What is point spread betting?

What is a point spread?

More often than not, most bets go deeper than the odds of a heads-or-tails prediction when flipping a coin. Even a fun wager on a 50-50 outcome like a Super Bowl opening coin toss is nearly impossible to find. This makes friendly or farmer bets, as they were called once upon a time, tough to agree upon because one outcome is usually much more likely than the other. Enter the point spread.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a sport that doesn't offer point spread wagering. As one of the most popular bet types, it is attractive for any sport that features high-scoring games. This is simply because a point spread helps level the playing field, even if one team is a strong favorite. As 2021 ushered in single-game point-spread bets into law for Canadians, it's never been easier to find a fun wager in even the most lopsided matchups.

The point spread is commonly referred to as ‘the spread’ or ‘betting against the spread’, although depending on the sport, there are variations in the name. The important thing to remember is that they all work the same way.

There is also an opportunity to buy points at certain sportsbooks. This means that if a team is favoured by 10.5, you can buy points at less value to enhance the chances of you winning. In this example, you could make the spread 15.5, but your return would be less if you win. Some other terms include "laying the points," which means betting on the favoured team, or "fading" a specific team, which means you are betting against a specific team.


In the NFL, CFL, and college football, the point spread lends itself ideally because the final score in the game is usually determined by multiple points.

For instance, the BC Lions may enter a match as firm underdogs against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but the point spread allows fans in Vancouver to still lay a bet on their hometown gridiron team. For example, taking the Lions at a +12.5 point spread means they can lose the game by as many as 12 points, and their selection will still pay out.

Hockey and soccer

In hockey, the point spread is known as the puck line, while soccer's point spread is known as the handicap, and the spread can be even thinner than you'll find in hockey.

In both cases, the underdog team gets a virtual head-start, in goals, meaning it may only be worth it if you think a favorite is going to win a match by several goals. If this amount is greater than the head start given to their opponent by the sportsbook, you may able to back it at much better odds than the moneyline.


Similarly, the margin of victory is often small in baseball. MLB's version of the spread is called the run line and you have to consider when it’s worth wagering on.

For instance, there may be no value in betting on the Blue Jays to beat the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre via the moneyline because the odds are too thin. However, betting on them via the run line to beat Baltimore by two runs (-1.5) could play much better.


The NBA is another good point spread betting league. As basketball is such a high-scoring sport, on any given night there could be several games for which a difference of 10 points or more is expected.

Instead of betting the moneyline and taking the Toronto Raptors to beat the New York Knicks in a challenging road game, you can play the spread. If the Knicks are favoured by +9.5, they have to win by 10 points, and Toronto can lose by as many as nine for your bet to win.

How can you place a point spread bet?

Betting the spread is as easy as placing a moneyline bet, with the added challenge of deciding if you agree with the margin of victory set. This extra dynamic to the bet is reflected by the more favorable odds offered, hence why it’s just as popular, if not more, than a straight-up bet.

Here is an example for point spread odds that were listed for an NBA match between the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers:

Team and spread


Milwaukee Bucks, -6.5


Philadelphia 76ers, +6.5


The spread for the game is set at 6.5. This means that if you wagered $100 on the Bucks at -6.5, they would have to win by seven points or more for the bet to win. At odds of -114, this bet would have a payout of $187.72 (your $100 bet plus $87.72 in profit).

Alternatively, if you wagered $100 on the 76ers at +6.5, they could either win the game or lose by six points or fewer for your bet to win. At odds of -106, this bet would have a payout of $194.34 (your $100 bet plus $94.34 in profit).

As you can see when comparing the betting lines above, you would get much better value betting on the Bucks to beat the spread than on a straight moneyline win. However, if you think the match will be close, you need to consider whether the Bucks will win by the margin required.


Why is there a .5 in point spreads?

You will often see .5 on a point spread and wonder why a sportsbook would list a scoring number that doesn’t exist. After all, you can’t score half a goal in hockey or soccer, or half a run in baseball. You might say sports gambling has the same stance MLB has on ties; they don't like them. Sportsbooks offer point spreads to .5 margins in order to ensure there is a definite outcome – a team will either beat the spread, or not.

Sportsbooks do occasionally offer point spreads to whole numbers, which can enable a push for your bet. In the wagering world, a push is essentially a tie. If you bet on the Raptors to win on a spread of -2 and they win the match by two points, bettors on both sides get their money back. However, if the spread was set at -2.5, such an outcome would not be possible.

How is the spread calculated?

The spread is created by oddsmakers as a middling mark between two teams for a match. For the bettor, it’s essentially the margin by which a sportsbook thinks the favorite will win a game. However, for the sportsbook, the ultimate goal of the spread is having each outcome being wagered upon at a similar rate.

This means that spreads can change in the buildup to a game. For instance, the Green Bay Packers may open as -10.5 favourites ahead of a NFL game against the Chicago Bears. However, if in the next few days it is announced that the Packers will be missing key players with injuries and/or a majority of bettors have wagered on Chicago to cover, the spread may be pushed down to -9.5 or -8.5 by the time the game actually starts.

Does betting the point spread provide value?

There are a few reasons you may want to lay a point spread bet rather than play the moneyline or total. The moneyline is essentially based on the probability of one team beating another outright, meaning the only option it may offer for betting on the underdog is to win a game they are considered unlikely to win. Meanwhile, the total focuses on all points, runs, or goals scored, which may not suit you if are more confident in predicting the margin of victory in a game as opposed to how action-packed it will be.

Some of the value or preference of playing spreads comes when a favorable line is in place for a team you believe will win or keep it close in the first place. This is one of the reasons football is popular for point spread betting, as you can play lines based directly around points given for the most common scoring methods.

For instance, if you believe the LA Rams will win a game at home against Cincinnati Bengals and are -2.5 point favorites, taking them to win by those three points or a field goal will pay more than if you took them to win outright via the moneyline.

Since the three-point field goal is one of only a few scoring denominations in football, it ups the chances of a game being determined by three points, seven points (a converted touchdown), or a combined total of those scoring numbers. If you liked the Bengals as underdogs, a +3.5 spread would be favorable because even if they lose by a field goal, you will still cash in.

Point spread betting FAQs

What does 1.5 mean in spread betting?
What does alternative point spread mean?
Can I include point spread bets in a parlay?

All betting guides on BET.CA are written by in-our house team, who have over 40 years’ experience in the sports betting and gaming industries, and have worked and written for several of the world’s leading sportsbooks. They possess in-depth knowledge of betting markets and strategies, as well as an understanding of what is important to bettors, meaning you can read on with the confidence that they will help improve your betting.

BET.CA staff
BET.CA staff