HomeBetting TipsPoint Spread Betting: An Introduction

Point Spread Betting: An Introduction

If you are new to sports betting, you may not understand all the numbers and symbols used by bookmakers when determining the favorite or underdog in any given sporting match up. While most sports fans are accustomed to seeing the point spread in the paper or on television, they do not necessarily understand what is point spread betting.

The best way to describe a point spread is as a number oddsmakers use to handicap two teams or sides in order to generate equal betting interest on both sides. The favorite (or ‘chalk’) needs to give bettors the right amount of points to attract enough interest to bet them. Underdogs, on the other hand, should give just enough points to attract the ‘dog’ players.

Take, for example, the NFL point spread odds on the New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers game below:

New England Patriots -4.5 (-110)

Carolina Panthers +4.5 (-110)

How Do Point Spreads Work?

The team that is favored to win by the oddsmakers (also known as the ‘favorite’ or the ‘chalk’), is given a minus (-) value. So, in the above example, the Patriots are favored by 4.5 points in this game. Conversely, the underdog (also known as the ‘dog’) is given a plus (+) value. In our example, the Panthers are 4.5 point underdogs. The -110 value for each side is the bookmaker’s commission or “vig” for taking your bet and will be explained in more detail below.

Using the point spread in our example of 4.5 points, you would wager on the Patriots if you believe they can win the game by 5 points or more. It’s 5 points and not 4.5 points since there are no half points in football. This half point is referred to as a “hook” in betting terminology.

So if New England wins the game 20-14, then they not only win by 6 points but they also cover the 4.5 point spread as the favorite. However, if the Patriots win 20-17, then they have NOT covered the 4.5 point spread since they only won by 3 points. The Panthers have covered because they stayed within the spread by not losing by 4.5 or more.

When Does Your Bet Cover the Spread?

Another way to figure out if your bet covered the spread is by taking the final score and subtracting the favorite value from the favorite’s total scored points in the game or adding the underdog value to their score to see who has more points.


Let’s say New England wins the game 20-14.  Take New England’s total points of 20 and subtract the point spread.

20 – 4.5 = 15.5

So, for betting purposes, if you had New England, you won, since 15.5 is greater than 14. That is, New England won by more than 4.5 points, so the Patriots win against the spread (ATS).


Now let’s say New England only wins the game 20-17. Again, take New England’s total points of 20 and subtract the point spread.

20 – 4.5 = 15.5

So, for betting purposes, if you had New England, you lost, since 15.5 is less than 17. That is, New England did not win by at least 4.5 points, so the Patriots lose against the spread (ATS). It’s not uncommon for a favorite to win the game straight-up (SU) but “fail to cover” which is another way of saying ‘lose against the spread’ (ATS).

We can also calculate the winner against the spread (ATS) from the underdog perspective.


New England 20, Carolina 14 + 4.5 = 18.5 (so Carolina loses the game SU as well as ATS)

New England 20, Carolina 17 + 4.5 = 21.5 (so Carolina loses the game SU, but wins ATS)

What Does -110 Mean?

The -110 on either side is like paying a commission (also known as “juice” or “vig”) to the sportsbook for taking your wager. Normally, bookmakers charge bettors 10 percent. This means you must risk $110 to win $100 when placing your bet.

What Happens If I Win?

When you win, you get your original $110 you risked back plus the $100 you won for a total of $210.

What Happens If I Lose?

When you lose, you lose the $110 you risked. The sportsbook gets the extra $10 and still makes a profit even if they get equal wagers on both sides of the game. In fact, booking an equal amount of risk on either side of a game is every sportsbooks’ ideal scenario. In this way, they win regardless of the outcome.

What Is Reduced Juice or Commissions?

Many smart sports bettors will look for bookmakers that offer reduced juice or commission. This is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of charging the normal 10 percent commission, they will offer a discount in order to attract your business.


Let’s say you have a spread of -6.5 (-108), then you only need to wager $108 to win $100 (saving you $3). If you see -6.5 (-103), then you only need to wager $103 to win $100.

Point Spread Betting Tips

Sharp sports bettors will look for the best possible value when it comes to both point spreads and moneylines at the best betting sites. This means they often have betting accounts at multiple sportsbooks in order to “price shop” for the best numbers. Finding the best numbers can make the difference between a winning and losing betting season for smart sports bettors.

Not sure where to start in choosing a sportsbook? Check out 10 Amazing Tips for Choosing an Online Bookmaker

John Milton
John Milton
Having worked in the marketing department at two online sports betting sites, John brings his love of sports to serve BigOnSports as chief writer. He will be researching and writing about the sports betting community to improve your experience as a sports bettor.

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