The point spread is a margin of victory and you as a bettor determine which side will beat the margin. Learn more about what it means to cover the spread.

Point Spreads Explained

There are many ways to bet on sports but one of the most popular ways for football and basketball is called the point spread. The point spread is a margin of victory and as a bettor, you determine which side will beat the margin.

If this all sounds a bit foreign to you, this will be point spreads explained. We’re going to elaborate on exactly what the point spread means, go over the lingo and give you concrete examples of spread betting, so that you have a full understanding of point spreads after reading this article.

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What Is A Spread?

A spread is merely the margin of victory or a handicap in a given game. When you bet on the moneyline, you simply predict the outright winner of the game. When you bet the point spread, you’re betting on a margin set by the oddsmaker and you have to decide which side will “cover” or beat the spread.

How Do Point Spreads Work?

The easiest way to explain this is with an example. We’ll use one of common NFL point spreads to take a closer look:

TeamPoint Spread
Patriots+2.5
Cowboys-2.5

For point spread betting purposes, the first thing you’ll want to do here is notice either the ‘+’ or ‘-‘ sign as that will give you an important indication.

The plus sign indicates that this team will be receiving points. In this case, the Patriots will receive 2.5 points. The minus sign indicates that points will be losing points. In this case, the Cowboys will be losing 2.5 points.

What this means is that if you bet the Patriots, they are able to lose the game by two, one, tie or win the game, and you’d win your bet. As for the Cowboys, they’d have to win the game by three or more for you to cover.

A very basic way to do the math is to take the final score and add and subtract the points. For example, if the final score is. If you bet Dallas -2.5, then their final score of 30 – 2.5 = 27.5, which still beats out New England’s tally of 27 points. If the final score was Dallas 12, New England 10, you can see that New England +2.5 would put them at 12.5 points, which beats Dallas’ 12. That’s how does point spread work.

See: How to Bet on Football

How Do You Play the Point Spread?

Now that you know how the spread works for each side, to play the point spread, all you have to do is determine which side you want to bet on. If you bet on Dallas -2.5, that’s one way to play the spread on that game. The other way would be to bet on New England +2.5.

If you’re calling in a bet over the phone or speaking to a cashier at a casino (in Vegas, etc.) then you’d merely say “I would like to bet on Dallas on the spread” or “I’d like to bet Dallas -2.5”. That’s how you play the point spread.

How Do You Read Betting Odds?

If you’re wondering how to read a point spread with the numbers after the spread itself, we’ll explain. Keep in mind that there are betting odds associated with each point spread. We’re going to show you what those mean and how to calculate them. Going back to our previous example, at a sportsbook like Bovada or BetOnline almost all point spreads will look like this:

TeamPoint Spread
Patriots+2.5 -110
Cowboys-2.5 -110

As you can see, what’s been added here is the odds at the end of it. With -110 odds, that means for every $110 you bet on New England or Dallas, you’d win back $100 if they covered the spread.

The ‘-‘ sign denotes how much you have to bet to win $100. If there was a ‘+’ sign, that would denote how much you’d win if you bet $100. In other words, +150 means that if you bet $100, you’d win $150.

Keep an eye on how much sportsbooks charge for point spreads. Some books like Heritage Sports have low juice, so you can bet -105 on the spreads, which means you’ll save yourself a lot of money in the long run. The standard is -110, though.

See: How to Read Odds: Sports Betting Odds Explained

How Are Point Spreads Determined?

The oddsmakers take a number of factors into account when it comes to setting a point spread. Those factors would include:

  • current records
  • home-away records
  • injuries
  • weather
  • coaching
  • momentum
  • historical meetings between the teams
  • how the teams currently matchup
  • who the public thinks is the better team/perceives should win the game

From a sportsbook’s perspective, the goal of a point spread is to split the action on both sides. The oddsmakers want to come up with a number where they can get equal bettors thinking the two sides can win, so that they can just get their “juice” (commission). Here’s what that looks like:

$1,100,000 of bets on the New England Patriots at +2.5 -110
$1,100,000 of bets on the Dallas Cowboys at -2.5 -110

What this means is that whoever ends up covering the spread, the betting sites pay out $1,000,000 in losses but collect $1,100,000. That $100,000 difference is what they’re going for every time.

Point Spreads In Hockey, Baseball

The most popular way to bet on football and basketball is with the point spread and betting on the moneyline (the outright winner without worrying about points) is typically secondary. They’re known as spread betting sports. However, in the NHL and MLB, betting the moneyline is the primary way to bet on the games but there is still a point spread.

With hockey, you’ll see what’s called a puckline, which is a -1.5 and +1.5 line. Baseball will see something similar as they have a run line, which is -1.5 and +1.5.

Point Spreads In Tennis

Tennis is another sports where the main way to bet on the matches is the moneyline. However, if you bet on the point spread, it can be a spread on sets (I.E. a player has to win by 1.5 more sets than the other) or more commonly, a spread on games. So if a player is -7.5 games, they would have to win something like 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to cover the spread.

Point Spreads In Boxing

If you’re wondering how the point spread works in boxing, we’ll explain. While most people tend to bet on the moneyline in boxing, you will occasionally see a spread on rounds won – especially for big championship bouts. This will be based on the official judges’ scorecards.

Points Spread Glossary

Cover

That means to beat the spread. The team that wins on the spread is the team that “covered”.

Spread

A forecasted number projected by the oddsmakers for which a stronger team (favorite) is supposed to defeat the weaker team (underdog).

Favorite

The team that’s expected to cover the spread.

Underdog

The team that’s not expected to cover the spread.

Bet The Spread

Betting on a team on the point spread on either side.

Buying Points

This allows you to move the point spread around a little bit by a 0.5 point, one point and sometimes more.

Push

A push is when you tie on the point spread. You’ll get your money back. While some point spreads are on a half-number, many are on a whole number. So if the spread is -3 and a team wins by exactly 3 points, that’s considered a push.