A spread is a type of bet where a team is required to win against a set point-spread. Favored teams must win by a larger margin than the spread, while the underdog must either win outright or lose by a smaller margin than the spread.
Spreads vs. Moneylines
Point-spread bets are common in high-scoring sports such as American football and basketball, but are also available in soccer, baseball, hockey, and tennis. Spreads are a useful alternative to moneylines in matches that feature a large difference in skill between competing teams. Rather than forcing bettors to choose between betting on outright victories by the favorite (resulting in a poor return) or the underdog (having low chance of victory) spreads provide the opportunity to back either team with reasonable odds.
Betting Spreads Explained
The purpose of a point-spread is to give both teams a similar chance of winning. For a given match the weaker team, known as the underdog, will be given a positive point-spread. Those points are added to their score at the end of the game. If their adjusted score exceeds the number of points scored by the opposing team the underdog has won against the spread. In other words the underdog must either win outright or lose by a smaller margin than the spread.
In the example below the Seattle Seahawks are the underdog. Their spread is set at +3.5. In order to win a bet placed on the Seattle Seahawks +3.5 they would need to either win outright or lose by 1-3 points. Do not get the spread (+3.5) confused with the American odds format (-110) which indicates the potential profit relative to the initial risk. The equivalent payout is 1.91 in decimal odds and 10/11 in fractional odds.
|Green Bay Packers||-3.5 (-110)||Over 48.5 (-110)||-180|
|Seattle Seahawks||+3.5 (-110)||Under 48.5 (-110)||+160|
The stronger of the two teams, referred to as the favorite, is given an equal-but-negative point spread. Those points are deducted to their score at the end of the game. If the adjusted score still exceeds the number of points scored by the opposing team then the favorite has won against the spread. This means that the team must win by a larger margin than the spread. Using the same example above a wager on the Green Bay Packers -3.5 requires them to win by 4 or more points.
The benefit of spreads becomes more apparent when betting on a match with two teams that have a large skill difference. In the college football match below it would take a $950 risk to profit $100 with a bet on the Notre Dame moneyline. Instead of having to settle for a low payout bettors can take the -17.5 spread requiring only a $110 risk to yield the same profit. The difference now is that Notre Dame needs to win by at least 18 points.
|Virginia Tech||+17.5 (-110)||Over 58.5 (-110)||+625|
|Notre Dame||-17.5 (-110)||Under 58.5 (-110)||-950|
A bet on the Virginia Tech moneyline would turn a $100 risk into $625 profit. However with an implied probability of 13.8% it's not likely to occur. Bettors who want closer to a 50% chance of winning can take Virginia Tech on the +17.5 spread. With a lower payout comes a greater chance of winning; now requiring either an outright victory or loss by 1-17 points.
If the margin of victory by the favored team equals the spread then all bets are graded a push and initial stakes are refunded. In the match below wagers on both the Miami Dolphins +3.0 and Oakland Raiders -3.0 will be refunded if Oakland wins by exactly 3 points.
|Miami Dolphins||+3.0 (-110)||Over 44.5 (-110)||+145|
|Oakland Raiders||-3.0 (-110)||Under 44.5 (-110)||-165|