mice and the Toads. Instead of looking at the game as a whole, break it down into quarters. How many points do you think each team will score in the first quarter? Once you’re able to look at all your stats and information and make a prediction, move on to the second quarter.
Keep doing this throughout the entire game, and at the end, you’ll have a storyline of exactly how you think the game is going to go and how many points you think each team is going to score. Take this information and compare it against the lines being offered. If you see a difference from what you came up with, you’ve found a spread bet that you’ll want to make.
Depending on which sport you are betting on, there are “critical” numbers that are important for you to know. We cover these in detail in our individual sports guides, but let’s take a look at an example here. If you were betting on a football game, +-3 is VERY different compared to +-2.5 or +-3.5. However, +-5 is not that different from +-4.5 or +-5.5.
Why? Well, think about how football games are scored. Things typically happen in multiples of 3s and 7s. If you run the stats on games, you’ll see that more games are decided by 3 points than by any other number. This means that if you’re looking to take the favorite, getting them at -2.5 is light years better than -3 which is also light years better than -3.5. If you were to get -4.5 on a favorite instead of -5, it still is a positive in your favor, but it’s nowhere near as big of a deal.
The difference between -7 and -7.5 is also a huge difference based on the same principle. Technically, 7.5 points could be covered in one possession if the team went for two, but they’re only going to do that if it is necessary. So, even though this is technically a one-possession spread, it really should be treated as a two-possession spread.
What’s the takeaway here? Understand the sport you are betting on and how the scoring works. Figure out the critical point values and be aware of them when you’re making your bets. A half point may mean a lot more depending on what the spread is set at.
You should never touch a spread bet unless you are willing to take the few seconds to shop around and make sure you are getting the best line possible. Line shopping with spread bets is when you take a bet that you want to make and you look at what spreads are offered at different sportsbooks. If there is a book that will give you an extra half point or more on your bet, you should bet with them as long as they are a reputable book.
A half point or even a full point might not seem like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, it is. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve lost a bet or pushed on a bet because of a half point. You’re not always going to be able to find a better spread, but you’d be surprised at how often you will.
There’s no need to go overboard and check 10 different sportsbooks every time you want to make a spread bet. If you just check one or two additional sportsbooks, you’re going to get most of the value that you’ll get from line shopping. Just make sure that you have accounts at these sites already in case you need to get a bet in last-minute or before a line moves. Lines tend to move together across different sites, but they don’t always move together.
The best way to use spread bets is to use them when they’re the best fit for your prediction. Are they always going to be the best fit? Certainly not. There are going to be times that you have a prediction on a game where a moneyline bet is going to be a much better fit.
For example, let’s say that you want to make a bet on an underdog to cover the spread. But, if you think they are going to be close to actually winning the game, you might be better off taking the moneyline bet. It all depends on what you like in terms of risk. If you just want to take the safe bet, then bet the point spread and hopefully walk away with an easy win. But, if you’re okay with taking on a little risk, then you could stand to make a ton of money on that underdog if they do walk away with the win.
Something you could also do is make a bet on the point spread and a bet on the moneyline. For example, let’s say that you’re looking at the following game.
Let’s say that you think BYU is going to come out and has a really good shot at winning this game. You’re confident they are going to cover the spread, but you also think there is a pretty good chance they will also win the game. Let’s also say that your budget for betting this game is $50.
What you could do is bet something like $35 on the spread and $15 on the moneyline. If the spread bet hits but they lose the game, you’d get paid $31.82 in profit. You would lose your $15 moneyline bet, but you’d still walk away with a profit of $16.82. But, if BYU happens to win the game, you’d get $31.82 on your spread bet, plus you would get $49.50 in profit on your moneyline bet for a total profit of $81.32. You could just bet the spread bet and take home an easy $31.82. But, if you want to take a little risk on some of your profit and go for the big win, this is a great way to do it.
Or, you can always abandon the spread bet completely and just place a wager on the moneyline. If you put all $50 on the moneyline in this game, you’d walk away with a profit of $165! But, if BYU outperforms their expectations but doesn’t get the win, you’d walk away down $50. This is all going to be your personal preference and be based upon what you think is going to happen in the game.
Spread bets are a really cool way for you to get into the action when you want to make a sizeable return on a big favorite or you want to bet an underdog that you don’t think is going to win the game. At this point, you should have all the information you need in order to make an intelligent spread bet on an upcoming game. If you’re looking for more information on spread bets in specific sports, make sure you check out our specific sports betting strategy guides.