How to Bet Point Spreads

Betting the point spread is easily the most popular way of betting on most sporting events. The point spread is often misunderstood as convoluted or difficult to understand; this is a misnomer. Betting the point spread is relatively easy to understand and once you realize the basic concepts of the spread, you will indeed see just how easy it is.

Why a point spread?

Why not “straight up” dollar for dollar, a team loses, or a team wins, the house wins or the bettor wins? Easy answer—

The sportsbook is taking the financial risk. They are the ones offering the bettor a chance to beat them or in other words, a chance to take their money. 

The sportsbook must charge their client a commission, often what is called “vigorish” or “juice”. Betting on sports has become a high stakes exchange of money and it’s no longer a handshake between a couple of buddies. That’s certainly the “good old days” of sports gambling, however, now that sports gambling is a worldwide phenomenon, the bookies must charge juice, or they wouldn’t make any money.

What sports feature the use of the point spread? 

Most every sport uses the point spread system and is especially popular in the NFLNCAAFNBANCAAB

Of course, there are many ways to bet on sports in general and the bookies offer them, Money LinesTotalsPuck Lines, and Run Lines.

After it’s all said and done, the bettor (the public) they are accustomed to seeing the point spread and this is especially so in the NFL and the NBA.

How are point spreads determined, what makes one team a favorite and another the underdog?

This is a great question and one that comes with a straight forward answer.

For many years, (going back to the 1950s, 1960’s and beyond) the sportsbooks, both online, and brick and mortar, they have incorporated what is called oddsmakers or lines movers to set the point spread in each game or sporting event. These folks are professional handicappers and the bookies trust them to get the numbers right, and they trust them daily. 

The oddsmakers follow the individual sports and they are hired by the bookies to know who the best teams are and who is likely to get beat and by whom. 

Setting the point spread or the daily line has become an art form and the online sportsbooks have nearly perfected the practice. The online bookies have taken precedence over Las Vegas and nowadays, Las Vegas follows the offshore bookmakers

How the money in point spread betting works

The point spread is commonly set at -110 and this is a standard in Las Vegas sportsbooks as well as with the world-wide in other online bookmakers. Of course, this number can vary, and you may see all kinds of variations from -119, to -115, to -130. The later is not usually the case but can be in certain lopsided instances or when the oddsmakers believe one team to have a very strong advantage. 

The point spreads can and will often change before the start of the event. The reason for this line movement is due to activity from the bettors. The bettors may be betting heavily on one side or another and this movement draws a reaction from the oddsmakers. 


NFL: Patriots vs. Bears

Tuesday Morning  

Patriots -3-110
Bears +3-110

Sunday Morning (before kickoff)

Patriots -1-115
Bears +1-105

As you can see, the line has moved by two points and the reason for this, the general population believes that the Bears will play well and they like the Bears as the underdog… they like +3. In fact, they liked the number so much, and so many bets came in that the oddsmakers moved the line from Patriots -3 to Patriots -1 or Bears +3, to Bears +1. 

This type of line movement does not always happen but from time to time and on a big game, the bettors will see this. 

The NBA and the NCAA, both football and basketball, they see the same kinds of line movement. The point spread will change, and they do change. 

The key element to beating the point spread is knowing the teams’ capability and even better yet, knowing the opponents’ capabilities. The beauty of betting the point spread is the fact that the money stays the same. When betting the money line, the bettor does not have to cover any kind of point spread but the money will often be unaffordable. The point spread is a constant, a staple, and it remains the most reliable, and popular way to bet on most sporting events. 

About the Author
Brad Mullins
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