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Spread Betting: What is it and how does it work?

If you’ve spent anytime browsing through your favorite betting site, you will have undoubtedly come across point spreads in one form or another. Spread betting is a hugely popular market that is incorporated into a number of different sports. 

In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know regarding what a spread is, examples of how it applies to different sports and some tips from our experts on how to improve your results when betting on point spreads.

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What is a spread?

A spread is a numerical value assigned to a match or game that is meant to represent the difference in ability between the two teams or contestants. You are essentially betting on the margin of victory. The weaker team receives the points, usually displayed with a ‘+’ symbol, while the stronger team lays the points, shown with a ‘-’ symbol.

For example: A matchup against the LA Lakers and Chicago Bulls in the NBA. The Lakers are the stronger team and are favored by three points on the point spread. This would be displayed as:

  • Lakers -3

The Bulls, being the weaker team, are receiving the points which would be displayed as:

  • Bulls +3

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What are the potential betting outcomes?

In our example above. A bet on Lakers -3 means that the Lakers would have to win the game by a margin of more than three points for you to win your bet. A Lakers win by one or two points would result in a loss, while an exact three-point Lakers win sees the bet ‘push’ and you would have your initial stake returned. 

A bet on Lakers -3:

  • Lakers lose by any margin: Loss
  • Lakers win by 1 or 2 points: Loss
  • Lakers win by 3 points exactly: Push (stake is returned)
  • Lakers win by more than 3 points: Win

A bet on Bulls +3:

  • Bulls win by any margin: Win
  • Bulls lose by 1 or 2 points: Win
  • Bulls lose by 3 points exactly: Push
  • Bulls lose by 4 or more points: Loss

Point spreads can also include half points, such as Lakers -3.5 / Bulls +3.5. In this situation, the same rules as above apply but the possibility of a push is eliminated.

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Spread betting in different sports

It’s extremely common for sports to have a spread market. From the most obvious ones such as basketball and American football, to the less familiar ones like tennis, MMA and even Esports. Below we’ll look at a few examples of how spread betting is implemented across the different sports.

Basketball and American football

The two most popular sports in the United States, the spread (often referred to colloquially as the “line”) is an integral part of leagues such as the NBA and the NFL. The point spreads often dominate the conversation when bettors discuss an upcoming slate of games and is hands down the most popular betting market in these two sports. 


Referred to as the “Runline,” spread betting in baseball, specifically the MLB, is often much more static when compared to the NBA and NFL. Runline’s are almost always set at +/- 1.5, meaning the favorite must win the game by two or more runs to cover the spread. This is down to the lower-scoring nature overall of baseball games. If there is an extreme mismatch, such as the best team in the league playing at home against the consensus worst team, the runline could move up to +/- 2.5.

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While perhaps not as prevalent in world football as it is in the aforementioned American sports, spread betting certainly has its place in the beautiful game. There are two distinct types of handicap markets in football spread betting: the European handicap and the Asian handicap. For more information, we suggest heading over to the page What is Handicap Betting? Spread betting in football largely functions in the same manner as the above examples. Below, we’ll look at hypothetical matches, each containing a different spread: between Arsenal vs Tottenham, Manchester City vs Chelsea and Liverpool vs Burnley

  • Arsenal -0.5 / Tottenham +0.5: A bet on Arsenal with a -0.5 spread is the same as a moneyline bet i.e. you are betting on Arsenal to win the match. Tottenham getting the half goal spread means you are betting on them to either win or draw.
  • Man City -1.5 / Chelsea +1.5: A bet on Man City in this scenario is betting on the Citizens to win the match by a margin of at least two goals. A bet on Chelsea means they can lose by a single goal and you would still win your bet.
  • Liverpool -2 / Burnley +2: A bet on Liverpool at a -2 spread means the Reds have to win by three clear goals to cash your ticket. Burnley at +2 means the only way your bet loses is if the Clarets lose by three or more goals. A two goal margin of victory for Liverpool means both sides of the bet will push.


The final example we’ll look at is spread betting in the world of tennis. There are a few ways that it applies to this sport: set spread betting and game spread betting. For example, let’s start out with set spread betting in a hypothetical matchup between Novak Djokovic and Taylor Fritz in an ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final matchup:

  • Djokovic -1.5 / Fritz +1.5: As this is a best-of-three match, a -1.5 spread in this context essentially means you are betting on Djokovic to win the match in straight sets. Fritz, meanwhile, just has to win a single set to cover the spread.

When betting on game spreads, the same rules apply:

  • Djokovic -6.5 / Fritz +6.5: A bet on Novak Djokovic with a -6.5 line means that the legendary Serbian will have to win by a combined seven or more games across all sets. A scoreline such as 6-3, 6-2 would therefore see Djokovic cover the spread. A bet on Fritz at +6.5 means a 6-4, 6-4 Djokovic win still results in a winning ticket for the American because he lost by less than seven combined games.

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Tips to improve spread betting results

Below we have three top tips from our experts that should help provide a deeper understanding to point spread betting. 

  1. Shop around

You will often find slight variations in the spreads offered by different betting sites. This is why it’s highly recommended to have funds available on as many bookmakers as possible. Grabbing a +7.5 line on one site instead of a +7 on your usual betting site is the difference between potentially winning and pushing. Over the long run, these small edges can even make the difference between a winning bettor and a losing one.

  1. Line movement

Bookmakers will alter their point spreads based on a number of different factors; from injuries to the amount of action they’re receiving on both sides. If you see a line that you believe holds value, it’s a good idea to grab it before it potentially moves in the opposite direction! 

  1. Key numbers

Some sports have winning margins more common than others. This is most prevalent in the NFL where 3 and 7 are the two most common margins of victory. A +3.5 and +7.5 spread, therefore, is much more valuable when betting on the underdog. Likewise, a -2.5 or -6.5 spread will be much more advantageous when betting on the favorite.

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