Point Spread Betting – How It Works

For sports bettors, you will be dealing with different symbols and numbers. Point spread betting is a popular form of sports betting. Bettors can recognize a point spread, but not know exactly what it means.

To get into further detail, a point spread is the average number that a bookmaker calculates when 2 teams compete. The result is to spark attention to the favorite team or the underdog. If one of the teams is expected to win, the odds will bring about enough interest for people to bet on that particular team. If the opposing team is considered the underdog, the odds should be tempting enough to place bets to counteract all bets on the favorite team.   

For example, if you are looking at the odds between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you would look at the point spread of the two teams and consider the following:

New Orleans Saints +3.5 (-120)

Tampa Bay Bucs -3.5 (-120)

The ‘chalk’ means the favorite team. The (-) sign is seen beside the ‘favorite’ team in the game. The Bucs is favored to win by 3.5 points. The New Orleans is the ‘underdog’ team which is marked with the (+) sign. Both teams are marked with a -120 value.    

For both teams, 3.5 is the point spread. A bet will be placed on the Bucs if the bettor feels they will win by 4 point or more. If they win by 20-14, for example, the point spread is covered by 6 points.

2nd example: The Bucs may win, but lose the point spread. If the score is 20-17, the Bucs will win by 3 points, but lose the point spread of at least 3.5 points.  

The Saints have stayed within the 3.5 point spread. The final score of the Bucs is 20.

So the favorite team score of 20 minus the team value of -3.5 equals 16.5: which is less than 17 points scored by the Saints.   


Take the Saint total of +3.5 plus their score (17), which equal 20.5 (in the 2nd example).

Since 20.5 is over 20 points that was scored by the Bucs, The team with the higher points wins.

Sometimes, favorite teams win games off the board but do not cover the spread. This is (ATS) in sports lingo, meaning ‘losing the spread’. If we view it from the Saints perspective, (this time with a 4.5 spread) the following is apparent:

  • The Bucs score 20, the Saints score of 14 + 4.5 = 18.5. The Saints loses the game and against the point spread.
  • The Bucs score 20, the Saints score of 17 + 4.5 = 21.5. The Saints lost the game, however, they win against the point spread.

What -120 figure means?

In the example, you see that both teams have -120 beside them. This is called the juice – which is the fee the bookmaker charges the bettor for placing bets on both teams.

Sports bettors usually pay around 10% (like a brokerage fee) to the bookmaker. This means that you are paying $120 for winning $100. At times, the ‘juice’ can be decreased to a smaller amount like -105. You will be risking less money paid out to win the same $100 if your favorite team wins.  

You see -6.5 (-108) – You will need to $108 for winning $100. If you see -6.5 (-103) you will place bet of $103 to win the same $100. Lower negative number mean the less risk the bettor pays out.

Professional sports bettors shop for the best odds with the lowest risk. This applies to point spread bets and money lines. It is all about getting value for your bets. It would be the same as you purchasing the same jersey – one at a higher price and the other for a lower price. Which one would you choose?

What happens if you win or lose?  

You will receive the $120 bet you paid for, plus the $100, totaling $220 altogether if you win. If the situation is vice-versa, you will lose the $120 bet you paid for, gifting the sportsbook a profit of $20. The bookmaker will win – even if you betted an additional $120 and win. The juice is in the odds as well.   

What happens when there is a tie?

Ties often occur in sports games. This is known as a “push”. Your money will be refunded when this happens. Both teams do not have to score the same total for a tie to occur. For example, there is a spread of 130-120 and a -10 on your favorite teams. Whichever team that is chosen, the – 10 guarantees that it is a tie. The bookmaker makes money in spite of it.

What is a Pick’em in the point spread?

Pick’em, is a scenario where there is no definite team to win. If this is the case, the measure of victory does not matter. You just choose team you hope will win.