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What is a Point Spread? What is a Point Spread?
Imagine a math formula that allows you to win a bet—even if your team loses. Conversely, what if your team wins by four touchdowns... What is a Point Spread?

Imagine a math formula that allows you to win a bet—even if your team loses. Conversely, what if your team wins by four touchdowns but you still lose cash?

Say hello to an ingenius gambling innovation known as the point spread. Simply put, the point spread represents the number of points the oddsmakers say a favorite team will win by. Gamblers then wager money based on that number.

 How does it work?

Let’s find a good example. Harry’s Sportsbook lists the New England Patriots as a 10-point favorite over the Cleveland Browns. Most fans with a cerebral cortex realize the Browns have been an abysmol franchise for decades and are not as good as the Pats, but would you bet on the Browns losing by more than 10 points? Hmm. Not so simple.

Therein lies the bet. Thanks to the point spread, games now get very, very interesting.

If you bet on the Pats, it means you believe the Patriots will “cover the spread” or win by more than 10. So, in a sense, the bookmakers are giving the underdog Browns a 10-point lead or head start before the game even kicks off.

(Note: If New England wins by exactly 10 points then it would be a tie, which is known as a “push,” and all wagers are returned to the bettors.)

How do I know what I’ve bet?

So with the Pats favored, your betting slip may show New England -10.0 (-110) and Cleveland +10.0 (-110). The favorites are always represented with a – (minus) symbol and the underdogs have a + (plus) symbol in front of them. If New England wins the game 21-10, the spread is covered. If they win 20-10 it’s a push and a 20-11 victory means they didn’t cover.

The point spread may also feature half points, such as – 10.5. This is often done to help reduce the number of ties (or pushes). In this case, you’d only bet on New England if you believe they can win by at least 11 points or bet on Cleveland if you feel they’ll lose by 10 or less.

So when betting the spread, your team may win the game, but you won’t collect any cash if they haven’t won by more than the point spread.  Of course, it’s vice versa for the losers. Your team may lose the game, but the final score was closer than the point spread, so you’ve won your wager.


If the Pats are – 10 favorites over the +10 Browns you can simply subtract 10 points from Pittsburgh’s score when the game is over or add 10 points to Cleveland’s score to see if the spread was covered. If the Pats win 21-10, you’d subtract the 10-point spread and they’d still win the game 11-10, meaning it’s been covered. On the other hand, if you add 10 points to the Browns tally the score would be 21-20, meaning they haven’t covered the spread.

So let’s talk big picture: The aim of a point spread is to make each game more interesting and level the playing field between the two teams. This attracts a betting market for both sides. In sports betting parlance, it’s called handicapping.

By the way,  not all events have a point spreads. For instance, if bookmakers feel a game is evently matched, there’s no need for a favorite to give up points and an underdog to receive points. This is known as a pick’em game — and wagers are won or lost depending on who wins the game outright.

Wagering on the point spread is typically the most popular form of betting in football and basketball, but variations of it are also used in sports such as soccer, hockey and baseball (where it’s known as the run line rather than spread). In addition, the spread is always -1.5 and +1.5 in hockey, but the odds will be quite different for the favorites and underdogs.


There are also common terms bettors use when laying out their cash on point spreads. These include:

ATS: Against the spread

Hook: This means a half point. For example, if the Patriots are listed as – 4.5 it’s known as laying four and a hook.

Juice: Unfortunately, bettors need to pay a fee to bookmakers and this is also known as vigorish or vig and is typically 10 per cent.

Favorites: This refers to the team or competitor that’s expected to win the contest straight up.

Underdog: The team or athlete that is expected to lose the event straight up.

7 point dogs: The word dogs is just a short form for underdogs. Therefore 7-point dogs would mean they’d be listed as +7 on the betting slip.

Cover the spread: This means the underdogs have won the bet for you since they lost by fewer points than the point spread or they won the game outright. It can also refer to favorites if they won by more points than the spread.

Beat the spread: If the favorites end up winning the contest, but don’t do so by the specified point spread, then the underdogs have beaten the spread even though they lost the game.

Even money: If there are no favorites and underdogs for an event then the odds are 50-50 and you’d win a dollar for each dollar wagered.

Take the points: Taking the points means you’re betting on the underdogs to lose by less than the point spread or to win outright.

Give the points: Giving the points means you’re backing the favorite and need to win the event by more than the specified spread.

Ian Palmer

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