What Is a Spread Bet?
A spread bet is one of the most popular bet types in sports betting, along with moneyline bets and total (over/under) bets.
Spread bets are popular because they add an interesting element to the game. With a spread bet you can win your bet even if the team you bet on loses, and, conversely, you can lose your bet even if the team you bet on wins.
This article will go over what a spread bet is, what the odds mean, how to bet on the spread, and some essential tips and strategies for betting on the spread.
What is the spread in sports betting?
Spread bets are the most common type of bet in sports betting and one of the most confusing for newcomers to wrap their heads around — with good reason.
Spreads, which are assigned to each team before the game starts, attempt to predict two things:
- How many points the favorite (the team that is expected to win) will win by.
- How many points the underdog (the team that is expected to lose) will lose by.
Let’s say the Kansas City Chiefs (favorites) are playing the Las Vegas Raiders (underdogs), and the spread is 7.5. A spread of 7.5 simply means the Chiefs are expected to win by 7.5 points, and the Raiders are expected to lose by 7.5 points.
Note: The spread is often referred to as “the spread,” “the line,” or “the point spread.”
How does spread betting work?
To bet on the spread you must 1) login to your sports betting app, 2) find the sport and game you are looking for, 3) add the spread bet to your bet slip, and 4) enter the dollar amount and place your bet.
Once you understand what a spread is, spread betting becomes easier to understand.
All spread bets are represented by the same number for both teams, with either a + or - in front of the number. The number represents the amount of points the favorite is expected to win by, and the underdog is expected to lose by. If the spread is 4.5, that means the favorite will have a spread of -4.5, and the underdog will have a spread of +4.5. If you bet on the favorite, they must win by more than 4.5 points for you to win a spread bet. If you bet on the underdog, they must win the game or lose by less than 4.5 points for you to win your spread bet.
How to win a spread bet
You might have heard of “betting the spread” or what a team’s record is “against the spread.” Again, let’s say the Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5) are expected to beat the Las Vegas Raiders (+7.5). The spread for the game is 7.5, with Kansa City as the favorites and Las Vegas as the underdogs (sorry, Coach Gruden).
If you bet on Kansas City (-7.5), you are betting that Kansas City will not only win the game but win it by at least 8 points (there are no half points in football, so you round up to 8). Conversely, if you bet on Las Vegas (+7.5), you are betting that Las Vegas will either win the game or lose by less than 7 points (again, there are no half points, so we round down to 7).
Let’s take a look at a few different scenarios for this game to see whether or not you would win your bet.
Examples of different spread bets
|Bet||Final Score||Result of Bet||Reasoning|
|KC -7.5||KC 35 LV 24||Win||KC won by 11 points, which means they covered the spread of -7.5. 35 minus 7.5 is 27.5, which is greater than 24.|
|KC -7.5||KC 35 LV 28||Loss||KC only won by 7 points, which means they failed to cover the spread of -7.5. 35 minus 7.5 is 27.5, which is less than 28.|
|LV +7.5||LV 24 KC 21||Win||Las Vegas won the game outright, which means they automatically covered the spread. 24 plus 7.5 is 31.5, which is greater than 21.|
|LV +7.5||LV 7 KC 20||Loss||Las Vegas lost by 13 points, which means they failed to cover the spread. 20 minus 7 is 13, which is greater than 7.5.|
How do you read a betting spread?
Spread bets are typically listed with the team’s name first, followed by the spread, then the odds. So Penguins -1.5 (+165) is read as “Penguins minus 1.5 at plus 165 odds.”
Let’s look at another example for the following game: Los Angeles Lakers +5 (-110) vs. Houston Rockets -5 (-110).
How to read spread bets
|Spread odds||How to read it||What it means|
|Lakers + 5 (-110)||Lakers plus 5 points at minus 110 odds||The Lakers must win the game or lose by less than 5 for you to win your bet.|
|Rockets -5 (-110)||Rockets minus 5 points at minus 110 odds||The Rockets must win the game by more than 5 points for you to win your bet. A tie is a push, meaning you don't win or lose.|
How is a point spread determined?
Oddsmakers take many different factors into account when setting lines and somehow always seem to do a pretty decent job. Oddsmakers look at which players are injured on both teams, the weather and field conditions at the stadium where the game is being held, advanced stats for both teams, head-to-head history, season trends, past wins and losses, and much more.
The good (and sometimes bad) thing about a point spread is that you are locked in once you make your bet. For example, if you bet on an NFL game a week in advance and a team’s starting quarterback gets hurt in practice, the spread you bet is still the spread you are getting come Sunday.
What are the different outcomes of a spread bet?
There are three outcomes of a standard spread bet; win, lose, or push.
- Win: You bet on the Pacers +4 against the Raptors, and the Raptors win 104 - 101. You win your bet.
- Lose: You bet on the Pacers +4 against the Raptors, and the Raptors win 106 - 101. You lose your bet.
- Push, or tie: You bet on the Pacers +4 against the Raptors, and the Raptors win 106 - 102. In this case, you push with the sportsbook. You receive your initial bet back but do not win or lose any additional money.
What sportsbooks have the best spread odds?
Moneyline boasts one of the most comprehensive assessments of odds in the industry. We found the following sportsbooks offer the best odds on spread bets.
Data from more than 1,700 bets (including moneyline, spread, and total bets) was used to generate each sportsbook’s comparative odds ranking for our 2021 annual review. Leagues and bet types collected include NCAA football moneyline bets, NCAA basketball moneyline bets, NFL moneyline, spread, and total bets, NBA spread, moneyline and total bets, NHL moneyline, puck line and total bets, and soccer 3-way result (moneyline) bets.
Spread vs. Moneyline: What’s the difference
It is important not to confuse moneyline bets with spread bets. To recap, moneyline bets are betting solely on which team will win the game. Spread bets are similar to moneyline bets but add another element, the spread.
Moneyline bets are great for games between two teams that are close to evenly matched. However, if you have a lop-sided matchup, the betting odds on the team expected to win often don’t pay out enough to justify betting the moneyline. Conversely, if you think the underdog team will win, you can get more bang for your buck with moneyline bets. In the example below, there’s no value to betting on the Baltimore Ravens with the moneyline. That’s where the spread comes in.
Moneyline bet examples
|Team||Moneyline odds||Bet||To win||Payout|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||+550||$10||$55||$65 = $10 bet + $55 payout|
|Baltimore Ravens||-800||$10||$1.25||$11.25 = $10 bet + $1.25 payout|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||+550||$100||$550||$650 = $100 bet + $550 payout|
|Baltimore Ravens||-800||$100||$12.50||$112.50 = $100 bet + $12.50 payout|
The spread assigns each team a numerical value representing the number of points a team is expected to win or lose by. In the game shown above between Jacksonville and Baltimore, the point spread was 12.5, +12.5 for Jacksonville, and -12.5 for Baltimore. This means that instead of betting on which team will win the game, you are betting on which team will cover the spread. Here’s how the same game plays out with the spread. Notice how the payouts are identical no matter what team you bet on.
Spread bet examples
|Team||Spread odds||Bet||To win||Payout||How the bet works|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||+12.5 (-110)||$10||$9.09||$19.09 = $10 bet + $9.09 payout||Jaguars must win or lose by less than 12.5 points.|
|Baltimore Ravens||-12.5 (-110)||$10||$9.09||$19.09 = $10 bet + $9.09 payout||Ravens must win by more than 12.5 points.|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||+12.5 (-110)||$100||$90.01||$190.01 = $100 bet + $90.01 payout||Jaguars must win or lose by less than 12.5 points.|
|Baltimore Ravens||-12.5 (-110)||$100||$90.01||$190.01 = $100 bet + $90.01 payout||Ravens must win by more than 12.5 points.|
Is it better to bet the spread or the moneyline?
Deciding to bet on the spread or the moneyline can be a fun but stressful dilemma for any bettor. There’s no better feeling than wagering on the moneyline of a big underdog and watching them win. Conversely, betting on a favorite to cover the spread and then watching them win the game but fail to cover the spread is agonizing.
Spread vs. Moneyline: Betting strategies
Here are a few tips for deciding whether or not to bet on the moneyline or the spread.
Reasons to bet on the spread instead of the moneyline
- You are betting on a favorite that you think will pummel the underdog. Predicting a butt-kicking and backing it up by betting on the favorite to cover the spread is fantastic. You can tell all your friends how you knew the Buccaneers would beat the Lions by at least 15, so taking the Bucs minus 7 points was a lock. Betting the spread in this instance earns a lot more than the moneyline, which is a bonus.
- You think an underdog will keep a game close but might not pull out a win. There’s a lot to be said for teams that habitually keep games close but have a hard time securing the dub (think Los Angeles Chargers). Betting the spread is a more thoughtful way to go for these types of teams than the moneyline.
- You’re placing a parlay with multiple underdogs. Although the payout will be less than the moneyline, it’s nice to have some points in your back pocket if you’re betting on underdogs.
Reasons to bet on the moneyline instead of the spread:
- You are betting on an underdog that you think has a really good chance of winning. If you think the underdog will win the game, the moneyline will pay out more than the spread. I use this strategy a lot when looking at home teams that are considered the underdog.
- You are betting on a favorite that you think will win but aren’t sure if they will cover the spread. Even though moneyline bets on favorites pay out a lot less than underdogs, there’s no sense in betting on the spread if you aren’t sure your team has a good chance to cover. I utilize this strategy whenever I think a game will go down to the last play or drive, but I still expect the favorite to win.
- You’re placing a parlay bet with multiple moneyline bets on favorites. While parlays are inherently hard to win regardless of whether you bet moneylines or spreads, sometimes the peace of mind is worth taking a smaller payout not to have to worry about the spread.
What happens if the spread is exact?
If the spread is exact, meaning the difference between the points scored between two teams equals the spread, the bet is scored as a push. A push is essentially a tie between the bettor and the sportsbook. The bettor gets their original stake back and does not win or lose any money. The sportsbook also does not gain or lose any money.
Here’s an example of a spread bet that results in a push.
Spread bet resulting in a push
|Boston Celtics +3 vs. Denver Nuggets -3||$10 on Boston +3||Denver 103 Boston 100||Push. The bettor receives their $10 back and does not win or lose any money.|
|Boston Celtics +3 vs. Denver Nuggets -3||$10 on Denver - 3||Denver 103 Boston 100||Push. The bettor receives their $10 back and does not win or lose any money.|
Does the spread include overtime?
The spread, or puck line or run line for hockey and baseball, always includes overtime. If the game goes to overtime, you will have to use the score after overtime to gauge whether you won your bet. For example, if you bet on the Chargers +3.5 against the Seahawks and the score at the end of the fourth quarter is 21 - 21, you did not win your bet. The Chargers have to win overtime or lose by less than 3.5 points for you to win your bet.
Can you include spread bets in parlays?
Yes, spread bets can be included in parlays. You can parlay spread bets with almost every type of bet, including moneylines, totals, props, and futures. Parlaying multiple spread bets can quickly make a bet seem lucrative. Remember, though: Parlays are much harder to win than normal bets.
Is it worth buying another point on a spread bet?
Betting on an alternative point spread, or buying a point, can be a good strategy depending on the sport. For example, in football, if a team is listed at -7, you might want to consider taking worse odds to get -6.5. Because touchdowns (assuming the extra point is good) typically account for seven points, taking worse odds to get -6.5 essentially makes your bet a winner if your team wins by a touchdown. The same logic applies to NFL spreads priced at +3 or -3.
For Moneyline.com’s annual best online sportsbooks review, we collected more than 36,000 data points over five months from 20 sportsbooks that serve 11 states where full-scale mobile betting is legalized. Hundreds of hours were spent testing and scoring each sportsbook (mobile and online/desktop) in seven core categories: sports and bets offered, odds, live betting, mobile betting, education, ease of use, and bonuses and promotions. The results determined each sportsbook’s overall rating.
Data from more than 1,700 bets (including moneyline, spread and total bets) was used to generate each sportsbook’s comparative odds ranking. Leagues and bet types collected include NCAA football moneyline bets, NCAA basketball moneyline bets, NFL moneyline, spread and total bets, NBA spread, moneyline and total bets, NHL moneyline, puckline and total bets, and soccer 3-way result (moneyline) bets. When collecting odds, we made sure to collect the same games at the same time for each sportsbook, ensuring data accuracy.
About Moneyline.com’s chief sportsbook researcher, Joey Shadeck: I’ve been a hobby sports bettor for more than six years, placing hundreds of bets on my favorite sports (football, basketball, MMA) and teams (Packers, Spartans, and whoever is playing the Lions). Beyond sports betting, I’m known for saying “Wanna bet on it?” in almost any situation and that is how I found out I can eat 42 chicken nuggets in less than 20 minutes.
As of February 2021, 22 different states have legalized sports betting to some capacity. Of those 22 states, the following 11 have legalized full-scale mobile betting: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada (must register in-person), New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia.
About the Author
Joey Shadeck Joey Shadeck is the lead writer for Moneyline.com and content strategist for Reink Media Group. He has closely tracked sports betting in the United States for the last two years, compiling hundreds of data points across dozens of sportsbooks. He has 6 years of online betting experience with hundreds of bets placed during that time.