Most of the time in a sporting event, one player or team is the favorite, and the other player or team is the underdog. The favorite is, of course expected to win. The point spread is the number of points that the favorite is expected to win by. So how does that figure into the betting scene?
Well, let’s say that the Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to beat the Baltimore Ravens by about 7 points. You probably can guess that you couldn’t bet $100 on the Steelers and then expect to win $100 if the Steelers win the game. That would be known as “even money”, and the odds of the Steelers winning are just too much in your favor to justify paying you that much. Instead you would probably have to risk perhaps $200 on the Steelers in order to win $100 with a Steeler victory.
But most sportsbooks want to level the playing field so to speak, and create a situation where you can bet even money, or pretty close to it. The reason why they do this is explained in the article called How do Sportsbooks Work and it’s a very simple reason. Sportsbooks can accomplish this goal of offering “even money” even when one team is clearly the favorite. They do this by giving enough extra points to the underdog so that the game turns into a toss-up more or less.
In the case of the example above, the Ravens would be given perhaps 7½ points. Since the Steelers are about a 7 point favorite, giving 7½ points to the Ravens makes it almost as likely that a bet on the Ravens will win as a bet on the Steelers. Here’s what the Point Spread would look like;
Pittsburgh Steelers -7½ (-110)
Baltimore Ravens +7½ (-110)
This means that at the end of the game you take the Ravens score, add 7½ points to it, and compare that to the Steelers score. If the Ravens total is higher than the Steelers and you bet on the Ravens using the point spread then you would win your bet. If the Steelers total was higher however, and a player had bet on the Steelers then that player would win his bet.
Supposing that the Steelers beat the Ravens by a score of 24 to 17. You would take the Ravens score of 17 points and add 7½ points to it for a total of 24½ points. Since the 24½ points is higher than the Steelers score of 24 points, you would win your wager if you had bet on the Ravens. For every $110 you bet on the Ravens you would win $100, plus of course you would get your $110 wager back.
However if the Steelers had beat the Ravens by a score of 24 to 16 it would be a different story. The Ravens total would then be 16 + 7½ or 23½ points which is lower than the Steelers 24 points, and anyone betting on the Ravens using the point spread would have lost their wager. In such a situation, the Steelers would be said to have “covered the spread” since they beat the Ravens by more than the point spread. A $110 bet on the Steelers would win $100 in that case.
You are probably asking yourself why the point spread is 7½ points instead of just making it 7 points. The reason for this is based on the fact that you cannot score ½ point in Football. If the point spread is a fraction like 7½ or 10½, then every bet will either be a winner or a loser when the Ravens points are compared to the Steelers points at the end of the game. But if the point spread was 7 for example and the Steelers won by 7 points then the result would be a tie.
If a bet is neither a winner nor a loser but is instead a tie, it is called a “push”. This means that your wager is returned to you – you win nothing and you lose nothing. Actually there are certain cases where the point spread in football is given in whole numbers, but you generally see spreads in ½ point increments in order to guarantee that you don’t wind up with a lot of bets turning out to be “pushes”.
You should be aware that although (-110) is very typical for odds on a point spread, it is not the only odds that can be offered. Also, sports like NBA basketball are much more likely to give point spreads in whole numbers. That’s because so many points are scored in pro basketball that having one team beat another team by the exact point spread is not nearly as likely as it would be in football or baseball. Take a look at the betting lines for this NBA game;
Detroit Pistons +6 (-115)
Orlando Magic -6 (-105)
This is an example of a point spread in which the odds are slightly different than the standard (-110). For this contest you would need to risk $115 to win $100 if you wanted to bet on the Pistons. But you would only need to risk $105 to win $100 if you were betting on Orlando. The reason that these odds are different is probably that the sportsbook wants to get more bets on Orlando. They encourage this by making the odds for Orlando a bit more attractive while at the same time they make the odds on the Pistons a bit less attractive.