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Point spreads are one of the most popular sports wagers, particularly for basketball and football. This type of bet is great for a couple of reasons:
- It’s not too difficult to understand.
- It’s fun from wager for all kinds of bettors, whether you’re a beginner or an expert.
The purpose of a point spread is to even out the betting action when two opposing sports teams don’t have equal chances of winning. It’s different from a moneyline bet in that the underdog will receive a number of handicap points.
Point spreads at Maryland online sportsbooks
You can compare the latest point spreads across various sports at Maryland online sportsbooks in our live odds feed. Click on any of the odds to go directly to the online sportsbook, open a new account and claim your bonus. You can use the drop-down menu to switch over to live moneyline odds or live totals odds.
What is a point spread?
A point spread (also known as an equalizer or handicap) is a bet where the goal is to pick a winning side based on the number of points the sportsbook will add or subtract.
It can get interesting when one side is heavily favored to win a game. A sportsbook will subtract some points from the favorite’s total or adds the same number to the underdog to even out the field.
If you were to bet on the favorite, that team would need to “cover the spread,” meaning it would have to win by more points than the indicated difference. On the other hand, a bet on the underdog is successful if that team either loses by fewer points than the spread or wins the game by any score.
For example, the Utah Jazz are favored to win against the Memphis Grizzlies. The sportsbook has given a -9.5 spread to Utah and +9.5 to Memphis. A bet on Utah is successful only if the Jazz win by 10 points or more, while a bet on Memphis wins if the Grizzlies lose by fewer than nine points or win the game.
The greater difference in the perceived quality between the two teams, the bigger the point spread.
Point spreads vs. moneylines, totals and props
The goal of the point spread and moneyline wager is to pick a winning side. However, with point spread betting, the only difference is you need to account for the margin of victory. The main advantage a point spread bet has over a moneyline wager is that it makes bets that involve largely uneven teams more interesting. Namely, if one team is a heavy favorite to win a game, the outcome will be obvious, and a bet on that team will come with insignificant odds.
Totals and props are interesting bets, but generally aren’t as popular as point spread betting. Total betting doesn’t involve rooting for one specific side — which may be important to some fans — and they can be difficult to predict. The same may be true for most prop betting, which sometimes requires more sports knowledge.
What does ‘against the spread’ mean?
You’ll see this phrase in a couple of different contexts. In betting terms, it can simply mean placing a point spread bet. In other words, you bet that the underdog will lose by a margin lower than what the point spread indicates (or win the game outright). Or you bet that the favorite will win by a wider margin than the spread.
However, a team’s overall record “against the spread,” is how well that team has fared versus the expectations of the point spread, which can be different from a straight won-loss record. For example, if a team was the favorite and “covered” the spread, that counts as a win “against the spread.” If an underdog loses by a margin less than the spread, that’s also a win against the spread.
Why does the point spread move over time?
In some cases, a sportsbook will release a spread number, and as the game draws closer, the number will change. You could find an NFL point spread of plus or minus 3.5 a day before the game, only to see it at +4.5 a few hours before the start.
This shift can happen for a couple of reasons. First, the sportsbook could be attempting to even out the betting action it is receiving. If you see the point spread rising, this means that the majority of people are betting on the favorite, and the sportsbook wants to make betting on the underdog more attractive. If the number is moving the other way, the opposite is true.
The other reason a point spread could move is in response to news reports. An injury to a key player, a sudden trade and potential inclement weather are some of the reasons you may see the spread move.
Understanding the point spread numbers
Every point spread comes with plus and minus signs, with the plus indicating the underdog and the minus indicating the favorite.
A spread number will usually end in .5 to avoid a tie. For example, if a team has a spread of -3.5, you will win the bet if that team wins the game by four points or more. However, some games will have a whole number spread, like -4. In that case, if the favorite wins the game by exactly four points, the bet will be a “push,” and you will get your money back. That is unless the sportsbook gives you the option to bet on a point spread tie.
It’s also worth noting that sportsbooks sometimes have alternative point spreads. For example, if you don’t like the spread of +3.5 for the underdog and wish for it to be +5.5, you may be able to find that spread in the alternative point spread market. Of course, the odds for alternative spreads will be different.
How does a point spread bet pay out?
Much like any other bet, point spreads pay out according to the odds attributed to them. Since the spread aims to even the gap for two teams, you can expect the odds to be the same or nearly so for both sides.
Therefore, typical point spread odds are -110, which is a common number for 50/50 markets. This means that you would need to bet $110 to get a $100 profit on a successful bet. The odds may have shifted a bit, though, so you’ll also sometimes see numbers like -115 and -105, -112 and -108, etc.
The reason neither side will quite pay back even money on a successful bet is the sportsbook is taking a fee for accepting the wager. This fee is also known as vigorish, vig or juice.
How much should you bet on point spreads?
Point spreads are 50/50 bets. As such, they come with solid odds but are not easy to predict. That’s why you should only bet a small percentage of your bankroll. Anywhere between 1%-3% of your bankroll for a single point spread bet is a good range.
For example, the Philadelphia 76ers are playing the Washington Wizards and are listed at -8.5 on the spread at -105 odds. If you have a bankroll of $1,000, a $20 bet on the Sixers to cover the spread is a good number. In this particular case, you would be looking at a potential profit of $19.05.
Point spreads in baseball, hockey and soccer
Point spread betting is available for almost every team sport and a good number of individual sports. However, not all have quite the same system. Certain low-scoring sports don’t leave much room for the point spread to go higher or lower. In other words, even when a team is favored to win a game, they usually won’t win by a large margin.
For baseball and hockey games, the spread will be a standard 1.5 in almost all instances. The spread has a different name in each of these sports, as well. MLB odds use the run line, and NHL betting has the puck line. Soccer is one of the lowest-scoring sports, so you’ll often see a spread of half a goal. Because the spread is a standard number, the odds for these bets will deviate more than with basketball and football to account for differences between the teams.
Live betting point spreads
You can place bets on point spreads before or during the game.
The bets you place during the game are called in-game or live point spreads. Almost every US book features live betting on its app or online sportsbook. So simply find a game that is in progress, and you’ll see all the available live markets, including point spreads.
Of course, as the score changes during the game, the point spread will shift in real-time. If, for example, the New York Knicks are at -4.5 against the Atlanta Hawks but trail by seven points at the end of the first quarter, the point spread may shift to +2.5 for the Knicks.
Since the point spread can change at any moment, a sportsbook app is almost a must to allow you to keep up with the changes and, if you see a line you like, place a bet. All the top sportsbooks in Maryland will offer free downloadable apps.
What does public betting mean?
Public betting or public money describes where the majority of the money is going on a particular bet. For example, if 80% of the money comes in backing the Baltimore Ravens against the Cleveland Browns, this means that public money is on the Ravens.
Why does this matter? Well, like we’ve mentioned, as more people bet on one side of the odds, and especially the NFL odds, the sportsbook will try to adjust the point spread to make the other side of the bet more attractive. Going against the public can be a solid move in this case, as it may create an advantage in the line.
How sportsbooks set point spreads
Sportsbooks take multiple factors into account when setting point spreads. For example, they’ll consider the overall power rankings of teams, game location, public perception, injuries, matchups, the game’s impact on the league standings and more.
Considering all these factors, a sportsbook will come up with a point spread that evens the two sides out, at least in theory. But, of course, predictions like these are rarely perfect, and a sportsbook may get the point spread wrong, potentially giving you a chance to profit.
Is the Vegas point spread different?
When comparing point spreads at Las Vegas sportsbooks to those at local sportsbooks, you won’t find much difference, at least not for most games. However, we’ve already discussed how the point spread can shift based on the public reaction, and this is where some discrepancies can appear.
For instance, a sportsbook in Maryland is likely to receive a lot more bets on the local team than a sportsbook in Vegas or any other part of the country. Because of this, the point spread at the Maryland sportsbook could move in an effort to entice bettors to wager on the other side, while Vegas spreads might not change as much or at all.
Biggest point spread betting mistakes
Here are some of the biggest mistakes that bettors can make when betting the spread:
- Not watching line movement: You should always pay attention to how the lines are moving in order to seize the right opportunity to place a bet. Over time, you may become better at this and predicting future line movements. You likely will know whether to bet now or later — or maybe not bet at all.
- Betting too early: Betting too early can be a costly mistake if you plan on placing a wager on the underdog. As the game moves closer to the start, more people may tend to back the favorite, so the sportsbooks will start offering a more favorable spread on the underdog.
- Sticking to a single sportsbook: Point spreads and odds on the same game can differ depending on the sportsbook. Always take the time to explore all your options and try to find the best value.
Point spreads FAQ
How accurate are point spreads?
Sportsbooks can be pretty accurate at predicting point spreads. Of course, there are some misses here and there, but oddsmakers generally do a good job of estimating the favorite’s margin of victory.
When was the first point spread offered at a sportsbook?
The invention of spread betting is credited to Charles McNeil, a US math teacher, who came up with the concept for this type of bet in the 1940s after becoming a bookmaker. Unfortunately, it is not known when a sportsbook offered the first spread bet.
Why are college point spreads so much bigger than pro point spreads?
There can be a much bigger talent disparity in college than in pro sports. Therefore, college sports have more games with heavy favorites and underdogs, which consequently leads to bigger point spreads.