Point Spread Betting Explained with Examples
If there’s a type of sports bet known to non-sports bettors, it’s point spreads. Even casual observers use “the spread” as a shorthand way to talk about the eventual outcome of a contest.
With sports betting coming soon to Virginia, it’s a good idea for Virginians to acquaint or reacquaint themselves with the concept of point spreads. If you need information or a refresher about the spread and how betting odds work for point spreads, you’ve come to the right place.
What is a point spread bet?
A point spread bet, or spread bet, is a bet on the sportsbook’s predicted margin of victory for a game or match. The outcome of the game is secondary to the resolution of the bet. It’s entirely possible to bet on the loser of the game and still win a spread bet.
Spread bets are always denoted by positive and negative versions of the same number next to each team’s name. There must always be a positive and a negative. It’s not possible to have two of each sign for a spread.
The team with the negative (-) number is the favorite, or team predicted to win the game. The team with the positive (+) number is the underdog and is expected to lose the game.
There are two conditions in which a spread bettor wins his or her bet. They are:
- A bet on the favorite, and the favorite wins by more points than the estimated spread. A favorite that completes this task is said to have “beaten” the spread.
- A bet on the underdog, and the underdog loses by fewer points than the estimate. An underdog will have “covered” the spread if it manages to execute this task. An underdog also covers if it wins the game outright.
As with most subjects, sports betting comes with its own set of lingo, and it can be confusing to the uninitiated. In that vein, spread bets are sometimes referred to as “the line,” but make sure that you don’t confuse this with moneyline bets, which are entirely different.
How do spread bets pay out?
Now that you’re clear on how spread betting work, let’s talk about how they pay. After all, the whole point of betting on sports is to add to your bankroll.
Spread bets typically pay on an almost 1:1 basis against the bettor’s stake. Generally speaking, a winning bet will come with a 95.45% return.
However, the exact amount of the payout is specified by a second number that you will see displayed next to both team names in a spread bet. The number, which may not be the same for both teams, will always contain three digits and will be negative.
This number is how much you will have to contribute to win $100. It is, in fact, a ratio that the sportsbook will scale to whatever bet size you prefer. If you are familiar with moneylines, it is the same concept.
Generally, sportsbooks will set this number on both teams at -110. So, if you decide to bet on the game in question, you will have to bet $110 to win $100.
However, there are other bits of information contained within the payout listing on a spread bet. Namely, it also tells you about the amount of money that the sportsbook charges you for the privilege of betting. So, here’s how the house advantage comes into play on spread bets.
Point spread betting examples
Although point spread betting is not the most complicated concept in the world, it can be intimidating if you’re not used to putting your own money at risk. Even the simplest tasks can get troublesome under stress, so here are some examples of real spread bets that we found on DraftKings Sportsbook.
NBA: Phoenix Suns vs. Washington Wizards
- Phoenix: -7 (-110)
- Washington: +7 (-110)
In this basketball point spread betting example, we see that Phoenix is favored to win the game by 7 points. The amount of the spread is a bit surprising, considering that both teams were well below the .500 mark for their wins and losses on the season.
So, there is an underlying factor that DraftKings was using to guide its estimate, and investigating the reason for the spread is a smart thing for a bettor to do.
However, the betting appears to be fairly even at this point, since both teams are listed at -110. Since the payouts are the same for each team, here’s what a winning bet at various price points could expect to earn:
- $110: $100 profit, $210 total
- $100: $90.91 profit, $190.91 total
- $50: $45.45 profit, $95.45 total
- $5: $4.55 profit, $9.55 total
NBA: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Los Angeles Lakers
- Los Angeles Clippers (LAC): +4.5 (-108)
- Los Angeles Lakers (LAL): -4.5 (-113)
Several interesting things are going on with this listing, aside from the fact that the Clippers are playing an away game in their arena.
First of all, the Lakers are favored to win the game by 4.5 points, which is impossible. However, listing a spread or total in half points is a common tactic that a sportsbook uses to avoid having to refund ties to bettors.
In the previous example, for instance, DraftKings has a headache on its hands if the Suns manage to win by exactly 7 points. By setting the spread for this game at 4.5, there’s no way that anyone can push the bet with the sportsbook.
The payout ratios are also different in this game. DraftKings is pledging to charge only 8% vig for bets on the Clippers but has amped up the contribution to 13% for Lakers bettors.
DraftKings has an imbalance in its books in which the action on the Lakers has overwhelmed the action on the Clippers. To spur investment on the other side of the bet, DraftKings has elected to make that bet considerably more attractive.
Here are some of the payout outcomes that a bettor could receive for a winning bet on this game:
- $113 on LAC: $104.63 profit, $217.63 total
- $113 on LAL: $100 profit, $213 total
- $108 on LAC: $100 profit, $208 total
- $108 on LAL: $95.58 profit, $203.58 total
- $50 on LAC: $46.30 profit, $96.30 total
- $50 on LAL: $44.25 profit, $94.25 total
- $5 on LAC: $4.63 profit, $9.63 total
- $5 on LAL: $4.42 profit, $9.42 total
How to Bet on Sports
What is an alternative point spread?
Amid the list of bettable spreads online, you may notice that the sportsbook mention alternative point spreads to the games in question. A button press leads to a huge list of different spreads and payouts that you can choose.
The list that you’re seeing is a range of possible outcomes that the sportsbook is offering. While the published spread is its best guess for how the game will turn out, the uncertainty in the outcome means that any one of these options could ultimately be correct.
Alternative point spreads allow you to manage your risk on your chosen team. If you’re pretty sure that the main spread is accurate but want to increase your chance at winning, then you can give up some of your pay potentials and get a few points in your favor. Conversely, if you want to gamble for a bigger win, you can give up some points and hope that your team pulls through.
In general, sportsbook oddsmakers are pretty good at their jobs. A quick check of how games turn out versus the final spread often reveals that the books are eerily on point with their predictions.
However, if you feel that there is some wiggle room or uncertainty from the sportsbook’s official estimate, an alternative point spread might be a way to capitalize on some extra value or guard against disaster. You probably won’t bet alternative spreads every day, but it’s good to know that they’re there.
Point spreads and the house advantage
Like any other game in a casino, the sportsbook must carve out a profit for itself. It does so by charging a vig, or vigorish, on each bet that it accepts.
Because of way that the payout ratio is listed on a spread bet, it is easy to see how much a sportsbook is charging to make the bet. Any amount less than -100 is the amount of the premium that you must pay.
Sportsbooks typically charge a 10% vig on every bet. So, that’s why the standard payout listed for a spread bet is -110 because the overage reflects that 10%.
However, you may see different amounts from time to time. Those changes reflect that the sportsbook has an imbalance on both sides of the bet and is trying to encourage wagering on one side or the other.
Is 10% high for a house advantage?
Fans of other casino games might have read that sportsbooks charge 10% on every bet and recoiled from the idea of ever wagering on sports. After all, even most slot machines don’t come with a house advantage as punishing.
However, the house advantage of sports betting is not quite so bad if you look at the big picture. Here’s an example to show what the true house advantage of sports betting is.
How a spread bet is settled
A sportsbook hosts a spread bet on two teams at -110. After all the bets are in, the sportsbook has accepted $11,000 in wagers on each side of the bet.
So, once the game ends, here’s how the sportsbook will settle up the bet:
- Total accepted wagers = $22,000 ($11,000 x 2)
- Losing bettors receive $0
- Winning bettors receive $21,000 ($10,000 in profit plus the $11,000 wagered)
- Sportsbook keeps $1,000
Since the sportsbook kept only $1,000 of the $22,000 bet on the game, its actual house edge was 4.55% ($1,000/$22,000). This percentage means that sports betting is certainly in the normal range for house advantages around the casino.
Furthermore, because sports bettors have so much information at their disposal and control over their bet choices, sports betting is one of the few games in the gambling world that can have a positive expectation for the player. As long as he or she can overcome that 4.55%, sports betting and the spread bet are good wagers to make.
Point spreads are popular for a reason
Point spreads are one of the most common bets in the sportsbook for a reason. You’re trying to predict whether a team will win or lose by more than a given margin of victory. However, if you do your homework on the teams involved, you will give yourself a great opportunity to pick winners and take home more money than you brought.
How to bet the middle (Middling)
Sportsbooks will sometimes alter the payouts for spread bets to encourage betting on one side of the bet or another. However, the payout ratios are not the only movable parts in a spread bet.
If it seems like the “smart” gamblers are a bit too eager for betting at a certain spread amount, the sportsbook operators (or their algorithms) can get nervous that something is amiss. So, the sportsbook can adjust the amount of the spread itself. When this happens, you might find yourself with an opportunity to bet the middle.
A middle betting example
Understanding how betting the middle works is a bit easier with an example. So, let’s say that we’re going to bet on an NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers (PHI) and the Indiana Pacers (IND). At one time, DraftKings Sportsbook had these two teams listed at the following spread:
- PHI: -5.5
- IND: +5.5
Assume that the payouts are the same. Let’s say that we think the 76ers are a pretty good bet at that margin. So, we put down a bet that PHI will beat the 5.5-point spread.
Now, as it turns out, many other smart sports bettors thought the same thing and hammered that 5.5-point line. All of a sudden, DraftKings has a major imbalance on one side of the bet.
So, the wizards at DraftKings decide to make it harder for PHI to beat a spread. The spread shoots up to 7.5 points overnight. Well, there’s no reason to bet the 76ers as hard anymore, since winning by more than 8 points is much more difficult than winning by more than 5. However, the Pacers now have a much easier time covering the spread at 7.5.
Because of this new reality, we now place a second bet on IND to lose by fewer than 7.5 points. So, here’s what our bets are now:
- Philadelphia to win by 5.5 points or more
- Indiana to lose by 7.5 points or less
The middle is the zone of outcomes where both of those events occur. If Philadelphia wins by 6, 7, or 8 points, we’ll collect on both of our wagers and high-five everyone around us.
The reality of middling
To be clear, if the 76ers don’t happen to win in that sweet spot, we’ll only win one of our bets. Because we will have paid the vig to the sportsbook on both bets, we’re likely to end up with a net loss unless we bet two radically different amounts above.
If that fits your risk tolerance, then betting the middle can be an option for you. Incidentally, betting the middle on other bets is possible, particularly on totals bets. However, it is easiest to decipher when to bet the middle on the spread bet.