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Home → Betting Guide → Understanding Point Spreads

Sports Betting: Understanding Point Spreads

In sports betting, point spread wagers are the most common type of bet. With football and basketball topping the list of the most popular sports to wager on, a successful bettor must be able to understand the important elements of a point spread.

Point Spread Fundamentals

Because of the high amount of scoring that is involved in football and basketball, a point spread is used by oddsmakers to level the playing field of a particular matchup. While money line or straight up wagers are more suitable for baseball and hockey, point spread odds are the preferred option for football and basketball bettors.

For a typical football or basketball game, the oddsmaker will establish a point spread. In theory, the bookmaker is hoping to set a line that will draw solid action on both teams in the contest. Unless a game is viewed as a pick, each point spread will have a favorite and underdog. In a wagering line, the favorite will have to win the game by a certain number of points for a bettor to cash in. In Super Bowl XLV, the Green Bay Packers were a field goal favorite against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A Green Bay betting ticket would read as Packers -3 while a Pittsburgh wager would read as Steelers +3. So, Green Bay needed to win by at least four points to cover the point spread. To gain a successful wager on Pittsburgh, the bettor would need the Steelers to either win the game or lose by two points or less. If the Packers won by three points, the point spread outcome would be a push. In this case, all bettors would get a refund.

Another element to the point spread involves the vigorish or juice. In principal, this is how bookmakers earn a profit on point spread wagers. Typically, there is a vigorish of 10 percent on point spread wagers. In the Super Bowl example, the betting line would actually be written as Green Bay -3 (-110) or Pittsburgh +3 (-110). To win $100, the bettor would need to wager $110. If a bookmaker takes a wager on each team for $110, he will gain a profit of $10 regardless of which team covers. In football, it is important to understand some key point spread numbers. Because the majority of scores in a typical football game are either a touchdown (seven points) or field goal (three points), many point spreads will have a team favored by 3 or 7 points.

Some of the other frequent key numbers for a football point spread are 4, 6, 10, 11 and 14. While the general strengths and weaknesses of teams are evaluated in determining point spreads, there is another standard element that goes into most lines. The home field or court advantage is something that the oddsmaker must take into account when setting a line. Typically, the home field advantage in football will be worth a field goal to the host team in the odds. In basketball, the home value is usually worth about four points in a spread.