What is Point Spread Betting?

In August 2019, Iowa became one of the many states to allow legal sports wagering, including mobile sports betting.

Online betting presents a range of options, from conventional markets to more exotic ones. However, point spread betting is one of the more traditional ways to wager. It’s one of the most popular methods you can bet on sporting events in Iowa.

If you’re interested in mastering this bet type, continue reading as we explain how point spreads work.

What is point spread betting?

Betting on moneylines in Iowa is the most basic form of wagering, but point spreads aren’t too far behind. Point spreads and moneylines have become synonymous with one another in many ways.

The point spread is a number set by oddsmakers before the start of a game. Whereas moneyline betting only requires picking which team will win the game, the point spread tells us how much a team must win or lose by to “cover” the particular game.

How do point spreads work?

As is the case with moneylines, the favorite is a negative number, while the underdog is indicated by a positive sign next to its betting line. The favorite is “giving” points on the spread, and a wager on this side means a team has to win by a certain amount. The underdog is “getting” points, which means it can win the game outright or lose by less than the point spread to win (or cover) the wager.

Because not all teams are equal in quality, the point spread is how sportsbooks even out the competition from a betting perspective. When two teams are matched evenly, oddsmakers will still label one as a favorite and the other as an underdog for wagering purposes.

Another way to think about point spreads is as a hypothetical number you can add or take away (depending on the side you choose) to each team’s score at the end of the game. Once the point spread is accounted for, does that side still win the game? If so, that team has covered the spread and won your wager. If not, they have failed to cover.

Are you interested in some examples about how spread betting works? You’ve come to the right place.

How to read point spreads

Many people first get into betting and wonder exactly how to read point spreads. To learn more about reading these odds and how to bet point spreads, let’s look at an example using NCAA football lines from BetMGM Sportsbook for the Hawkeyes’ matchup with Wisconsin:

Wisconsin Badgers  -1.5 (-110)
Iowa Hawkeyes  +1.5 (-110)

Unlike moneylines, spreads are the same for both teams. In this case, the spread is 1.5 points, with Wisconsin being the favorite and Iowa being the underdog. A wager on Wisconsin means they must win by two points or more to cover the spread.  Meanwhile, betting on the Hawkeyes in this game means they need to win or lose by a single point to cover the spread and win the bet.

When figuring out how much you stand to win or lose, the number next to the point spread is vital. In our example of a college football point spread, each side of the spread comes with a -110 line, the industry standard.

Iowa Spread Betting BetMGM

Sportsbooks refer to this as the “vig” or “juice.” We explain how to bet on point spreads and calculate the risk/payout that comes along with it.

What is ‘juice’ in sports betting?

If you want to know how to calculate point spread payouts and how sportsbooks take their cut, you’re going to need to know about the “juice”or “vig” (short for vigorish) in sports betting.

Especially when betting point spreads and totals, you’ll hear these terms. In short, the juice is the exact price the bettor pays to take that particular point spread. It’s virtually a fee imposed by oddsmakers and the way they make their money. For sports bettors, it’s the cost of doing business. You can identify the juice by looking at the number next to the spread; it will tell you what your risk and payout is for a particular side.

To calculate the payout, this number should be looked at relative to the number 100. With a -110 line, as is the case with our Iowa versus Wisconsin example, you’d have to risk $110 for every $100. If the line shifted to -120, then the risk would become $12 for every $10, $60 for every $50, or $120 for every $100.

What happens when the point spread changes?

Just as the point spread itself can vary from site to site, so can the exact price for a given point spread. Although the industry standard is -110 on many point spreads, it’s quite common that the payout could stray away from that number.

For the most part, the payouts for basketball and football spreads (and totals) will hover somewhere between -125 and +105. If the action on a particular game pushes the payout past either of those extremes, most sportsbooks will alter the spread a half-point in the appropriate direction.

For example, if Wisconsin gets a lot of action at -1.5 (-110), that line could shift to -1.5 (-120) or beyond. If it continues to move in that direction, eventually the sportsbook will lower the line to Wisconsin -2 (-110), resetting the payout odds since a half-point was added to the spread itself.

The same thing can happen on the other side. If Iowa got far more action, Wisconsin’s line could shift the other direction to -1.5 (+100). If the action continued that way, eventually the odds could change to Wisconsin -1 and cause a reset of the payout, which would likely go back to the starting range near -110. Then the process starts all over.

How to compare odds and line shop

Because point spreads and the prices that we pay for those spreads are constantly shifting, line shopping can be a wise tactic for sports gamblers. This strategy of comparing betting lines between multiple sportsbooks is the way to ensure that whichever side you’re betting on, you get the most beneficial odds and price.

To get a better understanding of how spreads and payouts can vary based on sportsbooks, let’s look at our previous example. This time, we’ll use odds from DraftKings Sportsbook:

Wisconsin Badgers -1 (-112)
Iowa Hawkeyes +1 (-109)

Every part of the odds on this game is slightly different from what you see at BetMGM. The spread is slightly different, as is the payout on that spread.

Betting on Wisconsin still requires a win by two points to cover the spread, but the payout is slightly different at -112 while Iowa is -109. So, even though the spreads for both teams are the same, this is a great example of how the two sides may not always match up in price.

The key difference between our two examples is that the lines vary by half a point. Depending on the site, the contrast between the two could be even larger, possibly a full point or more.

Using this example, but instead the spread is set at one point, it opens up the opportunity for what’s called a “push.” So, if Wisconsin were to win by exactly one point in this scenario, the original wager would be refunded to bettors on both sides of this game.

How do point spreads work across different sports?

Let’s take a look at some examples of how point spread betting works across various sports.

NFL spread betting

How does the point spread in NFL betting work? It works the same way as it does with our college football example. Let’s look at an example featuring the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the favorite and the Minnesota Vikings as the underdog:

Minnesota Vikings +6.5 (-105)
Tampa Bay Bucs -6.5 (-115)

A wager on Tampa Bay means needing the Bucs to win by seven or more points to cover the spread. At -115, you must risk $11.50 for every $10 to secure a victory. On the other side, the Vikings can either win the game outright or lose by six or fewer points and still cover the point spread in favor of the bettor. With a price of -105, this would require $10.50 for every $10.

It’s possible that the juice on both sides began at -110 and moved as a result of more wagers coming in on Tampa Bay. It is also possible that the sportsbook set the spread with two different prices because it saw Tampa Bay winning by seven or more as a slightly more likely outcome than the alternative.

NBA spread betting

Our previous examples have all been football, but betting on point spreads in professional basketball works the same way. Let’s say the Chicago Bulls were playing the Miami Heat as considerable underdogs:

Chicago Bulls +9.5 (-120)
Miami Heat -9.5 (+100)

At +100, a wager on the Heat -9.5 is an even-money wager. Anytime you see a -100 or +100 line, keep in mind that the two mean the same thing, and the bet would come with the same potential risk and payout.

It doesn’t happen all the time, but getting even money on a point spread occasionally happens, which it is another reason to do some line shopping and check the prices at multiple online sportsbooks in Iowa. Whether wagering on collegiate basketball or the NBA, the process of betting on point spreads does not change.

Other sports with spread betting

Football and basketball are the most synonymous with spread betting. However, it’s good to keep in mind where the other sports come into play when wagering. For instance, tennis, baseball and hockey.

Tennis spread betting

There are multiple ways to bet against the spread in this sport, at a micro or macro level. In tennis, it is required that the first player to win six games wins a set. From there, the first to win two sets (out of three total) or three sets (out of five total) wins the match, depending on the event and its exact format.

It’s possible at many online sportsbooks to wager on spreads for both games in an individual set. There are also betting markets for wagering on a spread surrounding the number of sets won in a match.

Baseball spread betting

The run line is baseball betting’s version of wagering against a spread. The run line in baseball betting is different from the point spread in basketball and football because the spread itself won’t budge from 1.5 runs on one side or the other. The favorite is -1.5 runs, and the underdog is +1.5 runs.

What does change is the juice on the wager, which alters depending on the action that comes in on the game. When it comes to run lines, there is a much wider range of prices that come with the spread of 1.5 runs, and it’s much more common to see the juice stray far away from the standard -110 we see in other sports.

Ice hockey spread betting

Like baseball, hockey has its version of a spread as well, and it’s called the puck line. The favorite is -1.5, while the underdog is +1.5, and the spread doesn’t move from there.

Hockey is a game where goals are difficult to come by, and the scoreboard doesn’t light up as we see in other sports (even less than baseball on most occasions). For this reason, every goal is precious, and it can lead to the juice varying wildly based on how big of a favorite or underdog a given team is.

How to bet on alternate lines

The progression of online sports betting has opened the industry up to more wagering markets, and that means more choices. One area where bettors have many more options than they did before is the market of alternate lines.

What does alternate spread mean?

Simply put, betting with an alternate line means using a point spread other than the one set by oddsmakers. There was a time where the standard odds (the line set by oddsmakers) were the only choice for wagering on games. But that is no longer thanks to the advent of alternate lines, which allow the bettor to buy or sell points on the original spread. 

Alternate spread betting example

Alternate spread betting allows you to buy and sell points in either direction. This can result in lowering or increasing the potential risk and payout, depending on which way you choose to move the line.

Let’s use DraftKings NFL odds for a Monday Night Football game to help illustrate how it works:

Baltimore Ravens -3 (-114)
Cleveland Browns +3 (-106)

The standard point spreads for this game are Ravens -3 (-114) and Browns +3 (-106). But if you’d rather bet against a different spread, sites, such as DraftKings, will allow you to choose anyone you want, with the sportsbook adjusting the price, depending on which spread you choose.

In this case, you may be interested in a wager on Cleveland but would feel more comfortable getting some extra points. Those points can be bought but you’d have to pay a heftier price than what the standard line says.

For example, taking an alternate line of Browns +4.5 will provide you with some extra cushion, but taking the four extra points drives the price up to -134. If you sought to buy even more points and wanted the Browns +7, it comes at -200.

But the payout can also increase if you go in the opposite direction. What if you feel the odds are wrong and Cleveland is primed for a big win? You could sell points instead and take Browns -3 for an enhanced payout of +180. If you see a blowout coming, Browns -9.5 pays out at +400 and offers massive profits compared to the original line.

The main thing to understand is, alternate point spreads afford the bettor to get any betting line they want. But they must be willing to take on more risk for safer odds (if you buy points) or take worse odds in exchange for a larger payout (if you sell points).

Also, both baseball and hockey are sports with alternate lines. At many sites, you will be able to get a favorite at –2.5 runs or goals, and the same on the underdog side. But because that isn’t the original set by oddsmakers, those markets often fall under the props section.