Spread Betting in US Sports: What is a Point Spread Bet?

Point spread betting is the most popular wager at US sportsbooks. The guide below helps sports bettors better understand how to read point spreads and how to bet against the spread. We discuss the outcome of a point spread bet while giving you the other basics of betting against the spread.

Point Spread Betting vs Moneyline Betting

If you can’t decide between a point spread bet and a moneyline bet, here are some factors to consider when entering a sportsbook site.

Pros of Point Spreads

Cons of Point Spreads

Keep the game entertaining. Moneylines are easier because the favorite wins most of the time.
Provides a higher dollar return for winners. Line shopping for better odds takes precious time.
Lets you line shop at two or more sportsbooks for the best price. Need to line shop at specific times of the week.
Showcases your inside knowledge of the game. Requires a 52% success rate to break even (due to the vig).

What is a Point Spread?

The point spread bet levels the playing field between two teams or opponents which otherwise appears to be a mismatch. If Team 1 or Opponent 1 is more talented than Team 2 or Opponent 2, the point spread gives bettors the chance to wager on roughly equal betting options. The oddsmaker does this by assigning points to one of the betting options in the matchup.

The Favorite

The favorite in a point spread is given a (-) or minus designation because the bet essentially shaves a point off their total to make the wager a battle between two equal sides.


Point Spread

Jets -3.5
Patriots +3.5

The New York Jets are the favorite in this scenario. Once the final score is determined, take 3.5 points from the Jets’ score to determine the winner of the bet. The same concept applies to underdogs, so let’s take a look at how you would figure the bet from the outlook of the underdog.

The Underdog

The underdog in a point spread bet receives a (+) or plus designation because the bet essentially assigns a certain number of points to their final total.


Point Spread

49ers -5.5
Seahawks +5.5

The Seahawks are 5.5-point underdogs in this case. Once the final score is established, you add 5.5 points to the Seahawks’ score to determine the winner of the bet.

  • The Hook: The hook refers to the 1/2 point given after the decimal in a sports bet — the 0.5 in the 5.5 points spread above. This assures the bet doesn’t end in a tie, which happens often in football, hockey, or baseball bets if the hook isn’t used. The favorite must win by 6 if the point spread is 5.5, while the underdog must win or lose by 5 or less if they hope to win the same bet.
  • Pick’Em Bets: It is rare in most sports, but sometimes sportsbooks offer a pick’em bet (designated “PK” in the odds). This is a game that’s such a close match that the oddsmaker tells bettors they simply must pick the outright winner.

Point Spread Betting Outcomes

Point spread bets have three possible outcomes, though the third option is rare due to the hook. Here are the three options that could happen.

Winning the Point Spread Bet: Covering the Spread

Winning a spread bet is often called “covering the spread” — where your team either wins by more points than the spread, wins outright (as an underdog), or loses within the point spread’s margin (again for the underdog).

Losing the Point Spread Bet

Your team can lose the point spread bets, as well. If you bet on the favorite, then you can lose two ways: (1) losing outright or (2) winning the game but failing to cover the spread. If you bet on the San Francisco 49ers in the bet above and they win by a field goal, then you still lose the wager. The third option is if you bet on the underdog and they lose by more than the point spread. If the 49ers add a late touchdown and beat the Seahawks by 10 points, then the bettor who wagered on the underdog would lose the bet.

Push: A Tie Bet

If the point spread does not have a hook, then you face a chance of having the bet “push”. This means that the bet is a tie and both sides receive a refund of their betting stake. If the Jets-Patriots game above was a 3-point spread (instead of 3.5) and the Jets won on a late field goal, then the bet was a push. Subtract 3 points from the Jets’ score (or add 3 to the Patriots’ score) and the bet is a tie. Both bettors receive the bet back, though they tie up your sports betting bankroll for most of the betting weekend.

What is the Vig in Sports Betting?

The vig (“vigorish”) or juice is the fee the sportsbook charges for hosting the wager. They have to make a profit to afford oddsmakers, cashiers, and fancy sportsbook facilities, so the sportsbook charges a vig on each bet. If the point spread has the favorite at -110 and you wagered $100, then you would win $90.91 if you won the bet (not $100). As a rule, the vig tends to be 10% of the staked wager.

Live Point Spread Betting

If you don’t have a strong sense of who’ll win before the game, then live spread betting is an option. As you watch the game, you might get a better feel for the eventual winner of the bet. Maybe the underdog is overperforming, or you sense that the favorite has had bad luck and will overcome a deficit.

In live betting, you can make a live point spread bet as the game develops. The sportsbook might change the point spread due to the circumstances of the game and you think it’s an overadjustment. Maybe a key player gets injured, the weather affects play, one team looks listless, or one team develops momentum due to an in-game factor. Whatever the case, you get a sense of the bet in-game and choose to bet on the point spread.

Best US Point Spread Betting Online Sportsbooks

Here are our picks for the best online sportsbooks if you want to bet against the spread.


Welcome Bonus Details

BetUS A deposit of $100 gets an extra $125
BetOnline 50% up to $1000 plus $25-$50 Free Bets
XBet Sports Double your first deposit with a 100% Match Rate

Factors That Determine Point Spread Betting

Readers might wonder what factors affect the point spread pre-game. Oddsmakers for sportsbooks go into amazing detail when handicapping a game or match, so many factors apply. The factors below are the ones that are best known to gamblers and which affect most point spreads.

Home and Away

Home-field advantage is a factor proven by statistics over the years. Teams do better in front of their home crowd. Massive cheers give teams heart at key junctures of the game, while it gets the adrenaline flowing for certain players. It affects team preparation, because one team has an uninterrupted schedule and home cooking, while the other team has to deal with a plane ride and a hotel stay. Also, the home crowd can affect how referees or umpires call the game, so it can give a home team an intangible edge.

Las Vegas sportsbooks assign an NFL team a +2.8 advantage for being the home team — a statistic often rounded up to +3. If a team would be a +2 underdog on a neutral field, they would be a slight -1 favorite at home. For NBA spreads, the home-field advantage usually is 3 to 4 points.

Injury Report

The injury report is a key factor. If Lamar Jackson is listed as “Doubtful” or “Out”, then the point spread on the Ravens’ game is altered. If Joel Embid misses a game for the Philadelphia 76ers, Sixers games’ point spreads are going to change in a major way.

Not all injuries are the same, but all missing players should be considered. If a team’s starting left tackle will miss the game and the opposing right defensive end is an All-Pro player, that could affect the whole outcome of the game. The sportsbooks consider this fact, and it’s a way that sports bettors can gain an edge with a point spread bet.

Weather Conditions

Rain, snow and ice, and windy conditions can affect the outcome of the game. Some teams are built for muddy conditions, just as some teams are built for turf or grass. Passing teams might not do as well in cold weather or icy conditions, especially if the wind conditions are blustery and bad. Perhaps a quarterback is used to sunny South Florida or Southern California, so you expect them to do badly in icy and high winds.

This does not only affect the offense. Some defenses have lighter defensive linemen who rely on speed, quickness, and skill to rush the passer. This defense might have stellar games when they get ahead and can rush the quarterback but have trouble against the run. If such players can’t get their footing in muddy or icy conditions, a team’s defense might not perform well in bad weather.

Quality of the Team Roster

The biggest factor is the overall quality of a team’s roster. In any sport, some teams are in their prime and other teams are rebuilding. Maybe one team has elite starters at the key positions, while the other has several talented rookies. The veteran team is likely to have a major advantage, so you’ll see a big point spread assigned to the game.

Of course, all these factors intertwine. Maybe the rebuilding team plays well at home and is awful on the road, so you might give this factor added weight. Or maybe a talented young QB is out but a solid veteran backup QB might keep the game closer, so you expect a conservative, defensive game plan and bet the underdog. Consider all factors together before point spread betting.

Betting Point Spreads in NHL and MLB Games

Scoring isn’t as high in NHL and MLB contests. For that reason, it’s common to see a -1.5 / +1.5 run line in baseball and a -1.5 / +1.5 puck line in hockey. If so, a point spread bet becomes whether you think the favorite will win by 2 runs or more (or 2 goals or more). If you believe the underdog has a good chance of keeping the game close — or winning outright — then the -1.5 / +1.5 point spread bet is a good option.

Point Spread Betting FAQ

Should I bet on a point spread or make an Over/Under bet?

Point spreads are great if you want to bet on the underdog. Over/Under bets are great if you have a feeling for the flow of the game. Bettors can combine the two bets with a parlay bet, where you get a higher payout if both bets hit.