Betting on sports has become one of the most exciting betting activities ever since point spread betting was introduced. Also known as handicap betting, this type of gambling is very popular among professional punters, yet newbies might have trouble understanding it at first.
Don’t worry though, as it is not really complicated, and we will do our best to explain how it works step-by-step.
First of all, we need to explain what point spread betting is not. The basic type of bets that punters usually place when they bet on sports is called moneyline (or money line). They basically need to choose the winner of an upcoming match and hope that their guess is correct.
But what happens when a match has an obvious favorite? Imagine that the odds are set at -1000 for the favorite and at +1400 for the underdog. In this case, it is quite clear that the underdog will probably lose the game, so why would anyone place bets on them? It doesn’t take a betting expert to understand that the likelihood of the outsider team winning against the leading team is very low.
Betting that the underdog would win is a brave strategy and can be quite rewarding, but not many punters opt to do that. Even when they do, they need a kind of miracle in order to win the bet. Miracles do happen from time to time, and that is the beauty of sports and sports betting. However, in most cases, they don’t, and sportsbooks need to make teams equal in some way or another.
This is where handicap betting comes in and saves the day. Let’s take a closer look at how it works.
Point Spread Betting Explained
What sportsbooks do in point spread betting is provide advantage or disadvantage to a team in order to attract more punters to place bets on the underdogs. They count the margin of victory or defeat for a team and make their odds accordingly. Therefore, the team which is a clear favorite in a game will be “handicapped” for a certain amount of points.
Sportsbooks usually take many things into account to create a handicap on a team. They calculate the overall performance of both teams, their scores in previous matches, individual player statistics, and more. Once they gain in-depth insight into two teams and their history, they make a suggestion in points which will give advantage to the underdog. Nowadays, complex algorithms do the job by harvesting player and team data and suggesting the point spread.
Point Spread Betting Odds
If you see the following lines in your sportsbook, you might have stumbled upon point spread betting:
Denver Nuggets -10 (-110)
Minnesota Timberwolves +10 (-110)
As you can see, the odds for both teams are the same, except that Denver is handicapped for ten points. Therefore, if you place a bet on Denver, you will win only if they win with 10+ points in the game, and that is essentially how the point spread betting works.
If the result is, for example, 133:120 for Denver, the difference in points is 13, and you are about to be rewarded. However, if the score is 123:120, that means the difference is only three points. Since Denver was handicapped with ten points, their real number of points would be 113, meaning that you lost your bet, despite the fact that Denver had won.
On the other hand, if you place your bet on Timberwolves, they need to keep the point difference to less than 10 and only then can you win your bet. That is to say, even if they lose with less than 10 points, you are still going to get paid.
So if the final score is 123:120, sportsbooks will add ten points to Minnesota’s score, making it 123:130. In that case, you have won a bet that you had placed on Minnesota, despite the fact that they lost the game. But if the score is 133:120, even with the ten points added to Minnesota, Denver would still lead, meaning that you will lose a bet.
Of course, we made up this example just to show you how it works, but pay close attention to real-life odds and make sure to study how much advantage/disadvantage was given to a team.
What Do You Win in Point Spread Betting?
Sportsbooks want to make it a 50/50 chance to win if you place a handicapped bet. However, they also need to take their share as well, which is why odds are usually set at -110. In other words, if you bet $110 and make a correct guess, you will receive $100 in addition to $110 that is returned to you.
Therefore, you will get a total of $210. This is different from moneyline odds which are not always equal, meaning you can earn a lot if you bet on the underdog and they actually win.
Popular Point Spread Bets
The most popular point spread betting option is related to the entire match. In that case, sportsbooks suggest advantages and disadvantages for full time. However, sometimes, betting platforms can offer punters to bet on just a part of a game such as a quarter, half-time, and more.
There are two types of point spread betting options which are also very popular, except that they apply to baseball and hockey instead of basketball and football. You see, both football and basketball have high scoring, meaning that scores can go to double or even triple digits.
However, baseball and hockey are usually one-digit sports, so they are not really suitable for point spread betting. Sportsbooks do use some kind of handicap betting called “runline” and “puckline”. These refer to the number of lines and goals in hockey and are usually set at -1.5 and +1.5.
Reading Point Spread Betting Lines
Reading the lines is pretty easy now that we explained how it works. In most cases, you don’t even have to pay attention to the odds, as they are more or less set to be the same (usually -110). However, you need to study the points that are given as an advantage/disadvantage to the teams.
If there is a – (minus) sign after a team’s name, it means that they are given a disadvantage of a certain number of points. In our case, Denver Nuggets is given -10. On the other hand, Minnesota Timberwolves has a + (plus) sign to it, meaning that they are given a ten-point advantage.
But what happens if Denver Nuggets win with exactly the 10 points difference? Sportsbooks usually call that “a push”, meaning that all bets are returned to punters. In order to avoid this in point spread betting, you will often see many sportsbooks giving point spreads like this: -10.5 or +10.5.
In that case, a push is impossible to happen as there are no “half” points in any sport that is available for handicap betting. Therefore, if you bet on Denver and they win with 10 points difference, you will lose the bet as it is set at -10.5. On the other hand, if they win with 11 points difference, you will get paid for guessing right.
Money Lines vs Point Spreads
Moneyline bets include betting on the winner. The process is quite straightforward as all it takes is that you select a team or an athlete (depending on the sport) and place a bet. We already explained what point spread betting is, but the question still remains — which one of these two is better?
Money lines and point spreads actually cannot be compared as they are a completely different approach to placing bets. Money lines are exciting when two teams of equal or similar strength play against each other. In that case, it is always difficult to tell the winner, so it is quite challenging to place bets on such matches.
These type of matches, such as the Super Bowl and other finals of important competitions, are not that interesting for the people who are into point spread betting. In fact, sportsbooks usually avoid a point spread betting option when competitors have close or equal chances of winning.
On the other hand, when there are games where one of the sides is a clear favorite, sportsbooks will probably offer point spread betting for them. All you have to do is take a good look at the odds and points suggested and make your decision accordingly.
Moneyline betting is, therefore, much more straightforward. People who place bets don’t have to be knowledgeable about the sport they are betting on in order to make a guess. Handicap betting is different, as it is usually recommended that you have some knowledge about the sport.
A Real-Life Example
With EuroBasket Championship for Women being currently popular, we decided to analyze the match between Serbia and Sweden. A sportsbook offers two types of point spread betting options:
- Serbia -9.5 (-109) vs Sweden +9.5 (-114)
- Serbia -9 (-120) vs Sweden +9 (-105)
Sportsbooks often use complex algorithms to calculate the exact outcome. In the first one, Sweden is given slightly better odds than Serbia, meaning that the sportsbook believes Serbia is less likely to win with more than nine points.
However, the second option is also very interesting, as the points are just half a point lower compared to the first option. This time, Serbia is given better odds of winning — how so? Well, apparently, an algorithm calculated that the highest probability for an outcome will be a nine-point difference, thus adding suggested point spread betting odds to the platform.
As you can see, odds are not here set to 50/50, meaning that both sides get -110 odds. Many sportsbooks will adjust the odds a bit, but they will always be close to -110. Simply put, it is sometimes impossible to find a perfect balance between two teams in point spread betting. Therefore, a slight adjustment of odds has to be conducted, such as in the case of Serbia vs Sweden.
What Does the Term “Cover the Spread Bet” Mean?
If a team “covers the spread,” it means that they managed to win by more points than suggested. For example, if Nuggets are given -10 and they win with more than 10 points, they successfully covered the spread bet.
There is also another term which is often used in point spread betting and is called “betting against the spread” or simply ATS. If Denver is the favorite according to the points spread and you place your bet on Timberwolves, then you are effectively betting “against the spread”. It is a bold strategy which can be very rewarding if you make a correct guess.
How Is Point Spread Betting Different from Over/Under Bets?
Another interesting way to place bets which is neither money line nor point spread betting is called over/under betting (or under/over betting). Basically, you get to bet whether a team or an individual athlete would score over or under the number of points suggested by a sportsbook.
For example, Stephen Curry has an average of 23.5 points per game, which is usually taken as a default number by sportsbooks. Therefore, if you place an “over” bet for an upcoming match, you guess that Curry will score more than his average. On the other hand, if you place an “under” bet, you are betting that Curry will not manage to score at least 24 points in a game.
You can also place an over/under bet at differences between teams. For example, a sportsbook can give a 10.5 point difference in a match between Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves. If you place an “over” bet and one of the teams wins with more than 11 points, you will be rewarded. In fact, over/under bets can be applied to almost every sport where you can make such a guess.
It is a pretty simple yet entertaining bet, but you need to know a lot about individual players and teams in order to maximize your chances of winning.