Guide to Point Spreads: Everything You Need to Know on How to Bet Spreads

What is a Point Spread?

A point spread is used as a unit of measurement to dictate the level of disparity for any given game and provide more equality. Point spreads are relative to the sports that they are measuring. Let’s list out an example. For this example, let’s imagine a football game between the Washington Football Team and the Indianapolis Colts, and the spread is set at 3.5. Let’s imagine a professional baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and that made-up spread is set at 3.5, also. The spread between the Red Sox and the Yankees game is defined by runs, which measures points and point keeping. The spread of the game between the Football Team and the Colts is determined by points. In a hockey game, the points that are scored are called goals. Anytime there is a spread on a hockey game, the number for the point spread represents goals. Therefore, different point spreads can mean different scoring measurements for each sport. A higher or lower number on the point spread is not necessarily transferable in terms of the level of difficulty in covering it from sport to sport. We will address that in more detail later.

A point spread is placed on a game to create more equal odds on that game. Naturally, a team with a better record and better players can’t be given equal odds when facing a team with a worse record and players. That’s the whole point of the point spread.

Understanding Point Spreads

The number one thing to understand about point spreads is how the pluses and minuses work. Usually, with point spreads, both teams will be issued -110 odds. Sometimes, that number can depend on how much the sportsbook will take for its tax or its vig. Every sportsbook has a vig because otherwise, it would not make enough money to continue operating. It takes its tax so that you have a place to bet that you know is legitimate and will payout if you win. If a game were even odds, it would be +100.

When a spread is placed at -110 for a team, which will be quite often for both sides of a point spread bet, it means that you have to bet $110 to win $100.

Point Spread Bet Sl

How to Win with Point Spreads

Let’s say that a team is favored as 8.5 point favorites or written as -8.5. For the favored team to “cover the spread,” they must win by at least nine points. If they win by eight points or less, it doesn’t matter that they won because they didn’t cover the spread.

Now, let’s use an example of a team that is a 6.5 point underdog, or +6.5. For the underdog to win the point spread bet, they can either win or lose by less than 6.5 points. If the underdog team wins by 30 points or loses by less than 6.5, then the outcome is the same. The underdog will have covered, and anyone who bet on their point spread will have won that bet.

For our last example, let’s assume that a team is favored by seven points, also shown as -7. The favored team wins by exactly seven points. When the point differential lands precisely on the spread like that, it is known as a push. A push means that you get your money back on the bet, but you do not win additional funds.

Point Spread: Advice and Terms for Beginners

ATS. What does it mean? You’ve probably seen that acronym a lot. It stands for “against the spread” and defines a team’s general success on point spread bets. For example, the Phoenix Suns were the best team against the spread (ATS) this season in the NBA with a record of 55-35-1. This is quite spectacular considering that most spreads are placed through advanced mathematical algorithms to get as close to even odds as currently possible.

The Vig. This is another strange term that you may have heard. As briefly described earlier, the vig is essentially the tax for a sportsbook. The respective sportsbook needs to get paid, and the easiest way to do this is taking speculation out of betting and charging everyone, regardless of the bet, a “vig.”

Point Spread Payouts/Vigs

Point spreads are often set right around -110 on either side of the bet, as mentioned earlier. Usually, it’s set at -110 because the sportsbooks take out a tax or a vig. Depending on the sportsbook, you may occasionally see a point spread set at something even a little bit higher like -120 or something similar. An important thing to remember is to look around and find the best odds for your prospective bets. Sometimes you can find a half-point or an entire point difference in the point spread at different sportsbooks, so search around and get the best odds you can. That can be the difference sometimes between winning and losing a bet.

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Point Spread Summary

Point spreads are one of the more simple concepts in betting and would generally be advised for beginning sports bettors trying to learn the ropes.

In summary, it’s important to remember that there are point spreads on every game as long as it’s on a sport that is available to bet on within the given sportsbook. Point spreads are relative to the measurement of scoring used on each particular sport. That means that the spread of a baseball game is defined by runs, while goals represent the spread of a hockey game. A spread of 13 points in a football game and a spread of 13 points in a basketball game are not apples-to-apples in terms of difficulty covering the spread.

Point Spreads FAQ

What do the pluses and minuses mean in a point spread?

The minus in a point spread indicates that the team is the favorite in that particular game. The plus means that the team is an underdog. The higher the number next to a minus sign, the more of a favorite that team is, which goes for the underdog as well.

What is the purpose of a point spread?

Since very few games are exactly evenly matched, the point spread tries to create a line where each team has the same odds of covering the spread. This allows a more even playing field, and frequently, the teams will receive the same odds.

What is pick ‘em?

Pick em means that neither team is favored, and therefore, there is no point spread available. This is a bit rarer in most sports because there is usually a team favored in a game, even if it is only slightly.

Is there a point spread on every sport?

In any sport where one team wins, and the other loses, then there should be a point spread. Additionally, the sport has to be available to be betted on through a sportsbook, but besides that, it is almost always available in some capacity.

Can the point spread change after it is placed?

Yes, a point spread is subject to change up until the start of a game or match. The reason that this change is because circumstances can change. If a key player is declared out for a game one day before the game takes place, the sportsbook will obviously want to adjust the point spread.

Drew is one of the NBA Lead Writers at, specializing in betting content such as game predictions and player props. With a deep knowledge of players and prospects, Drew has an extensive edge in covering everything NBA.