Point Spread Betting

Second only to moneyline bets, point spread bets are the next most popular type of sports bet that you can make. Whether you are an expert sharp who crushes the books or you’re a brand-new bettor, point spread bets are most likely going to be a big part of your winning betting strategy. In fact, some successful professional bettors exclusively utilize point spread bets to make up their winning strategy.

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through all the details you need to know to understand point spreads, make point spread bets, and hopefully start turning a nice profit with them. We’ll start with some basic information for the novice bettors, including what a point spread bet is, how to make one, how they typically pay out, and the benefits of utilizing this type of bet.

Following that, we’ll get into some basic and advanced strategies of betting point spreads for the more seasoned sports bettors. Regardless of where you fall on the skill scale, you’re hopefully going to get some value from this article.

If you’re brand new to sports betting or it’s been a really long time, we recommend reading the guide from top to bottom, as the sections will build on information from prior sections. If you’re a seasoned bettor looking for a specific piece of information, you can go right ahead and skip down to the section you need or to the bottom of the page to see the point spread betting strategies.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the world of point spread bets.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Point Spread Bet

Before we can talk about how to crush point spread bets, we need to make sure that everyone reading this fully understands exactly what a point spread bet is and how they work. A point spread bet is a wager in which you bet which team is going to outperform their expected performance. The sportsbook will set a line based on how well they think each team will do during the game, and then you choose which team will perform better than that set line.

Confusing?
It’s okay. Point spread bets are actually really easy to understand when you see them in practice. Let’s look at an example that should clear everything up. Let’s say that the Jacksonville Jaguars and playing against the Miami Dolphins. Now, the first thing that the sportsbook is going to do is decide who they think is going to win the game and by how many points they think they will win by. Let’s say they decide that they think the Dolphins are going to win the game by 5 or 6 points.

Since they can’t write “5 or 6,” they decide that they think the Dolphins are going to win by 5.5 points. If they think the Dolphins are going to win by 5.5 points, this obviously means that they think the Jaguars are going to lose by 5.5 points. A team can’t win the game by a different number of points than what the other team loses the game by. That should be common sense, but sometimes basic stuff can be confusing when you’re taking in a lot of new information, so we wanted to clarify.

So, the line for this game would look something like this.

  • Miami Dolphins -5.5
  • Jacksonville Jaguars +5.5

You’ll notice that one of the teams has a plus sign in front of the point spread line, and the other has a minus sign. The plus sign indicates the team that is the underdog (Jaguars), and the minus sign indicates the team that is the favorite (Dolphins). The number after that, as we’ve already pointed out, is by how many points the sportsbook thinks each team is either a favorite or underdog.

If the game were to go exactly as the sportsbook predicts, the Dolphins would win by 5.5 points. Now, there aren’t half points in NFL football, so it’s either going to be 5 or 6 points. We’ll talk about why they use half points in point spreads here in a minute.

As we stated, to win a point spread bet, you have to bet on the team that outperforms their predicted results. Does that mean the team has to win? Nope! All the team has to do is do better than the predicted line, and you win your bet. This means that a team can lose the game, but you can still win your point spread bet on them. On the other side, a team can win their game, but you can still end up losing your point spread bet.

The Dolphins are expected to win by 5.5 points. So, since they can’t win by half points, if they win the game by 6 or more points, you would win your bet. What happens if they win the game by 5 or fewer points? You would lose your bet because they are underperforming how they were supposed to do. If they lose the game, you obviously will also lose your bet because they are way underperforming.

What about with the Jaguars? Well, they are expected to lose the game by 5.5 points. What happens if they lose the game but by only 5 points? You’d win your bet because they are outperforming what the point spread said they would do. If they lose the game by 5 or fewer points, you will win your bet. If they win the game, you will obviously win your bet because they are way outperforming what was predicted of them by the point spread line.

You may already be seeing the point why, but let’s talk about why half points are often used in point spreads by the sportsbook. The sportsbook will do this to ensure that there is a winning side to the bet. If they made the point spread 6 points or 5 points instead of 5 and a half, there becomes the possibility of a tie. If the line is 6 points, and the Dolphins win by two field goals, then the bet is a tie, and all the money is returned to everyone.

This isn’t that bad for each bettor, but the casino will make $0 off the bet, and they don’t like that. You will see whole number lines when they are necessary, but the sportsbook heavily prefers to use half-point lines for obvious reasons.

That’s all there is to a point spread bet! You bet on which team will outperform their predicted results, and that is it. In the next section, we’re going to talk about how point spread bets are paid out and how to calculate your potential winnings.

Point Spread Movement

Now that you fully understand what it takes to win a point spread bet, let’s talk about how the sportsbook makes money and why that is important. If you recall from our discussion on moneyline bets, the sportsbook will alter the payouts to bring in the desired amount of money they want on each side of the bet. Remember, the sportsbook’s entire goal with any bet is to get the same amount of action on each side of the game, take a small percentage off the top, and make money no matter who wins the game.

If the sportsbook gets $500 bet on the Dolphins and $500 bet on the Jaguars, it doesn’t matter to them who wins. If the Dolphins win, they’ll pay them with the Jaguar bets. If the Jaguars win, they’ll pay them with the best from the Dolphins fans. They then will take a small percentage off the top for their profit for facilitating the bets.

This is the sportsbook’s goal. Obviously, though, bets are not always going to come in evenly on both sides of a game. The sportsbook has to do something to try and encourage and discourage action as they need to in order to try and get the equal action they desire. With moneyline bets, they accomplish this by changing the payouts. If they need more bets on one team, they’ll change the payouts to be higher for that team and lower for the other team. Remember, with moneyline bets, it does not matter by how many points a team wins, just that they win.

With point spread bets, though, they rarely will change the payouts (as you will see in the next section). What they do instead to encourage and discourage action on each side of the bet is to change the point spread. For example, let’s say that all the money is pouring in on the Dolphins, and the sportsbook needs to try and get some more money in on the Jaguars to even things out.

What they will do is shift the point spread. Currently, the Dolphins need to win the game by more than 5.5 points for someone to win that bet. To discourage action, they might change that to 6 or 6.5 points. Now, if the Dolphins win by those two field goals, instead of someone winning this bet, they will now lose.

Side note:
So you don’t get confused, once you make a point spread bet, you are locked in at that point value. If you make your bet for the Dolphins -5.5, no matter what happens to the line, you will still have them at -5.5. If it goes to Dolphins -6.5, you still have it at -5.5. On the same token, if it moves the other direction and goes to Dolphins -4.5, you still have it at -5.5.

When they adjust the Dolphins line to -6.5, it at the same time shifts the Jaguars line from +5.5 now to +6.5. This means the Jags can now lose the game by up to 6 points, and you would still win a bet on them. This would hopefully encourage action on that side of the game. If the line shift does not get the desired results, it will shift further until it does. If it gets way too much of a result, then it will shift back the other direction. The sportsbook will continue to do these shifts all the way up until bets close to try and get an even amount of money on each side of the game.

As you may guess, this can create some unique opportunities to get better lines if you can accurately predict the point spread movements. We will talk about that much more in depth in the strategy section of this guide.

Understanding and Calculating Point Spread Payouts

Now that we’ve covered the basics of the point spread bet, let’s talk about the more fun side of things – what you’re going to get paid when you correctly pick a winner. The nice part about spread bets is that most of the time they are going to pay out the exact same regardless of which team you bet on. The reason for this is that the only reason the sportsbook ever moves a line is to get more action on one side of the bet or the other. Since they are already doing this by moving the actual point spread number, there is no need to do it with the payout.

The one exception is when they really don’t want to move a point line, but they still need to try and switch action. We will look at an example of this shortly that will show you what this will look like and when you might expect to see it. Here’s what the point spread bet from earlier might look like in an actual sportsbook.

  • 0034 Miami Dolphins -5.5
  • 0035 Jacksonville Jaguars +5.5

Sometimes, they will look like this:

  • 0034 Miami Dolphins -5.5 (-110)
  • 0035 Jacksonville Jaguars +5.5 (-110)

The first way that we presented it is like the “shorthand” version of the second way. It’s how you’re going to end up seeing it most of the time. In the second way, you see that both bets are going to pay out at a rate of -110. This is the standard payout for almost all point spread bets. Regardless of which side of the bet you are on, you can expect to be paid out at -110. We will cover the one exception shortly.

So, when you don’t see any payout odds listed, you can safely assume they are going to be -110. If you make a $100 bet at -110, you will get back a profit of $90.91. Notice that you are not getting paid back at even money. What’s going on here? Well, that $9.09 is the sportsbook taking their percentage for their profit.

Remember earlier when we talked about the sportsbook taking $500 in bets on both sides? Let’s imagine that happens, and each side is five separate $100 bets. So, the bets they take in look like this.

  • $100 bet on the Jaguars point spread at -110
  • $100 bet on the Jaguars point spread at -110
  • $100 bet on the Jaguars point spread at -110
  • $100 bet on the Jaguars point spread at -110
  • $100 bet on the Jaguars point spread at -110
  • $100 bet on the Dolphins point spread at -110
  • $100 bet on the Dolphins point spread at -110
  • $100 bet on the Dolphins point spread at -110
  • $100 bet on the Dolphins point spread at -110
  • $100 bet on the Dolphins point spread at -110

The sportsbook successfully achieved their goal of getting the same amount of action on both sides of the bet. Let’s see what happens for the sportsbook if the Dolphins win and if the Jaguars win.

If the Dolphins win:
The sportsbook will keep the $500 from the bets on the Jaguars. They will then pay out each Dolphins bet at a rate of -110, or $90.91 each. The total they pay out is $454.55. This means the sportsbook profits $500 – $454.55 = $45.45.
If the Jaguars win:
The sportsbook will keep the $500 from the bets on the Dolphins. They will then pay out each Jaguars bet at a rate of -110, or $90.91 each. The total they pay out is $454.55. This means the sportsbook profits $500 – $454.55 = $45.45.

As you can see, they will make a profit no matter what. You may also start seeing that winning 50% of your bets will not break you even. You’re going to have to do a little better than that to break even or turn a profit.

The majority of the time you make a point spread bet, you will be paid at this rate of -110. But on rare occasions, the sportsbook will change the payout odds and leave the point spread the same. This happens a lot when they don’t want to put out the possibility of a tie or if they think that the half-point move is going to cause an avalanche of action that would leave them heavily unbalanced the other direction.

For example, in football games, the sportsbook rarely likes to move off a +-2.5 line to +-3. This usually causes that avalanche of action and also puts out the big possibility of a tie and no profit for them. Instead, this is what you might see. Let’s say the Jags and Dolphins game is actually a lot closer, and the current spread is this.

  • 0034 Miami Dolphins -2.5 (-110)
  • 0035 Jacksonville Jaguars +2.5 (-110)

Let’s say that the sportsbook has an unbalanced number of bets with too much action on the Dolphins. Normally, they’d shift the line to -3, and the problem would fix itself. However, in football, a shift to +-3 usually causes a huge shift in action. So, here’s what you might see instead to encourage action on the Jaguars.

  • 0034 Miami Dolphins -2.5 (-120)
  • 0035 Jacksonville Jaguars +2.5 (EV)

You can now get the Jaguars at +2.5 at even money. This means that instead of being paid out at -110, you will receive even money for your bet. If you make a $100 bet, you’ll now get $100 in profit back instead of just $90.91. This will sometimes fix the problem. A lot of sharp bettors do see this as a sign that the line will probably move to +3 right before the game. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes waiting could be smart if you would rather have the +3 instead of the even money at +2.5.

If you don’t like math and just want a pretty close way of determining your payout on a point spread bet, you’re in luck. Just assume you’ll be getting about 90% of what you bet back in profit. So, if you bet $10, you should get about $9 in profit. If you bet $30, you should get about $27 in profit.

The Benefits of Using Point Spread Bets

You may already see the benefits of betting point spreads, but we wanted to take a minute and hammer home some of the reasons that these bets are a great addition to a winning sports betting strategy.

Bet on Teams You Think Are Going to Lose

Without spread bets, if you think a team is going to lose, you aren’t able to intelligently bet on them. If you think that a team is greatly underestimated but is still going to lose, you’re out of luck. But thanks to spread bets, you can bet on teams that you’re confident are still going to lose the game.

First, this is great for entertainment value. Got a favorite team that loses most of their games? Well, now you can bet on them and not be setting money on fire. Second, this is great for profitability. Often, you may have predictions and see trends with teams that aren’t always winning. You might be the master of spotting a team’s problems and analyzing when they’re going to be getting better.

With spread bets, you now have the betting flexibility to jump on these predictions and turn them into money. If you’ve ever been in a bar where someone was cheering for a team that was down by too many points to come back by, you either saw one of the most die-hard fans ever, or you saw someone who was betting the spread.

Easier to Understand Value

When you’re picking winners with moneyline bets, it can be a bit challenging for you to see with the naked eye whether or not the bet has value. If a team is +200 to win, is that enough value for you? If you’re a seasoned sports bettor or you have some complex formulas you use, you can probably tell definitively if that has value or not. But what about for the rest of the people that like to use their gut and feel a bit more?

Point spread bets make this possible. While you may not be able to tell if +200 is a good line, you might be able to tell if +4.5 points is a good line or not. Points are a metric that we all regularly use and understand. This makes quickly seeing value and using our gut to make picks much easier and much more accurate.

Point Spread Betting Strategies

We’ve gotten through all of the basics and more, and now it’s time to talk strategy. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to being able to spot value and pick winners, but there are some tips and tricks that you should keep at the forefront of your mind when making your selections.

Predict and Exploit Line Movement

If you’ve been betting for a long time, you know how much value there is in getting an extra half point or even a full point on a bet. It can literally be the difference between winning and losing. If you haven’t been betting for long, just ask a seasoned sports bettor or anyone in the sportsbook if a half point makes a difference. We guarantee they will have hundreds of stories of bets they lost by only a half point.

What this means for you is that you need to look for any opportunity to get your hands on an extra half point or more. The way you do this is by predicting how the lines are going to move and then deciding if you should bet now, not bet at all, or wait for the line to move more in your favor. Remember, once you make a point spread bet, you are locked into that line.

Start tracking lines and watching them throughout the week leading up to a particular game. Try and see if you can start to see trends or reasons the line moves. Often, the lines will move based on news stories or public opinion. Injuries, suspensions, and weather will also play a big role in the movement of lines. If you happen to see a line move for a reason that you think is not legitimate, you may find yourself a great betting opportunity.

Calculate Your Spread Predictions Before Looking at Lines

One of the best tips we’ve ever heard when it comes to point spread bets is making your own spreads before you look at any of the lines. Take the games that you might be interested in betting and calculate out what you think the spread is supposed to be. Then, take those spreads and compare them against the sportsbook. If you see lines that are equal to or more in your favor, then you’ve found value and should bet.

The problem that a lot of bettors run into is that they let what the sportsbooks have as lines affect their opinions. This can force you to miss value and talk yourself out of something that you see. You can prevent this by hiding the book lines before making your own. Additionally, if a line doesn’t look favorable right away, you’ll know how far you need it to move in your favor to make it a wise bet.

The Public and the Sharps

Regarding line movement, there are a few trends that seem to play out quite often on higher-profile games. The public has a strong tendency to hammer the favorite late in the week right before the game. Keep in mind that “late in the week” refers to the days right before a game. If the game is earlier in the week, this refers to the few days right before.

This means that if you’re looking to bet against the favorite, you might want to wait until late in the week to place your bet. As the bets pour in late on the favorite, the odds will move to try and entice more action on the underdog (the team you want to bet on). Even if it does not move, you should still be able to get the same bet at the same spread. And if for some strange reason it goes the other way, you can just wait and bet on the next game. There are no shortages of betting opportunities, so there’s no need to force bets unless you’re just an action junkie betting for entertainment purposes.

If you happen to see a big line movement early in the week, these are most likely from the sharp bettors who are betting large sums of money. Strategically speaking, this will at least let you know which side of the bet the smart money is on. Sometimes you can still jump on board with them and still get some value, but sometimes the value may be gone by the time they move the line. This will have to be something you decide on a case-by-case basis based on where you think the value starts and stops on a bet.

Double Down on Good Moves

If you recall, we said that you were locked in on a particular point spread once you’ve made your bet. But this doesn’t mean that you aren’t able to place a second bet if the line moves even more in your favor and you are confident in it.

For example:
Let’s say that you take our advice and calculate what you think the spread should be on the upcoming Dolphins and Jaguars game before looking at the lines. You decide that you think the Dolphins at -5 would be great value.

The line opens, and it’s the Dolphins -4. This is a great line for you, and you decide to make the bet. Following this, the public jumps onto a feel-good story about the Jaguars and bets them heavily. The line shifts to -3.5. Now, your original bet is still at -4, but now you potentially have an opportunity to double down on your bet. If you’re confident in the Dolphins and your prediction, you might be smart to make a second bet at the Dolphins -3.5.

If you’re not very confident in the prediction to begin with or prefer a lower-risk approach, you don’t have to double down. You can keep your original bet and call it a day. But if you like your spot, you’re going to like the extra half point even better. The takeaway here is that you don’t have to make the second bet, but the option is there if you want it.

The Wrap-Up

Hopefully, you can now consider yourself an expert on point spread bets. While they’re simple bets in nature, they harness a lot of power when it comes to turning a profit. Professionals all over the world utilize these on a daily basis to crush the books. Now it’s your turn to take what you’ve learned here, blend it with your predictions and research, and start crushing the sportsbooks for yourself. Don’t let the simplicity of these bets fool you. Your earning potential is huge, and point spread bets are definitely a medium to the top of the sports betting industry.