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What is Point Spread Betting in Sports? (November 2023)

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Point spreading is a highly popular betting market in which the odds on both teams are drawn level with points/goals modifiers. Basically, the stronger team will be given a deduction of points whilst the underdogs will be given a boost of an equal number of points, and the odds on either team will be level. For the stronger team, winning is not enough as they will need to overcome the point deficit. This means they will need to win the game by a margin that is greater than the point deficit. On the other hand, the underdog will have a boost in points, therefore the only way they can lose your bet is if they are beaten by the favourite by a margin greater than the point boost.

Theory of Point Spreads

When a bookmaker generates a point spread, this is their estimation of the difference in strength between the two teams. It is basically a margin of points by which the stronger team should win the game on paper. For example, if there is an NHL game between the Toronto Maple Leaves and the Buffalo Sabres, and the odds look like this:

  • Toronto Maple Leaves -4.5
  • Buffalo Sabres +4.5

The Toronto Maple Leaves are favourites to win the game and the bookmakers think that the margin that gives the teams an even chance of winning is 4.5 If you bet on the Toronto Maple Leaves to win, you will need them to beat the Buffalo Sabres by a margin of 5 goals or more. If you bet on the Buffalo Sabres to win, you will need them to either win the game or lose by 1, 2, 3, or 4 goals. If the Buffalo Sabres lose by 5 goals or more, you will lose your bet.

Handicaps

Around the world, point spreads are also called handicaps. The term handicap comes from “Hand-in-Cap”. This was a system in which punters placed bets or money into the cap of a neutral party, who would decide if the stakes were of equal value. Later, handicaps were used in horse racing. This was a rule whereby the horses would be given different weights when racing, to give all horses a more equal chance of winning.

There are three different types of handicaps (or point spreads), though 2 feature more prominently.

Asian Handicap

This is the most common type of handicap. If you see a point spread that ends with a .5 then it is an Asian handicap. As half points cannot be scored in games, the betting line will define the criteria for winning and losing. In the example above where the Toronto Maple Leaves have a spread of -4.5, they can only win the game if they beat their opponents by 5 points or more. If they only win by 4 points, it is considered a loss.

European Handicap

European handicaps do not have half points. These are whole-number spreads and this opens up the possibility of a draw, or push. For example, if the handicap on the game can be:

  • Toronto Maple Leaves -4
  • Buffalo Sabres +4

In this case, the Toronto Maple Leaves will still need 5 or more points to win, but if they finish the game 4 points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres, the game is pushed. This means that the game has ended in a tie, and you will receive your stake back. The same goes for betting on the Buffalo Sabres. If they win the game or lose by a margin of 3 or less, you will win your bet, but if they finish 4 goals behind then the game is pushed.

Double Asian Handicap

This is a special type of handicap that can only be found in certain sports. These are basically a mixture of the two other types of handicaps, and the spreads end with either .25 or .75. Basically, the money you stake is halved and goes on the closest Asian handicap and European handicap bets. In a game where the spread is

  • Toronto Maple Leaves -4.75
  • Buffalo Sabres +4.75

A $10 bet on the Toronto Maple Leaves will be split into a $5 bet on -4.5 and $5 on -5. If the Maple Leaves win the game by 6 goals or more, both bets win and you will receive your full rewards. If the Maple Leaves win the game by exactly 5 goals, then half your bet will pay out in full, whilst the other half will be pushed. Betting the same stake on the Sabres equates to a $5 bet on +5 and a $5 bet on +4.5. If the team does not lose by over 4 goals, you win your bet. If they lose by exactly 5 goals, half your bet is lost whilst the other half is pushed.

Likewise, the line with.25 works in the same way:

  • Toronto Maple Leaves -4.25
  • Buffalo Sabres +4.25

A $10 bet on the Maple Leaves equates to a $5 bet on -4 and a $5 bet on -4.5. A $10 bet on the Sabres is split into a $5 bet on +4.5 and a $5 bet on +4.

Alternative Lines

Point spreads pick out the dividing line of victory and defeat between two teams, but it is not the only type of spread available. Most sportsbooks also offer alternative lines where you can find a long list of spreads. These will come with varying odds, and you will notice that as the negative handicap becomes larger, so do the odds. On the other side of the list, the larger positive handicaps will come with increasingly shorter odds.

Take an NFL game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Green Bay Packers, where the point spread is:

  • Green Bay Packers +1.5
  • Baltimore Ravens -1.5

These bets come at the same odds: 1.9. This represents the balance between the two, but you can pick alternative lines that come with longer or shorter odds:

Green Bay Packers spreads and odds:

  • +3.5 odds 1.57
  • +3 odds 1.66
  • +2.5 odds 1.8
  • +2 odds 1.83
  • +1.5 odds 1.9 (point spread)
  • +1 odds 2
  • -1 odds 2.1
  • -1.5 odds 2.15
  • -2 odds 2.2
  • -2.5 odds 2.25
  • -3 odds 2.35
  • -3.5 odds 2.55

Baltimore Ravens spreads and odds:

  • -3.5 odds 2.25
  • -3 odds 2.1
  • -2.5 odds 2.05
  • -2 odds 2
  • -1.5 odds 1.9 (point spread)
  • -1 odds 1.83
  • +1 odds 1.72
  • +1.5 odds 1.69
  • +2 odds 1.68
  • +2.5 odds 1.66
  • +3 odds 1.54
  • +3.5 odds 1.48

This gives you plenty of betting opportunities. You can pick out the bet that has the best odds and you think has a strong chance of winning. However, the more ambitious you are with the odds, the more risk you will bring to your bet.

Conclusion

Point spreads give both teams an even chance of winning, making the 50:50 bets. They are a sound option when you want to bet on either team to win at nearly even money odds. But you should also consider the alternative lines. They offer a huge world of betting possibilities and you can find good prices on certain bets.

Alternative lines do require a bit more research than point spreads. Good knowledge of both teams in a fixture can go a long way. There is also a lot of statistical information that can help your decision making such as:

  • Attacking record of both teams – how many points they scored in their last games
  • Defensive records – how many points they conceded
  • Home record – which team has home advantage and how can it affect the game
  • Top scorers – who do the teams rely on for points and will they be available
  • Schedule – which team is more likely to suffer fatigue and will they rest players for any forthcoming games

If you do your homework, then you may pick out some great offers and take advantage of the longer odds offered in the alternative lines market.

Lloyd is passionate about online gambling, he lives and breathes blackjack and other table games, and he enjoys sports betting.