Point Spread Betting – How to Master Betting on Point Spreads

Point spread betting comes in all shapes and sizes, not just game outright odds. Top online sportsbooks will offer odds on things like the number of touchdowns a player will score in a game, the number of three-pointers in a basketball game, etc. But, nothing beats the classic format of taking the points in the big game. So, let’s dive right in and explore the many facets of point spread betting in today’s sports betting world.

What is Point Spread Betting?

A point spread is a number set by sportsbooks that levels the playing field between two teams, to drive betting action on both sides. The spread relates directly to the margin of victory in any given game. To “cover the spread”, a team must win by a final margin larger than the point spread or, in the case of an underdog, lose by fewer points than the spread (or win outright).

However, it is fair to say that by some distance, the most popular point spreads are winning margin lines. Point spreads are regarded as one of the ‘big three’ betting types, along with moneyline and totals (over/under).

How Point Spread Betting Works

Point spread betting is all about the favorite winning by more than the spread margin, or the dog winning the game by less, or just winning the game. If the Dolphins are -7 on the spread against the Eagles, then anyone that places a point spread wager on the Dolphins needs them to win the game by at least 8 points to cover the spread. Anything less, and it’s a losing wager.

When you place a spread wager, the betting odds will always include juice/vig, which varies from sportsbook to sportsbook. A strong team with a high outright win percentage could have a point spread of -2, but that bet could also come with a high cost, like -200 or even higher, with the +12 underdogs returning +180 or more.

In the 2024 Superbowl, the 49ers were -2 on the point spread against the Kansas City Chiefs. Anyone with that bet needed the 49ers to win the game by at least 3pts. Unfortunately, they lost it by three points, so the 49ers failed to cover the spread.

It’s not just in tight encounters that the teams fail to meet point-spread expectations. In 2013, the Denver Broncos went into their home game with Jacksonville as the hottest offense in the NFL. Averaging 46pts per game against a team averaging just over 10pts per game, the hosts were justifiably expected to cover a 28pts spread but the Broncos didn’t get close to covering the spread against an improved defensive performance from the Jaguars.

How to Read Point Spreads

Point spreads are super easy to understand once you get the basics. The spreads themselves correlate directly with moneyline odds – the shorter the moneyline odds of a favorite, the bigger the spread they will have to cover.

  • Handicaps: How to Spot Them – Point spreads effectively handicap bets because the spread is effectively the expected winning margin for the favorite.
  • Finding the Favorite – Point spreads are always built around the favorite and their expected winning margin. If it’s a close game and you are not sure who is the favorite, check out the moneyline odds.
  • Identifying an Underdog – The underdog is always the biggest moneyline odds. The spread effectively gives them a head start in the game. If an underdog wins a game, no matter what the spread line, they beat the spread.

The Importance of Shopping for Lines

With so many sportsbooks now in the marketplace, it’s well worth pointing out that point spread lines will vary, as will all game odds. With this in mind, it is always really important to to shop around and find the best lines or odds as a part of your betting strategy. If you fancy the favorite to cover a -5 spread but another book is going -4 about the same team, you should be taking that -4, assuming the spread odds are the same. Similarly, if you fancy a dog, the bigger the line the better your chance of landing a winning bet. Small margins can make a big long-term difference if you find the best value each time.

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How to Bet Against the Spread (ATS)

Betting against the spread can be a great way to beat the book, especially if you think the spread is too high. To bet against the spread, you are simply backing the underdog (+) option. If a favorite is -5 on the spread, the underdog will be +5. You are betting on the underdog to lose by less than the spread – it’s normally referred to as ‘betting against the spread’.

Why would you bet against the spread? There are a million angles and it largely depends on what you place more store in. The favorite might not have a particularly good record at a stadium, they might have traveled a lot, or they might be missing a key forward.

What Does “Covering the Spread” Mean?

Covering the spread simply means beating the spread line. So, if a team is -12 on the spread, they will cover it if they win the game by 13pts or more. Similarly, if the underdog is +12 on the spread, they need to lose by no more than 11pts.

On either side, if the margin matches the spread, the bet is a push, and stakes are refunded. If the spread involves half-point numbers, eg -8.5/+8.5, then there has to be a winner and loser.

Live Betting Point Spreads

Live spread betting is an in-running line that moves according to the current game state. Lines are constantly changing throughout the game, depending on what is happening on the field. If the favorite is heavily on top, their point spread will increase, and vice versa. This fast-paced, volatile type of bet isn’t for everyone, especially as your bet could look in trouble just a couple of plays later.

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How to Place a Point Spread Bet

To place point spread bets, you will need an account at an online sportsbook. Here, we’ll walk you through the steps required to get a sports betting account up and running.

  1. Choosing the right sports betting site is important. There are so many to choose from and they all have different features, for example not all would have live streaming or same-game parlays. However, you would do well to find one that didn’t offer point spreads on all the top US pro sports games.
  2. BetOnline Sports Betting

  3. Once you have found your ideal sportsbook, you should click on the link on this page, which will direct you straight to the sign-up section.
  4. BetOnline sign up forms.

  5. Verification at any of the sportsbooks is swift and straightforward. Depending on the sportsbook you choose, it will typically involve simply entering an SMS code or clicking on a verify link in an email. It’s as simple as that!
  6. Once you have opened your account, you need to get funds into it. At this point, you may need to enter a promo code if you wish to take advantage of what are normally very generous welcome bonus offers. You will also need to familiarise yourself with the T&Cs of the bonus offer, like playthrough requirements, what sports or markets (if any) can be played, etc.
  7. Bonus add on at BetOnline

  8. Once you have a funded account and have a game in mind, you are clear to place a point spread wager. It is probably advisable to start with pre-game spreads before you move into the more volatile environment of live spread betting.
  9. BetOnline sportsbook

Point Spread Betting by Sport

You can place point spread bets on most team sports but there is no doubt that NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL are the most popular for a point spread wager. Let’s take a closer look at how point spreads work within each of these.

NBA Point Spread Betting

A high-scoring game like basketball lends itself perfectly to a point spread wager so it’s no surprise that NBA point spread betting is super popular. Bettors assess factors like home-court advantage, head-to-head records, recent form, and coaching strategy to evaluate NBA lines.

NFL Point Spread Betting

US sports fans love NFL betting like nothing else, and point spread lines are one of the most popular ways to enjoy a big Sunday game. Because of the nature of football scoring, NFL betting spreads are typically set around these key numbers: 2.5, 3, 3.5, 6, 6.5, 7, 7.5. Team news around an NFL football game is generally only truly meaningful if it involves a team’s quarterback, although cluster injuries around a particular position might also have an impact. Recent form is a huge factor when assessing NFL point spread lines.

MLB Point Spread Betting

MLB’s version of the point spread is the run line. However, run lines tend not to have as much variation as spreads in other sports because just a single run decides such a big chunk (around 30%) of MLB games. With that in mind, run lines are generally set at 1.5 (-1.5 for the fav, +1.5 for the dog). Run line bettors should dig into the starting pitchers, batting lineups, home/away splits, injuries, and weather when sizing up that day’s baseball run line betting options.

NHL Point Spread Betting

The NHL version of the point spread is the puck line, which stipulates a certain number of goals between two sides. Because ice hockey is generally a low-scoring sport, puck lines are typically set at 1.5. If a line is set at 1.5 goals, then the favorite needs to win by two goals, or the dog needs to win or lose by no more than a single goal.

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Point Spread Betting Tips From Our Experts

Assessing point spread lines involves research and understanding. Here are our top five tips for finding point spread line value.

  • Do your research: Know your numbers, player stats, head-to-head data, recent form, etc. It’s a great foundation.
  • Keep on top of team news: Team news can have a huge impact on speed lines, especially if it involves a pitcher or a quarterback. However, if you are slow to react, you will have missed any potential value in the point spread change.
  • Shop around: Find the best lines and point spread bet odds by having multiple sportsbook accounts. The differential might seem small and immaterial, but in the long term, these edges add up.
  • Keep on top of staking: Disciplined staking is essential, especially when you are taking negative prices on point spread bets. Whatever your staking plan, stick to it.
  • Don’t combine point spreads in parlays: The prospect of turning three point-spread wagers into a +500 return might look appealing but each leg of a parlay multiples the vig, so the more individual legs of the parlay there are, the worse total value the bet will be.

Pros and Cons of Point Spread Betting

Betting the spreads won’t be for everyone, especially the in-game lines. Let’s look at the pros and cons of this type of sports bet.


  • Point spread bets level the playing field in a game, meaning every game has a potential interest, even complete mismatches.
  • Typically, point spread lines open earlier than other markets, making them a popular avenue for sharp value seekers.
  • Spreads are generally more reasonably priced than line-betting odds.
  • In-game point spreads provide bettors the chance to cash in on in-game situations.
  • The possibility of a push, if the result hits the line, is additional insurance on a wager


  • Spreads can be a little more difficult for rookie bettors to understand, although hopefully not after reading this page!
  • In-game spread lines change quickly, making it difficult to get the line you want.
  • With a point spread bet, you will always be taking negative odds, which won’t appeal to all types of sports bettors

Final Thoughts on Point Spread Betting

Point spreads are a great option for sports fans, especially in high-scoring games like NFL and NBA. It’s a vehicle that can be used to get better odds on a favorite or provide yourself with a bigger cushion on an underdog. Don’t be one-dimensional and bet spreads all the time, but do see this wager type as a valuable tool in your betting armory.

Responsible Betting

Like all forms of gambling, betting on sports comes with significant risks. With this in mind, you must bet sensibly, responsibly, and within your means. Responsible gambling tools are available on all sportsbooks that can help with this process, such as adding deposit limits, play times, and even complete exclusion, if your betting has got out of control.

Related Betting Guides

Point Spread Betting FAQs

What does spread betting mean?

What does + and – mean in spread betting?

How do you know who the favorite team is in spread betting?

What does -110 mean in sports betting?

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Gavin Beech
iGaming Expert

Gavin is an expert gambling writer who works as one of the chief content producers for ReadWrite. He has been covering online gambling and sports betting for over 15 years, having written for the Racing Post, Oddschecker.com, Gambling.com and others. Now based in London, Gavin is a big sports fan, particularly when it comes to horse racing, soccer and cricket, and is also a keen frequenter of the Sheephaven Bay in Camden.

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