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Point Spread Betting

New sports bettors often wonder what all the numbers and symbols mean when they look at an odds board. While most bettors and sports fans in general are accustomed to seeing the point spread, they do not necessarily know what it means.

The easiest way to describe a point spread is to define it as a number oddsmakers use as a median between two teams or sides in an effort to generate betting interest on both of them. Favorites need to give ‘chalk’ bettors the right number of points to generate enough interest to back them while underdogs should not be such longshots that ‘dog’ players refuse to try their luck with them.

So when you check out NFL odds for the week and see the point spread in the Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys game, it looks like this:

Dallas -4.5 (-110)
Washington +4.5 (-110)

How Do Point Spreads Work?

The favorite team, also known as the ‘chalk’ in betting lingo, is associated with a minus (-) value, so the Cowboys are favored by 4.5 points in this game. Consequently, the underdog is shown with a plus (+) value, which means the Redskins are 4.5-point underdogs. The -110 value for each side will be explained in more detail later.

Based on the point spread of 4.5 points, a wager on the Cowboys would be made if you believe they can win the game by 5 points or more. So if Dallas wins the game 20-14, then the team not only wins by 6 points but also covers the 4.5-point spread as the favorite. However, if the Cowboys win 20-17, then they win by 3 points and have NOT covered the 4.5 points, but the Redskins have because they stayed within the spread. If you are still not sure how this works, take the final score and subtract the favorite value from their total or add the underdog total to their score to see who has more points.

There is simple math that can be figured with the point spread, and you may even be able to draw from personal experience like spotting your kid brother a 5-point lead in a childhood game of one-on-one basketball in the driveway. You are older and a better player, making you the favorite in this game, so he gets a head start as the underdog.

In the 20-14 example: Dallas 20 – 4.5 = 15.5

That is still more than the 14 points scored by the Redskins, so the Cowboys win against the spread (ATS).

In the 20-17 example: Dallas 20 – 4.5 = 15.5

That is less than the 17 points scored by the Redskins, so the Cowboys lose against the spread (ATS). It is fairly common 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).

You can also run the numbers from the underdog perspective.

Dallas 20, Washington 14 + 4.5 = 18.5 (so they lose the game SU as well as ATS)
Dallas 20, Washington 17 + 4.5 = 21.5 (so they lose the game SU, but win ATS)

What Does -110 Mean?

The -110 on either side is like paying a tax or commission to the sportsbook for placing a wager there. Usually, bettors pay 10 percent (aka juice or vig) to the sportsbook, which is essentially a fee for brokering the wager. So the -110 indicates that a bettor must risk $110 to win $100. Some sportsbooks will even reduce the juice for you. That means you can earn the same $100 payout but risk less money to do it.

For example, if you see -7.5 (-107), then you only need to wager $107 to win $100 (saving you $3). If you see -7.5 (-102), then you only need to wager $102 to win $100.

Smart sports bettors will always try hard to find the best numbers and prices possible when it comes to point spreads and moneylines. You may have heard the term ‘price shopping’ before, and now you know it means getting the best value possible. If you could go to the store and buy an NFL jersey for $110, and the exact same jersey is on sale across the street for $102, it would obviously make sense to pay $102.

That is exactly what ‘price shopping’ is in sports betting – you can get the product (the Cowboys at -4.5 points) cheaper at one sportsbook than at the others.

What Happens If I Win?

You get your original $110 bet back plus the $100 you won for a total of $210.

What Happens IF I Lose?

You lose the $110, so you can see that the sportsbook will get an extra $10 and still end up ahead even if you place another $110 wager and win it next time.

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