A number of sports gamblers, both beginners and veterans, fail to understand the true meaning of the point spread and the thought process that goes behind determining it for each game. The point spread isn’t designed to be a true representation of how much better one team is than another. Instead, it’s designed to attract an equal amount of wagers on both teams, so that the sportsbooks are guaranteed a profit regardless of which team covers the spread.
You may hear that the point spread is designed to create a case where half the gamblers bet on one team and the other half bet on the other. That’s close, but it’s not entirely correct, as not all sports bettors wager the same amount on each game. If a sportsbook receives 50 bets on the Buccaneers for $110 each, but receives 50 bets on the Panthers for $330 each, the oddsmaker (the person who sets the spread) hasn’t done a very good job, even though the same number of gamblers are betting on each team.
The sportsbooks are aware that the wise guys (smart bettors) wager more money than a typical gambler, so the spread is created with the wise guys in mind. This is particularly true in basketball, which doesn’t generate the same amount of money in bets as football. In basketball, when the sportsbooks have the wise guys on one team and the general public betting on the other side, they’ll typically root for the public, because the wise guys are betting so much more money than the public.
If the public wins the lesser amount, the sportsbooks collect the greater. That isn’t always the case in football, however, as there are so many more bettors that the collective public can wager amounts greater than the wise guys.
One of the most famous stories involving the point spread involves Super Bowl III when Joe Namath and the New York Jets, who were 18-point underdogs, upset the Baltimore Colts. A reporter asked oddsmaker Bob Martin if he was embarrassed about setting that spread, and Martin replied that it was one of the best numbers he ever came up with, because it split the betting money right down the middle.
Because bettors risk $11 to win $10 when betting into the point spread, any time the money is close to even on a particular game, the sportsbooks are happy; they know they’ve guaranteed themselves a profit without any risk. If a sportsbook receives $33,000 in bets on Team A and $33,000 on Team B, they stand to make $3,000 regardless of which team covers the spread.