How Do Point Spreads Work?
By Loot, Sports Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
The point spread is critical to most forms of sports betting. It’s used to accommodate for the difference in the quality of teams. Rarely are two teams perfectly matched. So the point spread is used to bridge the gap. There are countless things that go into the formulation of a point spread and even more considerations for those looking to beat it. But simply understanding how it works is actually quite simple.
When the point spread is used in football and basketball, the bet generally pays the same, regardless of which side you choose. But while the bet pays the same on both sides, the teams are not usually the same. That’s where the point-spread comes into play--a way to make the bet even and to offer equal appeal to both sides of the bet. If one of the best teams in the league is playing a last-place doormat, it’s not that hard to predict who will simply win the game. But if the better team has to win by 12 points, while the underdog can lose by an equal number of points, now there is something to think about.
And is essence, that’s what a point spread is--a handicap of sorts, a way to even things out in a game where one team is better. And that’s almost always the case, whether it be by a little or a lot. Let’s look at some examples from the different sports so we can develop an understanding on how point spreads work.
College and NFL Football: You will see a football match-up on the betting board and there will be a number next to both teams. The number is the same, but one team is “plus” that number, while another team is “minus” that number. It will look like this:
Detroit Lions +6 vs. Green Bay Packers -6
In the above example, the point spread is 6. Detroit is +6. That means they are getting 6 points. You can also say they are a “6 point underdog.” Green Bay is -6. They are giving 6 points and are a 6 point favorite.
Detroit being +6 means that in order for a bet on them to win, one of two things must happen. They can either win the game outright or just not lose by 6 or more points.
Green Bay at -6 means they not only need to win the game, but must win by a total that exceeds 6 points.
If Green Bay wins by exactly 6 points, the bet is a “push” and all bettors receive their money back.
A lot of point spreads fall on a half-point, where there cannot be a push and one team must win. For example, if the Eagles are -4.5 to beat the Redskins at +4.5, the Eagles need to win by at least 5 for a bet on them to win. The Redskins can either win the game or lose by 4 or less points. As you have probably been able to figure out, standard football betting isn’t about who wins, it’s about who covers the spread.
College and NBA Basketball: Standard basketball wagering also revolves around the point spread. The bookie sets a point spread, with the underdog team getting that amount of points, while the favored team is giving that same number of points. Let’s look at a quick example:
Portland Trail Blazers +5.5 vs. Golden State Warriors -5.5
In the above example, the point spread is 5.5--a number given to both teams, with one team (Portland) being a 5.5-point underdog and the other team (Golden State) being a 5.5-point favorite. For a bet on Portland to win, they can either win the game straight-up, but they can also lose by an amount under 5.5 points. So if Golden State wins 99-94, Portland covers the spread by a half-point, being that they lost by only 5 points. Golden State, conversely, need to win the game and do so by an amount surpassing 5.5 points, which means by at least 6 points. A 100-94 Warriors win would mean Golden State covered the spread.
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Major League Baseball: In baseball betting, the standard form of betting takes place on the money line, which are basically odds used when simply picking who will win the game. But in recent years, a point-spread of sorts has made its way into baseball betting known as the “run line.”
The “run line” is a combination of a point spread and a money line. The most common form of this is the 1.5 run margin, where the favored team is -1.5 and the underdog team is +1.5. In other words, the favored team must win by two runs for a bet on them to win, while the underdog team can lose by a run and a bet on them will still win. Here’s how it will look:
Houston Astros +1.5 (-130)
Cleveland Indians -1.5 (-110)
In this matchup, Houston was the underdog on the normal line, where they just had to win the game outright. By giving them 1.5 runs, the odds moved in their favor considerably. But Cleveland, a favorite under normal circumstances, is actually an underdog now that they are -1.5 and need to win by two runs. The run line also hurts home teams, who will not bat in the bottom of the ninth inning if they are up by any amount, meaning you get one last chance to cover the run line. In addition, if they go up by a single run in the bottom of the ninth, the game is automatically over, denying you a chance to get up by two runs so you can win your bet. Only a homer will bail you out in the bottom of the ninth when taking the home team on the money line.
You may also see an alternative run line of 2.5 runs at some books. In these games, the favored team must win by 3 runs, while the underdog team can lose by up to two runs. When playing a run line of 2.5, the odds can be wildly affected. A team that is a +110 underdog would become a favorite of over -300 with a 2.5 run cushion. With runs so precious in baseball, asking for even a favored team to win by 3 or more runs is asking for a lot.
“Vig” or “Juice”: When betting on the point spread, we will have to bet a little more than we stand to win. While it would be nice for the bookies to be in business for our entertainment purposes, they obviously are in business to turn a profit. At a majority of books, you will be betting on a -110 line when making bets against-the-spread. In other words, you will need to bet $110 for every $100 you want to win. So if you want to win $10 on a bet, you will need to bet $11. If you want to win $20, you bet $22, and so on.
With a little research, however, you can do a little better than -110. Finding a -105 line is a great edge for bettors to have. Rather than betting $110 for every $100 you want to win, you only have to bet $105, which effectively cuts the juice in half. For a bettor who makes a lot of wagers, it’s hard to find a more rewarding perk than reduced juice odds of -105. Find this great money saving offer at the web's best sportsbook: 5Dimes.