What Is The Point Spread?

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Point spread betting is the second most popular way to bet on sports behind the moneyline.

Many winning sports bettors use point spread betting; some use it exclusively in their betting strategies.

But what does point spread mean and how do you use it?

Read this ultimate guide to find out.

What’s Point Spread In Betting?

The point spread is the bookmakers' margin of victory between two competitors. You bet on the team you predict will perform better than this line.

In other words:

Point spread betting is predicting which team will exceed expectations.

Let’s run through an example to illustrate.

How Does Point Spread Work?

Imagine that the Denver Nuggets were to play the Boston Celtics in an NBA game.

Sportsbooks first predict the outcome of the game and by how many points.

Let’s assume they think Boston will win by 3 or 4 points. 

Now, the sportsbooks can’t write “win by 3 or 4 points” into their betting lines.

As such, they think they’ll win by 3.5 points.

This also means that they think Denver will lose by 3.5 points.

After all, the other team can’t lose by a different number of points.

So, with all this in mind, we end up with an NBA point spread that looks like this:

Now, if you’ve read our piece on the moneyline, you’ll notice a difference between how the odds are presented.

Moreover, the margin of victory is displayed above the odds, with one team given a ‘-‘ and the other a ‘+’.

The team with the ‘-‘ margin of victory is considered the favorite.

Similarly, the team with the ‘+’ margin of victory is considered the underdog.

A team “covers the spread” when the favorite or underdog wins after taking the point spread into account.

So, going back to the example above, the ‘-‘ sign next to Boston’s margin shows they considered the favorites and will win by 3 or 4 points.

Here are the possible outcomes for a bet on Boston:

Match ResultCover The Spread
Boston Win > 3 pointsYes
Boston Win ≤ 3 pointsNo
Denver WinNo

And here are the possible outcomes for a bet on Denver.

Match ResultCover The Spread
Denver WinYes
Denver Lose ≤ 3 pointsYes
Denver Lose > 3 pointsNo

Why Bookmakers Use Half-Points

Let’s take a look at the odds again:

Sportsbooks use half-point spreads to ensure one side of the line wins.

But what if point spread is a tie and the bookmakers set the margin of victory to exactly 3 or 4 points?

Well, it opens the door to a tie scenario.

If the line is 3 points and Boston hits a game-winning 3-pointer, then the bet ends as a tie and your original bet is returned.

This isn’t the worst result in the world for a sports bettor.

In the eyes of the sportsbook though, they haven’t made any money from the bet.

And sportsbooks hate not making money.

This is why they prefer to use half-point spread lines.


That’s the basics covered.

Let’s move onto how to calculate the payouts from the point spread.

Point Spread Movement

If you’ve read our piece on the moneyline, you will recall that sportsbooks move the line to get the perfect amount of action on each side.

This enables them to always make money, no matter who goes on to win – and take a small percentage of the bets from themselves in the meantime.

For example, if a sportsbook receives $100,000 on both Boston and Denver, they don’t care who actually wins the match.

If Denver win, they’ll just payout from the bets they took from people betting on Boston and still profit from the small percentage fee for taking the bets in the first place.

For reference, here’s the fee as per our margin calculator:

This is the ideal situation for the sportsbook.

In reality, they don’t always get equal action on both sides of the line.

So, sportsbooks must try to attract and prevent action to get their ideal situation.

With the moneyline, they change the payouts.

But this rarely happens with spread bets.

Instead, sportsbooks adjust the margin of victory ie the point spread.

Sticking with our Boston/Denver example, let’s say people keep betting on Boston to cover the spread and win by 4 points and more.

The sportsbooks must now try to encourage them to stop betting on Boston and start betting on Denver to even things up.

They’ll shift the point spread betting towards Denver to something like this:

Example Of Adjusted Spread Betting

Now, even if Boston sink that last-second 3-pointer and win, they won’t cover the spread. 

To avoid confusion, the margin of victory doesn’t change for your bet when you make a spread bet.

So, if you bet on Boston -3.5 and the line shifts to Boston -6.5, you still have Boston -3.5.

It works the other way too.

If the line shifts to Boston -1.5, you still have Boston -3.5.

Sportsbooks continue to adjust the betting lines right up to the point where they will no longer accept any further action. 

The lines continue to move to entice the perfect amount of money bet on either side.

This creates some interesting value bet opportunities if you can anticipate a point spread shift.

Point Spread Payouts

Point spread betting usually pay out the same no matter the result – the previous odds were a great example of this.

This is because bookmakers only change their lines to encourage action on either side.

Since they move the spread, they don’t need to alter the payouts.

Let’s bring that example back and look at the odds again:

As you can see, both Denver and Boston are priced at -110.

This means you must wager 110 units to make a 100-unit profit.

In fact, it is common to have -110 odds on the point spread across most sports.

But let’s think about what this means for a second.

If you bet on both sides, you a guaranteed to win at least one bet.

Let’s say you bet $110 on each side, bringing the total stake to $220.

Now, since both sides pay out at -110, your total payout would be $100 plus the $110 stake back.

This adds up to $210, leaving a $10 profit for the sportsbook.

It means that the sportsbook will make money every time.

Changes To Point Spread Payouts

Sportsbooks sometimes change their odds and keep the point spread the same.

This is to prevent an influx of action going on one side of the line and leaving the other heavily exposed.

Instead, they may change the odds to something like this:

Example of point spread payouts change

You now have Denver available at even money.

You only need to wager $100 to win $100 instead of wagering $110 to get the same return.

Sharp bettors understand this as a sign that the point spread is just about to move -4 just before the match.

This doesn’t always happen, but it could be a good idea to wait if you’d prefer +4 at -110 over +3.5 at +100.

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Advantages Of Point Spread Betting

There are two main advantages to the point spread in betting.

Firstly, it’s easier to understand the value of your bet.

For example, think of how you evaluate value from betting on the moneyline.

Without creating a betting strategy, it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s worth betting on from just a glance.

On the other hand, it’s easier to eyeball a point spread for value.

Secondly, point spreads give you the opportunity to profitably bet on teams you think are going to lose.

Most other bets don’t give you that option.

If a team is not playing well and you spot patterns, you can comfortably bet on them to lose on the point spread until you can find out when they might start winning.

Point Spread Examples

While it’s known as the point spread in basketball and football, the point spread in betting exists in other sports too; it’s just called a different name.

Ice Hockey Point Spread

Point spread betting in ice hockey is known as betting the puckline.

The line is based on the goals difference rather than points.

The line is usually set at a 1.5 goal difference.

Here’s an example.

Example of NHL puckline

However, while the puckline functions the same as the point spread, there are no standard puckline payouts.

You can see this from the payouts above as both teams are not set at -110.

Baseball Point Spread

Point spread in betting for baseball is called the runline and is based on the number of runs scored.

Like ice hockey, the line is usually set at a 1.5 difference.

Here’s an example.

Example of the runline

The runline is similar to the puckline in that while it functions the same as the point spread, there are no standard payouts, illustrated from the above payouts.

Important Point Spread Numbers

The point spread has several important numbers to look out for in, particularly in football.

Most points are scored in football by a touchdown (7 points) and a field goal (3 points).

These points are also the most common winning margins.

As such, sportsbooks use 3 and 7 point margins as a basis for most football lines.

Betting favorites at -6.5 or -2.5 lines can be quite enticing for this reason; likewise, betting underdogs at +7.5 and +3.5.

Basketball also has some key point spread numbers, but they’re not as powerful as football.

Most NBA games are settled by 5-8 points as free-throws late in the game often bump up the margin of victory.

Now that we have covered all the basics and understand payouts, it’s time to look at some strategies.

Point Spread Strategies

Here’s the bottom line:

The key to successful long-term sports betting is consistent value betting.

These techniques can help increase your chances of finding value bets.

Create Your Own Spread

This is quite a simple strategy but one worth sharing nevertheless.

Before heading to the bookmakers, take a step back and look at the matchups.

From your own understanding of the game and using stats and data, create your own point spread.

Example of NFL match to create own spread

Once you have an idea of what the margin of victory will be, head to bookmakers and compare their line to yours.

If their line is equal to yours or works more in your favor, you will have found value from the bet and must bet it.

The point of this strategy is that you don’t get swayed by what the bookmakers think the line should be.

People miss out on a value bet far too often because they take the bookmakers’ line as gospel and pass.

Predict Line Movements

Anyone with experience in sports betting will tell you that there is so much value to be found from even the smallest of changes.

While a change from +3.5 to +4.5 may not sound like a big difference, in sports betting, it’s the difference between winning and losing.

This means that predicting any line movements becomes very valuable for your point spread betting strategy.

Use the information to decide if you are going to bet before the line changes, after it changes, or not even betting it at all.

Sometimes not making the bet provides the best value, as noted in this example:

Lines change based on breaking news, such as injuries and suspensions, as well as hype generated through public opinion and even the weather,

But not all line movements are correct.

Keep en eye on them throughout the week leading up to the game.

If you spot any change that looks out of the ordinary, you may have found a great value bet.

Time Your Bets

While money is continually bet on sports, there are certain times during the week that you may be able to get extra value from your bet.

For example, sharp money is placed when the markets have just opened.

Sharp bettors tend to bet with high-than-average units, intuitively meaning that they must have a decent idea about which side of the line to bet.

But you’ll have to be fast as bookmakers will adjust their lines quickly if they become too unbalanced.

However, this is a judgement call based on where you think value begins and ends.

Alternatively, you could bet closer to game day with the rest of the public.

Interestingly enough, they like to bet on the favorites before the game.

If you disagree and think that there’s a good chance the underdog will win or not lose as much as the line suggests, there is an opportunity to get great value here.

As more and more money goes on the side of the favorite, bookmakers will make the other side of the line more attractive by increasing the margin of victory.


There are plenty of valuable opportunities to bet on the point spread – we use them ourselves regularly in our data-driven betting strategies to make healthy profits.

Point spread betting can give you that edge and can turn you into a serious winner.

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