Betting the spread is one of the most popular forms of sports betting, as it figuratively levels the playing field when it comes to matches. Almost every game between two teams identifies one as an underdog and one as a favourite, although the margin may be smaller on occasion. This is in the event of two top teams such as Manchester City and Liverpool coming up against each other in the Premier League, for example, or the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks clashing in the NBA. However, it’s matchups in which there is an imbalance on paper where spread betting markets can offer the most value, as the favourite will be given a handicap to overcome, while the underdog will be given a boost.
As a type of handicap betting, a spread bet is fairly easy to understand. At its core, the design is to create more balance in a sports contest, by offering a margin of error on either side of a traditional moneyline bet. By applying a positive points tally to the underdog, and a negative points tally to the favourite, the state of play is altered. It’s no longer a case of simply backing the better team on paper to win, it becomes about how well they can win. This can add a level of intrigue even if the favourites take a commanding lead, depending on how large the spread is.
On that note, it’s useful to consider the sport on which you’re looking to place a bet on the spread. Handicaps in football matches are unlikely to climb overly high, as it’s not too common to see a team win by more than a couple of goals. Compare that with basketball spreads, for example, and you’ll see that they are a little higher, due to the higher-scoring nature of the games. Some American sports refer to spreads by another name, such as “puck line” in ice hockey, and “run line” in baseball, but it’s uncommon to see this when it comes to UK spread betting.
One aspect we should immediately cover is that point spreads are often set out as half points, such as +4.5 or -6.5. The reason for this is so that it’s clear whether or not your bet is a winner or not, as a +7 spread that results in a tie doesn’t have an obvious outcome for the wager. Some sportsbooks may offer a push (your stake is returned) in this eventuality, although some will determine it as a losing bet. Check the betting terms and conditions before placing wagers on the spread online.
With that established, let’s take a look at a sports spread betting example. Imagine that the Golden State Warriors are playing the Detroit Pistons, for example. On paper, that’s going to be a one-sided contest most of the time. Therefore, we can reasonably call the Warriors the favourite, and the Pistons the underdog. As a result, the spread market will have the Pistons given a plus point value (let’s say +6.5) and the Warriors given a negative (-6.5). Betting on Golden State to beat the spread will require them to win by at least 7 points for you to get a payout.
Let’s take a look at how to actually place a sports spread bet at LeoVegas, and arguably more importantly, how to win a sports spread bet.
Spread betting may not be available on every sport, or may not be referred to by that particular name. However, if the market is available, it can be found when you open up the betting options for events. If you’re betting in the LeoVegas sportsbook, you’ll see the market listed under ‘handicap - including overtime’, along with the spread for that game. Selecting ‘show list’ will give you further spread betting options that you can place. Once you’re looking to pace a spread wager, select your chosen option and it’ll be added to your betslip, where you can then adjust your total stake, or add further bets to create an accumulator or parlay.
To win a spread bet, you need your selection to be a winner after the handicap has been applied. So if you back the favourite with a -5.5 spread, they need to beat the opposition by at least 6 points in order for your bet to win. On the reverse, if you back the underdog with a +5.5, you’ll need them either to win the game, or to lose by 5 or fewer points, so that the handicap still gives them a mathematical win. If your bet fails to beat the spread, it will be a unsuccessful, and your stake will be lost.
Spread bets are especially popular in American sports, largely due to the fact that they are often higher-scoring than European equivalents. Basketball and American football are two of the most common sports that feature a spread market, but other popular sports such as rugby, cricket, and even netball include them. However, given the popularity of spread betting on the other side of the Atlantic, we’ll focus on a couple of US sports below.
American football offers sports spread betting as one of its major markets, and the competition doesn’t get much bigger than the NFL. In fact, NFL spread betting is statistically the most popular betting line in the country, due in part to the popularity of the league, but also due to its showpiece Super Bowl event each year. It’s a matchup during which form goes out of the window, and depending on the two teams’ tactical plays, a surprise or two can be thrown up. With everyone largely following their hunch over any data, it’s no surprise that a lot of people place bets on sports spread markets sensing some value.
During the regular season, NFL spreads are determined by the form and statistics of each team prior to a game. Similarly-matched teams (either due to poor defensive stats or positive attacking stats) will see a lower spread offered compared to a game where one team is the clear favourite.
The premium tier of basketball in the world is well-known for its high-scoring games, so you might expect double-digit point spreads to be fairly commonplace. However, if you follow the NBA, you’ll know that the main action often happens toward the end of a game, at which point big leads can be eaten into as the best players are taken off to recharge for the next one. This is a major factor in why NBA betting spreads are regularly only between around 3 and 7 points before tip-off. The spread also doesn’t have to apply to a full outcome of an NBA game, as you can also place spread bets on individual quarters.
While plenty of value can be found in sports spread betting, the nature of the markets means that the odds may not offer amazing returns if you stick to rough handicaps applied to each team. For example, if the consensus is that the Los Angeles Lakers will beat the Brooklyn Nets by 8 points, betting in and around a handicap of 7.5 or 8.5 won’t yield much. However, if you predict the Lakers to win by at least 11.5 points, for example, you’ll start to see some healthier potential returns.
This fluctuation means that you may want to include bets on the spread as part of a wider betting strategy, such as an accumulator or a parlay, whereby the selection forms part of the bet. However, spread betting can also create profit on its own, especially if you make a winning prediction that goes against the expected result entirely. Say, for example, that the favourite has a handicap of -7.5, but the underdog wins the game outright by 4 points. Backing the underdog at -3.5 will have had significantly bigger odds than other options in that market, and in this instance will still be a winner. You might want to do your own research on form and historical outcomes, or follow some betting tips to find value and potential upsets.
There’s plenty of value to be found in sports spread betting, but a lot of this is down to luck and/or timing. If you choose to go against the spread, you are generally taking a risk, as the bookmakers tend to have an inkling of how a game will unfold. That said, a lot of factors can impact how likely the predictions are to come off.
If you’re betting on basketball, the rumours may suggest that a team will be without their star player. As such, the prices may be higher for them to win. If you later discover that the star player is fit and likely to play, you may have a small window during which the odds of them winning are still high, at which point you could place a spread bet before the market moves to accommodate the team news.
What are the pros and cons of choosing sports spread betting over different markets such as moneyline and over/under? The positives about bets on the spread are that they can provide you with more value when backing the favourite than moneyline bets do. By applying a handicap to the better team on paper, it gives them an extra obstacle to overcome, and therefore increases the chances of falling short. For this reason, better odds will be offered.
On the flip side, there may often be better prices offered on straight bets for underdogs to win rather than in spread markets, because they are expected to lose the game. If they pull off an upset, your payout will be larger if you backed them on the moneyline rather than with an additional points spread.
When compared to over/under bets, the spread may offer less value if you’re backing a statistic that applies to the performances of both teams combined, such as total overall points. However, if you’re betting on the performance of only one team, such as the favourites to score 100+ points, this could offer more value than betting on the favourites to beat the spread.
Below, we cover some of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to the topic of spread betting.
Spread betting works in sports by applying a handicap to a team that is the favourite, or a boost to one that is the underdog. If the favourite overcomes the handicap, they will beat the spread. If not, the underdog bet will win.
+4.5 means that an underdog has been given a boost, i.e. their total score at the end of the game will be boosted by 4.5 points. If this is enough to beat the favourite, bets on the underdog at this figure will be winners in the spread market.
Spread betting actually has two meanings, one of which refers to financial markets, but here at LeoVegas we refer specifically to sports spread betting, which is a handicap market on matches and games between two teams or competitors.