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Point Spread Betting Guide

FlashPicks What Is A Point Spread Bet
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What Is A Point Spread Bet?

A point spread bet is a wager on a team to “cover the spread,” or perform well enough to meet point thresholds set by a sportsbook. At first glance, point spreads can be confusing, but they are fairly easy once you get a cursory grasp on how they work.

You’ll often find point spreads listed right next to moneyline bets and totals wagers. The way they work on the surface is simple: sportsbooks give the favored team—the team expected to win based on past performance and various stats—a handicap that looks something like this: Philadelphia 76ers -7.5. The sportsbook will then give the underdog team an advantage, like so: Toronto Raptors +7.5. At a sportsbook, it’ll look something like this:

  • TOR Raptors +7.5 (-110)
  • PHI 76ers -7.5 (-110)

In this scenario, the Raptors will get 7.5 phantom points. Once those points are applied to the final score, we can determine whether the Raptors covered the spread. If the final score is Toronto 76 Philadelphia 78, the Raptors cover the spread because 76 plus 7.5 makes their total higher than the 76ers score.

Conversely, the 76ers would need to win by 8 points or more to cover the spread, because their spread reduces their final score by 7.5. A final score of Philadelphia 90 Toronto 80 would see the 876ers cover because even after subtracting 7.5 points, they still beat out the Raptors.

We’ll cover all of this in more detail below, but those are the basics. Point spread bets are great for evening the playing field when two teams are generally mismatched.

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Point Spread Betting: Possible Outcomes

Point spread betting offers three possible outcomes: win, lose, or push. Below, we’ll describe each in detail.

Win: Collect A Payout!

A win is the simplest and best outcome for the bettor. If the team you chose to cover actually does cover, then your bet wins and you receive your payout. In other words, a win is a win is a win! Collect your payout and start looking for your next point spread bet!

Lose: Try Again

A loss is obviously the least desirable outcome. But hey, this is sports betting, and you’re bound to log a few losses. Remember to stay measured in your approach to betting and use research and expert picks to shape your strategy.

As you could probably guess, a loss will lose you your initial wager if your team doesn’t cover.

Push: The Middle Ground

In some cases, a push is impossible. Sportsbooks often set spreads with half points (e.g. -7.5 or +10.5). But in other scenarios, a spread could be set at a whole number, such as -8 or +14. In these cases, it’s possible for a push to occur.

For example, let’s say a line is set like so:

  • Chicago Cubs -2 (-110)
  • Milwaukee Brewers +2 (-110)

If the Cubs beat the Brewers by exactly 2 runs, neither team covers the spread, resulting in a push.

A push returns your original wager to you, but you don’t win or lose anything beyond that. It’s certainly better than a loss, but it’s still not a win. Still, you retain your original bet and can use it to place another wager.

Point Spread Bets Explained

To better understand point spreads, it first helps to get a firm grasp of the components involved. There are three main points to look at: the spread itself, the favorite, and the underdog.

The Point Spread

The point spread is the number of “phantom” points applied to a match, and these phantom points go two ways. One team will always receive extra points, while one team will get points knocked off their score.

For this reason, point spread bets almost always have odds that are very close to even. They’ll usually hover around the -110 zone, meaning close to even money for you if to place a bet at those odds.

The Favorite

The favorite is the team that sportsbooks expect to win the match-up outright. However, this has implications on the point spread, because the favorite is docked points with regards to the spread.

You can tell when a team is the favorite to win because the spread will have a minus symbol in front of the spread itself, indicating that team as the favorite. Here’s an example:

  • NO Pelicans +9.5 (-110)
  • PHO Suns -9.5 (-110)

In this scenario, the Pheonix Suns are the clear favorite to win. Oddsmakers except the Suns to win by 9.5 points, thus the spread.

The Underdog

The underdog is the team expected to lose the match up, and the point spread gives this team an advantage. The underdog is always the team with a plus symbol before the spread. In the same example from above, the Pelicans are the underdogs:

  • NO Pelicans +9.5 (-110)
  • PHO Suns -9.5 (-110)

Based on a number of factors—past performance, stats, injuries, etc.—oddsmakers believe the Pelicans will lose by about 9-10 points, so the spread for them is set at +9.5. That gives the underdog a slight advantage to cover the spread. If it’s a close game, a bet on the Pelicans would look great.

Evens Or Pick ‘Em Spreads

If the teams in a given game are evenly matched, you might not see a point spread offered at all. In this case, the bet is called “evens” or a “pick ‘em.” This is because there’s no clear favorite, and a point spread bet becomes effectively the same as a moneyline bet—a wager on one team to win outright.

Treat evens as though they’re a moneyline bet. With no advantage or disadvantage coming in the form of a point spread, they’re effectively the same thing as an outright win wager.

Alternate Spreads

Many sportsbooks offer alternate spreads on games. If you don’t like the line the sportsbook has set, you can usually dive into the market in question and find an alternate spread. Bear in mind, however, that the alternate spreads come with odds that match the potential outcome. So you might get a much more favorable and likely point spread, but the odds and possible payout will reflect that.

Examples Of Covering The Spread

Here are a few point spread scenarios from different sports and how the outcome would shape the result of your bet.

NBA: Bulls Vs. Bucks

Here’s an NBA point spread:

  • Chicago Bulls +10 (-110)
  • Milwaukee Bucks -10 (-110)

And here’s a look at how final scores would result in a win or loss if you bet on the Bulls +10.

  • Bulls 90, Bucks 93 result: WIN. Bulls cover the spread.
  • Bulls 90, Bucks 100 result: PUSH. With the 10 points applied, the teams tie and nobody covers.
  • Bulls 71, Bucks 90 result: LOSS. The Bulls do not cover. With 10 point advantage the score is 81-90 and they still lose.

MLB: Phillies Vs. Rockies

Here’s an MLB point spread example. Baseball is a low-scoring game, so spreads are often relatively small.

  • Phillies -1.5 (-110)
  • Rockies +1.5 (-110)

And based on those lines, here’s how a bet on the Phillies to cover would play out with a few final score examples:

  • Phillies 6, Rockies 3 result: WIN. Phillies win by 3 points (more than the -1.5 spread).
  • Phillies 2, Rockies 1 result: LOSS. The Phillies win outright, but they do not cover because their margin of victory is less than 1.5.

What Is “Juice” Or “Vig” In Point Spread Betting?

Juice and vig are two terms that mean the same thing. They represent the sportsbook’s method of taking a cut on bets and ensuring ongoing profitability. As a bettor, it’s best to find the lowest possible vig when you’re placing wagers.

For the most part, vig is baked into the odds on offer at any given sportsbook. Point spread betting actually provides a nice case study in understanding vig. Point spreads are made to even the odds in a game or match, so in theory, “even” odds would be +100 (bet $100, win $100). But sportsbooks need to make money. So instead, they will add vig to the odds, reducing them to -110 or somewhere in that region. Now, a $110 bet would win you $100. It’s a small difference, but it’s important. Over time, it means better profits for the sportsbook.

Truthfully, you can’t escape vig. It’s just how sportsbooks operate. But you can shop around for better odds (for example, even -105 is better than -110) or keep an eye out for bonuses that boost your odds or remove the juice. pointsBet is famous for offering “no juice” odds boosts from time to time. Stay sharp and look for those prime betting opportunities to avoid large vig.

Why Does A Point Spread Change?

Point spreads change just as moneyline odds and totals lines change. Sports are volatile, ever-changing, and dynamic. For this reason, point spread can change leading up to an event and even while the game is in progress.

There are numerous reasons point spreads can change. A star player might be injured, making the spread smaller because the teams are more evenly matched without said player. Roster changes can happen at the drop of a hat, influencing the odds. A high-performing player could have a history of reading and evading a specific team’s defense.

In other words, there are many reasons a point spread can change leading up to a game. Stay on top of the latest news and try to place your bet when the spread is most advantageous for you.

What Is Line Shopping?

Line shopping is the practice of looking at various sportsbooks to find the most advantageous version of a given bet. If you have access to multiple sportsbooks in your state or region, we highly recommend shopping for the best lines when you’re placing any bet, including a point spread wager.

Line shopping can include finding a slightly more favorable point spread, better odds on identical spreads, or both. Here’s an example of two competing sportsbooks for an NBA match-up:

FanDuel: Raptors Vs. 76ers:

  • Raptors +7.5 (-108)
  • 76ers -7.5 (-112)

DraftKings: Raptors Vs. 76ers:

  • Raptors +7.5 (-110)
  • 76ers -7.5 (-110)

As you’ll see, both FanDuel and DraftKings offer the same exact spread. However, the odds are different at each major sportsbook. Line shopping would reveal this, as we checked both sportsbook before placing a bet. In the scenarios above, Raptors bettors would want to place their bet at FanDuel, because -108 is better (if only very slightly) than -110.

But FanDuel’s better odds on the underdog come at a price. Namely, the odds on the 76ers to cover take a small hit, moving to -112. If you were betting on the 76ers to cover, DraftKings is the clear choice for the same reason. -110 is slightly better than -112, giving you a better payout.

The differences can be (and often will be) minuscule here. But over time, they can make a huge impact. Shop around for the best lines whenever you make a point spread wager, and you’ll start to see the long-term benefits.

Can I Use A Point Spread Bet In A Parlay?

The short answer to this question is a resounding yes. You can absolutely use point spread bets in parlays, and many bettors love to do this for a variety of solid reasons.

Should you wish, you could even build a parlay composed entirely of point spread bets across multiple sports. If you do careful research, follow leagues as their seasons progress, and double-check your picks against expert selections, this can be a very profitable betting strategy. Remember, betting is a hobby of chance, but you can use information and statistics to give yourself an edge.

You can also group point spread bets with other types of wagers, including player props, moneylines, totals, and more. Point spreads are excellent candidates for parlays because a knowledgable and sports-savvy bettor can use their expertise to pick the spreads they think are most likely to hit.

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