My foray into the world of sports betting was as a punter, primarily following the ups and downs (well, mostly downs…) of my local team as they battled against the ever-present threat of relegation. Over time, I began to become more and more interested in the ins and outs of various strategies and became adept at spotting a good operator.
My day job was, at the time, writing and editing for a local newspaper, so turning my professional skills to my interest in sports betting followed naturally. I started writing about sports betting as a hobby initially with my own blog, analysing odds and providing betting tips where I thought I could find value. Eventually, I was headhunted to write the same content for a betting firm, which resulted in me leaving my local paper job behind and turning my professional interests solely to sports betting writing by 2017. Since then, I have been proud of the body of work I have been able to produce.
Using my interest in all aspects of the sports and gambling world to guide me, I now write for Betting.net, compiling operator reviews, bonus reviews, and sharing the tips and tricks across our various sports betting guides. When I’m not at my keyboard, I am an avid rock climber, with an ultimate goal of eventually ascending the Seven Peaks — if I can fit it in between penning the latest bookmaker review, that is!
What does point spread mean? This is one of the questions our experts are most frequently asked here at Betting.net. Before we embark on our journey into the finer details of betting on sports, we can tell you that the sports betting spread is the most popular form of sports betting today.
So if you’re looking to find out exactly how spreads work in sports betting, then you need look no further than this guide. By the time you’ve read this page from top to bottom, you’ll know how points spreads work inside and out.
Sports betting spread – key points
A way for sportsbooks to balance up one-sided fixtures
Involves deducting points from one team and adding to another
Similar to a handicap
Most popular type of betting in the US
Can add more value to your bets
What does point spread mean?
Sports betting spreads explained
So what does point spread mean exactly in sports betting? Points spreads are used by sportsbooks and odds makers as a means of evening up unbalanced or one sided fixtures.
Despite attempts to even up the playing field via financial fair play regulations and salary caps in American pro sports leagues like the NAB and the NFL, it’s fair to say that no two teams are created equal. This means that there’s almost never going to be a situation where you’re betting on a fixture where each side has a 50/50 chance of winning.
This is where points spreads come into play, as they even up the playing field by giving points to the weaker teams and taking away points from the stronger ones. With a points spread, the favorite will have a minus symbol (-) before a certain number, while the underdog will have a positive symbol (+). This gives the favorite a handicap and the underdog an advantage, thus matching things up.
Let’s take a look at an example of this in our betting guidebelow.
Sports betting point spread – example
To give you a proper example of how sports betting spread actually works, let’s use an NBA fixture between Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets. In this fixture, Utah Jazz would likely be quite heavy favorites, with the Rockets being given a very low chance of winning. Therefore in order to even things up, the sportsbook might apply a points spread as follows:
Utah Jazz (-7.5)
Houston Rockets (+7.5)
The uneven nature between the two teams has now been leveled off, with the point spread now meaning that both sides have an equal chance of winning. In order for Utah Jazz to meet the spread, they will need to win by a margin of at least 7.5 points. The Rockets on the other hand would just need to keep within less than 7.5 points of the Jazz in order for your bet to pay out, even if they lose.
Sportsbooks use points spreads for a couple of reasons, mainly because it can offer customers an interesting betting opportunity, while at the same time guaranteeing themselves at least a small profit. The points spreads are set at fixed odds (more on that later) and even up the playing field to a 50:50 ratio in what otherwise would be one-sided fixtures.
This encourages the sportsbooks’ customers to bet on both sides, despite the fixtures being one-sided, while also giving them a house edge that guarantees them at least a small profit over time. You can find out exactly how do sportsbooks make money here.
It goes back to that old saying, “the house always wins”; with points spreads, however, so can you!
Sports betting spread odds
What helps keep things easy for punters while maintaining the house edge for the sportsbooks is the spread betting odds. While other betting lines and markets can see the odds drift and shorten in real time, the odds with points spreads are, for the most part, even on both sides.
Because the idea of a points spread is to give each side a 50/50 chance of winning, sportsbooks are therefore able to offer both sides at the exact same odds. Generally, points spreads will be offered at odds of -110, however this may differ slightly from sportsbook to sportsbook.
With odds of -110, you as the bettor would need to stake $110 in order to win a $100 profit.
How does spread betting benefit you?
Basically, the sports betting points spread gives you, as the bettor, a valid reason and the motivation to back either or both teams.
Generally speaking, with straight bets, one-sided fixtures can offer very little to bettors. Backing the favorite in a straight bet when the odds are particularly one sided offers you a very low potential return for your bet. Conversely, backing the underdog in such fixtures offers a high potential return, but has an extremely low probability of happening.
As a bettor you can therefore look to alternative betting markets, such as handicaps or over-unders, or you can use these fixtures as part of a larger parlay bet. The points spread is another way of the bookies making one-sided fixtures more attractive to bettors, while also protecting their own profits and interests. At the end of the day, it’s a win-win for both parties.
Can the sports betting spread change before a fixture takes place?
You will find that both the odds and the spread can change up and until the game actually starts. It can be something of an inconvenience to you as the bettor, however the sportsbooks are fully within their right to change both.
There are a number of reasons why the points spread and/or odds can change in the run up to a fixture. These reasons can come from the sportsbook themselves, as well as from factors that may have a direct bearing on the actual fixture.
Reasons for points spread changes
The points spread in the run up to any given fixtures in any sport will inevitably shift at least slightly. The main factors that can influence a change in the points spread are things such as injuries, weather conditions and team preparation. For example, if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were (-4.5) favorites and a points spread and Tom Brady got injured ahead of the fixture, the points spread would change considerably.
Changes to the points spread can also be made due to influential factors from within the sportsbooks themselves. For example, the most common reason why sportsbooks will change a spread is if they are seeing more bets coming in from one side than the other.
Changes to points spread betting odds
As well as the actual points spreads themselves changing, the odds are also subject to change. We mentioned above that the industry standard odds for a points spread is -110. However this can vary between sportsbooks and can also change in the run up to the game.
The idea behind a points spread from the bookies’ perspective is to offer equal odds on both sides. This is done as when the money is split exactly between the two sides, the sportsbook should see some form of profit regardless of the outcome.
When the odds drift and shorten with points spreads, they usually remain even money on both sides. You might then wonder what the point is of moving the odds at all, however sometimes the sportsbook has to move the odds before spread in order to protect their profit.
For example, if a lot of money is being wagered on the Bucs at (-4.5), the odds could move from -110 to -115 before the spread is shifted to (-5.5).
What happens if the sports betting points spread is even?
While a rarity in today’s sporting world, it can happen that the points spread between two teams is even, or zero. This means that neither team is deemed the favorite nor the underdog, and it is sometimes referred to as a “pick” or “pick em”.
In this instance, you can still choose to back either side, and the site that you pick will merely have to win in order for you to bet a payout. Essentially such a bet would be a point spread by name, but very much a moneyline bet by nature. You can find out more about moneyline bets and how they work in our guide to sports betting for beginners.
On what sports are points spreads used most commonly?
Point spreads generally work best with higher scoring sports that work on a points scoring system – rather than goals. In the US, the most popular points betting sports are NBA basketball and NFL football. In states where wagering on college sports is legal, you may also find points spreads on the NCAA.
You will, however, generally find that point spreads on college football and basketball are much higher than with the pro leagues such as the NFL and NBA. The reason behind this is simply the girth in talent between amatuer and professional levels. In the NFL could have a low points margin or even a tied game between two teams that look extremely mismatched on paper. With college sports, the scores and points margins tend to be higher.
Although the NBA and the NFL make up the bulk of the sports betting spread market in the US, you can still find points spreads on other sports, such as hockey, soccer and baseball. However, these sports are much lower scoring instead of overall points tallies, meaning that even in the more one-sided of games, there isn’t too much scope for the fluctuation of a points spread. Particularly with hockey and soccer, the slightly similar concept of handicapping tends to be more popular among bettors.
So you now know the answer to the question “what does points spread mean in sports betting?”, but we’ve got so many other guides for you to make use of here. Points spread betting is popular within traditional, fixed odds bookies If you are looking to broaden your horizons however, you can find the concept of a betting exchange explained right here.
Conclusion – what does points spread mean?
Now that you know the meaning of a point spread in sports betting and how it works, it’s time to put it into practice and begin your adventure. You may find things a little tricky at first, but if you know your sports well, your points spread betting wagers are sure to come good in time. Just remember to start off modestly and manage your bankroll. Additionally, pick your fixtures carefully and stick to backing the teams that you know best.
Sports betting point spread FAQ
❓ What does point spread mean in betting?
Points spreads or points spread betting is a concept that’s implemented by sportsbooks and the odds markets in sports wagering. Essentially, it is a means of evening up the stakes in what would otherwise be a one-sided event. It may look complicated at first, but how it works is actually very simple. You can find our full guide right here.
🤔 What is against the spread?
Going against the spread is a term that is applied specifically to points spread betting, which is a type of gambling applied to sports betting. You can find out about all forms of sports wagering, as well as glossary of top sports betting terms here at Betting.net.
🤭 What does it mean to cover the spread?
Now that you know the answer to what does point spread mean, we can tell you that ‘covering the spread’ is a gambling term that could perhaps also even be considered a strategy when implemented correctly with forethought. In our betting guides here at Betting.net, you can find out all about betting strategies, tips and tricks.
💵 What is the spread in sports gambling?
The spread in sports gambling is determined by points which are used to even up the stakes in mismatched fixtures. Find out more in our beginner guide to sports betting right here, including the answer to the question, what does point spread mean?