What Is A Point Spread Bet In Sports Betting?

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Point spread meaning 

A point spread is the simplest form of sports betting outside of the money line and over/under and is generally the most popular in the US. While in a money line wager, you bet on what team or player will win a game/match, a point spread wager involves betting on either one team as the favorite or one as the underdog. A point differential is set between the two to even the playing field.

Money line betting can be inherently problematic in highly lopsided matchups. A considerable underdog is unlikely to win, while the odds on a big favorite can be such that it takes a considerable investment for the bet to even be worth it. This makes point spread betting the solution to this issue. Let’s get into exactly how point spread betting works.

Point spread explained – how does a point spread work?

The reason for a point spread is that a sportsbook can’t offer close to even money on both sides of a sporting event with lopsided talent levels between teams/players and make money. To solve this, a spread is set. The favorite will be marked as minus (-) a certain amount of points, while the underdog will be plus (+) the same amount.

For an NFL example of how point spread betting works, let’s say the Philadelphia Eagles are favorites over the New York Giants. Perhaps the Eagles are -7, while the Giants are +7 underdogs. This means that the Eagles have to win by at least eight for you to win a bet on them, while the Giants can lose by as much as six and you would still win on a Giants wager.

Since this point spread is even, if Philadelphia wins by precisely seven, bets on either side “push” and bettors receive their money back. You will often see spreads that are not even, such as 7.5, in which case a push is impossible and one or the other side will always win. Point spreads are a way to make betting matchups between uneven teams fair for the house and allow close to even money betting on lopsided sporting events.

What does “pick ’em” or “pick” mean in point spread betting?

A “pick ’em” or “pick” refers to a situation where two teams/players are so equal that there is no need for a spread. You will see that the point spread is set to zero and it will be referred to as a pick ’em or pick. In this case, you are basically betting on the money line since there is no spread. However, sportsbooks will still offer both money line and spread betting, even when there is no need for a point differential.

What are the odds for a point spread? 

If sportsbooks offered point spread betting at exactly even money, there would be no money in it. The goal is to set the spread so bettors on either side will win approximately half the time over a large sample size. For this reason, you will generally see odds of -110 on both sides.

What -110 odds means is that you would have to bet $110 to win $100 on your wager. You can extrapolate this to any bet amount using the same wager-to-return ratio. You may occasionally see slightly different odds, such as -105 or +115 if a sportsbook needs to move the action slightly without changing the point spread. Generally, -110 is a rule of thumb for point spread odds.

How to bet the point spread 

It is easy to place a bet on the point spread on any of the top sportsbooks we recommend. First, select a sport you would like to bet on, which might be NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL or any other sport that allows point spread betting. Ideally, you would have accounts with multiple sportsbooks and check them all to find the most advantageous line for the bet you want to place, as they can vary.

The key is to find an inefficient line regardless of what side. In fact, one team might be an advantageous bet on one sportsbook or at a given moment in line movement. Then the other might be better the next day or on another sportsbook. Finding value is key to point spread betting.

Once you find a bet you would like to place, select it and you will see it added to your bet slip. Enter the dollar amount you would like to wager, submit your bet and you will be able to track it via your account on your sportsbook of choice. 

It can be essential to place your wagers in a timely manner before advantageous odds move, which can happen at any time. If you spot a good line, it is very likely to move quickly as sharp factions of the betting public will come to the same conclusion and often bet more significant amounts than more casual bettors, moving the line to a greater degree.

Why does a point spread change

You might wonder precisely why point spreads change from when they are released to when the game starts. There are a few reasons why this can occur. One is that a factor having nothing to do with the betting public changes the matchup, resulting in the sportsbook altering the line. A great example would be a pivotal injury to a player, a projected weather change or anything that alters the matchup itself.

Yet another prevalent reason for line movement is the betting public. As money is placed on one side or the other, sportsbooks are forced to adjust the odds to attempt to get more action on the other side. The sportsbook’s goal is to have even money on both sides of an event, as that is the only way to guarantee profit.

For instance, if a line opens at -3.5 on an NFL favorite and 70% of the action is being bet on that team, a sportsbook may move the line to -4.5, making a bet on the favorite less advantageous. Since then, the underdog is +4.5 and a better option, more action will likely be placed on the underdog. This line movement can occur up to game time, with sportsbooks constantly trying to get the action as close to 50/50 as possible to guarantee profit.

Football point spread betting

The NFL is the most popular sport in the US and the most common for point spread betting. Due to the nature of NFL scoring, it is essential to understand critical numbers in point spread betting.

The difference between a line of -8.5 and -9 may not make the biggest difference, although every point counts. Yet you really want to consider line differences such as -2.5 versus -3, since exactly three points decide around 15% of NFL games. This difference often results in a winning or losing bet versus a push.

It is crucial to highly consider offensive versus defensive matchups in football when attempting to handicap to find the best lines. Considering injuries, even including those to non-skill position players, is another critical factor, especially if you can jump on an inefficient line before it moves in response to the news.

Basketball point spread betting

Basketball is the other American sport in which point spread betting is the most popular compared to the money line. It can be a good idea to bet on underdogs in basketball. Point spreads can be pretty significant, and even though the favorite might win the game handily, it is relatively easy for an underdog to cover the spread. This is partly because heavy favorites will often rest starters when blowing the other team out, enabling the underdog to come closer late in the game and cover the spread although never having any real chance to win outright.

Baseball point spread betting – run line betting 

Point spread betting is less prevalent in baseball because it is a lower-scoring sport. It can make more sense to simply bet on the money line. Still, it is a viable option in the MLB. It is important to note that this bet type is not called the point spread in the MLB, but the “run line,” as baseball deals in runs instead of points.

There are some key differences aside from the name. While point spreads in the NFL and NBA can vary greatly, baseball run lines are almost always set at -1.5. Due to the low-scoring nature of the sport, it is unusual for any team to be a more significant favorite than that, although you might occasionally see a run line of -2.5 in an extreme example.

Another difference is that it is more common for odds on both sides to be significantly different rather than generally landing at -110 for both. This is a way of evening the action without varying the spread to a greater degree. It can be common in baseball to bet on a -1.5 favorite on the run line, whereas when betting on the underdog, many bettors are more likely to take them on the money line for more advantageous odds.

Hockey point spread betting – puck line betting 

Hockey is much like baseball in that there is no point spread (hockey scoring is counted in goals, not points), but instead a puck line, yet it functions similarly. Puck lines are always set at -1.5/+1.5 in the extremely low-scoring sport of hockey. This contrasts the widely varying lines in the NFL and NBA. Much like in baseball, many hockey bettors prefer to play favorites on the puck line while taking the better money line odds when betting an underdog.

Hockey is a game that often leads to “bad beats” on the puck line since losing teams will often pull their goalie in the last one to two minutes of a game in which they are losing. When this occurs, the winning team often scores an easy empty-net goal, which can quickly result in a two-goal win rather than a one-goal victory, meaning the difference between winning and losing a 1.5-goal puck line bet. Yet, this can also result in much excitement depending on which side you are rooting for.

Luke Lindholm

Managing Editor for US Media Partnerships

Writer for Pickswise. Luke was born in PA but raised in MA and has been writing about major sports for 2 years. He plays soccer and basketball with a love for the EPL, NBA, NFL and NCAAF. Nothing runs faster than home dogs and betting the under is an act of maturity. Luke is a Liverpool and Patriots fan for life, YNWA

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