point spread betting explained

What Does Point Spread Betting Mean? How to Read & Cover the Spread?

Point spread betting in sports is a way for oddsmakers to make a matchup between two unbalanced teams more balanced by giving points to or taking points away from each team.

The favorite in a matchup is indicated by a minus (-) sign alongside the number of points taken away from their final score. The underdog is indicated by its plus (+) sign for the number of points added to its final score.

Here's an example of a game line and the spread you might see from your sportsbook:

Example of Point Spread betting
Dallas Cowboys-4.5 (-110)
New York Giants+4.5 (-110)


Check out our sports betting glossary to assist you with some of the terms used in our sports betting guides.

NFL Point Spread | NFL Key Numbers | Point Spread Odds | Point Spread Results | Pick’ems | Line Movement | Live Betting | NBA Point Spread | Puckline/Runline

What Are The Odds For A Point Spread?

The most common betting line for a point spread is -110.

A -110 line on either side is like paying a tax or commission to the sportsbook. Bettors would pay 10 percent (aka juice) 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, which 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.

What Are The Results Of A Point Spread Bet?

There are three potential outcomes of your point spread wager: you win, you lose or you push (a tie).

The favorite covers the spread

In the example between the Cowboys and Giants, Dallas is the favorite. To win a point spread bet, they have to win by more than 4.5 points. 

The Underdog Covers The Spread

Going back to that example between the Cowboys and the Giants, New York is the underdog. To cover the 4.5-point spread they must either win outright or lose by less than 4.5 points.

It's a “push” and the bet is voided:

A push wouldn’t happen in the example above because a team can’t win by half a point. It is common, though, to see a betting line of +3/-3. Let’s say a favorite wins by exactly three. That is called a push and you simply get your money back with no profit and no loss.

What Does Pk Or Pick’em Mean In The Point Spread?

PK or Pick’em means that the matchup is so close that there’s neither a favorite nor an underdog. Whatever team you pick to win when betting on the point spread simply has to win the game and the margin of victory doesn’t matter. In these cases, there may not even be a point spread available for the game and you can only bet on the moneyline.

Point Spreads Vary By Sport

Point spread betting is different depending on the sport you're betting on. Here's a quick look at point spread betting across the four major North American sports.

What Is An NFL Point Spread?

NFL spread betting is probably the most common and popular way to bet on football as it adds some excitement and better odds over just picking an outright winner.

Here is an example of a point spread for NFL betting and how it would look:

green Bay Packers vs Detroit Lions Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Green Bay Packers-6.5-110
Detroit Lions+6.5-110


As you can see, Green Bay is the 6.5-point favorite, which means the Packers would need to win the game by seven points or more to win the bet.

Conversely, Detroit is a 6.5-point underdog, which means to win the bet the Lions would need to win outright or not lose the game by more than six points.

Key Numbers In NFL Point Spreads 

There are certain point spreads that bettors should be aware of that are known as “key numbers.”

These spreads are directly related to how points are scored in football such as a field goal (three points) or a touchdown (seven, assuming a successful one-point conversion). The three main key numbers in NFL point spread betting are 3, 7 and 10, representing a field goal, a touchdown and a field goal plus a touchdown.

The two most common margins of victory are three and seven points because of the type of scoring in the NFL. This is why you should shop around at different sportsbooks to find better lines to maybe gain an edge over the key numbers like getting a +3.5 spread as opposed to just +3 – you can get a quick look at the different books at our NFL odds page.

You can also “buy” points with a “teaser bet” in which you can move a +7 line to +8 but the odds may shift from -110 on the +7 to -135 at +8, meaning less of a return on your winning ticket. You can have key numbers on OVER/UNDER totals as well.

What Is A Point Spread In The NBA?

When a top welcomes a bottom dweller it's not uncommon to see the favs at -800 on the moneyline but may have a point spread of -13.5 points with odds of -110, with the dogs coming back at +13.5 with a -110 line. That's what makes point-spread betting so popular in the NBA.

Be sure to check out our Basketball Betting News and our How to Bet on the NBA guide for more options and assistance in getting you in on the action for basketball.

Key Numbers In NBA Point Spreads 

When we looked at key numbers in the NFL, it was in regard to scoring. A similar approach can be taken in the NBA but it’s more connected to possessions. Look for key numbers such as five and seven because they tend to represent two- and three-possession games.

What Is A Puckline Or Runline?

A puckline is what a spread is called in the NHL, while a runline is associated with MLB betting.

In both cases, the spread is almost always -1.5 for the favorite and +1.5 for the underdog, but the betting odds fluctuate a lot more than in NBA or NFL point spreads because the spread doesn’t usually change.

There are instances in both the NHL and MLB where you see a 2.5-point runline or puckline but those are few and far between, typically between your league leader and a cellar-dweller.

The "Vig", Vigorish, or "Juice"

The best way to explain the "vig" otherwise known as the vigorish or juice, is the price sportsbooks place for taking a bet. 

The "Hook"

The term "hook" refers to the 0.5 points on a point spread. For example, if the spread is -5.5 for the favorite, the "hook" is 0.5. If the spread is a whole number, like -7, there is no hook.

The Connection of The Point Spread to The Moneyline

You'll be able to tell who the favorite is for a particular matchup based on the moneyline. Which will then impact who is getting points taken and who is having points given for a spread bet.

Purpose of A Spread

The point of a spread bet is to essentially level the playing field. There's no fun (or profit) in betting on a -800 favorite, but there's fun, and more importantly profit, in betting on the favorite to win by a certain amount of points. 

Is It Better to Bet the Spread or the Moneyline? /Pros and Cons of Betting the Spread

Deciding if a point spread or moneyline bet is better is going to depend on you. But when it comes to an overwhelming favorite, betting on covering the spread rather than winning outright might be the better course of action.

Consistent lines (pro): The line on a point spread bet is typically -110 for the fav or the dog. This makes it easier to manage your bankroll.

Two ways to lose (con): Betting on the fav could result in a loss if the dog covers the spread or wins outright. 

Better profit on favs (pro): As we've seen before, the point spread bet is great at giving you a better payout for a favorite from (for example), -800 on the moneyline to -110 on a spread bet.

Why Does A Point Spread Change?

Many factors can influence a change in the spread such as injuries, the number of bets coming in for either team or the weather, to name a few.

Depending on the timing of placing the bet, the bettor can also have an advantage or a disadvantage depending on which way the spread has shifted.

Here is an example of a change in the spread:


Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-4.5-110
New York Giants+4.5-110


Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-3.5-110
New York Giants+3.5-110

If bettors had wagered on Dallas on Monday, they would be at a disadvantage compared to bettors who waited until Thursday because the Thursday bettors now only need Dallas to win by four points instead of five. But it can also go the other way:


Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-4.5-110
New York Giants+4.5-110


Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-7.5-110
New York Giants+7.5-110

If bettors had wagered on Dallas on Monday, they would now have the advantage over the bettors who waited until Thursday because the Thursday bettors need Dallas to win by eight points or more instead of only five.

Can You Bet On Point Spreads For Different Parts Of The Game Such As A Half Or A Quarter?

Yes, in fact, sportsbooks also release spreads for different points in the match like after the first quarter or first half, which is called live betting or in-game betting. Oddsmakers will set spreads for those different checkpoints and it’s up to you as the bettor to determine which team will lead or trail by a certain number of points after that unit of time.

Here is an example of a first-half spread:

Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants 1H Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-2.5-110
New York Giants+2.5-110

As you can see, Dallas is a 2.5-point favorite to lead the first half by three points or more whereas New York is a 2.5-point underdog, which means the Giants would need to be ahead or not trail by more than two points at the end of the first half.

Can Point Spreads Be Placed In Parlays?

Point spread wagers often will be put into parlays in which you make multiple bets on one slip for a larger payout. If you have a few games that you’d like to wager on and want to see how a payout changes by adding or subtracting games, feel free to play around with our odds calculator to help you learn how odds work.

Point Spread Betting FAQ

How does a point spread bet work?

A point spread bet is also referred to as betting the spread or handicap betting. Point spread betting is a sports betting market in which a team either has to win by a specific number of points or goals, or not lose by a specific number of points or goals.

What is a 2.5-point spread?

If New York is +2.5, that means they are the underdog and have been spotted or given 2.5 points. If New York loses by two or fewer points, then it is a winning bet. If New York pulls off an outright upset, then that is also a winning wager.

What does against the spread mean?

When it comes to point spread betting, and you bet against the spread, it won’t be enough for the favorite to win the game outright. The favorite would have to win by more than a specified number of points or goals (the spread) in order for that team to cover the point spread.

What sports can you bet on the spread?

Point spread bets are available in all four major North American sports. They're more popular in the NFL and NBA but the MLB and NHL have their own spread bets. They're called runline and puckline bets.

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