Point Spread Betting for American Sports
Point spreads are the most common way to wager on US sports. To explain, if a game has Patriots -9.0 / Vikings +9.0, the Patriots are 9.0 point favorites and the Vikings are 9.0 point underdogs. You can bet on either team, which, unless otherwise stated, requires you to risk $1.10 for each $1.00 you want to win. For Patriots bettors to prevail, they need their team to win by 10 or more points; if 9 points, it's a push (no action). Vikings bettors win if their team either wins the game or loses by less than 9 points.
Point spreads are used since most recreational bettors prefer to wager even money propositions. In the above example, if there was no point spread, only moneyline betting would exist. So, if odds makers are giving the New England Patriots a 73% chance of winning a game, in order to take bets and still have a small profit margin, the bookmaker would require Patriot bettors to stake $3.00 or more for each $1.00 they want to win. With a point spread, the odds are balanced, and therefore it costs just $1.10 to win $1.00, or even less at sites offering reduced juice.
Point Spread Betting Strategy
Strategy for betting point spreads is obviously different for each sport and league, but here are some general tips we can give that apply to them all:
- Take advantage of Sports Betting Bonus Offers - The best way to beat sports betting is to open accounts at multiple betting sites, shop the lines, and claim bonus and promotion offers. Right now, JustBet is offering an 80% up to $400 bonus to players using code FREE80, and TopBet is offering a 50% up to $250 cash bonus to players who use the code 250FREE. Having the extra bonus cash with which to wager can offset the bookmaker advantage.
- Use Multiple Betting Sites - Use multiple betting sites since point spreads vary between sites. Although it may seem inconvenient, one of the biggest keys to beating sports over the long term is always betting with the best price. If you want to bet on the Celtics and see Topbet has them at -5.0 and Justbet at -4.5, then obviously you want to make the wager at Justbet.
- Be Careful of Road Favorites - Many novice bettors fail to understand just how great a factor home advantage is when wagering on sport events. When looking at the board for potential wagers, these bettors tend to get excited and bet on lots of superior teams favored on the road against weaker opponents. As explained in our article on handicapping the market, the betting market is much more advanced than this, and for the most part point spreads are always going to be 50/50 propositions.
- Understand Key Numbers - In NFL football, most games are decided by 3 or 7 points. Therefore, when shopping the odds, the difference between -7.0 and -6.5 is far greater than the difference between -5.5 and -5.0. With some betting sites odds, certain games are priced differently than risking $1.10 to win $1.00 (which is called -110 odds). Here you might see Jets -7.0 -115 / Giants +7.0 -105. In this case, the Jets are risk $1.15 to win $1.00 and the Giants risk $1.05 to win $1.00. When line shopping, be aware of key numbers so you know if it makes sense to pay more. For example, BetOnline -7.0 -110 or Bovada -6.5 -120: in this case Bovada is near certain offering the better bet.
With these general tips now covered, allow us to share some point spread betting tips specific to each of the two most popular US sports: football and basketball.
Point Spread Betting in Football
One of the best ways to beat football point spread betting is to use teasers. A teaser is a form of a parlay bet using modified point spreads. The overall best teaser odds in the industry come from Bovada who offers 3-team 6-point teasers at +180 (risk $1.00 to win $1.80). To explain how these work, each point spread you select is moved 6 points in your favor.
For example, if you're interested in betting Jets -7.0, Patriots -3.5 and Bills +7, a teaser gives you a single wager on Jets -1.0, Patriots +2.5, and Bills +13. In order for your bet to win, all three of your selections must be correct. Of course, the example we just gave is a sucker bet. If you want to learn how to beat this form of wagering, you'll most certainly want to read our article on football teasers.
Another way to beat football point spreads is to shop for off market prices. If you're shopping online betting sites, and see every site is offering Vikings +7.0, but then find that Bovada is offering +7.5, there's a good chance the wager at Bovada is +EV. For more on this, and to learn another strategy for making football point spreads profitable, read the article on buying half-points in football.
Finally, always consider whether or not the point spread and betting total are correlated. If they are, a parlay wager is better. For example, a college football point spread +24.5 parlayed with under 48 points in the same game might be a great parlay bet. If the +24.5 team covers the point spread, chances are increased that the game also goes under the posted total of 48.
Point Spread Betting in Basketball
Most online betting sites offer bettors the ability to purchase half-points at 10 cents each. For example, if the Lakers are -6.5 -110, you have the options to wager -6.0 -120, -5.5 -130, etc. A great strategy for betting basketball point spreads is to shop dozen of betting sites for the best line, and then purchase as many half points as possible (so long as they are priced 10 cents each).
What's helpful to know is that the most common margins of victory in NBA basketball and their frequency of occurrence are: 5 points (6.63%), 7 points (6.59%), 8 points (6.24%), 6 points (6.03%), 4 points (5.95%), 9 points (5.77%), 2 points (5.58%), and 3 points (5.35%). We should note that this isn't the result of variance. Certain margins of victory occur more frequently than others with results to end game strategy such as the winning team running the clock or the team behind intentionally fouling.
The key here is to target the point spread 5 and 7, because these are virtually tied as the most common margin of victory. Also worth noting is that most betting sites are only willing to sell 2 or 3 half points for 10 cents each, after which point they start charging more; BetOnline sells up to four half points at this price.
To show how this can be exploited, take a point spread of -8.5 -110--a 50/50 proposition. If instead you purchased them to -6.5 -150, you'd win instead of lose 6.24% of the time they win by 8, and 6.59% of the time they win by 7. Add these together and we get 50%+6.24%+6.59%=62.83%. If you go to our odds converter, you'll see the implied probability -150 is 60%. This means you need to win 60% of the time to break even; however, our handicapping shows the actual probability of winning to be 62.38%.
If we risked $150 to win $100 on this -150 line, 62.38% of the time we would win $100 (EV $62.38) and 37.62% of the time we would lose $150 (EV: -$56.43). This gives us an expected profit of $5.95 for every $150 risked. From here we can see our expected ROI is $5.95/$150=3.97%.
Point Spread Betting Warning
To provide a quick warning, if you only make large +EV bets such as the basketball example above, betting sites will limit the amount you are allowed to wager. It's not uncommon for online bookmakers to spot an advantage player and say, "okay you can keep wagering here, but the maximum you're allowed to bet per game is $500.00." If you keep betting and winning, they might even cut the limits further. For this reason, you should attempt to camouflage the fact that you're sharp by also making some wagers in their casino and other random bets.
Know that there are dozens of reputable online betting sites at which to wager, so it will take sharp bettors months, if not years, to run through all the options while still having large limits. If, down the road, you find yourself running out of places to bet, Bookmaker is very friendly to professionals and is willing to take $20,000+ bets on most point spreads, while remaining happy to pay bettors who win. They are the largest betting site by a mile in terms of volume on US sports, and they don't mind allowing sharps to wager in order to offset their risk.
Author: Jim Griffin
Updated: March 2015
Related Sports Betting Articles
- Week 13 Daily Fantasy Football: Building the Optimal Lineup
- DraftKings and FanDuel Merger Tops November’s Gambling Industry News Review
- Travis Kelce and the Top Week 13 Daily Fantasy Football Value Picks
- Rob Gronkowski Injury: Are Patriots Still Super Bowl Favorites?
- Jordan Clarkson and Wednesday’s Daily Fantasy Basketball Value Picks