What Does Betting on a Spread Mean?

When you place a wager or a bet on the outcome of a sporting event, you’re generally placing your money on one team or individual. Sometimes it’s even possible to bet on the weather, with some bookmakers offering bets on the chance of it being sunny or cloudy on a certain day. But, in most cases, you’re placing your bets on some other entity with a set of rules and regulations that your bookmaker adheres to.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll find any bookmakers advertising bets on, for example, whether or not Madonna will complete her world tour this year, it’s possible that they take some different views on some popular events. For instance, they might consider Kanye West to be more influential than Taylor Swift, so they’ll obviously back the latter’s music industry domination versus the former’s cultural impact.

The same goes for other team sports like American football or baseball. The point is that when you place a wager on the outcome of a sporting event, you’re committing to backing a particular team or individual winner. But what does that winner have to do with the spread?

The Spread

Let’s say you’re playing fantasy football and decide that you want to take a shot on whether or not the Philadelphia Eagles or the New England Patriots will cover the point spread (the point or difference in score) in the upcoming game. You search for online bookmakers that offer that game and discover that the Patriots are a +3.5 point favorite against the Eagles. The spread, as it’s commonly referred to in sports betting, is the point or difference between the teams’ scores. In this case, it’s a home victory for the Eagles with a score of 20-17. Now you have two options: You can bet on Philadelphia or you can bet on New England. In most cases, you’ll want to stack your chips on the underdogs. In other words, you’ll need to bet on New England if you want to win the bet.

In the above case, you’d win $100 since New England covered the point spread (+3.5). But if Philadelphia won 20-17, you’d only get back $93.50 since the point spread was originally +3.5. Thus, you’re not guaranteed to win money on a spread bet. It just depends on which team you back and whether or not they cover the point spread or lose it.

The Over Under (OU)

An over under (OU) bet is similar to a spread bet, but instead of betting on the outcome of an event, you’re placing a wager on whether or not the total combined score of two teams will be higher or lower than a certain amount. For example, you might decide to bet $100 that the Chicago Bears will score at least 24 points against the Green Bay Packers. In that case, the over under is 24 points. If the game were to end up being a low-scoring contest, with the Bears only managing 20 points and the Packers only scoring 17, you’d win $100 since you’d backed the under 24 in the first place.

It’s possible to have a high-scoring game despite the total combined score being under 24, which is why you need to include the over under in any bet. If you don’t want to risk losing $100, it’s best to avoid bets on over under bets since they inevitably end up being mostly losers. However, the opposite is true if you’re looking for a steady source of income. You might find that betting on over under bets is the best way to go since they tend to produce better results than expected. In other words, you’re more likely to win money overall, even if you lose a little on the initial wager.

Straight Up (SU)

A straight up bet is the most basic type of sports bet. Simply put, you’re backing a single team or individual to win the game outright. In most cases, you’ll want to stack your chips on the favorites since the odds are in your favor. But like any other type of sports bet, there’s always the possibility of the favorite losing. The important thing to keep in mind is that when they do lose, they usually do so by a smaller margin than you’d expect. In other words, you’re more likely to get your money back than you are to lose it.

For example, you might decide to bet $100 on the New York Jets against the Pittsburgh Steelers. You’ll want to put your money on the Jets since they’re a +300 favorite. That means that if you win, you’ll get back $300; if you lose, you’ll still break even.

While it’s tempting to take a shot on the favorite in all sports bets since they’re the ones with the best shot at winning, it’s generally a bad idea to do so. The reason is that even the favorites occasionally lose, and when they do, they usually do so by a smaller margin than expected. So while there’s nothing wrong with the bet itself, there’s often a lot wrong with the house’s odds. In most cases, you’ll only break even on a straight up bet. It’s not unusual for bookmakers to offer odds that are even pari passu (level playing field), which essentially means that they’re giving you a fair chance of winning.

Betting on the basis of pure luck is generally a bad idea, but in cases where the favorite wins by a small margin, it can be tempting to try and pull off a small profit, if you’re a long-stayer. But even then, it’s usually not a good idea to put your money on the favorite in any event since they’re usually the ones with the best shot at winning and, when they do, they usually do so by a smaller margin than you’d expect. In other words, you’re more likely to lose money overall. For this reason, it’s safer to bet on the underdogs in all sports betting, which is why you’ll find so many online bookmakers that take sports bets, offering odds on all kinds of events, from the Super Bowl to the French Open, from the NBA to the EPL.