Point spread bets are one of the most popular forms of bets you’ll find in almost any brick and mortar or online sportsbook anywhere in the world.
These bets allow the sportsbooks to offer action on games where the teams aren’t evenly matched without losing their butts and having to close their doors. If they allowed the same bet on both sides of a contest, everyone would bet on the favorite, and the sportsbook would get crushed financially.
If you recall from reading our breakdown of Moneyline Bets, the sportsbook will adjust the amounts they pay out on winning bets to accommodate the unevenness of the two teams.
A bet on a team that is a favorite to win will net you a smaller payout than even money, and a bet on a team that is an underdog will net you a larger payout than even money.
Point spreads are another method the books will use to account for this unevenness and to create a “level playing field”. As you’ll see, this method is sometimes much more “user-friendly” and is easier for sports bettors to understand and follow.
Remember, just because a method of betting is simpler does not mean that it offers any worse odds or less of a chance to win big.
What is a Point Spread Bet?
As we’ve already hinted at, a point spread is a way for the sportsbook to manipulate bets to accommodate for the differences in skills between the two players or two teams. Point spreads allow the sportsbooks to level the playing field and offer bets that reward the bettor appropriately for their predictions.
Remember when you were little and you would play basketball or any sport with someone who was older and bigger than you? Obviously, you stood no chance at beating them so they would “spot” you some points to try and give you a shot to win.
You might be playing a basketball game where the first to 10 points wins, and they would spot you 5 points. This means that you started the game 5 points ahead of them and only had to score 5 more points to win.
This is pretty similar to what is going on with a point spread. The sportsbook will allow you to bet on either team and will pay you out the exact same amount for picking either side.
However, they will be spotting points to the team they think is an underdog.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say the Dallas Cowboys are playing a football game against the Detroit Lions. The sportsbook knows that the Cowboys are a much better team than the Lions and they assume that the Cowboys will probably win the game by 7 or 8 points.
That being the case, they would offer the following bets to you:
Dallas Cowboys vs Detroit Lions
What does this all mean? Well, the first column is who you are betting on. The second column is the point spread, and the third column is the payout. Let’s look at each bet line by line and talk about what would happen in several different outcomes.
If you placed the first bet, you would be betting that Dallas would win the game by MORE than 7.5 points. Here are the potential outcomes:
If Dallas loses the game, you lose your bet.
If Dallas wins the game by 7 or fewer points, you lose your bet.
If Dallas wins the game by 8 or more point, you win the bet.
You would be paid out at -110 for a correct bet here.
If you placed the second bet, you would be betting that Detroit would either win the game outright or lose by LESS than 7.5 points.
Yes, you can still win this bet even if Detroit loses the game. Here are the potential outcomes:
If Detroit wins the game, you win your bet.
If Detroit loses the game by 7 or fewer points, you win your bet.
If Detroit loses the game by 8 or more points, you lose your bet.
You would be paid out at -110 for a correct bet here.
So, if you took the second bet and the final score was this:
You would win your bet on Detroit because they lost by 7 or fewer points. Basically, they outperformed how the sportsbook thought they would.
Effectively, that is all you are betting on with point spreads. You are trying to bet which team is going to outperform the sportsbook’s prediction on them. The team doesn’t have to win the game; they only have to not lose as badly as the book thinks they are going to and you will win your bet.
Point Spread Payouts
Unlike moneyline bets, point spread bets are almost always paid out at the exact same rate on both sides. We say almost always because sportsbooks will do strange things from time to time and we don’t want you to lose your mind if you run into one doing so.
Typically, these bets are all paid out at -110. This means that for a $100 wager, you will get $90.91 in profit. If you bet the other side of the game, you will receive the exact same payout.
Why aren’t you getting an even $100 back? This is the house juice. This is how the sportsbook makes their money. If they paid everyone back evenly, they wouldn’t make any money unless they were getting in on the action and taking more bets on one side of the game versus the other.
Sometimes you will see different payout odds listed and sometimes you will see no payout odds listed. When you see no payout odds listed, this almost always means they are paying out at the standard -110. If it were anything different, they would certainly let you know.
Just to be sure, check your ticket before you place your bet if you’re betting online or check it after while you’re at the counter if you are betting in a brick and mortar location.
Occasionally, online sites will offer these bets at -105 which is definitely something to be on the lookout for. This means that for a $100 bet, you would get $95.24 in profit for a correct bet on either side. This might not seem like a lot, but in the long run, it is HUGE. It’s almost a 5% increase in profit which in a game of trying to find slight edges is massive.
We have seen some sportsbooks that will offer point spread bets with different payout odds associated. Sometimes they will offer different odds for different lines, and sometimes they will just have one side different than the other.
Again, these are rare, but just be on the lookout before you place a bet to make sure you are betting exactly what you want.
We added this section as a catch all for the information that we wanted to share with you that didn’t fit neatly into the above sections.
What’s the Line?
This is a phrase you will hear uttered a lot around sportsbooks or in gambling circles at bars. We wanted to point out that usually when someone is asking this question about a team sport, they are referring to the point spread.
With our above example of Dallas and Detroit, if we asked what the line was on the game, you would respond, “Dallas minus seven and a half.”
The reason we mentioned that this is only the case for team sports is things with individual competitors usually aren’t going to be able to have a point spread based on the nature of the sport.
For example, even though the rounds are scored by points in boxing and MMA, there is no point spread. You can only bet the moneyline so that would be what is responded.
We just want to make sure you’re up to speed with all of the cool lingo!
The Ability to Always Bet On Your Team
If you’re purely a recreational bettor who loves to bet on your own team, this can be a great way to do that without setting money on fire if your team isn’t the best in the league. Even if your team is supposed to lose the game, you can still win as long as they outperform how the sportsbooks think they are going to do.
Remember, this is really only a perk if you are solely a recreational bettor who doesn’t care too much about your bottom line and just wants to have some fun.
Betting on “your team” has a tendency to involve way too much emotion and can be a bad strategy for those worried about their bottom line profitability.
But, if you just want to have some fun and cheer on your team in every single game, this is great.