Point Spread & Betting Lines Explained – How Does The Point Spread Work

When it comes to betting on the NFL, NBA, College football and basketball, a bettor must have a solid understanding of the point spread if they hope to have any success.

What Is A Point Spread?

Point Spread Example

The function of a point spread is essentially a handicap (a number) placed on one team for betting purposes only, designed to give both teams in any game an equal chance at winning in the eyes of sports bettors. It is set by Bookmakers to hopefully split the amount of bets on a game. A point spread is used in sports betting to even the odds between two unevenly matched teams. The spread can also be used in bets like Parlays or Teasers.

BetMGM Pick

Risk Free Bet

Get A Risk Free First Bet Up To $1000
Claim Offer
FanDuel Pick

No Sweat First Bet

Bet $5, Win $150 in site credits NFL Week 1
Claim Offer
DraftKings Pick

40-1 Odds Boost Bonus

Bet $5 Win $200 On Any MLB Moneyline Bet
Claim Offer

What Is Point Spread Betting?

When betting the point spread you can either Bet With The Spread, meaning taking the team that is favored and will have a “-” minus sign in front of the number (point spread) or Bet Against The Spread meaning you are taking the underdog, or the team getting the points, having a “+” plus sign in from of the number. For more on what Betting Against The Spread is click here.

How Does The Point Spread Work?

When two teams meet on the field or on court, one team is typically better than the other. If all sports bettors had to do was to pick the winning team in a game, they’d all simply wager on the better team and collect their money more often than not.

Using an example from Week 17 of the 2017 NFL season, the New England Patriots were hosting the New York Jets. There was little doubt New England was the better of the two teams; all anyone had to do was look at their records: New England was 12-3 for the season, while New York was just 5-10. The Patriots had already beaten the Jets earlier in the season. So, if all you had to do was pick the winning team, nearly every bettor would have taken the Patriots. Instead, the oddsmakers established a point spread to make both teams equally attractive in the eyes of bettors.

In this case, New England was installed as a 16-point favorite, commonly designated as New England –16. The Jets, the underdogs, were written as New York +16.

If you bet the favorite, the Patriots had to win by 17 points or more in order for you to cash your bet. Since the Patriots were favored by 16 points, you subtracted 16 points from their final score for betting purposes. If New England was to win 27-10, by 17 points, Patriot bettors would win their wager. If the Patriots were to win 27-14, by 13 points, New England bettors would lose, because the Patriots didn’t win by more than 16.

If you bet the underdog, the New York Jets, you won your bet if New York won the game outright or if they lost by 15 points or less. Because the Jets were the underdogs, you added 16 points to their final score for betting purposes.

If the Patriots won the game by exactly 16 points, 26-10, it would’ve been a tie or a push and no money would’ve changed hands. In the end, the Patriots made sure their bettors were rewarded, defeating New York 26-6, and covering the point spread.

Does Betting On The Point Spread Include Overtime?

Yes the point spread includes everything that happens in overtime!

How Is The Point Spread Made?

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. For more on this check out our in-depth look at how sports betting odds work.

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.

Why Do Point Spreads Move?

If one team is receiving a large majority of the bets on a particular game, a sportsbook like BetMGM will move the point spread to try and attract bets on the other team, as well as to discourage additional wagers on the popular team. If the Miami Heat are favored against the spread by 7 points in a game and almost all the bets are coming in on Miami, the spread will likely change to Miami -8. If that doesn’t stop the bets from coming in on Miami, the spread could move to Miami -9 or higher.

At times, a bettor will be required to risk $115, $120, or possibly more to win $100 when betting with the point spread. This will occur most often in football games when the spread is on one of what are known as the “key numbers.” In football, these are typically thought of as 3, 4, 6, 7, and 10, as teams are much more likely to win by one of those margins than they are by, say, 5 or 9 points.

If the Miami Dolphins are favored by 3 points over the New York Jets and a large percentage of the wagers is coming in on the Dolphins, the sportsbook may be hesitant to move the odds to Miami -3.5 or Miami -4 for fear of receiving too many bets on the Jets. Even if the point spread moved only a half-point, to Miami -3.5, and the bulk of the bets transition to the Jets, the worst thing that could happen from the sportsbook’s point of view would be for the Dolphins to win by exactly three points. If they did, the many bettors who had already taken Miami -3 would tie their bets, while those who’d taken the Jets +3.5 would win their bets, which would cause the sportsbook to lose a fair amount of money on the game.

So instead of moving the point spread off of one of the key numbers, many times the sportsbooks will move the odds so that those who want to wager on the Dolphins will be asked to risk $115 to win $100, while those taking the Jets will risk $105 to win $100. If the odds changed to where those betting the Dolphins were asked to risk $120 to win $100, those taking the Jets would risk $100 to win $100.

It’s important to note that while odds are based on $100 wagers, you don’t have to wager that much. In the example where Miami bettors risk $120 to win $100, you could just as easily wager $24 to win $20. It’s simply easier to refer to bets in terms of $100.

Point spreads can also move due to issues such as injuries, suspensions, and weather. A team without its starting quarterback or leading scorer won’t be expected to perform as well without the player as with, while a driving snowstorm can slow down a high-powered offensive team.