Betting Against the Spread Explained
Most sporting events have a perceived favorite, so applying a spread to the game is the bookmakers’ way of creating an even playing field. This is most often seen when betting on the NFL. When you bet “against the spread,” it’s not enough for the favorite to win the game; now, they have to win by more than a specified amount (the spread) in order for them to “cover the spread.”
As we explained with moneyline betting, a negative number (-) indicates the favorite and a positive number (+) indicates the underdog.
ATS (Against the Spread) Betting: Case Study
As you can see, New England is the favorite in this game by 7.5 points, since they have the negative number. You will often see half-points attached to the spread to avoid “pushes,” or ties for the newbies. As we covered in our how to read odds guide, games with half-point spreads are said to contain a “hook.”
In this circumstance, favored New England is said to be “laying” 7.5 points. This means you subtract 7.5 points from their total score when the game concludes. If they still have more points than the Chiefs, then they “covered.” Therefore, the Patriots will have to win the game by at least 8 points for you to win your bet.
While New England is “laying” 7.5 points, Kansas City is “getting” 7.5 points. This means you add 7.5 points to their total score when the game concludes. If, after doing so, they have more points than the Patriots, then they “covered.” So, in order to win your bet, the Chiefs just cannot lose the game by 8 points or more. For example, if the Chiefs only lose by 3 points, you would win if you bet on Kansas City.
Here are a couple of mock outcomes, with the team who covered the spread in bold.
- Kansas City 21 – New England 24
- Kansas City 17 – New England 25
- Kansas City 3 – New England 41
- Kansas City 30 – New England 27
What Can Change the Spread?
The spreads in football games are subject to change based on where the money is going and weekly injury reports. If Tom Brady is hit by the Madden Curse before the season even starts and is unable to suit up, you’ll see the spread decrease, likely landing around New England -3.5.
Calculating Payouts Against the Spread
Now you may have noticed in the chart above that there is a three-digit number next to each spread, which looks an awful lot like a moneyline. It is, in essence. Those negative numbers (-110 in this case) indicate how much you have to bet in order to win $100. (Sportsbooks still take their cut when you’re betting against the spread.)
Generally, you will see “even bets,” meaning the payout is the same no matter who you bet on. But that’s not always the case, as you’ll see in the chart for our next example.
If the result of this game is Seattle 21 – Green Bay 28, would you win if you bet on Seattle to cover?
(NO! They lost by more than three points.)
Do Other Sports Have Spread Betting Options?
Betting against the spread on the NFL is undoubtedly the most popular form of spread betting, but there are other options.
You will also see point spreads in hockey, baseball, and soccer. They are referred to in different terms, but they refer to the same principle of operation as the spread.
In hockey, the spread is called a puck line; in baseball, it is a run line; and in soccer, it is a goal line.
Puck lines and run lines are almost always fixed at 1.5.
Want to learn more about the basics of betting on sports? Educate yourself with sports betting 101.