Everyone realizes that the best teams and players in the world are supposed to beat opponents with less talent, right? If we could only place moneyline bets on which team will win, most bettors would decide the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze and try their luck elsewhere. Luckily, sportsbooks offer an alternative type of bet that can offer a better payout than a moneyline bet.

A spread bet adds or subtracts from one side in return for a better payout for putting your money at risk. You place a wager on one side “beating” or “covering” the spread. If your side covers, you win the bet!

Sportsbooks use complex formulas to create the spread. They usually set the spread to subtract from the better team (the favorite) and add to the worse team (the underdog) to get bettors to think long and hard about which outcome is more likely. If both sides seem equally likely to win, they may choose to have no spread at all and it will become a pick’em (which is just slang for a moneyline bet!).

Most spread bets will have identical odds listed for both sides of the spread. However, they might still list one side at a worse payout if the spread slightly favors one side or the other (see examples below).

For American Odds, the more likely outcome will have odds listed with a minus. The minus means you need to bet more money than you will receive as profit. The less likely outcome will have odds listed with either a minus or a plus. The plus means you will receive a larger profit amount than your bet amount if it wins.

American odds are listed to show you how much you need to bet to win $100 profit if you bet on the minus bet and how much profit you receive if you decide to bet $100 on the plus side.

Most bettors place spread bets on the final outcome of a contest, but you can also bet on which team will cover the spread after quarters, halftime, and more. Other examples of spread bet types include sets or games won in tennis, corner kicks in soccer, and strokes in golf.

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Here are two examples of a spread bet:

Example 1: The Houston Cougars football team is scheduled to play the Baylor Bears football team.

The linesmaker at the sportsbook decides Baylor is more likely to win.

They list the spread as Houston +4.5 points at -110 odds and Baylor -4.5 points at -110 odds.

If you think adding 4.5 points to the Houston total will beat Baylor’s score, you can bet $110 to win $100 of profit.

If you think subtracting 4.5 points from the Baylor total will beat Houston’s score, you can bet $110 to win $100 of profit.

Example 2: The Florida Atlantic Owls football team is scheduled to play the Georgia Southern Eagles football team.

The linesmaker at the sportsbook decides Florida Atlantic is more likely to win.

They list the spread as Georgia Southern +2 points at -105 odds and Florida Atlantic -2 points at -115 odds.

If you think adding 2 points to the Georgia Southern total will beat Florida Atlantic’s score, you can bet $105 to win $100 of profit.

If you think subtracting 2 points from the Florida Atlantic total will beat Georgia Southern’s total, you can bet $115 to win $100 of profit.

If Florida Atlantic wins by exactly 2 points, the result is a push and bettors of both sides will receive a refund of their bet.

Common Questions:

Q: What if I want to bet on the spread, but I wish it was a little more or a little less?

A: Most sportsbooks will let you bet on an alternate spread for different odds. The slang term for betting an alternate spread is “buying” or “selling” points. When a sports bet recommendation says to “buy half a point to avoid the hook”, they are suggesting you place an alternate spread bet with a number that could result in a push instead of a loss on your wager. One thing to keep in mind is that routinely placing alternate spread bets can affect your long-term betting profits and losses.

Q: Can I bet the same amount on the spread for each side before the game starts and come out ahead?

A: The answer is usually no! The difference in odds, nicknamed the juice, keeps the sportsbook in business and almost always prevents you from simply betting both sides to make a profit. However, there is a way to bet both sides before or during a match to lock in a profit no matter which team wins.

Q: How do I know which team to bet on? Always bet the favorite since they win more often, right?

A: Not always! See Common Betting Strategies for more helpful information.

Please note: if you think your gambling is becoming harmful or you think someone you know is having a hard time dealing with problem gambling, please click here to learn more about obtaining help.