If two things were ever joined at the hip, it’s sports betting and the point spread. Whether you’re just getting introduced to online sportsbooks or you’re a seasoned gambling veteran, you’ve likely heard the term before. Points spreads are quite possibly the most popular type of sports wager out there and for most bettors, they’re a major part of the portfolio.
Betting on the point spread involves wagering on the margin of victory in a given game. Unlike the moneyline, which is a pick on which side will win, betting against the spread includes needing a team to win or lose by a certain amount in order to ‘cover’ the number. Because not all teams are equal in quality, the point spread is the oddsmakers’ way of evening out the game from a betting perspective.
Point spreads are a prominent betting option in nearly every sport in some way. They are most prevalent in basketball and football, but there are also versions of them in baseball and hockey. There are even spreads to bet on in sports such as soccer, tennis, and many others.
For many recreational gamblers, betting on sports is a source of entertainment above all else. But there’s no reason why you can’t turn a profit while having a bit of fun and betting on games. So keep in mind the following point spread betting tips to give yourself the best chance at success.
10 Sports betting tips for point spreads
1. Learn How Point Spreads Work
If you’re betting on nearly any sport but especially basketball and football, understanding point spreads is vital to achieving success. Take the following NFL betting odds as an example:
- Cleveland Browns +7 (-110)
- Kansas City Chiefs -7 (-110)
As is the case with moneylines, oddsmakers label one team as the favorite and one team as the underdog. The favorite has a negative sign next to its odds and must win by more than the point spread in order to cover the bet. In our example, the Chiefs are -7, they must win by eight or more to cash your ticket.
The underdog has a positive sign next to its spread and if it doesn’t win the game, can lose by less than the spread indicates and still cover the number. At +7, the Browns can win the game or lose by less than seven to win the bet and earn a payout.
If the Chiefs were to win by exactly seven points, the bet would be what is referred to as a ‘push’ and the bet will be void for both sides. Anytime a favorite wins by the same margin as the point spread, original bets are returned to your sportsbook account.
The point spread will always be the same for both sides; the difference will be whether they are giving points (favorite) or getting points (underdog) against the spread. What can vary, however, is the exact price that bettors pay for one side or another.
What is vig?
When it comes time to calculate what you stand or win or lose, the process is the exact same as the moneyline. The only difference is which figure bettors are using to figure it out. Sitting next to every point spread is what’s referred to as the juice, or vig, associated with that bet. This is the number that is used to compute potential risks and payouts.
It’s important to know that the vig is how oddsmakers take their cut and maintain an edge on the betting public. It is essentially a fee imposed by sportsbooks just for doing business, and it’s baked into every spread you bet on.
As is the case with our example, you will find many spreads with a -110 line attached to the spread. With negative lines, the figure represents the amount you must risk for every $100 in profit. So in this case, the bettor needs to lay down $110 to win $100 no matter which side they choose.
While most opening spreads are set with a -110 line, it is quite common for the exact price to vary for the favorite and the underdog, even if the spread is exactly the same. Most point spread lines range from -125 to +100 based on the action being taken by the sportsbook.
2. Know How Spreads Are Set
Point spreads are set by sportsbooks well in advance of games. Algorithms and mathematical formulas are thrown into a melting pot with things like power rankings, home field advantage, recent performance, injuries and lineup changes, the schedule, and even the weather.
There’s a starting point for every spread, which is the opening line. But those who set the lines also use their expertise of the betting public and their tendencies. Oddsmakers are attempting to forecast how the public will bet on a particular game, and are setting a line that will result in a market reaction that matches their projection.
An important aspect of spread betting is understanding how odds are set and that spreads and the lines that accompany them are not frozen in place. There will likely be many small changes and alterations in these odds leading up until the start of a game. But how and why do lines move?
3. Why Do Betting Lines Move?
The goal is to attract an equal amount of action on both sides to mitigate the overall risk being taken on by the sportsbook. When that doesn’t happen, we see line moves in an attempt to balance out the two sides.
In our above example, the Chiefs are -7 (-110). If the public is heavy on Kansas City, sportsbooks will adjust and the line will shift to Chiefs -7 (-115), then Chiefs -7 (-120). If the increased juice isn’t enough to level things out, the spread will eventually change to Chiefs -7.5 (-110), adding a half point while resetting the juice to its starting point. This process repeats itself over and over again leading up until the time a sporting event begins.
Aside from how the public reacts to a spread, there are other factors that come into play and impact betting lines. That includes lineup changes, injury reports or lineup changes, and sudden changes in weather. It is worth noting that no matter how much a line moves after the time you’ve placed a wager, your bet is locked in with the odds that were available at the time of bet placement.
4. How Many Points Is Home Advantage Worth?
As mentioned above, home-field or home-court advantage is one of the things that oddsmakers take into consideration when setting a betting line. Most teams across many sports tend to perform better in front of their own fans, so the location of the game needs to be baked into the point spread.
Typically, betting lines will skew in favor of the team playing at home rather the team forced to travel and play a road game. So how much is home-field advantage worth when it comes to betting odds?
It depends on the sport. When betting football, home-field advantage normally accounts for around three points. So if you see the home team with a spread of -3, you can assume that oddsmakers view those teams as close to equal on a neutral site. If a team is favored by several points on the road, you can assume that spread would be considerably larger if they were playing at home.
In college basketball, the variety of opponent quality makes the point range of homecourt advantage much wider, somewhere between 2.5 and 6 points depending on a variety of factors. In recent years, it is said that NBA homecourt advantage is worth about three points during the regular season.
4. Shop For Lines
There are a few actions that all bettors can take at all times that can only have a positive impact, and one of those is line shopping. This involves comparing odds for the same event at multiple sportsbooks and choosing to bet on the site that offers the most advantageous odds for the bettor.
This is one of the biggest reasons why it’s always recommended to sign up for multiple online sportsbooks. If one site has Browns +7 (-115) and another lists Browns +7 (-105), the opportunity is there to gain some extra value by taking the better line (in this case -105).
While shopping around for point spreads, there are really two points of comparison. One is the spread and the other is the juice. If the spread is exactly the same at multiple sites, the decision can be easily based on which one has less juice. But if the spread is slightly different as well, bettors need to take into account both the spread and its line.
For example, FanDuel could list Chiefs -7 (-120), but DraftKings may be offering Chiefs -7.5 (+100). The first line is less attractive, but offers the security of a push if Kansas City wins by exactly seven. The second line offers a better payout but requires a seven-point win to avoid a loss.
In each situation, bettors need to take both of these things into consideration when shopping around to find themselves the best line possible.
5. Look For Sharp Line Movement
Another thing recreational bettors should always be looking for is sharp line movement, which is created by the best professional gamblers. They are among the small percentage of people who are successful enough at betting on sports that they do it for a living.
Although it can be difficult to find reliable data, tracking public bet percentages and line movement can provide an indication of what side the professionals are on. In many cases, the sharps are fading the public, and you want to know when you should be going against the masses too.
One tool is reverse line movement, which takes place when the majority of bets are on one particular side of a spread but the line moves in the opposite direction.
Imagine Kansas City is -7 (-110) and much of the public was betting on them, but the line shifts to Chiefs -7 (+100) or Chiefs -6.5 (-120). The backing of the favorite would indicate the spread should grow rather than shrink. This could potentially be a sign to fade the public in certain spots.
6. ATS Results Matter More Than W/L Records
Newer bettors sometimes begin to bet on spreads without using the proper information during the research process. When betting on spreads, there is much more to take into consideration aside from how much a team wins or loses.
Win-loss records are already a pretty misleading statistic at times to begin with, but especially when betting against the spread. Bettors would do well to focus on team records specifically against the spread (ATS), which can vary quite a bit from a standard W/L record.
For example, the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs went 14-2, but just 7-9 against the spread and weren’t profitable to wager on. The Carolina Panthers were a 5-11 team that managed a 9-7 ATS record and made money for their backers more times than not. There is no prerequisite that the right team to bet on is a winning team or a playoff-caliber team. In fact, sharp bettors would tell you they don’t bet on teams at all, just numbers.
Of course, previous ATS records are by no means foolproof and shouldn’t be the only source of research. Digging deeper into recent form and how teams stack up against one another schematically are also part of having a thorough betting process.
7. Look For Key Numbers
Key numbers are especially important when betting on football. They are usually the most common margins of victory and numbers that bettors want to make sure they have on their side, no matter which team they’re betting on. For example, the most common winning margins in football are 3, 7, and 10. So if your spread is right around one of these numbers, having the key number on your side can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Betting a favorite at -6.5 means that with a seven-point win, the bet cashes. If the spread was -7.5, the favorite is on the wrong side of a key number, and that team would likely need another scoring play to cover the spread. That could shift the value over to the underdog. The same can be said for point spreads between two and 3.5 points.
8. Two-Team Stanford Wong Teasers
If you’re betting on the NFL, the above education on key numbers can come in handy in a variety of bets. That includes teasers, which are multi-side wagers which allow the bettor to alter the spread or total for each game included. Generally, bettors can choose between 6, 6.5, and 7-point teasers, though each half point lessens your payout.
Stanford Wong, author of Sharp Sports Betting, developed a formula for betting teasers successfully. First, he suggests only betting two-team teasers in games with a total of 49 points or fewer. He also says the best teasers take teams through the spreads of three and seven, which are both key numbers that cover the most common winning margins.
Favorites get teased down while underdogs get teased up. Specifically, favorites of -7.5, -8, and -8.5 get moved down to -1.5, -2, and -2.5, respectively. Underdogs of +1.5, +2, and +2.5 would be teased up to +7.5, +8, and +8.5. According to Wong, bettors need to get 72.5 percent of individual selections right to turn a profit using this strategy.
10. Manage The Bankroll
Money management gets forgotten about but is integral to the entire sports betting process. This is especially true when things aren’t going your way, since it’s easy when all your bets are hitting. Consider setting specific amounts for each day, game, or week, and fight the urge to chase losses with larger bets.
Sports with spread betting
Many of the sports that rectional bettors are wagered on offer spreads of some kind. Football and basketball are the two that come to mind as the most popular sports with point spreads, but baseball and hockey also have versions of the spread. Soccer offers goal spreads, and tennis has spreads on games, points, and sets.
Run Line Betting Explained
The run line is baseball’s version of a point spread, so the terminology is interchangeable when you’re betting on MLB games. The biggest difference between the two is that the run line is always the same, as favorites are -1.5 and underdogs are +1.5. Run lines don’t use spread to account for the difference between the two teams, which is the case in basketball and football.
Instead, run lines will have more variance visible in the line that accompanies the 1.5-run spread. Take the following example using MLB odds:
- Philadelphia Phillies +1.5 (-135)
- New York Mets -1.5 (+115)
From an odds perspective, the run line takes the favorite and turns them into an underdog. The Mets are the favorite in this game but once you add the -1.5 run line and require a two-run victory, the odds become longer. The opposite happens for Philadelphia, which begins as the underdog but gets shorter odds once given a +1.5 run line. In this case, the Phillies can lose by a single run and still win the bet.
Puck Line Betting Explained
Puck lines are hockey’s version of a point spread, and they can be very much compared to run lines. So when you’re looking at NHL odds, you can think of them like you would baseball odds.
The spread on a puck line is always -1.5 for the favorite and +1.5 for the underdog, with the juice varying much more than a traditional spread to account for the difference in strength between opponents.
Something that hockey bettors need to keep in mind when betting on the puck line is the fact that teams trailing at the end of NHL games will often pull the goaltender to get an extra skater on the ice. In some cases, it’s a one-goal game and this tactic leads to empty-net goals, creating a two-goal winning margin. It’s the difference between winning and losing quite often throughout a season for those who are either -1.5 or +1.5 on the puck line.
Point Spread Live Betting
Live betting involves placing wagers on a game after it has already begun. Sportsbooks update betting odds as games progress, altering the line based on the action taking place. Live betting provides a seemingly endless number of opportunities to bet on a game from the time it begins until the later stages of the contest.
As online sportsbooks reach new heights of popularity, so does live betting. The two are naturally intertwined, as bettors benefit from the ease of mobile wagering by having access to lines as they update while the game is going on.
Live betting used to be reserved for those who missed the start of the game and just wanted some action. But now, in-game lines are targeted by bettors in a strategic way, making live betting a resource for profit. Point spreads are the most common type in-game bet and the nature of live betting on spreads presents some interesting wagering opportunities.
One of those is doubling down. After placing a pregame spread bet, you place another one on the same team during the game. There are a huge range of odds changes throughout a sporting event, so this could be any number of spreads that are lower, equal to, or higher than the original.
The main attraction for live bettors with pregame bets already placed is middling. Finding a middle involves placing bets on different sides of the same game, and live odds can help you achieve the goal of winning both bets.
Say you bet on Team A at -3 before the game and they score immediately, moving the spread to -7. You can take Team B at +7 and suddenly, you’ve got a 10-point middle where you can land to win both bets. The worst that can happen is a split, which would result in losing the juice amount if the wagers were of equal size. This can be done across a range of sports but work best with NBA and NFL lines.
It’s worth noting that those who live bet aren’t all placing pregame wagers on the same game. There are plenty of bettors who choose to wait until a game starts and only place wagers on live odds.
Some bettors may not like the spread in either direction and prefer to have a feel for a contest before going with one side or the other. But on many occasions, bettors try to eliminate some of the house’s edge by betting on in-game lines rather than pregame odds.
How does this work exactly? Well, the oddsmakers have all the advantages in the beginning. The formulas, algorithms, expertise, and perhaps most of all: time to put it all together and create the spread of their choosing. Once a game begins, the sportsbooks must react to the action taking place and no longer have the benefit of time to cook up the perfect spread. Plenty of bettors like their chances in a more level playing field when both the sportsbook and the bettor are reacting to the game.
Point Spread Parlays
Parlays are wagers that let you combine multiple selections into the same bet in exchange for an enhanced payout. The betting public enjoys parlays because they have the potential to earn you a huge payday for a small investment.
To qualify as a parlay, the bet must have two or more selections and can include up to 15 at some sportsbooks, including BetMGM. We put together an example featuring both NBA and NCAA basketball games, since parlays can contain sides from different sports:
- Kentucky Wildcats -10 (-110)
- Indiana Pacers +4.5 (-115)
- Golden State Warriors -8.5 (-112)
After adding all three selections to the bet slip, the odds accumulate to +554 for putting all three teams into the same bet. That means that with a $100 risk, you can win $554. With a $10 bet, you could win over $55.
The exact payout for a parlay varies with every bet and depends on multiple factors including the number of sides included in the bet and the odds for each. Every additional point spread will boost the odds of the parlay, but it will also make the wager more difficult to win. The downside of parlays is that all sides need to win for you to earn that profit, as just one loss spoils the whole bet.
Because most spreads are between -125 and +100, these parlays are a bit easier to calculate compared to moneylines. And because none of the lines have the same juice as a heavy moneyline favorite, it doesn’t take many spreads to build a parlay with handsome odds. All the more reason why it’s recommended to keep parlays limited to just a couple of sides, even if the overall payout is less than if you had five or six.
Bettors should be aware that they can also combine spreads into parlays with moneylines, totals, props, and other bet types. Alternate lines can also be used if you want to hand-pick the spread on your own and depending on which direction you go, the odds can either get better or worse.