Point Spread Betting

Written by: Joseph Falchetti, Editor-in-Chief, Pro Sports Bettor and Casino Expert
Last updated:
5 minute read

Point spread wagering or spread betting is a sports betting market where the success of a bet depends on the final score’s relation to the oddsmaker’s point spread. The point spread is different than moneyline or outright wagers because it often includes multiple outcomes. It is most commonly used when betting sides in football contests but is also used almost universally in basketball as well.

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How Does The Point Spread Work

In the simplest terms, the point spread is a handicap for the underdog. The general goal behind a point spread is to create balanced action on both sides of the wager, netting the sportsbook a profit with their 10% percent vigorish, which is charged to each side of the market.

Although, the above goal has become secondary to sportsbooks in recent years. Today, they are most focused on creating sharp, accurate odds. If the oddsmakers worry too much about the public’s opinion on a game instead of looking to create the most accurate odds possible, they will be eaten alive by professional bettors, otherwise known as wiseguys.

BetOnline Point Spread

The above image is an NFL betting market at BetOnline.ag. Though this market is for NFL, the basics, and layouts of each point spread betting market are almost universally the same at U.S. facing online sportsbooks. The home team is always listed as the bottom team and the away team on the top.

The Carolina Panthers are the visiting team and the favorite in the above example. They are favored by -2.5 points. The favorite is always designated using a minus (-) value. The Denver Broncos are the home team and the underdog. They are +2.5 point underdogs. The underdog is always designated using a positive (+) value.

The attached odds for both point spreads are -110, the standard vig charged by most bookmakers. Since the point spread features a half-point, there is no push in play. The market will be decided, and one side of the bet will go home with a winning ticket and the other a loser. We discuss NFL point spreads more in-depth at Safest Betting Sites. Point spreads are also the main betting market for NCAA basketball betting.

Using Point Spread Strategy In Other Sports

Since point spreads are the preferred betting market of the betting public, they’re available in all sports where point spread markets make sense. NFL and College football markets also have moneyline markets, but they see far less action than point spread wagering. Both NBA betting and NCAA betting also primarily use point spreads. Like football, they also have moneylines available for betting but receive most their action on spread betting. As for the two other two major sports, NHL hockey and baseball, well, their odds are primarily in moneyline format. However, in the last decade, modified point spread markets have appeared as NHL puck lines and MLB run lines.

Point Spread Betting – Betting Markets History

Few know the history behind the betting market that is among the most famous in the world. The point spread was invited by a mathematician, Charles Kline McNeil in the 1930s. He taught math at high schools in New York and Connecticut. In the 1940s, McNeil did an excellent job cleaning out bookies while teaching at Riverdale Country School. He eventually made enough money to leave his job and become a bookie himself.

McNeil recognized the need for a point spread instead of moneyline or decimal odds, which often produced lopsided action and were confusing to some gamblers. He was the first to offer point spread as a bookie out of his own shop. He offered them first on college football before expanding to college basketball. McNeil’s new betting market was an instant hit. He garnered so much betting action that other bookies in his areas were forced to shut down. The point spread was born.

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Betting Via Point Spread – Final Thoughts

Everyone who bets sports should understand point spreads. This article is surely one for beginners who are just getting into sports betting. However, even experienced bettors make the mistake of focusing on point spreads too heavily. Have you ever looked at the betting limits at your favorite sportsbook? Well, go ahead and take a look if you haven’t already. Notice that totals, almost across the board, have lower betting limits than point spreads. Sometimes, the difference is quite stark.

The oddsmakers are more confident with their odds on point spreads, particularly for football, where they almost all have the number they want to carry through the weekend come Friday. Totals are much more inefficient than sides and an area where sportsbooks are known to be vulnerable to sharp action. Remember, it’s not always about betting the market that is the most fun to watch. Instead, it’s about betting on the oddsmaker’s weakest numbers. Point spreads are often the only market that players focus on as they look at the betting board. This is a huge mistake and one that leaves a lot of +EV wagers on the table.

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About the Author

Joseph Falchetti

Joseph Falchetti

Editor-in-Chief, Pro Sports Bettor and Casino Expert

Joe is the author of the majority of sports betting pages on SBS and he serves as a gambling consultant to our content team. He's been mentioned on Forbes.com as a gaming analyst, and his articles have been linked by larger publications, such as the New York Times.

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