Point Spread Betting Explained: What it is and How it Works
If you've never set foot in an actual sportsbook before or logged into an online sportsbook, the chances of you getting overwhelmed when you actually do are very high. In an actual Las Vegas sportsbook, there is typically a lot of commotion and the odds and lines are displayed on a massive digital board for everyone to see. When a novice sports bettor looks at the massive digital signage, they will see a bunch of numbers, both positive and negative, some two digits, some three digits. They also won't have a clue what any of it means. The same can be said for the online sportsbooks. It essentially looks like a massive spreadsheet with negative and positive numbers beside each teams' name.
How the Point Spread Works
The easiest way for me to describe what all these numbers mean to you is to define it as point spread betting. Point spread betting is the most popular way to bet on the NFL and NBA, and it is a way for a sportsbook to generate betting interest on both sides.
When two teams square up for a matchup, whether that be on the gridiron or on the basketball court, one team is typically better than the other (for whatever reason you want to believe). Since sportsbooks are in the business of making money, they tag the better team with a point spread, thus making them the "favorites" to win that specific game. Normally, the favorite has a few favorable factors working for them like playing at home or being well rested or playing a revenge game against a team that previously beat them. Every factor counts in the world of betting, and it's up to you to decide if the "favorite' can, in fact, cover the point spread.
If sports betting were an easy hobby, we would take the better team (playing at home) every single time and collect our winnings. But sportsbook adjust and price the money line astronomically high (depending on how much better they are than their opponent), and it simply is not worth it to lay that kind of juice.
Hypothetical Point Spread Scenario
Let's use the Super Bowl matchup between New England and Los Angeles as an example.
Moments before kickoff, sportsbooks were sitting with New England -2.5 or Los Angeles +2.5. This is what it would look like online:
Los Angeles +2.5 (-110)
New England -2.5 (-110)
This is what it would look like in a Las Vegas sportsbook
501. New England -2.5 (-110)
502. Los Angeles Rams +2.5 (-110)
Using the example above, the linemakers have determined that the New England Patriots are 2.5-point favorites over the Los Angeles Rams. The favorite team can also be referred to as the chalk . The favorite will always be represented by a negative (-) number, while the underdog will always be represented by a positive (+) number.
Based on the line above and which team you decide to bet on, the Patriots must win by three or more points in order for those with a Patriots (-2.5) ticket to be declared a winner. As long as the Patriots win by three or more points, the final score itself does not matter. A 3-0 win is just as much a winner as a 34-31 win.
However, if the Patriots were to win the game by two points or less, then all Patriots backers can toss their tickets in the trash. A 30-28 or 21-20 Patriots win would cash the tickets with Los Angeles +2.5 on them. A Rams outright win as 2.5-point underdogs would also do the same.
Betting Against the Spread
Betting against the spread or ATS, as it's known in the sports betting industry, is among the toughest bets to turn a profit in over the long run. When looking at a team's record, the only thing that matters to them is winning the game outright and moving up in the regular-season standings. Teams like Golden State or the New England Patriots are generally always among the best teams in the league (straight up) but are typically a bad bet to make ATS. The reason for this is because the better the team is, the more public attention they draw and the higher the point spread is. Sportsbook know which teams the public darlings are and as such inflate the spreads in order to take advantage of how overvalued the public makes them. A team like the Patriots could go 14-2 every season but they could be a dismal 7-9 or 6-10 against the spread because they are laying more than 10 points in every game.
Understanding a team's ATS is a valuable resource to have in the sports betting industry, and it will help you to spot inflated lines and possible lines that have some value.
Linemakers who work for the sportsbooks must put out lines that will entice the "favorite" bettors to lay the points and take the favorite or entice the underdog bettors to take the points with the underdog. Because each sportsbook is operated under their own rules, guidelines and stipulations, they are free to put out whatever line they feel is competitive and charge whatever vig they want to based on how much action that specific line is taking.
The main goal for each sportsbook is to set the best line possible in order to create even action on both sides of the game. In a perfect world, the book would have 50 percent of the handle come in on the favorite and 50 percent of the action come in on the underdog. If this happens, the sportsbook would be guaranteed a profit because of the 10 percent vig they charge on most point spread wagers. When a book has serious one-sided action, they will attempt to counter that by moving the line in the direction that's taking the most money and try to entice bettors into betting on the other side.
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