So, what does the spread mean in betting? Spreads can seem confusing and lead to a lot of different questions, but it is simply a way for the bookmakers to make the betting between two participants of an event more even, in the process making the odds for a favorite more attractive.

Fully understanding spread betting can help you place strategic bets and hopefully walk away with sizable profits. So, read on to find out the answer to ‘What does the spread mean in betting?’, plus information about types of spread bets, how to make smart bets and more.

What is the Spread in Sports Betting?

What does the spread mean in sports betting? The spread or “point spread” serves as a handicap in sports betting that represents the difference in skill between two teams. Oddsmakers set the point spread to “level the field” for opponents, so to speak.

The spread has different names depending on the sport. Sports like football and basketball refer to it as “the spread,” and betting revolves around teams “beating the spread.” Meanwhile, it goes by the “run line” in baseball and the “puck line” in hockey.

What does spread mean in betting? - BetOnline spread run line example

Types of Spread Bets

With revenue in the online sports betting market projected to reach $45bn in 2024, there is an explosion of different wagers for bettors, including spread bets. There are a few different types of spread bets, as follows.

Point Spread

With a point spread bet, one team gets additional points. You will see this expressed as a + or – next to the team’s name. What does the + and – mean in sports betting spread? The + indicates an underdog, while the – indicates the favorite.

Over/Under

An over/under bet is a bet on the total number of points in a sports game. The bet looks at whether the total number of points will be over or under a certain amount.

Other Spread Bets

Other types of spread bets also exist. For example, alternate spreads let players bet on the spread but allow the betting odds to shift more than traditional betting.

Reading a Spread Bet – How Do Spread Bets Work?

There are several terms you will hear when sports betting that specifically relate to spread bets.

The Favorite

In a spread bet, one team is the favorite. The favored team is the team that the bookmakers believe will win the game.

You can tell which team is the favorite because they will have a minus symbol and a point value next to their name. The point value indicates the number of points the bookmakers believe that team will win outright by.

With this in mind, the answer to ‘what does spread mean?’, and the overall negative spread meaning becomes clear. It indicates a favorite while indicating the degree to which they are the favorite.

So, in footballs’ NCAA, seeing Minnesota with a -2.5 next to their name means bookmakers expect the Raiders to win that game by at least two points.

BetOnline NCAA spread example

The Underdog

The team facing off against the favorite is the underdog. They are less likely to win and have a plus symbol and number next to their name. The underdog has to win or come within the number of points indicated for a spread bet on them to hit.

So, what does + mean in betting spread? It means the team is an underdog and that they receive a handicap.

Keeping with the previous example, if the Raiders are -2.5 and are facing off against the LA Chargers, the Chargers are the underdogs. In this example, they will show up as “Chargers +2.5” on offshore sportsbooks. To beat the spread, the Chargers have to win or only lose by a maximum of two points.

-110: The Vig or Juice

Many bets from sportsbooks include some vig or juice. These are the fees a sportsbook charges for their services. Studies show that even slight manipulation of odds can result in a profit for sportsbooks.

With spread betting, it is common to see odds of -110 for both teams. The spread helps create even matchups, where one would expect to see odds of +100, indicating even money. However, odds of -110 give the house a little edge to make a profit.

The Hook

In the above examples, you may have noticed that sportsbooks express the point values as decimals rather than round numbers. The change, called the hook, is intentional. The hook prevents the spread from causing a tie.

Using the example above, say the Chargers received +2 points instead of +2.5 points. The final score of the game ends up 8-6 Raiders. In this example, the two extra points to the Chargers would cause a tie.

Meanwhile, if they receive +2.5 points, they win the game. Tying is impossible with half points like these.

PK, Pick ‘Em or Pick

PK, pick ‘em, or pick are all types of bets without a spread. With these bets, the game is too even to fairly give any team points. So, even if bookmakers tried to add a spread to the game, doing so would throw off the balance of betting.

The Push

The push is when a game ends in a tie with the spread. A result like this is only possible when the spread is whole numbers and doesn’t include the hook.

Usually, in this scenario, you would receive your bet back. So, you neither lose nor gain anything from the bet.

How Are Point Spreads Determined?

Oddsmakers determine point spreads. They consider several factors about the game and then use these factors to determine who is the most likely winner and how much they will win by.

They consider factors like:

  • Team history: They look at a team’s recent and overall history.
  • Home-field advantage: Some studies indicate this may result in a 62% chance of winning.
  • Any injuries: The degree of the injury and who it happens to both matter.
  • Weather: Some teams prefer certain weather patterns.
  • Public sentiment: Who people believe will win and who they are betting on will impact the spread.

Why Do Point Spreads Change?

Point spreads aren’t always static. They have a tendency to change based on recent developments.

One primary way this happens is as a reaction to current betting. If everyone is betting on the Dallas Mavericks at +5.5 over the Boston Celtics, the bookmakers will change the odds. They will likely give the Mavericks fewer points, possibly changing the betting to the Mavericks at +2.5.

Developments within a team impact spreads as well. If a key player on the Mavericks suddenly sustains an injury, they are less likely to win. In this case, the number of points they receive could shoot up and result in a Mavericks +12.5 bet.

Covering the Spread and Against the Spread

In a spread bet, both teams are trying to cover the spread. If the favored team gets enough points to beat the underdog and the points the underdog receives, the favored team covers the spread. If the underdog’s score with the points they receive is higher than the favored team’s, they cover the spread.

Any spread bet is an act of betting “against the spread.” Whether you are betting for the underdog or the favored team, you hope they will overcome the spread.

What Does Negative Spread Mean?

What does negative spread (-) mean in betting? A negative spread indicates the favored team. They may have a home-field advantage, be doing particularly well recently, or may just be one of the best teams in the league at the moment.

The negative spread gives the favored team an additional challenge. They don’t just have to beat their opponent for a spread bet to win; they have to bet them by a certain point amount. If they do this, then they cover the spread and cause all related bets to hit.

What Does Positive Spread Mean?

A positive spread indicates an underdog. It indicates that the team has not performed well recently, is facing challenges at the moment, or is simply no match for its opponent.

The positive spread gives the underdog team a few points to offset this difference. In a final spread bet, bookmakers add these points to the underdog team’s actual points. If the total is more than the opposing team, then the underdog spread bet hits.

What does + spread mean in betting? Well, if the Edmonton Oilers have +3.5, they are the underdog and have an additional 3.5 points to work with. So, if they win the game outright or lose by three points or fewer, a spread bet on them hits.

Betting Against the Spread (ATS) – Key Considerations

As part of trying to figure out the spread line, you’ve probably heard of betting against the spread. Keeping a few considerations in mind for this technique will allow you to make a more informed bet.

  • Which Team Will Cover the Spread?: You always want to bet on the team that will cover the spread. The actual result of the game matters far less than each team’s ability to work with or against the additional points they receive.
  • The Variation of the Spread: The spread has the potential to change. Keeping your eye out for changes or being aware of news that may cause a change will help you make a better bet.
  • Don’t Forget the Vig: In many cases, the bet includes the vig, impacting the odds. Keeping this in mind will help you have a more balanced consideration of these odds, giving you a better chance of making the right decision.
  • Potential Winnings: Your potential winnings will vary from bet to bet. If the winnings are relatively low for a bet you aren’t sure about, it may be worth passing on.

Betting Against the Spread (ATS) – Tips and Strategies

Next, some key tips and strategies you can use to bet against the spread more effectively. Don’t forget our handy sports betting guides, either, covering the NFL, NBA, NHL, soccer, plus more.

✅ Shop Around

  • Spreads are relatively variable. The spread from one sportsbook may differ dramatically from the spread another gives.
  • You are looking for the best betting site. If you find a sportsbook that offers a more favorable spread, make your bet with them rather than a less favorable book.
  • Odds matter as well. By line shopping, you are able to compare the odds of one book against another.
  • Some crypto betting sites also offer other advantages. Bonuses and loyalty programs give a reason to choose some books even if the spreads are the same.

✅ Remember Key Numbers

  • Points aren’t the same in all sports. A spread of a point or two in baseball or hockey is incredibly different from a spread of a point or two in football or basketball. Understanding this will help you weigh the value of a spread based on the sport.
  • Specific sports also have key point numbers to look for. In football, points typically go up in increments of three or six. So, a spread of 2.5 and a spread of 1.5 are more similar in football than in other sports.

✅ Middling

  • Middling involves taking advantage of a changing points spread to make a better bet. It involves betting on both sides of the spread but at different times. The result is a bet that pays out in an entirely different way.
  • For example, imagine placing a bet on the Denver Nuggets at +4.5 over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Suddenly, a key player on the Timberwolves sustains an injury, and the odds swing to give the Timberwolves +3.5. So, you place a bet on the Timberwolves as well.
  • With this example, you win both bets if the game ends with both teams within 3 points of each other, significantly increasing your potential winnings

✅ Consider Alternate Spreads

  • Alternate spreads give players more of a choice when it comes to a spread to bet on. While spreads traditionally have odds of -110 and feature an even matchup, alternate spreads shake things up. They feature a range of odds and matchups that are more or less fair.
  • Players can choose longer odds for a higher potential payout. A choice like this makes sense if they feel strongly about the team or feel like the spreads don’t reflect the reality of the situation. In these cases, value betting is possible.
  • All of this makes alternate spreads more similar to moneyline odds. However, they don’t ditch the spread altogether. So, they are a nice mix of both features.

Spread Examples

Understanding the spread means knowing more than “What does plus and minus mean in betting spread?” It means knowing how it plays out in different sports.

NFL Football Spread

What is the spread in betting on the NFL? The spread is very popular in the NFL because of all of the factors that go into it. Because many NFL games are high-scoring, there are often significant spreads.

For example, in a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Commanders, the Commanders received +14. However, the game closed with the 49ers winning 27-10.

Because of this, even with a significant spread, the Commanders didn’t cover the spread. A bet on them would have lost, while a bet on the 49ers would have won.

NBA Basketball Spread

What is a spread in betting on basketball? The NBA is another field where points are high and spreads shift. Knowing how to take advantage of this is a big part of having spread betting explained.

One example is a game between the Orlando Magic and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Magic received +4.5 points in the spread.

The game ended with the Cavaliers winning 104-103. While the Cavaliers won the game, they didn’t beat the spread, as they only won by a single point. With this in mind, a spread bet on the Magic would have paid out.

MLB Baseball Spread – Run Line Betting

What does the spread mean in betting on baseball? In the MLB, run-line betting is the term for the spread. Since MLB games are lower scoring when compared to NFL and NBA games, the spread is usually more narrow.

A good example would be between the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers, with the Tigers +1.5. To beat the spread, the Tigers had to either win or only lose by one point. Meanwhile, the Rangers had to win by more than one point.

As you can see, this is a close bet. A single lucky run may change the bet’s overall result.

Spread Betting in NHL Hockey – Puck Line Betting

What does a spread mean in sports betting on hockey? In general, it is similar to the MLB in that it goes by a different name: puck line betting. It is also similar to the MLB in that the spread is narrow due to lower-scoring games.

For example, a game between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the Predators +1.5 odds. The Predators could lose the game outright by one point, and a spread bet on them would still pay out. However, if they lose by two points, a bet on the Penguins would pay out instead.

In this particular game, the Penguins won 4-2. Because of this, a spread bet on the Penguins was the winning bet.

Props and Other Sports

What is betting the spread in other sports? Sports that use different scoring systems often use different spread systems. For example, tennis spreads indicate how many games a player must win rather than how many points they need to win by.

Meanwhile, prop bets also feature spreads. You may hear these expressed as an over/under for a specific action by a specific player.

For example, in one Florida Panthers game, a prop bet on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky looks at his saves in a specific game. Taking the over means betting he will make over 24.5 saves while taking the under assumes he will get under that same number.

Why Do Sportsbooks Offer Betting on the Spread?

Part of what makes the spread so attractive to sportsbooks is how even it is. Betting on the spread aims to offer a fairly even result to players while retaining a vig for the sportsbook. Because of this, the sportsbook gets an even flow of money, even if an upset or expected result occurs.

Sportsbooks also offer the spread because it gives them a good deal of control over the bets. They can alter the spread to maintain an even level of betting so bets never run away from them or get too lopsided.

Finally, some of the sharpest betting sites offer betting on the spread as a potentially exciting option. Since spread betting is more even, it can lead to more exciting outcomes. You can experience more excitement even if the game is fairly one-sided.

Point Spread vs. Moneyline Betting

What do point spread lines mean in betting compared to moneyline betting? These are two of the most common types of bets in sports betting, so understanding both is important.

A point spread wager looks at whether a team wins or loses when bookmakers adjust the final outcome by a certain number of points. With this in mind, a bet can pay out even if a team loses.

Moneyline betting only looks at whether a team wins or loses. Whoever you bet on needs to win the game for your bet to pay out.

For example, in an MLB game between the Orioles and Blue Jays, the Blue Jays were the favorite. Because of this, the Orioles received 1.5 points in the spread. Meanwhile, a $100 moneyline sports bet for the Orioles would pay out $115 if they won, but a $100 moneyline bet on the Orioles Blue Jays would only pay out $90.91.

Team Point Spread Moneyline
Baltimore Orioles -1.5 +115
Toronto Blue Jays +1.5 -105

Advantages of Betting on the Spread

The spread is all about making the final outcome as even as possible. Generally, the odds of the bet paying out are similar, no matter which team you choose.

Because of this, there tends to be less risk with the spread. It can be a great option if you want to place a bet but haven’t done enough research or just feel unprepared to take a serious risk.

In addition, many players find betting on the spread more exciting. You may go into an NBA game between the Nuggets and the Grizzlies expecting the Nuggets to win. However, with the addition of the spread, the Nuggets now have to score more and try harder.

Spread Betting and Parlays

What does spread mean in sports betting when it comes to parlays? It is entirely possible to link a series of spread bets together through a parlay bet. If you do this, all of your linked bets have to hit for the bet to pay out at all.

Betting like this is significantly riskier. One wrong bet will sink the entire parlay bet.

However, it is one of the only ways to increase the odds of a spread bet. Essentially, the additional risk significantly increases the potential payout.

Conclusion on Spread Betting

Placing a bet on the spread should now be clearer following our expert analysis. Clearly, it is a way of betting which gives an underdog some assist on the handicap, while giving bettors the option of backing a favorite at more attractive odds, if correctly predicting how much they win by in terms of points, goals or runs.

Spread Betting FAQs

What Is Betting Against the Spread?

What Does Negative Spread Mean?

What Does Cover the Spread Mean?

Does It Matter if the Team You Back Wins On The Spread?

What Does Minus 1.5 Mean in Betting?

Can You Parlay Spread Bets?

What Does PK or Pick ‘Em Mean?

What Does The Spread Mean in Betting?

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Trevor Jones
Sports Editor

Trevor Jones is an expert in iGaming with a passion for writing about US sports, particularly football and basketball. He is extremely knowledgeable about US gambling regulations and contributes to Sports Casting. He has also contributed to sites like The Grueling Truth and Strafe, among many others. He is an avid sports and betting enthusiast and a huge fan of the Golden State Warriors, though he follows all of the major sports leagues.

Get to know Trevor Jones better
Author photo
Trevor Jones Sports Editor

Trevor Jones is an expert in iGaming with a passion for writing about US sports, particularly football and basketball. He is extremely knowledgeable about US gambling regulations and contributes to Sports Casting. He has also contributed to sites like The Grueling Truth and Strafe, among many others. He is an avid sports and betting enthusiast and a huge fan of the Golden State Warriors, though he follows all of the major sports leagues.

All posts by Trevor Jones