When sportsbooks set their lines for a game, it’s usually in a three-column format: moneyline, spread, and over/under. The spread is the most commonly wagered-on option in all of sports betting. When people refer to one team being favored over another by a certain amount of points, they’re talking about the spread.
Here’s a guide to betting against the spread at a sportsbook.
What is a Spread?
A spread is an oddsmaker’s way of “evening the playing field” so that the favorite and underdog have an equal chance of attracting bettors. In many sporting events, one team is much more likely to defeat its opponent. However, with a spread, the underdog is given an artificial number of points with which it can overcome its point differential and theoretically beat the favorite. Here is an example from Week 1 of the NFL season:
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (-8)
You should read this as the Eagles being favored by eight points. So if you placed a bet on Philadelphia, you’d be betting on them to win the game by more than eight points. A bet on the Redskins would mean you’d get to add eight points to their final score. Thus, a Redskins bet would cash if they lost by seven points or less — and if they won the game outright.
This particular game ended with the Eagles winning 32-27. Although the Eagles won the game, Washington bettors won their bets as the result would really read Redskins 35-32 after adding the eight points given to them by the spread.
When a spread involves a whole number, there’s a chance the bet could push. In the Eagles-Redskins example, the bet would have pushed if the Eagles won by eight points. In that particular case, your original bet would get refunded as neither side was a winner.
To avoid pushes, sportsbooks more commonly offer odds with a half-point. So if a team were a 7.5 or 8.5-point favorite, the bet could never push.
Steps to Making a Bet Against the Spread
- Look over all spreads for the leagues you wish to bet on.
- Identify your best bets (favorites or underdogs).
- Choose the side you wish to bet on. Favorites would be “laying the points,” meaning they have a minus sign next to them. Underdogs would be “getting points,” but these are not typically listed with a plus sign next to them. Just take the opposite of the points that the favorite is giving, and that’s what the underdog is getting.
- On a mobile device or website, click on the favorite or underdog you want to bet on. When making an in-person bet at a sportsbook, you should say, “I will take [whatever team] giving the points” if choosing the favorite, or “[team] getting the points” if they are the underdog.
- Decide the amount you want to bet.
- Check the potential payout and make sure it is agreeable.
- Select “confirm bet” if betting on a mobile device, or hand the cashier your money if betting at a sportsbook.
Will a Spread Always Remain the Same?
From the time a spread gets posted (called the opening line) until the time the game starts, a spread will likely fluctuate. This could be a result of a variety of factors, like the amount of money being wagered on one side or injury news that may affect the game. Be aware of line moves in either direction, and always do your research into why a spread may have moved.
Do All Sports Have Spreads?
Basketball and football are the most popular sports that have typical point spreads. Since baseball and hockey’s rules differ drastically from the other sports, their spreads are offered differently.
In baseball and hockey, the point spread is almost always set at -1.5. In baseball, a bet on the favorite -1.5 means you think the favorite will win by two runs or more. In hockey, a bet on the favorite means you think they will win by two goals or more.
In other popular sports like soccer and tennis, point spreads are not commonly offered or wagered on. Instead, moneylines are the more typical approach for betting on these sports. For a rundown on the idea of a moneyline bet, you can refer to this article.