Point spread betting is a type of bet where you place a wager on how many points a team or player will win or lose by in a sporting event.
The point spread is one of the most popular types of bet alongside moneylines and totals. Betting ‘against the spread’ (ATS) means not only predicting who will win a game but also by how much.
Point spread betting is particularly huge for football and basketball games, but all of the best NY sportsbooks will offer these markets for all sorts of sports. Choosing the points spread bet is a good way of boosting potential payouts when the moneyline odds reflect a heavy favorite.
If you’re new to sports wagering, it might appear confusing at first, but point spread betting is actually pretty simple. You can develop strategies to make the most of your bets, and with a bit of luck return healthy profits.
A point spread bet is usually a wager on the margin of victory in a game. The better team or player will be favored by a defined number of points, runs or goals as determined by the perceived gap in strength between the pair.
Sportsbooks also apply the concept of spread bets to more than just the final score. You will find spreads on things like the total number of touchdowns in a football game, the time of the first goal in a soccer fixture, or how many games there will be in a tennis match. You can also bet on spreads for the score in the first or second half, periods in a game or place a live ATS wager as the action unfolds.
When betting on the result of a game, the points spread is effectively the bookmaker’s way of leveling the playing field between two sides. The favorite is handicapped by a certain number of points. The sportsbook sets a line based on how well they predict a team or player will perform.
To win a spread bet you wager that the favorite will be victorious by the defined number of points or more, or that the underdog loses by fewer than that number. Spread bet odds are displayed with a number preceded by a plus (+) or minus (-) sign.
When the LA Rams took on the Cincinnati Bengals at Super Bowl LVI they closed as favorites at -3.5 on the spread with their opponents at +3.5. In what was a closely fought contest, the Rams won 23-20 with a winning margin of just three points. That meant if you’d bet against the spread, your wager would have lost (but only just).
However, if you’d picked the first-half points spread at -0.5 in favor of the Rams, your bet would have won with the Bengals trailing by 13-10 at half-time. Had the spread been set at -4.5 and you’d bet on it, you’d have lost your wager as the three-point didn’t wouldn’t have covered the spread.
You’ll notice that sportsbooks display spreads in figures with half points. But of course there’s no such thing as a half-point in football, or pretty much any sport. The reason the bookmaker displays a 0.5 after the points total is to avoid the possibility of a tie. If in the above example the spread line was set at -3 for the Rams, any bets on it would have been voided with everyone’s money returned.
Obviously there will be an odds number fixed to the sportsbook’s spread bet. Most spread bets are offered at -110. That means for every $110 ticket, a winning bet would return $100 which is the standard payout for many spreads. You’d earn that figure regardless of which side of the bet you opt for if it’s successful. It doesn’t return at even money because the sportsbook takes a commission of 10% on most bets.
You’ll also find alternative spreads offered at most sports betting sites. These will offer more or fewer points in exchange for different odds. ‘Buying points’ lets you move the line in favor of one team/player or the other. When you ‘buy’ half a point, it will generally cost you 5 to 10% in the odds. So, moving the spread by half a point might shift the odds to -115. That means you’d have to wager $115 to potentially win $100.
Here’s an example of a few different spread lines offered at Caesars NY sportsbook for Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtic in the MLB:
Golden State Warriors
The Celtics were favorites on the moneyline at odds of -170 with the Warriors rated at +145. Caesars had set the standard spread line at +/-4 meaning they predicted the Celtics would win by at least 4 points. If you had lots of confidence that the Celtics would claim a big victory, you could gain better odds by opting to handicap them by -8.5 and -13.5 points in this particular market.
Line movements in points spread bets can be caused by a number of factors. Like moneyline betting markets, bookmakers operating in New York and elsewhere aim to maximize the cash they bring in on both sides of the spread bet. Most of the time, bets aren’t going to be placed equally on either player or team.
For handicap betting markets, sportsbooks will attempt to encourage or discourage bets on either side by changing the points spread. Say the Yankees are set at just -1.5 against the Tampa Bay Rays and a whole bunch of New Yorkers get on the spread for their favorite team, a bookmaker might tweak the line to -2.5 to put off bettors backing the Yankees. Seeing that, Rays fans might be more tempted to bet on their side with the sportsbook offering a +2.5 head start.
As it happened, for that MLB match in June 2022, the Yankees won 2-0. Anyone who’d got in early before the line changed would have won their bet at -1.5. Those who bet at -2.5 would have lost theirs. Those who wagered on the Rays at +1.5 lost their bets while anyone who picked +2.5 had a winner. If you could have predicted that line movement, it would have made a huge difference to whether you had a winning or losing bet.
Also, if the bookmaker doesn’t get the result it wanted by moving the line, it may move it further out or return it to where it was originally. It could also be that a sportsbook has simply decided it’s got its line wrong compared to its rivals. It might consider that other operators are taking more money, and so alter it to compete.
Other factors can also play a part in spread line movements. Injuries to key players or last-minute scratches can make one team a less likely winner. If those missing out are the creative sort that score goals/points/runs then the sportsbook might determine that the favorite is less likely to win by a higher margin than they would with that player's inclusion.
If it was a top goalkeeper in a soccer match or a goaltender in a hockey game who will miss out, the book might determine their team are more likely to concede and so move the line. If a coach decides to rest his star starting pitcher in an MLB game, the line is likely to move right at the last minute just as the lineup cards are posted.
The main benefit of betting in the points spread markets is to gain better odds than you would on the moneyline. That’s especially true when heavy favorites are playing big underdogs. If a team or player doesn’t stand a chance against far superior opponents, moneyline odds can be so low or require such significant investment, that they’re simply unappealing. There are other advantages to points spread bets too.
For one thing, you can make strategic bets on teams and players to lose. On the moneyline, if you think a side will be defeated, your only option is to back the other to win. No one much enjoys following a favorite team that’s in a bad patch and losing regularly. But with point spread betting you can at least set about making some money on them. If you’ve spotted a potential upswing in form and can predict a side is going to stop being beaten quite so heavily, betting on them with what is effectively a head start in how many points they’ll get can be profitable.
Monitoring the point spread betting lines also makes it easier to spot value. That’s especially true if you’re new to placing bets. Points are a metric that all sports fans easily understand. If you saw that the Buffalo Bills are +120 underdogs at the Kansas City Chiefs on the moneyline (as they were in January 2022), it might not instantly jump out as representing good value. Checking out the points spread, and with the Bills at +2.5 with odds of -110, and you reckon they’ll lose by less than 3 points, then it would immediately stand out as being a good bet. As it happens, it wasn’t as the Chiefs ended up winning by 6 - but you get the drift.
Finally, spread bets keep following games more interesting and for longer. When New York City took on Toronto in the MLS in April 2022, the score ended at 5-4. The standard spread had closed at -1.5 with odds of -150 on the NYCFC side. Up until the 86th minute, Toronto trailed by three goals. If you’d bet on the Toronto win, you’d likely have given up on your bet by that stage. However, two late TFC goals meant the final score ended up with just one separating the two teams. That kept the winning spread bet at +1.5 for Toronto alive right until the end.
Like all types of sports betting, winning on point spreads consistently is rarely easy. Adding in another variable - in this case the margin of victory - only complicates things. It’s also the case that sportsbooks can be eerily prophetic when it comes to predicting an outcome and setting a spread. They’re rarely way off and that just makes it all the harder to make decent money off points spread bets. If you move the point spread line in your favor, you’ll have to trade-off to accept worse odds too.
It can also be difficult to find a long-term edge when betting against the spread. As mentioned above, the longer that points spread markets are open, the more they balance themselves out. If an edge does present, the longer the sportsbooks have to adjust the line means it will usually lessen over time.
Point spread betting works in different ways for different sports so it’s worth knowing how ones you follow the most tend to play out.
No other sport in the US gets as much betting action as football does during the season. With NFL markets opening big and early ahead of the week’s biggest games, football fans have plenty of time to monitor the points spread markets and make intelligent betting decisions. Lines are sharp meaning there’s a load of money taken on football points spread.
If you’re new to NFL points spread betting that can mean monitoring the lines to follow where the big bucks are landing. This gives a great indication of where the experts are wagering, even if the odds won’t be quite as generous.
Also known as the ‘goal line’, soccer point spread bets are usually offered as a three-way. That means a handicap will be placed on both sides plus the draw. Typically with an average number of goals below 3 in any given MLS season, you’ll often find plenty of alternative lines on soccer points spreads in single increments.
As a low-scoring sport, baseball does have point spreads but they’re nearly always set at +1.5 and -1.5. Because of that, the book will alter the odds away from the standard payout ratios found in most other sports.
You’ll most often see baseball points spreads listed as the ‘run line’. Run lines are adjusted at the start of each innings for in-running points spread betting.
Like baseball, hockey point spreads will stand at +1.5 and -1.5 at most sportsbooks. Also known as the ‘puck line’, point spreads in hockey are tight meaning the underdog can only lose by just one goal for a bet on them to win.
You might also find more generous odds in hockey point spreads, perhaps at +300 or more on less favored teams, so it can be a market that’s worth checking out.
Experienced sports bettors are always on the lookout to bet the middle on point spreads. Betting the middle means placing two separate point spread wagers on either side of the bet. It’s a sports betting strategy that seeks to make the most out of changes to the spread line.
Illustrating what a middling opportunity looks like in football, say the New England Patriots are -6.5 favorites for a showdown with the New York Jets and you place an early bet on the Jets at +6.5. As the week progresses, you spot that the line has moved to -3.5 so you wager on the Patriots at +3.5. The difference of 3 points is known as the middle. You now have two chances to win on the game, but the optimum result for you lies somewhere between the pair of points.
You win both wagers if the Patriots win by four, five or six points. That range is the middling one. Any other result means only one of the bets wins. Betting the middle is a useful strategy but you need to shop the lines regularly and get in early enough for a significant change to happen before the game begins.
Having accounts at multiple New York sportsbooks is the best way to do this, and you can bet the middle with a points spread bed on both sides at two different betting sites.
Point spreads are also offered on live betting games. The lines shift almost continuously, especially in the fastest scoring sports such as basketball. Because of this, you might also find more middling chances than on pre-match markets. You’ll just need to move quickly to get on them.
All of the legal NY sportsbooks offer point spread betting markets. If you’re shopping the lines or hunting out a middle for your point spread bets it pays to know which books to check out.
Best point spread odds - BetMGM & DraftKings
Across all sports and all point spread bets for individual games, BetMGM tends to rate highly for the highest average odds, as do DraftKings.
Best for point spreads bets on the biggest sports - Sport Dependent
If you’re an avid follower and bettor of certain sports in particular you might find that NY sportsbooks vary in how good they are in terms of coverage and pricing. PointsBet and DraftKings are great for the NFL, Caesars for the MLB, FanDuel for the NHL and BetMGM for the NBA. It’s always worth checking out a few books for each one though, as lines can often vary either in your favor or against on any given day.
Best for lowest juice on point spreads bets - PointsBet & WynnBET
10% is the standard vigorish, vig or juice that all sportsbooks charge as commission for taking your bets. It’s worth checking out PointsBet though as they often offer markets with just 5% and they often wipe the juice altogether on NFL promos. Also, look out for WynnBET’s vig offers on a Thursday evening where the book takes the juice off for selected games.
Point spreads usually change due to the amount of money being bet on either the favorite or the underdog. If you see point spreads lines moving upwards, it means the majority of the action is on the favorite. If the line is moving lower, most of the dollars are being wagered on the underdog.
Sportsbooks use computerized algorithms and human odds compilers to set NFL point spreads. All sorts of factors determine where the points spread will be set including team records, any home advantage, the results of previous matchups between the two, plus injuries and the form of key players. Books will also take into account public perception of what the result will be to make their lines appealing to bettors.
The extra half point on each side of a point spread ensures there will be a winner and a loser. If a sportsbook set a point spread at +4 and -4 and the favorite won 4-0, the game would be tied and the bet would push. Setting the line at +4.5 and -4.5 avoids this possibility for all sports that don’t have half points.
Sportsbooks generally do an accurate job in determining opening, ongoing and live point spreads lines. It is possible to spot ‘vulnerable’ lines though from time to time to exploit.
Point spreads bets pay out like any other type of wager when one wins. Typically point spreads are paid out at -110 and +110 for most sports. That means if you bet on the favorite at -110 you would earn $100 on a wager of $110. A $100 bet at odds of +110 returns a $100 profit.
In most instances, a spread is expressed to one decimal point and given an extra 0.5 on either side. This is to ensure there’s no push when the game is over, meaning the sportsbook would have to refund everyone’s wager.
Betting against the spread in the 2nd half means taking into account the half-time spread line. You are only betting on the score for the second half. For example, if one side is rated at -4.5 at the interval, the bet would win if that team outscored their opponents by 5 points or more in the second half.
A point spread bet is effectively canceled if it pushes. Another reason for canceled point spread bets includes if the sportsbook has published a clearly mistaken line. Known as a ‘palpable error’ or ‘palp’, the bookmaker will void bets that they determine contain an ‘obvious error’ and won’t pay out on them. How the sportsbook applies rules on palps is included in its terms and conditions. Point spread bets would also be canceled if an event is postponed or abandoned.