Point Spread Betting

Point spread betting (or betting against the spread, or point spread) is the most popular form of sports betting within the United States. 

Our informative point spread betting guide will explain how point spread betting works, how sportsbooks assign the spread, the method behind calculating the potential returns of a point spread bet, the pros and cons of betting against the spread and the dos and don’ts of point spread betting. 

"Sports betting" by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar is marked with CC BY 2.0.

What is point spread betting?

The point spread (also known as the equalizer in the industry) works in a very similar way to a handicap bet and is created by taking into account the strengths/weaknesses of two contesting teams/players. The point spread is designed to create a more level playing field between the favorite and the underdog, by deducting points off the favorite (-) and adding points to the underdog (+) before the event has started. 

How does point spread betting work? 

When betting on or against the spread more times than not you will see a clear favorite and an underdog represented by the spread. The favorite will always be assigned negative points (-) and the deemed underdog will start the contest ahead with plus points (+). 

The variance (the difference between the ‘-’ number and ‘+’ number) will show you how strong a favorite Team/Player A is, and how unfancied or an underdog Team/Player B is. 

The lower the variance in the spread, for example Team/Player A being assigned -1 (the favorite) and Team/Player B being assigned +1 (the underdog) shows you that there is a slight favorite in the contest but it’s minimal because the number of points added and subtracted is only 1. 

Whereas you might see examples as high as say -7.5 for a very strong favorite and +7.5 for a deemed weak underdog. 

Here’s a couple of hypothetical examples you might see in the NFL season:

NFL Point Spread Betting Example No.1:

In 2020/21 in the AFC East, The Jets had a record of 2 wins and 14 losses across the 16 games. Showing they are out of form and struggling for quality in their roster. 

The Bills however topped the AFC East with a record 13 wins and 3 losses. Showing they are in form, pulling off some great wins and clearly have some quality players. 

If the two were to face off with all the above in mind, you might see a spread like this allocated on the game:

Buffalo Bills -6.5 

New York Jets +6.5

As you can see, the spread shows us that the Buffalo Bills are the strong favorite and most likely to win, and win by a margin of around 6 points according to the spread. 

Whereas you can see in this example, the New York Jets are deemed to be such an underdog that the sportsbook is willing to give them a 6.5 point advantage against the Bills. 

So to summarize, if you were to bet on the favorite, Buffalo Bills, you would be confident that they will beat the New York Jets by a margin of 7 or more points. If they do, your bet would settle as a winner. If they only beat them by say 6 points or less, tied, or lost the game your bet would settle as a loser. 

If you were to bet on the New York Jets at +6.5 you would think that the sportsbook has undervalued them. That either they could pull off a shock result against the Bills, or perhaps even that the Bills will win but it will be a tighter affair than what the sportsbook believes it will be.

To win your bet you would need the New York Jets to either win the game, tie the game or only lose the game by 6 or less points. 

That is one of the most appealing things about backing the underdog in the spread: that you can still win your point spread bet even if the team you have backed loses the game, as long as it is within the allocated (+) points. 

NFL Point Spread Betting Example No.2: 

Let’s say it’s the 2021/22 Super Bowl and it’s a repeat of the 2020/21 Super Bowl with Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers facing off against each other once again. 

Both teams have had strong NFL regular seasons and have beaten some quality opposition in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl final. They are clearly both strong teams, with quality talent in their roster that could win any NFL game on any given day and it’s hard to call who will win.

Let’s say Kansas City Chiefs have been brushing aside their rivals in the lead up to the Super Bowl and they are deemed the slight favorites. You might see the spread on the game look something like this:

Kansas City Chiefs  -1.5

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +1.5

In the above example you can see that the spread margin is a lot smaller because both teams are closely matched, with a slight preference of favoritism towards the Chiefs. The spread in this example is only giving an advantage and disadvantage of 1 point either way due to the quality of both teams. 

Point Spread Betting Odds Explained

You’re now familiar with how the spread is created, how to win and lose a points spread bet and what the different spread variations mean in terms of favoritism. We will now look at some of the examples of odds you might see when betting on the spread.

You will generally see the odds assigned to each team as quite close or even in some cases, exactly the same. That is because the way the spread has been formed has already been done so in a way to level out the playing field. 

Below is four real life examples of the point spreads and their odds on the opening weekend of the 2021/22 NFL season:

You can see that the NY Jets & CAR Panthers, and SF 49ers and DET Lions have exactly the same odds on their spread at -110 either way. Whilst others have one team with slightly more generous odds against their opponent such as the PIT Steelers & BUF Bills game and the JAX Jaguars and HOU Texans game.

Most spreads will usually offer odds slightly under the evens money mark (+100, 2.0 or 1/1). An evens odds bet would mean you would stand to win 100% of your stake. So for example:

  •  $10 bet on a +100 selection would return $20
  • $25 bet on a +100 selection would return $50
  • $50 bet on a +100 selection would return $100

However you will most often see sportsbooks offering odds of -110 on both sides of the spread. So in that instance a $10 bet would look like this:

  • $10 bet on a -110 selection on the point spread would return $19.09. A profit of just $9.09.

You will notice that you’re making less than double your stake. 

Why is that you ask? 

This is how sportsbooks are making commission on every spread bet. 

If the favorite wins, they will payout on that but make money on the underdog losing from all the bets on that side of the spread. 

If the underdog wins, they will payout on that but make money on the favorite losing from all the bets on that side of the spread.

That is because the -110 odds (slightly under evens odds) ensures the sportsbook will always take a percentage profit whatever the result.

In simple terms this can be explained like this. Let’s say 10 people bet on a spread for the Patriots vs Chiefs game in the NFL, 5 back the favorite and the other 5 back the underdog. The spread might look like this:

Chiefs -3 (-110)

Patriots +3 (-110)

  • Bettor A puts $10 on the favorites, The Chiefs (-3) at -110
  • Bettor B puts $10 on the favorites, The Chiefs at (-3) -110
  • Bettor C puts $10 on the favorites, The Chiefs at (-3) -110
  • Bettor D puts $10 on the favorites, The Chiefs at (-3) -110
  • Bettor E puts $10 on the favorites, The Chiefs at (-3) -110
  • Bettor F puts $10 on the underdog, The Patriots (+3) – 110
  • Bettor G puts $10 on the underdog, The Patriots (+3) – 110
  • Bettor H puts $10 on the underdog, The Patriots (+3) – 110
  • Bettor I puts $10 on the underdog, The Patriots (+3)  – 110
  • Bettor J puts $10 on the underdog, The Patriots (+3)  – 110

So in total there is $100 staked, $50 bet on each side of the spread

The sportsbook will make money from this spread whatever the result of the game because of the profit percentage within the -110 odds. 

Let’s say The Chiefs show their supremacy and win the game by 5 points, meaning that the sportsbook will payout on favorite bettors on the spread. The returns for the sportsbook would look like this:

  • $50 made on losing bets on placed on The Patriots
  • $45.45 paid out on winning bets placed on The Chiefs

This means that the sportsbook has profited from the spread $50 – $45.45 = $4.65 profit.

How and where to place your point spread bets

As the most popular sports betting option for bettors in the United States, it goes without saying that all the serious online bookies in legal states will offer points spread bets on all of the major sports and leagues. 

However you don’t just want to settle for the first sportsbook you see that offers point spread betting on the contest you seek, as it is always worth shopping around for the best odds. Odds will vary from bookie to bookie, meaning you may stand to win more at one sportsbook compared to another. 

Point spread live betting / in-play point spread betting

Although pre game/contest point spread betting is the most common form of betting the spread. Bettors can also bet on the spread in play as well. 

There are potential benefits and disadvantages of live betting the spread. Let’s start with the benefits:

  • The spread will change throughout the contest: The beauty of betting on the spread live and in play is that the spread will alter in reaction to what is happening in the contest, for example the favourite may be struggling more than the pre-match spread would have suggested so you may get a more attractive spread on the favourite in-play
  • You can see how the match is unfolding before placing your point spread bet: Sometimes, for whatever reason one team/player just isn’t on it, on that particular day, by waiting to place your spread bet during the event, you can make an informed decision based on which team/player is playing well or even perhaps dominating the contest.
  • You can potentially get better value: As we already know, pre-event point spread favorites often come with negative point handicaps often up to 7 or 8 points. But if the favourite is struggling and the game is already half way through for example, then the spread would react to this and you are likely to get a better value spread on a favorite as there is only a certain amount of time remaining.


  • The pre-game spread might have represented better value: Let’s say for example the Boston Celtics were assigned a -4 spread against the Miami Heat but they’re quick out of the blocks and take a comprehensive lead in the game. By missing out on the original spread and the live spread reacting to what’s happened in the game, you will not get as an attractive spread and the value will have gone.
  • Your live bet might be dictated by what’s going on in the contest rather than your true opinion: We’ve all heard of the saying “stick to your guns” right? Well by not betting on the spread before the event and leaving it until the contest has begun, may mean your opinion changes based on how the contest has started. Perhaps you fancied backing the underdog in the spread but the game begins and they are under severe pressure, so you change your mind and back the favorite, only for the underdog to eventually come out on top and win the contest.

Point Spread Betting Strategy

When placing any bet it’s good to have a strategy in place before parting with your own hard earned cash. The same principle applies to point spread betting and here’s our best strategies for it:

Monitor the spread and look for best value: Spreads will change from the first instance they were listed, this is due to a number of factors, but the main one is the amount of people betting on that selection. So in the lead up to a game and closer to the event you may get a worse spread, particularly on favorites, as favorites generally attract the most bets. A point or half a point can make a huge difference to winning a bet, don’t forget the bookmakers have a team of expert traders who set the spreads, backed by team/player stats and data. So any potential edge (however small) you can get against the bookie should be lapped up. 

Shop around for the best odds: Although we already know most point spread bets will be around the -110 mark, you can get slightly better odds if you shop around the different operators. This is a crucial part of sports betting because you want the best potential returns for your stake. 

Do your own statistical research to get an edge: The spread is set by analysing the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, whilst also looking at stats and data; for example which team is in the best form, which team has the strongest roster etc. All these factors impact the formation of the spread. However you might spot something that the bookmaker has missed, perhaps one team doesn’t do so well when they travel to a particular region or they struggle against teams with pacey players etc. By doing your own research you know there is reasoning behind your pick and it is backed with true stats and data.

If backing the underdog, wait until closer to the event: As already mentioned, spreads and the odds will sometimes change just before the event. This is because usually bettors will bet hard on the favorite right before an event. So whilst the favorites spread/odds will get less attractive, this will help push out the spread/odds of the underdog. So if you have identified the underdog as your pick, it might be wise to wait until the day of the contest to place your point spread bet 

Point Spread Betting FAQs

Point spread betting is a sports wager type whereby a spread is set on two contesting teams/players. The favorite of the contest will be assigned a negative point score before the game and has to win the event surpassing the handicap number set on the spread. The underdog will be assigned a positive point(s) score, whereby that team/player will start the contest at least half a point or more ahead of the opposition.
Sportsbook traders will analyse the strengths and weaknesses of two contesting opponents, looking at things such as: season form, previous game point totals, the quality of the rosters and much more to determine who the favorite should be and who the underdog is. They will then set the number of points allocated to either side of the spread based on how strong a team/player the favorite is compared to the underdog.
Betting on or against the spread is the most popular single bet type in the United States, every legal sportsbook will offer this. It’s a popular option with sports betting fans because the way the spread works is that it evens out the level playing field between an often superior team/player and an underdog. Whilst you also don’t even have to win the contest whilst betting on the underdog, as long as they lose within the allocated point spread handicap, your bet would settle as a winner.
Yes it does. The point spread will change because of a number of different factors, but the main one is when people begin to bet heavily on one or both sides of the spread then sportsbooks will adjust the spread accordingly to ensure they don’t lose too much money. The spread could also change in reaction to news of a key player being out or something else unforeseen happening in the lead up to the contest.
Most sportsbooks will offer the cash out feature on your point spread bets. This is mostly beneficial when your spread bet is winning going into the last embers of a game/contest but the lead is only narrow, so you might consider cashing out.
As point spreads are set using statistical data, it’s often wise to seek the help of the experts who themselves have done their own research and have their own opinion on how to beat the bookies on the spread. Check out our point spread betting picks and tips page.
Yes you can. In fact it is the single most popular betting option in the United States and all the sportsbooks in legal states will offer this.

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