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Point Spreads vs. Moneylines

Betting Point Spreads Vs. Moneylines

By Loot, Sports Handicapper,

In American sports betting, most bets fall into one of these two categories--the point-spread or the money-line. Sure, we might see fractional odds from time to time, like when something is 13/5 to win, but for the most part, our wagers will have odds that are expressed in one of these two forms.

There are some considerations that can lend a better understanding to point-spreads and money-lines. Let’s start with point-spreads. This is when both sides of the bet theoretically have a 50% chance of winning because the point-spread is a handicap given to the weaker team in order to even out both team’s chances. We all knew in 2013 that the Miami Heat were supposed to beat the Toronto Raptors, so that’s not really a 50-50 proposition. But when the Heat have to win by 12 for their side to win, now it’s more even.

With point-spread bets, you stand to win almost as much as you bet. It’s more of a heads-or-tails equation. Normally, you would be betting $110 to win $100 (or $1.10 to win $1.00), though some bookies will give you the treasured privilege of betting point-spread bets on a -105 line (5Dimes). You’re not picking who will win the game. You are only concerned with who will “cover the spread.”

Then you have the money-line bets. There is no point-spread. You have to pick the winner and it doesn’t matter how they win or by how much. Naturally, both sides don’t have the exact same chance of winning, hence the money line. It’s a way to express odds. A -200 is really a 2-1 favorite. A +200 is a 2-1 underdog. For favorites, you have to wager more than you stand to win, while with underdogs, a winning bet will yield you more than you had to bet.

Tip: Betting moneyline underdogs is a great proposition as it allows you to hit less than 50% of your bets and still turn a profit. Check out my article on Betting Baseball Underdogs for another great read!

Each bet has its own appeal and potential drawbacks. With money-line bets, you have the built-in appeal of betting on the precise thing that your side is trying to do, which is to win. That carries a lot of appeal with different bettors. Something about point-spreads turns them off. They know teams are not trying to win or lose by a certain amount, they’re just trying to win. And betting on that is more attractive to some people than betting spreads.

With point-spreads, you need to negotiate whether a team will cover the spread, which has a more abstract feel to it. You don’t hear guys at the bar saying “Oh the Raiders are gonna so cover that 4-point spread!” They would just say which team is going to win or lose. At the same time, there are benefits to betting spreads, just from an organizational standpoint. They’re yea or nay bets--either you cover the spread or you don’t. And when you win, you get almost as much back as you bet. You try to win a little more than you lose over the long-run. There is a simplicity to it that some find attractive.

Sports like pro and college basketball and football use the point-spread, though you will also be able to bet those games on the money line. Not all of them, just some of them. In sports like baseball or any 1-on-1 sport, the odds are reflected in the money line. And in sports like baseball, you can play the “run line,” which is a spread of sorts. So the options are going to be there for the bettor who prefers one way over the other. The recommended course of action is to make your betting a mixture of both spread and money-line bets.

Money-line bets give you the opportunity to win more than you bet. That’s when taking underdogs, but the reverse can be dangerous. A lot of sports-bettors get stuck trying to make supposedly low-risk wagers by playing big favorites on the money line, laying huge amounts with a very small potential payout. One thing most advanced sports-bettors will agree with is that habitually playing big favorites on the money line is a dangerous course of action.

A good thing about money line wagers is that you can make parlays and not be handcuffed with the same things that plague parlay bets made against the spread. With ATS parlays, the payout schedule is heavily-juiced. On the money-line, the payout is calculated simply using the odds of the sides you chose, making it a fairer proposition. Both point-spread bets and money-line wagers have their pros and cons.

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