Understanding Betting Odds: Point Spread

The first thing anyone who intends to bet on any sports game needs to learn is how to read odds. That’s essential, as without knowing what the odds represent, there’s no way for you to evaluate what risks and probabilities you’re facing.

But although they look weird at first, betting odds systems are easy to grasp. Once you get the hang of them, you’ll see that they are logical, and your brain will automatically know how big of a favorite a team with a -120 odds to its name is.

Aside from the basic outcome bets (win for team A, team B, or a draw), the most frequent type of odds is a point spread. When you make a point spread bet, the premise is you’re basically giving both teams the same chance of winning. As you know (if you follow sports), teams don’t have the same quality — one is simply better than the other. With a point spread, the game’s favorite has a handicap with which it needs to win. Before we go into further detail about point spread, let’s check out how odds work in general.

American Odds

American odds, which bettors also call moneyline odds, are most commonly used in, you’ve guessed it, the United States. You’ll easily recognize them with a plus and a minus signs before a number. With this system, it’s easy to spot who’s the favorite with just a glance. Favorites have a negative number next to them, while the other team (the underdog) has a positive one.

With underdogs (i.e., positive odds), the number represents how much money you’ll get if you bet $100. For example, if the Raptors have odds of +120 and the Toronto team wins, you’ll get $120 for your $100 bet (so $220 in total). Negative odds work similarly. The difference is, the negative number shows how much money you need to put in to get yourself a Benjamin. For instance, if you bet on a team that’s a favorite to win with a -110 chance, this translates into your having to bet $110 to win $100. In total, your earnings will be $210.

Of course, if it’s not obvious enough already, you don’t have to place a bet of $100 each and every time. If we go back to the previous example, if you place $5 on the Raptors, you’ll win $11, with your profit being $6.

Point Spread

Point Spread

A point spread is an odds system which brings equity to the table. We all know that the Warriors will beat the Suns, so to add a bit of interest in the game and level the playing field, sportsbooks have added point spread in their offers. Bookmakers determine what number of points a team is a favorite by. Let’s take a look at this year’s Average Bowl (yes, that’s our joke about how boring the Super Bowl LIII was). Since both the Patriots and the Rams are offensive teams, many bookmakers expected (or hoped, like the rest of us) it would come down to the final offensive play. The difference between the teams was 2.5 NFL points.

Basically, the easiest way to understand this is to imagine that the game doesn’t start with the result being 0–0. Rather than that, think of it as if they kicked off with a 2.5–0 lead to the Rams. If you placed a point spread bet on New England, in order for you to win the bet, the Pats would need to beat the Rams by three points or more (which they did).

Using the same logic, if you wanted to bet on the Rams, you’d need them to win or not lose by more than three points. With this bet, you’re actually not interested whether the team will lose the game or not — you just need them to…

Cover the Spread

When a team covers the spread, this essentially means they fulfill the point spread condition you need. Let’s imagine that in a game between Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons, the Nuggets are a 5.5-point favorite to win. Which, simultaneously, makes the Pistons a 5.5-point underdog. As you already know by now, to win the Nuggets bet, you need them to win by 6. So if the game finishes with 120–115 for the Nuggets, you’ll lose the bet. In that instance, the Nuggets failed to overcome the 5.5 deficit, while the Pistons have covered the spread with a loss within 5 points.

Sometimes, it can happen that neither team manages to cover the spread. This can happen when the estimated spread is 4 points and the game finishes 20–16. In that case, something we call a push happens. With the push, the sportsbook simply returns you the money you’ve bet with. To avoid the push, most sportsbooks have started placing the point spread at half a point. As you know, football and basketball final scores always finish on a whole number (you can’t score half).

So when the point spread stands at 3.5 points, the point difference can only be either 3 or less, or 4 or more.


PK (or Pick ‘Em) is a situation when the bookmakers deem the teams equal, and the point spread can’t favor anyone. If you examine this year’s NBA standings, you’ll see that the Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks have the same win-loss ratio, with a winning percentage of .402. In such a case, bookmakers can’t tell who’s the favorite for winning the game. Basically, the spread is even, and you’re just left with picking the winner. When playing a PK bet, you just need the team to win the game — the score difference doesn’t matter.

Point Spread in Other Sports

A point spread is not a bet type only in major sports. You can also make such a bet in other sports as well — they just express it differently. In tennis, it’s a game spread (the favorite in the match needs to take a specified number of games more than his opponent). With horse racing, there are several ways you can spread bet — winning distance, jockey index, double card index, etc.

When to Make the Spread Bet

Point spread betting is not solely restricted to sportsbooks which utilize American odds. You’ll also find it in other standard systems, such as fractional (British) and decimal odds. However, there, they more commonly call it a handicap bet.

Point spreads bring excitement to a sporting event where people already rather know who’s going to win. Profits on the point spread bets are larger, but expectedly, the risk is higher as well. You should play this bet type when the favorite for the win is clear and you need further incentive because the base moneylines don’t offer enough profit.

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