What is Spread Betting?

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What is Betting the Spread
Info Details
Definition Players are rewarded for the accuracy of their prediction. They can give or take the sportsbook’s points. Combining the points with the final score determines whether the spread bet wins. Favorites give points to the underdog. Underdogs take points from the favorite.
Bet Type Standard
Odds See the money lines attached to each matchup.
Sportsbooks All USA Sportsbooks
Example Betor takes the favorite Cowboys to win by 7 points against the Cardinals. The final score is Cowboys 24 – Cardinals 14. Player wins because the difference is 10 points. This is greater than the 7 points the sportsbook offered. If the final score was Cowboys 17 – Cardinals 14 the player would lose because the Cowboys won by less than 7 points. The player would push if the final score is Cowboys 21 – Cardinals 14. The 7 point difference is exactly equal to the sportsbook’s spread.

Spread betting is one of the fundamental wagers in all of sports betting. In the aggregate, sportsbooks hope to balance their action by creating a balanced betting market. The favorite’s wagering action should equal underdog’s. When action isn’t balanced, it tends to indicate a bad spread. This can open the sportsbook up to heavy losses if sharp players exploit the error. On the other hand, unbalanced action can also benefit the sportsbook. Huge profits can be made if the game goes in the sportsbook’s favor.

How Can I understand Spread Betting?

The best way to explain spread betting is with examples. If you’re good with math and numbers, these will appear relatively simple. Much of sports betting depends on basic logic, ratios, and general arithmetic.

Let’s assume a 7 point spread.

Taking the Underdog with a 7 Point Spread:

If you take the underdog, your bet wins if the underdog’s final score is no more than 7 points less than the favorite’s score.

Tip: Add the point spread to the underdog’s score. If the sum is greater than the favorite’s score, your bet wins.

A. WIN Underdog scores 21 points, Favorite scores 26 points. 21 points + 7 point spread = 28, greater than the favorite’s 26 points. Gambler wins.

B. LOSE Underdog scores 21 points, Favorite scores 31 points. 21 points + 7 point spread = 28, less than than favorite’s 31 points. Gambler loses.

C. TIE or PUSH Underdog scores 21 points, Favorite scores 28 points. 21 points + 7 point spread = 28, which is a tie. The bet pushes, and the gambler gets his wager returned.

Taking the Favorite with a 7 Point Spread:

If you take the favorite, your bet will win if the favorite’s score is 7 points is greater than the underdog’s score.

Tip: Subtract the point spread from the favorite’s score. If the difference is greater than the underdog’s score, you win.

A. WIN Underdog scores 14 points, Favorite scores 22 points. 22 points – 7 point spread = 15, greater than the underdog’s 14. Gambler wins.

B. LOSE Underdog scores 17 points, Favorite scores 22 points. 22 points – 7 point spread = 15, less than the underdog’s 17. Gambler loses.

C. TIE or PUSH Underdog scores 15 points, Favorite scores 22 points. 22 points – 7 point spread = 15, a tie. The bet pushes, and the gambler gets his wager returned.

Spread betting can be profitable for a sportsbook if the action is balanced, that is, relatively equal amounts of money have been bet on both the favorite and underdog. The spread (or points) assigned to each game can be beneficial to the player because it allows an acceptable margin of error. In other words, you don’t have to pick the outright winner, you just have to win within the spread assigned.

Why is a spread notated with a .5 or 1/2 point?

When a spread is given with a half point, ie. 7.5 point spread, or 3.5 point spread, it indicatesthe sportsbook does not want to tie (or push) players. There are no .5 point increments in most American sporting events. A tie can never happen because the spread is factored with this .5 or 1/2 point increment.

That means the final score gets rounded. Let’s assume you take the 7.5 favorite Cowboys. The final score is Cowboys 28 – Cardinals 21. Ordinarily, a 7 point spread would push. But a 7.5 point spread means you lose because 28 – 21 = 7, less than the 7.5 spread.

Half-point spreads are common towards the end of the NFL season, particularly for the Super Bowl. Sportsbooks prefer a final dollar amount won or lost. Returning millions in tie wagers would waste their resources.

Spread betting is popular for Super Bowl betting and most other football betting events. Additionally, spread betting can help the player who has chosen an underdog in an obvious mismatch, ie. a top NFL team versus a bottom team. Some advanced bettors like to practice "middling" with the spread, betting on both sides of the game and making money on the difference from each bet’s result. This strategy requires betting at two different sportsbooks offering different spreads. Winning money isn’t always automatic, as the gambler still bears risk with middling and other arbitrage gambling systems.

See Also
What is a Parlay?
What is a Teaser Bet?
What is the Sportsbooks Juice?