How Do Point Spreads Work?

How Do Point Spreads Work?

Point spreads are one of the most popular markets on online sports betting sites. When it comes to sports like basketball (NBA) and football (NFL), mastering the complexities of point spreads betting is a must. But how do point spreads work, exactly?

Point Spreads Betting Explained


Think of point spreads as point handicaps for both teams. It is clear that most games are between teams that are not equal, so sportsbooks assign spreads to both sides to make the game more equal. Thus, point spreads betting can be a little more even on the betting odds, as opposed to the moneyline.


Point spreads manifest as either a positive number or negative number which indicates how much is added or subtracted from the team’s final score, respectively. For example, if the New England Patriots are “+3”, it means three points are added to their final score. On the contrary, if the Buffalo Bills are “-3”, it means three points are deducted from their score after the game. 


To “cover a spread” means that the team must win the game after points are added or subtracted from their final score. 


Using the example above, if the Bills defeat the Patriots 20-14, the Bills have “covered the spread” being that subtracting three points from 20 is 17, which still beats the Patriots’ 14 points.

Three Tips When Betting on the Point Spread


Understanding the point spread is the first step to making the most of it. With the betting spreads explained, take into consideration these three tips before staking your money.


+ Monitor the Line Movement: The point spreads are the first to be released where betting markets are concerned. Hence, they can get action (receive wagers) quickly. A spread will move up or down depending on the type of action it gets. Monitor which way the spread is heading, and… 


+ Go Line-Shopping: When you are looking to purchase a pair of pants, do you buy the first pair you see? Or do you shop around to find something better? The same should be true when you are point spread betting. Shop around to see if there are spreads that have yet to adjust or have already adjusted, and…


+ Bet the Better Spread: You may think to yourself: what is a ½ point going to do in the grand scheme of betting? A lot, actually. The Phoenix Suns, for example, defeated the Golden State Warriors 101-97. They opened at -3 and were bet down to -4. Had you caught their opening line of -3, your bet would have won. But if you had bet them at -4, your bet “pushed” and you did not win.   

Pros vs Cons

How Do Point Spreads Work? Betting GuideHow Do Point Spreads Work?



+ Point spreads open early, making them accessible for bettors.

+ Point spreads are adjusted per the betting public; you can get a better price on the spreads if you get them at the right time or properly shop for a line.

+ Line-shopping gives you more options when point spread betting.

+ You can bet point spreads at a more reasonable price than moneylines when dealing with favorites.



+ Since spreads also open early, you may miss getting the best possible spread.

+ You do not get your money back if you bet on a spread and changes are made to a game which affect a spread.

Examples of Finding The Best Point Spreads


Going into more detail in finding the best point spreads, the movement of the numbers can be beneficial, depending on what direction they are going. The strategy could be different for those betting chalk (favorites) or betting on underdogs. 


This is a point spread line that opened for a recent game: 


+ Toronto Raptors +7 -110

+ Brooklyn Nets -7 -110


After a few days, the line changed:


+ Toronto Raptors +7½  -110

+ Brooklyn Nets -7½  -110


Depending on who you are siding with, the adjustment in the spread could be good. If you are siding with the Nets, an increase in their spread will make it a bit harder to cash as your bet will lose on a seven-point win at -7½ but will push at -7. 


If you are siding with the Raptors, the underdogs, the additional ½ is better as a seven-point loss will still cash your bet at +7½ though at the original +7, your bet will push. This is why line shopping is essential before wagering.   



Point spreads are simple to understand, but can involve plenty of strategies for betting. It affords bettors plenty of flexibility, which is why it’s one of the most popular markets on the betting lines. Monitoring the point spread line movement and shopping for the best lines are one of the ways to get the “best bang for your buck.”

How Point Spreads Work FAQs

1. How to Read Point Spreads?

Point spreads are either a positive number like “+5½” or negative number like “-7½”. These indicate a points handicap on the team. You take these numbers and add or subtract them it from the team’s final score, respectively.

2. What Do the “+” and “-” in Spread Betting Mean?

The “+” and “-” in spread betting have to do with how much is added or subtracted from the team’s final score. If a team has “+3” beside it, it means three points will be added to their score. If the team has “-3”, it means three points will be subtracted.

3. Where Can I Bet Point Spreads?

Point spread betting is a staple in any sportsbook. Often, point spreads are also the first market to be opened, especially when it comes to the NFL and NBA.

4. What Does “Covering the Spread” Mean?

To “cover the spread” means the team has won the game after adding or subtracting the point spread assigned to them by the oddsmakers. Another way to say this includes “beat the spread”.

5. How Are Point Spreads Calculated?

Point spreads are devised by oddsmakers using computer algorithms. These algorithms calculate a number of data and come out with a number that makes the game “fair” as far as betting is concerned.
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