Point Spread Betting Guide

If a sportsbook is in business, it offers point spread wagers. There may not be a type of bet that is more commonly offered, both in retail and online sportsbooks.

So, since every Colorado sports bettor is going to encounter point spreads, it is vital to understand how they work and how to bet them. Here is a handy guide to help anyone with questions about betting the spread.

How point spreads work

A point spread, or spread, bet is a wager based upon the eventual margin of victory in a game or match. The actual score of the game is irrelevant – only the separation between the teams matters.

Point spreads are identifiable as a pair of positive and negative numbers next to the team names. In each match, the number will be the same, but the sign will be different.

The team or person with a negative number next to its name is the expected winner, or favorite, in the game. Conversely, the team or person with the positive number is expected to lose, and thus, is the underdog in the game.

When a bettor chooses to wager on the favorite, their desired outcome is for the favorite to win by more than the given spread. A favorite that successfully completes this task is said to have “beaten” the spread.

A wager on the underdog, however, is hoping that the team can lose by fewer points than the spread. To do so is known as “covering” the spread. An underdog that manages to win the game outright also qualifies as having covered the spread, although there is no extra payout for prevailing.

You may sometimes hear people refer to “the line” on a game. Though moneylines are a common type of sports wager, references to “the line” almost always mean that there is a discussion of the spread in progress.

How payouts work on point spreads

Hopefully, you now have an understanding about the mechanics of a point spread wager. However, you may be wondering about what kind of money you can win.

Keen-eyed visitors to a sportsbook might notice a separate three-digit number listed next to team names. This number is negative for both teams, and is usually around -110.

The story these numbers tell is how much a bettor must contribute in order to win $100. Although you can bet any amount you want, a sportsbook will always express the payout ratio as the amount to lay to get $100 in profit.

This format is similar to the one that moneyline bettors use. However, there is a key reason why both teams have negative numbers next to their names.

The house advantage on point spreads

Sportsbooks are for-profit businesses and must keep some of bettors’ money in order to stay in service. The premium that every bettor pays on the spread is the vigorish, or “vig,” that the sportsbook collects.

The good news is that it is far easier to see just how much vig the sportsbook is collecting in a spread bet than in some other sports bets. Rather than bake the vig into the payout, like they do in moneyline bets, the sportsbook will tack its profit onto the amount a bettor must pay to play.

As a general rule, the vig is 10%. Hence, the purchase ratio is usually -110, which accounts for the $100 that the player is betting to win $100 plus the $10 going to the sportsbook.

Calculating the house edge

From these numbers, it might seem as though sportsbooks are exerting a 10% advantage over bettors. Compared to other casino games, such an edge would be quite exorbitant.

However, the good news is that the price isn’t so steep. The thing to remember is that there are two sides to every sports bet.

So, let’s say that two bettors wager on the same point spread. Each person bets $110 and hopes to win $100.

At the end of the game, here’s what the settlement looks like:

  • Total amount wagered: $220 (2 bets x $110)
  • Total payout: $210 ($100 profit plus $110 original wager)
  • Sportsbook portion: $10

So, in reality, the sportsbook only keeps $10 of the $220 that was wagered. This percentage translates to a 4.55% house edge, which renders sports betting in the middle of the road for gambling game edges.

If you’re still a bit confused, however, don’t worry. Below are a series of examples to make things clearer.

Point spread betting examples

Sometimes, a real-world illustration is the best way to wrap your head around a concept. So, here are a selection of actual spread bets that were, at one time, featured on DraftKings Sportsbook.

Game #1 (NBA): Dallas Mavericks (DAL) vs. Washington Wizards (WSH)


  • DAL @ -3
  • WSH @ +3

Pay amounts

  • DAL -109
  • WSH -110

Explanation: In this game, the Dallas Mavericks were expected to defeat the Washington Wizards by 3 points. At the time, Dallas sat at 11 games over .500, while the Wizards had lost 15 more games than they’d won.

You may notice that there was a slight discount to bet on Dallas. A sportsbook will sometimes move the vig in order to encourage betting on one side or the other.

A sportsbook’s goal in offering most bets is to balance out the wagering pools on both sides of the bet as much as they can. If the pools are balanced, then the sportsbook can happily collect its vig without having to pay out extra dollars to the eventual winners.

Sample payouts

  • $110 on DAL: $100.92 profit, $210.92 total
  • $110 on WSH: $100 profit, $210 total
  • $109 on DAL: $100 profit, $209 total
  • $109 on WSH: $99.09 profit, $208.09 total
  • $50 on DAL: $45.87 profit, $95.87 total
  • $50 on WSH: $45.45 profit, $95.45 total
  • $5 on DAL: $4.59 profit, $9.59 total
  • $5 on WSH: $4.55 profit, $9.55 total

Game #2 (NCAAB): Fairfield (FAI) vs. Siena (SIE)


  • FAI @ +8
  • SIE @ -8

Pay amounts

  • FAI -110
  • SIE -110

Explanation: In this game, visiting Fairfield was expected to lose the game by eight points or more. Though the Siena Saints were a middling 10-10 at the time, the Stags were 9-12, and away games are usually tougher to win.

However, even with a sizable spread, the payouts for this game remained equal. In all likelihood, action on a game between two lesser-known teams is pretty low, so there’s no need to move things around.

Sample payouts

Since both teams were offered at the same price point, their payouts were the same. So, here are just a few possible payouts for winning bets:

  • $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

Betting the middle

Point spreads are not static. They move according to the action that both sides of the bet receive.

However, point spread movement can create a wonderful opportunity for the savvy spread bettor. Shifting lines can allow for betting the middle.

Betting the middle, or middling, is the practice of making two separate bets on the same game. As counterintuitive as it may seem, it is possible to bet on both teams and win both bets this way.

Here’s how a middling opportunity might work:

The Utah Jazz were favored to win a game over the Portland Trailblazers by 9 points. So, Smart Bettor decided to place a bet on the Jazz at that spread.

As it turned out, many bettors thought that the Jazz would win, too. The resulting action drives the spread to favor the Jazz by a whopping 13 points now.

Smart Bettor sees an opportunity. He now places a bet on the Trailblazers to cover the 13-point spread.

Assuming that Smart Bettor wagered the same amount on each bet, he or she now has three possible outcomes:

  • Win 1 bet: the Jazz win by more than 13 points, or the Blazers lose by fewer than 9 points
  • Push the bets (tie): the Jazz win by exactly 9 or exactly 13 points
  • Win both bets: the Jazz win by 10, 11, or 12 points

This last outcome is the middle. The possibility of winning one bet is quite large, and there is a chance to win both bets.

Of course, a middle bettor is still paying vig on both bets. In fact, assuming that the standard vig amount is in play, winning 1 bet or pushing both bets will result in a net loss for Smart Bettor.

However, the chance of dropping the entire value of the bet is now lost, and winning the middle would result in a rather rewarding payout.

So, depending on how you approach risk, middling might be a way to hedge your bets a bit and take a chance at a bigger payout.

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Alternative point spreads

As you’re contemplating which spreads to bet, you may notice that the sportsbook offers alternative point spreads. A quick click (if you’re online) reveals a series of spreads and odds on each game.

What you’re seeing are opportunities to surrender either points or payouts in your quest for a winning bet. The sportsbook allows bettors to make wagers at different spreads than the published estimate of where the book expects the game to finish.

Alternative point spreads are all about give-and-take. You can either make things easier for your chosen team to succeed and take a lower payout, or you can raise the bar on the team and gamble for a higher payday.

Though alternative lines are a risk-reward proposition, they can be a terrific opportunity for the savvy sports bettor. If you have an inkling that a game is going to go wildly differently than the published line, then an alternative line bet may be the way to go.