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.