What is a point spread? How do they work? Why is it the most popular form of sports betting? What does it take to beat the point spread with regularity? These are all the types of questions novice sports bettors must ask before even attempting to put a single dollar down on a game. If you don’t know how you’re betting and what needs to occur for you to win that bet, what’s the point? You wouldn’t go into battle without some type of weapon, right? Well then you shouldn’t bet on professional or college sports without knowing exactly what’s occurring every time you step to the counter of a sportsbook or log in to your account online.
NFL and NBA point spread bets are the most popular, though bookmakers have also devised run and puck lines so as not to leave out MLB and NHL bettors. Of course, point spread betting is also an option for both college football and basketball.
The point spread is basically a handicap. For example, let’s take the game of golf. You and your buddy head out to the greens to play a round of nine. He’s a scratch golfer who’s been playing the sport ever since discovering Tiger Woods. Meanwhile, your most glorious golf moment occurred when you sunk a hole-in-one at the local miniature golf course. To make the match more competitive, the lesser golfer would be given strokes per hole, referred to as a handicap. What that handicap does in the realm of sports betting is even the playing field and allow bookmakers to do their job: get an equal amount of money on both teams so as to guarantee profit.
They do so by attaching vigorish — sometimes referred to as juice or vig — to every point spread option on the betting board. Vigorish is basically the fee bookmakers charge clients to book the bet. It’s a percentage that gets added to the amount wagered, and it varies in size depending on the amount of action coming in on a team at that point in time.
If you’re confused about how it all goes down, here’s an NFL betting example to help. Let’s say Team A entered a football game undefeated at 10-0 while Team B ran up against the same opposition yet only mustered a 2-8 record. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to think everyone and their mother would hitch their wagon to Team A once it ran into Team B. In order to level the playing field, bookmakers devise a point spread so as to book what they hope would be even action on the game.
For this instance, Team A could be installed as 14-point favorites to win the game over Team B. Two touchdowns is a big number! While many football bettors will be quick to decide Team A is still worthy of a wager, there will most definitely be others out there who think Team B is the value side. What if Team B’s eight losses only came by an average of three points per game, while Team A won seven of its 10 games by fewer than three points per game? Does it really deserve to be such a heavy favorite? Maybe Team B isn’t as bad as its overall record indicates.
Moving forward with the example, Team A is a 14-point favorite. Whenever you look at a matchup, be it the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB, the team with the minus (-) sign is the one having the designated amount of points taken away from its final score. It is the favored side. The team with the plus (+) sign is the one having the designated amount of points added to its final score. It is the underdog.
Let’s say the final score of the game ended up being 28-20, with Team A coming out victorious. Those who backed Team A needed a win by no fewer than 15 points to cash a ticket. On the flipside, those who backed Team B needed it to win outright or lose the game by 13 points or fewer to come out victorious.
In this instance, bettors who took the points with Team B came out the victor with the final spread of the game coming in at eight points. If -110 juice was laid on both sides, someone betting $110 to win $100 on Team A would have lost that $110. Someone making the same wager on Team B would’ve won $100 and also received the amount staked ($110) for a grand total return of $210.
Now that we have a firm idea of how a point spread bet works, we need to dig deeper and break it down even more. Point spreads, and the amount of vig attached to them, change on a daily basis. Betting lines are posted daily for the next day’s NBA, NHL, college basketball and MLB games, and a week ahead for the NFL and college football. Football lines move the most. Remember, bookmakers more or less set the market and allow for the betting public to decide their next step.
Let’s use another example to better explain what to expect when wagering on weekly college football games. Let’s say the Clemson Tigers are running up against the Florida State Seminoles for a good old-fashioned ACC slobber knocker. The Tigers hit the board as touchdown favorites on the point spread. They just got done battling the Texas A&M Aggies in a tough nonconference matchup the previous week and now must hit the road for Doak Campbell Stadium, while the Seminoles enter the game off their bye week fully rested and ready to go.
Situational point spread bettors might be of the belief that taking the touchdown with FSU is the right choice to make. If professional accounts also decide to take the points with Florida State, online sportsbooks will be quick to make adjustments by either decreasing the amount of juice on Clemson or lowering the point spread to -6.5. The exact opposite could also occur later in the week with bettors of the belief that Clemson at anything less than a touchdown offers up value. The betting line could move back up to -7, or outlandish juice could become attached to the Tigers.
Scenarios like this play out every single week of the collegiate and professional football betting seasons, and they don’t just occur with the high-profile games. In fact, it’s the lesser known schools or less popular teams that see their lines move the most since linemakers pay much less attention to those teams than, say, Power Five teams. If you like an offering at its current number, you must act quickly so as to lock it in at that price point. If not, you run the risk of being forced to settle for a worse number and possibly losing a bet by the dreaded hook.
Trust us; you won’t be able to sleep at night if that turns out to be the case!
Don’t let the amount of vigorish on a side sway you from taking a stand. Remember, oddsmakers are simply trying to attract equal action on both sides. If you need to pay up for the side you like, just do it. Make sure you first shop around for the best point spread line though. There’s absolutely no reason to not have multiple outs to do business at, with the ample number of legal sportsbooks now in the US that will be more than happy to book your action.