What is a Spread in Betting: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Point Spreads

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What is a Spread in Betting: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Point Spreads

In the world of sports betting, understanding the various terms and concepts is crucial to making informed wagers. One such term is "spread."

Whether you're a rookie bettor or looking to expand your knowledge, this comprehensive guide will delve into what spread betting is and how it affects your wagers. From the basics to advanced strategies, we'll cover everything you need to know about point spreads.

Definition of a Spread in Betting

A spread in betting, also known as a point spread or line, is a method used to level the playing field between two teams or competitors in a sporting event. The spread is essentially a margin of victory or defeat that the sportsbook sets for the favored team to cover in order for a bet on that team to be successful. It aims to create a balanced betting market and attract action on both sides of the wager.

How Point Spreads Work

Point spreads are primarily used in sports where there is a clear favorite and underdog.

The spread assigns a positive or negative value to each team, indicating the expected margin of victory or defeat. For example, in Week 1 of the NFL, the spread is 6.5 between the Chiefs and the Lions.

The Lions need to win or lose by 6 points or less to cover the spread.

While the Chiefs need to win by 7 or more to win their spread for bettors.

The extra level of sports vernacular to understand is that a bettor can choose to either "take" the points, meaning they believe the underdog will perform better than the predicted spread. Or "lay" the points, indicating confidence in the favored team's ability to win by a margin greater than the spread.

Key Elements of a Spread Bet

To understand spread betting fully, it's essential to be familiar with a few key elements. First is the spread itself, which represents the predicted margin of victory or defeat. The second element is the favored team, denoted with a negative sign (-), and the underdog, indicated by a positive sign (+). These symbols signify the expected performance of each team relative to the spread.

Additionally, spread bets often have associated odds, which determine the potential payout for a successful wager. The odds may be expressed as -110, meaning the bettor must risk $110 to win $100, or in decimal or fractional formats depending on the region.

The Role of Favorites and Underdogs

In spread betting, favorites and underdogs play a crucial role in setting the spread and determining the betting dynamics. The favorite is the team or competitor expected to win the game, while the underdog is predicted to lose.

The sportsbook adjusts the spread to incentivize betting on both sides. If the favorite team is attracting a lot of bets, the spread might increase to encourage action on the underdog. Conversely, if the underdog is receiving heavy betting support, the spread may decrease to attract wagers on the favorite.

Understanding Spread Betting Odds

Spread betting odds play a significant role in determining the potential payout for a successful wager. The standard odds for spread bets are often -110, which means that the bettor must risk $110 to win $100. This concept is known as "juice" or "vig" and represents the sportsbook's commission.

However, it's important to note that not all spread bets have odds of -110. Depending on the popularity of the teams involved or other factors, the odds may fluctuate. Bettors should pay close attention to the odds and shop around different sportsbooks to find the best value for their wagers.

Strategies for Betting on Spreads

Betting on spreads requires a thoughtful approach and an understanding of various strategies. Here are a few key strategies to consider:

a. Research and Analysis: Before placing a spread bet, research the teams or competitors involved, their recent performance, injuries, and other factors that could influence the outcome. You can even lookup a team’s record against the spread. And of course you should be checking the Pikkit app for sharp data insights and opinion.

b. Shopping for Lines: Different sportsbooks usually offer slightly different spreads and odds. By shopping around and comparing lines, you can find the best value for your wagers and potentially improve your overall profitability.

c. Understanding Key Numbers: In certain sports, specific point differentials are more common than others. For example, in football, you’ll soon learn, there is a big difference between -6.5 and -7. Same thing with -2.5 / 3 / 3.5.

Being aware of these key numbers can help you make more strategic decisions when betting on spreads.

d. Bankroll Management: It's crucial to establish a bankroll management strategy and stick to it. Determine the amount you're willing to risk on each bet and avoid chasing losses by increasing your wager sizes.

e. Line Movement Analysis: Pay attention to how the spread moves leading up to the game. If the spread shifts significantly, it could indicate important news or changes that might impact the outcome. Being aware of line movements can present betting opportunities.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When betting on spreads, it's crucial to avoid common mistakes that can negatively impact your bankroll. Here are a few pitfalls to watch out for:

a. Overvaluing Favorites: While favorites often win games, they don't always cover the spread. It's essential to assess the overall matchup and the potential margin of victory before placing your bet.

b. Ignoring Underdogs: Underdogs can provide excellent value in spread betting, especially when they are underestimated by the sportsbook or the betting public. Don't overlook the potential of underdogs to perform well against the spread.

c. Chasing Losses: Losing streaks happen in sports betting. It's important to avoid chasing losses by increasing your bet sizes or making impulsive decisions. Stick to your bankroll management plan and remain disciplined.

d. Failing to Research: Lack of research and analysis can lead to uninformed betting decisions. Take the time to research teams, players, and relevant factors that could impact the outcome of a game.

Spread Betting in Different Sports

While we've primarily focused on the concept of spreads in football and basketball, it's worth mentioning that spread betting is prevalent in other sports as well. Sports like hockey, baseball, and soccer may also use spreads, although they may be referred to as "puck lines," "run lines," or "goal lines," respectively.

The principles of spread betting remain the same across these sports, with the spread representing the expected margin of victory or defeat. Bettors can apply similar strategies and techniques to analyze matchups and make well-informed spread bets in various sports.

One thing to pay attention to is the vig though. With run lines, for example, you’ll notice that you are rarely betting into -105 a side.

For example, in baseball the spread might be +1.5 and -154 and the other side is -1.5 and +128.

The Future of Spread Betting

Spread betting has become a popular and integral part of the sports betting landscape. With the growth of online betting platforms and the increasing legalization of sports betting in different jurisdictions, the future of spread betting looks promising.

Advancements in technology, data analysis, and sports betting platforms will likely enhance the spread betting experience for bettors. Furthermore, as more states and countries embrace sports betting, the availability and variety of spread betting options are likely to expand.


Understanding what a spread is in betting is crucial. It’s a highly common betting market across all sports, but particularly football and basketball.

And it’s also important to understand key numbers, particularly in football. You don’t have to be betting for long to work out that it pays to shop around for the right lines. They will be the difference between having a winning, losing or ‘pushed’ bet.

And don’t forget to use the Pikkit app to get extra insight into your spread bets. There’s a wealth of knowledge to enjoy.