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How Do Sports Betting Spreads Work?

If there is one term that every sports better should be intimately familiar with, it’s “spread bets”. Though there are several sorts of sports bets to be made on any sporting event, there is none more ubiquitous than spread or, as they’re otherwise known, line bets.

But what exactly are they and how do they work?

What They Are

Sports betting spreads are not so much specific bets, as much as they are what bookmakers use to even the odds between two unevenly matched teams. Punters then bet on the underdog (the team/ player least likely to win) or the favorite (the team/ player most likely to win) and the way they are paid out depends on the spread.

How It Works

Let’s take for example, an NFL match between the Chiefs and the Patriots – a pretty classic and common match. Bookmakers then take a look at the two teams and decide that for the match, the Patriots are a -3 point favorite against the Chiefs. That means the Patriots are likely to win the game by 3 points or the Chiefs will lose by 3, depending on your point of view.

So the way this would work is that if you want to bet on the Patriots on the spread, they would need to win by at least three points for your bet to pay out. If the Patriots were to only win by two points, you would lose the bet because they didn’t hit the base number of three points. 

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This spread of -3 actually means that the two teams are fairly equal and that the Patriots might have that slight lead because, for example, they have a home field advantage or their performance has been just the tiniest amount better than the Chiefs overall.  With such a low spread, bookies effectively see these teams as more or less equal and, therefore, expect to receive fairly even money on both. If, on the other hand, these teams were widely considered equal by everyone and instead of having the spread at a meager -3, bookies put it at -10, bettors certainly wouldn’t bet equally on both teams, but would flock to put money on the Patriots +10.

In a spread bet, especially on football, the odds are usually set at -110 on both sides, depending on the sportsbook and state. That means that whether you bet on the Chiefs -3 or Patriots +3, you’ll win the same amount of money if you win the bet.

Spread Bet vs Moneyline

Worth noting is the difference between line – aka spread – bets and moneyline bets. If, in our example, you believe the Patriots will win but think that it’s unlikely that they’ll win by as many as 3 points, you wouldn’t go for a spread bet but a moneyline bet, where the only requirement is that the Patriots win, regardless of points. 

There’s a significant difference in the way the odds are worked out in moneyline bets vs spread bets. While bookies use the spread to set the odds at -110 for both sides, with a moneyline bet, the odds will look very different. For example, the Patriots may be set at -140 to win vs the Chiefs at +120 to win. 

In other words, on a spread bet, the payout will be the same regardless of whether you bet on the Chiefs or the Patriots. In a moneyline bet, however, if you bet on the Patriots winning and they do, you will see a significantly smaller payout than if you make an underdog bet on the Chiefs and the Chiefs win.

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