How Does Spread Betting Work? Guide to Reading Sports Bet Spreads

In sports betting, simply wagering on which team will win — also known as the moneyline — isn’t always the most profitable. The main reason is that the two teams are sometimes drastically different in talent or coaching, which causes lopsided lines with less monetary upside and value.

That’s where spread betting comes in.

What does “the spread” mean in betting? It’s more than just the hors d’oeuvres laid out at the casino buffet or your Super Bowl party. The spread is the mechanism used by sportsbooks to make these teams as “equal” as possible in the eyes of a wager.

Here, we will examine sports spread betting further, including what exactly it is, how to read spread bets, and which strategies you can deploy right away to pad that virtual wallet.

Table of Contents

What Is a Spread in Sports Betting?

Think of spread betting as a wager on a point differential outcome. The stronger of the two teams will be given “negative points,” whereas the inferior team will receive “plus points.”

Example: If the Dallas Cowboys were +3 in the spread, you could treat the score as 3-0 Cowboys at the beginning of the game even though the actual score is 0-0 at the start.

In addition to the spread, each of these wagers will have lines – the standard is -110. However, this line can signal that a spread change could be coming.

Example: If the line rises to -115, this could signal the spread is, in the case of a “plus line,” going from +3 to +2.5.

This is done because sportsbooks will need to adjust the lines to facilitate the most equal wagers possible on each side to limit their losses.

Spreads can sometimes be found outside the scope of the game result as well. Another circumstance is the first five innings in baseball, or the score at halftime for football.

If you read more of our sports betting guides or other sources when analyzing moors betting online, you’ll sometimes find a statistic noted as “ATS” — Against the Spread.

This stat is meant to show a team’s win-loss record against the spread, which is almost always different from their actual record.

A popular example of this is the 2021 Detroit Lions. They stunk, right? Maybe not so for bettors. While they were 3-13-1 in terms of the overall team record, they were 10-7 against the spread. This indicates that, while they struggled to win moors betting online outright, they were an excellent team to wager when considering the spread due to closer results than predicted.

Best Spread Betting Sites

How To Read Spread Bets

At the end of the day, the spread is designed to account for the strength of each team.

According to BetOnline, the origin of the spread is not precisely known, but something referred to as the “Minneapolis Line” existed along the same lines as the spread we know today.

Furthermore, Sports Illustrated cites Charles McNeil, a Connecticut math teacher, who further popularized the concept, even developing his own bookmaking operation. The main reason for this was that betting on the moneyline winner had less action for moors betting online expected to be blowouts.

Sportsbook odds board

There are four elements of a sports betting spread we’ll explain:

  • Half-points
  • Push
  • Plus numbers
  • Negative numbers

How Does a Half-Point Spread Work?

Half-point spreads, also known as “the hook”, are essential for sports spread betting because there’s no way for the contest to end in a draw — also known as a push.

There will be a definitive result with this line, and depending on the line, it can drastically alter your analysis.

For example, a 3-point line is fairly standard in the NFL to account for home-field advantage when the two teams are equal in stature.

However, when you add that extra half-point, or the hook, you’re then going from what’s essentially a bet of who will win to something more nuanced.

Plus Numbers

In spread betting, the plus number denotes the underdog team.

Example: If you pick the Dallas Mavericks at +10, you need that team to lose by no less than 10 for, at minimum, a push.

If the line is +3.5, and that team loses by four or more, they won’t cover and you’ll lose the bet.

Negative Numbers

Conversely, the negative number indicates the favored team. This could be due to plain-old superiority, or special factors such as injuries or travel schedule.

A Sportsbook with Multiple Monitors Showing Games

Example: If the Pittsburgh Steelers have a line of -3.5, the team must win by four or more to cover the spread. If the final score is 20-17, that favored team will lose the bet because the margin of victory (3) was less than the spread (3.5).


When a spread carries a line without the hook or half-point spread, there’s a chance it could result in a push.

The push means that, with the spread included, the teams ended with “even points.”

Example: The Green Bay Packers are -3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the final score is the Packers prevailing 27-24. This would result in a push after you take away the 3-point spread.

Spread Betting Strategy

Spread vs. Moneyline

Spread and moneyline betting are two different wagers. The first thing you should do before making any wager is ask yourself who you think will win. You can arrive at this result however you deem best for you.

From there, check the moneyline. If you think a team that will win is an underdog, that will always be a higher-paying bet than the spread. After all, you think they’re going to win outright on longer odds.

However, if you think a favored team will win, the most monetary upside comes with the spread. So, you then need to ask,

Sure, I think this team will win, but by how much?

If you think the team will win, but not by more than what the spread indicates, you should bet the underdog “getting” points.

Alternate Lines

At some online sportsbooks, you can look to alternate lines to find a bet you’re more comfortable with. This will allow you to perhaps bet on a +6.5 spread instead of +16 to squeeze more value out of a big underdog you think will exceed expectations. You can do the opposite too – bet that a slight favorite will win handily.

Keep in mind that the odds change when you alter these. At the same time, you can gain value, too.

Example: If the Los Angeles Rams are a 5-point favorite, but you think they’ll win by two touchdowns, you can bet an alternate spread and get even more value, though there is more risk.

Use Multiple Betting Sites

The beauty of online sports betting is that there are so many platforms to choose from. With that, you’ll always find different odds and spreads throughout.

Person on Their Laptop and Phone

Some will be the same, and some will be different. Explore and “shop odds” to see which makes the most sense for your bet.

Use Bonus Offers

When you’re a new player at an online sportsbook, there will always be a bonus offer. These come in various forms, but sometimes, they present an opportunity to take a risk you may not otherwise. Sure, this could result in a loss, but it could also result in a win that you may not have secured if not for the welcome bonus.

Double-Up On Your Wager

Depending on the circumstances of the sport you’re wagering on, there are times when doubling up could make sense.

A prime example of this is betting on a spread at the beginning of the week, days before an NFL game. If you have a strong feeling about that wager, and find it’s got the same numbers just before kickoff, this could be a great opportunity to double up and win even more money.

Football Spread Betting Tips

For a straight-up spread betting transaction, the best thing to do for the NFL is to see what spreads are less than 3. Generally speaking, NFL moors betting online often end with a point differential of 3 or more. This is because 3-point field goals are a lower form of scoring than touchdowns , and often break ties late in a game.

With a spread of less than 3, here’s how you should approach the favored team and underdog.

  • Favored: Wager on the favored team. The chances of winning by less than 3 are less than 5% for both 1-point and 2-point differentials since 2003, per Sports Insights.
  • Underdog: The more profitable wager would be to just wager on the underdog moneyline. Sure, you may not think the underdog will win. If that’s the case, just wager on the favorite, considering the low likelihood that the underdog would lose by less than 3 points.

Basketball Spread Betting Tips

With basketball, the best strategy for spread betting is simply odds shopping at the different top sportsbooks. With the NBA, the spreads often are relatively similar, but the lines themselves could be a bit different.

This is not likely the case in the NBA Playoffs, but in the regular season, it’s not uncommon to see a line of -110 and a line of +100 at another site with differing spreads.

There’s plenty of value with online basketball betting if you can shop a bit.

Baseball Spread Betting Tips

Of all the popular sports to bet on, baseball can be a bit more random than others. There are 162 regular-season moors betting online, and it’s not unheard of for a perceived inferior team to beat the favored team over the course of a three- or four-game series.

Thus, betting on a plus-money underdog is not that common and should be taken advantage of. Sure, this may not always win, but given the uncertainty the sport presents compared to others, there’s long-term value with this betting strategy.

How Do Sportsbooks Decide The Spread?

At sportsbooks, the spread is decided initially by using algorithms and other mathematical sources to arrive at an initial number. This number can change based on the action the sportsbook receives. When a spread is first used, the sportsbook hopes that this will receive nearly equal wagering.

So, when this doesn’t happen, the sportsbook will shift its spread.


  • Are Spreads Different by Sport?

    In general, the spread is the same betting concept across all sports. It’s phrased as the run line in baseball or the puck line in hockey, but it’s ultimately still the spread.

  • Why Do The Spreads Keep Changing for a Game I’m Considering Betting On?

    While we’d love to have a week or so to analyze the spread of an NFL game, this isn’t the case. The spread can change nonstop until the game starts. There can be many reasons, including injuries to key players or the sportsbook receiving a lot of action on one side and needing to account for it.

    Spread betting can then carry over into live betting. Live betting is for players who perhaps forgot to wager on a pregame line or want to use it as another tool for monetary value. These spreads will also change as the game develops.

  • Do Spreads Differ by Betting Site?

    Sports betting as a whole will differ from sportsbook to sportsbook. If the spread and odds were uniform everywhere, there wouldn’t be much of a need to have so many sportsbooks. These spreads can be different for many reasons, such as extensive action on one side or different algorithmic factors.

  • What Are Some Other Notable Sports Gambling Terms for Beginners?

    There are many gambling terms important to know when sports betting, but for someone just starting, make sure you understand odds and moneylines, which directly relate to betting on moors betting online.

  • How Does The Spread Work in Tennis?

    In tennis, the spread refers to the number of moors betting online or sets the player will win in the match. In tennis, you need four points to win the game, six moors betting online to win a set, and two or three sets to win a match. There are bets available for both game spreads and set spreads.

    There are multiple layers to this, and unlike other sports, the spread will not be equal on both sides. You could, for example, see Novak Djokovic at +2.5 moors betting online, whereas his opponent is -1.5.

  • How Does The Spread Work in Basketball?

    In basketball, it’s not uncommon for moors betting online to have 200+ combined points scored. Therefore, when comparing the strong teams versus the weaker teams, it’s not uncalled for to see double-digit spreads. This is also the case in the NFL, though rarer. There’s generally quite a bit of scoring in the NBA on both sides, even if the other team is inferior. Keep in mind that a -8 spread in football doesn’t necessarily equal a -8 spread in basketball.