Point Spread Betting

For the most popular sports on the menu, there’s one bet that drives a great deal of the conversation. The point spread is one of the biggest sources of handle at legal sportsbooks for the NFL and NBA, and there are variations available in other sports to boot.

Betting the spread requires more than just picking which side will win. It can be tricky to navigate if you are new to betting. Our complete guide to legally and safely betting on the point spread here in the US will explain the intricacies.

Latest point spread odds

Point spreads attract lots of interest across the industry. It’s common to see movement in the odds and lines after the initial release as a result. Shopping around to compare prices can be time-consuming, but what follows will save some heavy lifting.

Below, you’ll find a customizable live odds feed. It pulls together the latest numbers from the top sports betting sites across the industry and displays them in real time. You can sort through it by sport to find exactly what you are looking for.

How does spread betting work?

The point spread is most commonly associated with football and basketball betting. Variations appear in other sports, such as a run line for baseball and a puck line for hockey. In all cases, sportsbooks will set a spread that’s akin to an estimated margin of victory. You can choose the favorite to cover the spread or the underdog plus the listed number.

Las Vegas Raiders+3.5 (-110)
Dallas Cowboys-3.5 (-110)

For this example, the Cowboys are 3.5-point favorites over the Raiders. If Dallas wins by four points or more, such as 30-21, it will have covered the spread. Las Vegas covers by keeping the game closer than that, such as 28-27, or by winning outright.

The point spread is one of the most popular sports bets. It helps to level the playing field between two teams. By extension, it can make contests that appear to be mismatched much more appealing from a betting perspective.

Is the spread available in all sports?

The spread is one of the most common bets at sportsbooks. It’s a standard offering for the following sports and will appear prominently as part of the main game listing.

Other sports also use a variation of the point spread. The name might be different, but the concept is the same: the side you choose has to cover the spread.

  • MLB — run line
  • NHL — puck line
  • Soccer — goal line

For football and basketball, spreads can range from the low single digits up to double-digit numbers. MLB and NHL lines are generally set at 1.5, but you may find alternative lines at some shops. For soccer, the line can be as low as 0.5 and go up to a couple of goals or more for potential mismatches.

The spread bet also appears for other sports. For example, in betting on the ATP and WTA tours, you can bet on the spread for sets or games in the individual matches. Point spread betting brings in the most volume for football and basketball, but it will attract action elsewhere as well.

Why point spread lines move

The lines for point spread bets will come out well in advance of game time. From the initial release up to the start of the game, bets will continue to come in. Sportsbooks might adjust the numbers in response to betting action. The spread itself could shift by a half-point or much more, while the odds can also fluctuate up or down.

The movements are in response to betting action. If a clear preference emerges among the betting public, as in one side attracting the bulk of interest, then the sportsbook has lopsided action on its hands. It would rather not have that happen. To balance things out, the sportsbook will shift the spread and odds, sometimes in response to action from professional or “sharp” bettors.

The side not seeing as much play can become more attractive, while the side that’s bringing in the business will move in the opposite direction. Line moves can impact the overall appeal of a wager you’re interested in, but remember that you can always shop around at multiple books to find the odds and lines that are more to your liking.

Calculating the vig on point spreads

For a point spread bet at standard odds of -110, you won’t double your money if you win. Why is that? It’s because of the vig, also known as juice, which is a fee the book collects for taking and settling the bet. If you win a $100 wager at odds of -110, the return will be $90.90. The difference between that and doubling your money is $9.10, which is the vig on the bet.

The amount of the vig can have a direct impact on your long-term bottom line. For a single wager, the difference between odds of -110 and -105 might not seem like it moves the needle all that much. However, it adds up over the long run. Let’s say you placed 100 bets of $100 each at odds of -110 and another 100 for the same amount at odds of -105, and won 53% of bets in both cases.

Odds of -110

  • $100 for 100 bets equals a total of $10,000
  • Win 53% of those bets: $90.90 profit on 53 bets for a total of $4,817.17
  • Profit plus stake returned: $5,300 + $4,817.17 = $10,117.17
  • You’ve made a total profit of 1.17% (117.17/10,000)

Odds of -105

  • $100 for 100 bets equals a total of $10,000
  • Win 53% of those bets: $95.20 profit on 53 bets for a total of $5,045.60
  • Profit plus stake returned: $5,300 + $5,045.60 = $10,345.60
  • You’ve made a total profit of 3.45% (345.60/10,000)

Each tick of difference impacts the potential return on winning wagers. This is a big part of the reason why line shopping can be a valuable addition to your overall routine. By scouting out the best possible prices, you’re placing yourself in a better position to achieve long-term profitability.

Point spread betting examples

Even for the most seasoned handicappers, point spread betting can be a tough nut to crack. Beyond making the right call on which side will cover, you also have to factor the vig into the equation. To beat the juice at odds of -110 on a long-term basis, you would need to win at a clip of 52.4% or better.

That can take some doing to achieve. When beginning with point spread betting, start by grasping the basic concepts and build from there. To that end, let’s take a look at some specific examples for multiple sports.

NFL point spread betting

  • New England Patriots          -4.5 (-110)
  • New York Giants                   +4.5 (-110)
  • Patriots cover by winning by five points or more, such as 30-25.
  • Giants cover by winning the game or by keeping the margin to four points or fewer, such as 27-24.

NBA point spread betting

  • Milwaukee Bucks                  +1.5 (-110)
  • Los Angeles Lakers             -1.5 (-110)
  • Bucks cover by winning the game or by keeping the margin to one point, such as 109-108.
  • Lakers cover by winning by two points or more, such as 112-109.

College football point spread betting

  • Clemson Tigers                     +3.5 (-110)
  • Alabama Crimson Tide        -3.5 (-110)
  • Clemson covers by winning the game or by keeping the margin to three points or fewer, such as 40-38.
  • Alabama covers by winning by four points or more, such as 37-30.

College basketball point spread betting

  • Baylor Bears                         +2.5 (-110)
  • Gonzaga Bulldogs                -2.5 (-110)
  • Baylor covers by winning the game or by keeping the margin to two points or fewer, such as 69-68.
  • Gonzaga covers by winning by three points or more, such as 75-69.

For MLB and NHL games, the concept is the same. The run line and puck line are typically set at 1.5. If you like the favorite, that team will have to win the game by two or more runs or goals, while the underdog can cover by winning outright or by keeping the margin to one.

State rules and regulations for point spread betting

Individual states set their own legislation and regulation when it comes to sports betting. They can set the bar for the legal age to play and decide who isn’t eligible to wager in general or on certain sports, for example. Point spread betting is permitted on all of the major pro and college games at legal sportsbooks, and you’ll find it available for other sports, as well.

One exception to watch out for is with betting on college sports in certain states. While you can bet on college basketball and football in all legal jurisdictions, you can’t bet on games involving in-state teams at New Jersey sportsbooks. Meanwhile, sportsbooks in Indiana and Pennsylvania have no such restrictions.

Additionally, sports betting in legal states is limited to actual sporting competitions. If you find a spread bet on an entertainment-related offering such as a reality TV program, then you’ve stumbled across an illegal site. When registering to play at a sportsbook, do your due diligence and make sure it’s approved for doing business in the state.

Understanding spread betting rules

All legal sportsbooks have house rules in place that cover the ins and outs of wagering. The rules let you know what to expect, and also provide protection for the books on various circumstances that may arise. For point spread bets, here are a few of the key points to be aware of:

  • Spreads and odds might adjust after you place your bets. Your wagers will be settled based on the numbers at the time of bet placement.
  • If the final score of a game lands exactly on the margin of the spread — i.e., 30-27 for a three-point spread — then the bet is a push, and the sportsbook will refund wagers.
  • Bets will remain live for slight delays in the action, but a complete postponement to a later date or outright cancellation can lead to sportsbooks voiding wagers.
  • All wagers are settled based on official league data and statistics. Books will not entertain disputes over results.

Most online sportsbooks have a dedicated section for house rules, but others may include them in the FAQ or help sections. You are responsible for understanding the rules where you play, so take the time to review to avoid any surprises.

Spread betting at legal vs. offshore sportsbooks

The black market for gambling remains alive and well in spite of the massive strides for legal sports betting. For example, there are still plenty of offshore operators who take in US consumers. They may look legit, but closer inspection reveals that they’re not legal and regulated.

For point spread betting, there are plenty of options available at legal sites. Those options will also be available offshore, but sites in the latter group will also offer bets on reality TV, weather, presidential elections and other entertainment-related items.

You might also come across seriously inflated or deflated spreads with untenable odds. The legal shops will also make alternative spreads available, but they’ll do so within reason. Legal sports betting continues to grow at an extraordinary rate here in the US, and that’s only going to continue.

Point spread betting handle at legal US sportsbooks

Monthly revenue and handle reports from legal states continue to reveal that legal sports betting has been welcomed by customers. The upward trajectory should only continue as additional states pass legislation in the future.

Unfortunately, states don’t break out the exact revenue by bet type, but they do list which sports attract the most action. Football and basketball are consistently at the top of the charts, and those are the two sports that are most closely associated with the spread.

Traditionally, the point spread bet has been one of the top attractions at sportsbooks. For the major North American team-based sports, it’s one of the big three, along with the moneyline and totals.

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