Betting on Basketball Point Spreads

Complete Guide to Betting on Basketball

Point spread betting is one of the most popular and simplest forms of basketball bets that you can place. While this is a seemingly basic bet, it is one of the most utilized bets even by professionals. Remember, the complexity of a bet does not equal better odds or bigger payouts.

Some professional or seasoned bettors only use the point spread bets and are wildly successful. Their success comes from making correct picks, not from overcomplicating the situation. We're going to walk you through the basics, and the mechanics of a basketball point spread bet, discuss the popularity and benefits, and offer some tips and strategies to help get you moving in the right direction towards profitability with these bet types.


How They Work

It's inevitable in sports and basketball that in each game one team is going to be better than the other. Betting would be a little pointless if you were able to make the exact same wager on each team. Everyone would just always bet the better team, and the sportsbook would quickly be out of money and have to close up shop. What point spread bets attempt to do is even the playing field and offer bets with the same risk level on both sides of the coin. They effectively aim to create a 50/50 even playing field.

The way the sportsbook does this is by putting out a betting line that is based on how many points they think the better team is going to win by. This is a lot like how our older siblings would "spot us" a few points when we played each other in basketball as kids. For example, let's say that Florida Gators are playing the Arkansas Razorbacks. Let's also say that Florida is the better team and the sportsbook thinks they are going to win the game by seven points. They can't just let everyone bet evenly, or everyone would bet Florida and clean them out. Enter the point spread. The sportsbook would set the point spread on this game at -7 for Florida to win. The negative sign before the number signifies that this team is the favorite to win. This means that if you want to bet on Florida, they have to win by more than 7 points for you to win your bet.

Gators v RazorbacksPoint Spread
Florida Gators
-7
Arkansas Razorback
+7

Here are the possible outcomes if you bet on Florida at -7:

  • If Florida wins by fewer than 7 points, you lose your bet
  • If Florida wins by 8 or more points, you win your bet
  • If Florida wins by 7 points, your bet is a push (tie)
  • If Florida loses, you lose your bet

A lot of times you will see the point spread set at a half point (-6.5 or -7.5 in this example) to get rid of any pushes.

As you may already be assuming, adjustments are made if you want to bet on the Razorbacks. The point spread for the Razorbacks would be set at +7. It will always be the exact opposite of the other team. As the negative sign represents the favorite, the plus sign here represents the underdog. If you were to bet on the Razorbacks, they can actually still lose, and you win your bet.

Here are the possible outcomes if you bet on Arkansas at +7:

  • If Arkansas loses by 6 or fewer points, you win your bet
  • If Arkansas loses by 8 or more points, you win your bet
  • If Arkansas loses by 7 points, your bet is a push (tie)
  • If Arkansas wins, you win your bet

How They're Paid Out

Almost all point spread wagers are paid out at moneyline odds of -110. This is almost even money minus the percentage that is taken for the sportsbook's cut known as the vig. Sometimes you will see a bit of variation in the payout odds, but for the most part, you should expect to see -110. If you don't see the payout numbers posted but just the point spread, you can most likely assume that you are to interpret that as being paid out at -110. If you're ever curious, though, just ask for clarification or look at your betting slip.

While we're going to cover this extensively in the moneyline section of the Basketball Betting Guide, we'll touch briefly on what the -110 means here. -110 refers to the moneyline payout for a particular bet. If you were to bet $100 on a basketball point spread paying -110 and win, you would be paid out a profit of $90.90. The easy way to figure out the amount you will get paid with minus moneyline odds is to divide your bet size by the absolute value of the betting odds and multiply that number by 100.

($100/ |-110|)*100 = ($100/110)*100 = .9090 * 100 = $90.90 in profit

If the odds are a positive moneyline, you calculate your potential profit by dividing your bet amount by 100 and multiplying that by the odds. Let's say you bet $250 at odds of +160.

($250/100)*160 = 2.5 * 160 = $400 in profit

Benefits of Basketball Point Spreads

There are a lot of reasons that point spread bets are so popular in basketball. We don't anticipate any other style of bet passing point spreads anytime soon. Here are a few of the reasons we think basketball point spread wagers are so popular.

Bet on Your Favorite Team No Matter What

For those of us who aren't bandwagon fans, our teams are going to struggle to win a lot of games. Even some of the better teams will have games when they play teams they're supposed to lose to.

Without point spread betting, placing a wager on our team to win these games would be financial suicide. Point spreads create an even playing field for sports bettors. Even if your team is supposed to lose by 20 points, you can still bet on them if you think they're going to have a better day than predicted. If you've ever wondered why someone was still cheering and going nuts at the end of a blowout, you can bet they were sweating a point spread bet.

Point Spread Bets are Simple

As you may have already noticed, these bets are simple and straightforward. Everything we've already taught you about point spread bets are all there is to them. There is no hidden complex side to them. All you have to do is pick which team you think is going to do better than the proposed line and that's it.

The Vig

The only real downside to betting basketball point spreads is that the sportsbook charges a vig. While this is a downside, it is to be expected and is no different from placing any other sports bet. Obviously, the sportsbook has to make money somehow because they have to pay employees, pay for their servers or equipment, and pay for their customer service to keep you happy. This really isn't a negative about point spread bets, but just something that you should be aware of.

Remember earlier when we said that most point spread bets in basketball pay out at -110? Well, this is where the vig is located. Sportsbooks will work to get equal amounts of money on both sides of a game and make their money off of the vig. If they are successful in doing so, it does not matter to them who wins the game. For example, let's look at our earlier example. Here are what the odds would look like at the sportsbook:

  • Florida -7 -110
  • Arkansas +7 -110

Let's say the sportsbook get's $1000 in bets total on the Gators and $1000 in bets total on Arkansas.

If Florida wins, this would be the accounting:

+$1000 Bets on Florida
+$1000 Bets on Arkansas
$1000 Original Bets Returned to Florida Winners
$909 Profit Paid out to Florida Winners
Total Profit = $91

If Arkansas wins, this would be the accounting.

$1000 Bets on Florida
+$1000 Bets on Arkansas
$1000 Original Bets Returned to Arkansas Winners
$909 Profit Paid out to Arkansas Winners
Total Profit = $91

As you can see, the sportsbook couldn't care less who wins this game. The way that the sportsbook works to get the same amount of bets on each side is by manipulating the point spread to entice bets to the side they want. Our next section is dedicated to explaining this.

How and Why a Basketball Point Spread Can Change

As we mentioned in the close of the last section, sportsbooks try their best to get the same amount of total money bet on both sides of a game. If they can accomplish this, then they are guaranteed to make a profit no matter who wins or loses the game. The way a sportsbook goes about doing this is by manipulating the point spread to make the less bet side more enticing.

Let's use our same example again to make this clearer. These are the current odds on the game as well as the amount of money that has been bet on both sides. The amount of money bet information would not be made available to you in a normal situation.

  • Florida -7 -110 $10,000 in total bets
  • Arkansas +7 -110 $3,000 in total bets

As you can see, the public seems to think that Florida is going to win this game by more than seven points. If the game started now, the sportsbook would stand to lose a lot of money if Florida did in fact win by more than seven points. They would stand to make a lot of money if Florida lost or won by less than seven points. Regardless of how the sportsbook thinks the game will go, they are not in the business of gambling. They want to guarantee profit as often as they can.

What the sportsbook will do when they start to see too much money on one side is to adjust the point spread. This DOES NOT affect anyone that has made a bet already. If you bet Florida -7, then that is the line you have. No one can ever take that away from you. To try and entice more bets on Arkansas, the line might move to this.

  • Florida -8 -110
  • Arkansas +8 -110

This means that Arkansas can now lose by seven points instead six and you'd win with a bet on them. If this doesn't bring in more bets, they might move the line to the following.

  • Florida -9 -110
  • Arkansas +9 -110

Now Arkansas can lose by up to eight points, and you can still win a bet on Arkansas. As the Arkansas line gets more appealing, more people will start to bet that side. The sportsbook will continue to manipulate the line this way up until game time to try and get the bets as even as possible. While they won't be perfect about it, they can usually get it close enough in most situations. It's also important to note that the line will sometimes shift by half points and it's also capable of shifting back in the other direction if too much money comes in on the other side.

While we aren't exactly sure at which dollar amounts or what formulas sportsbooks use to determine when they shift the lines, we do know why they do it. It is their attempt to minimize their risk as much as possible and guarantees sportsbook profit. Lines will also move if something major happens (like Lebron breaking his leg or something) so keep an eye out for this. Ultimately, the shift in the line is done for the exact same reason to keep the same amount of money on both sides of the game. As you'll see in the strategy and tips section, shifting lines do present some interesting opportunities for sports bettors.

Tips and Strategy Advice

Winning at sports betting is challenging. If it were easy, everyone would quit their jobs and do it, and sportsbooks would all be out of business. What makes it so challenging is that the lines are usually set pretty spot on which means it's a bit more challenging to pick the correct side of the bet. That being said, it's definitely not impossible to make money betting basketball point spreads. You'll have to develop a winning strategy and continually tweak it until it's perfect. Here are a few tips and strategies that will help point you in the right direction.

Shop Lines

Shopping betting lines is one of the most important things you can do when betting point spreads in basketball. While the majority of sportsbooks will have the same line, it's fairly common that you can find lines that are a half or full point different. This can have a huge impact on your bottom line. If you don't think a half point or one full point makes that big of a difference, just ask anyone who has bet sports for a while. They will inform you that getting an extra half point is like winning the sports betting lottery.

This used to be impossible or extremely time-consuming when only land based sportsbooks and casinos existed. You would have to drive hundreds of miles if you wanted to get to another casino and then hope they still had the different line. This would cost you travel money as well as time. Online sportsbooks make this extremely easy now. You can check several sportsbooks lines on a game within a matter of seconds or minutes. It doesn't cost you any additional money, just a few minutes of your time and can have a huge impact on the outcome of your bets.

Don't Bet Every Game

A common mistake that new bettors will do is to bet every single game. Unfortunately, this is not a winning strategy no matter how sharp you are. Stick to betting the games where you actually see value. Here's what we mean by value. Let's say in our earlier example that you agree with the sportsbook that the Florida Gators should win the game by seven. You should not bet this game then no matter what if the line is -7. If you're right, the best you can do is tie on your bet. When you pick a side, you're basically going to be guessing and flipping a coin. Theoretically, you'll win as many times as you lose, but you'll be paying the house percentage every single bet and slowly bleeding your money and profits away.

Only bet games where you have a clear prediction on a team covering the spread. Look for lines that you think are incorrect and put your money there. The idea here is to be making intelligent picks that you actually believe will win. If you're betting every game, you're just gambling and no longer letting your skill and knowledge base shine through.

Predict Line Movements

Let's use our example from earlier, but this time let's say you think that Florida will cover the -7 spread. Should you place this bet? Maybe. Yes, this is good value bet and one that you should bet, but maybe not right away. Let's say you think the public is improperly going to dump a lot of money onto Arkansas. If this happens and you wait to place your bet, the line might move in your favor. By waiting, you may be able to get Florida at -6.5 to win. This means that if you bet right away, you would only tie if they won by seven points. By waiting, you will win your bet now if Florida wins the game by seven points.

The betting public as a whole is not very smart. There is a reason it is such a lucrative business to be in for the sportsbooks. The public loves to bet popular teams, great story lines, and trends that don't have a lot of merits. If you think that the public is going to bet a lot and shift the line more in your favor, just wait. In these situations, the worst that might happen is the line doesn't move, and you then take the bet right before the game at the original line that you still thought had value. Yes, there is a possibility of the point spread moving the other direction. If this happens, you just don't make a bet on this game and wait for the next one.

This also comes into play on games that you think the line is correct. For example, let's say you think the line of Florida -7 is correct, so you elect not to bet it because there is no value. This doesn't mean you should never look at this game again. If the line happens to shift in either direction, you can make a bet that has value. If the line moves to Florida -6, you place a bet on Florida because you originally thought they would win by seven. If the line moves to Florida -8, then you place a bet on Arkansas at +8 because you originally thought Florida would win by seven and Arkansas would lose by seven. The next strategy tip is a good idea to help you be ready for these situations.

Have an Idea Before You Look

Point spread lines can be tricky in the fact that they can help shape our views of a game just by looking at them. You may have no opinion of a game until you look at a point spread and then your brain immediately starts looking for evidence to back up the line. This can cause you to build your view of a game off of what the sportsbook thinks and not what you think. The best advice here is to have an idea of what you think the line is before you look at the sportsbook's lines. This will protect you from being influenced by what they came up with and help you to spot bad lines.

Don't Just Look at the NBA

A good rule of thumb with sports betting is that the sportsbook is going to put more time, effort, and resources into setting their lines on the sports and leagues that have the most action. This is a completely smart move on their part as it's where they stand to lose the most money if they make a mistake. What this means is that the smaller sports and leagues are much more likely to have bad lines or lines that don't respond as quickly to trends as they should. Regarding basketball, this means you may have more luck looking into college basketball or even the smaller European leagues. If you do choose to go this route, make sure that you do all of your homework and are not just jumping into a new league blind. College basketball and Euro league betting are NOT the same as NBA betting even though they are the same sport. This does not mean you can't bet the NBA and that you won't find great lines; it just means that the bad lines are more likely to be corrected quicker as the sharp bettors will jump all over them, and the sportsbook will adjust.

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