What does ATS Mean in Betting?

by Big Al Staff

What does ATS mean in betting?

Sports betting has been around for centuries and dates back to the old Chinese and Roman empires.  The moment sports became more organized, people started wagering on the matches, and sports betting flourished.  Throughout history, people have bet on everything from cockfights to gladiator matches, and everything in between.

Nowadays, sports betting is a multi-billion dollar industry with bettors all around the globe wagering every single day.  With the industry growing, the types of bets grew as well.  Sportsbooks became more creative and looked beyond a simple moneyline wager.  The result is that sports bettors now have the opportunity to make moneyline bets, over/under bets, point spread bets, parlays, teasers, prop bets -- you name it -- if an oddsmaker can calculate the probability, you can likely bet on it.

In this betting guide, we'll dive into point spread betting and especially the question:  what does ATS mean in betting?  It's a term that's thrown around the statistics board a lot, but what does it mean, and how can you use it when betting on sports.  Don't worry, we'll guide you through and get you started as an actual sports bettor!

What is a point spread?

Before we dive into the meaning of the term ATS, let's paint a clear picture of what point spread betting is.  You might not believe it, but it was a former math teacher named Charles McNeil who is credited with conceiving point spread betting.  He loved to wager on basketball and football games.  But in the 1920s and 1930s, gamblers were limited to just moneyline wagers.  So, bookmakers might install Notre Dame as a 4-1 favorite over Army, or USC as a 5-2 favorite over Stanford.  At that time, McNeil created a point system to determine, for example, by how many points USC might defeat Stanford.  And from his point system, he would decide whether or not to make a moneyline wager.  But McNeil also recognized that moneylines stifled gambling.  Many bettors didn’t want to risk $400 to win $100 on Notre Dame against Army.   He correctly deduced that a point spread betting system would be more popular with gamblers, so he opened his own bookmaking shop in Chicago in the 1940s.  He called it “wholesaling odds,” and would rate the two teams to come up with an estimate of the final margin of victory.  Bettors could choose either team, based on McNeil’s estimated number, and either take the points with the underdog, or lay the points with the favorite.  Chicagoans loved the new form of betting, and his bookmaking operation was wildly successful.  McNeil retired from bookmaking in 1950, but the point spread grew to become the dominant way Americans wager on sports.

Today, oddsmakers publish point spread odds on all kinds of sports.  The most popular sports are still football and basketball.  However, bettors can now make run-line bets in baseball, puck-line bets in hockey, and goal-line bets in soccer.

How to bet against the spread

The point spread came into play to give both sides of a wager an equal playing field.  With a regular moneyline wager, the odds might be prohibitive in matchups between two unequal teams.  Gamblers are not fond of having to wager $900 dollars to win $100 on an NFL game.  However, if the point spread in that game was 13.5 points, and a gambler would only have to risk $110 to win $100, then the wager would be appealing. To illustrate further, let's look at the betting lines of an NFL match between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  • New England Patriots -5.5, -110
  • Pittsburgh Steelers +5.5, -110

With a point spread wager, you have a favorite and an underdog, similar to a moneyline wager.  However, you're wagering on the difference in points with the final score of the match.  That means there are two scenarios of how this bet can play out:

  • To cover the spread, the New England Patriots need to win by more than 5.5 points.
  • To cover the spread, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to win the game outright OR lose by less than 5.5 points.

When either of these teams covers the spread, it means they would be assigned a win “against the spread” -- in short ATS.  If it was the first game of the season, then their ATS record would be 1-0 ATS, which means they covered the spread once and never failed to cover the spread.  You will see season records like 7-2 ATS for a specific team, like a college football team, in the statistics.  During the season, such a college football team would have covered the spread 7 times, and failed to cover the spread two times.

Point spread betting in other sports
It’s true that point spread betting is most popular in football and basketball, primarily because they’re the highest-scoring major sports.  In contrast, there aren’t a lot of runs scored in a baseball game, or goals scored in hockey or soccer games.  So, against the spread betting is actually less popular in those sports than moneyline wagers.  Still, in any sport where you have two teams competing against each other, you'll be able to bet the spread.  But they’re called “run-lines,” “puck-lines,” and “goal-lines” in those other sports, rather than point spreads.  The mechanics of betting the spread, though, in these sports is identical.  Typically, bookmakers will install the favored team as a 1.5-run favorite in baseball, or 1.5-goal favorite in hockey or soccer, and then adjust the moneyline odds from there.

How to read point spread betting odds
With most bet types, the odds are what it all comes down to.  You want to shop around for the best lines, and you also want to make sure the odds are the best you can get.  With a point spread, the betting odds are usually (but not always) -110.  A typical example of betting odds for a football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Green Bay Packers:

  • Carolina Panthers -4.5 (-110)
  • Green Bay Packers +4.5 (-110)

The betting odds are the same (-110) for both teams.  

Thus, there are two components of point spread betting odds. There’s the actual point spread (e.g., +4.5) and the moneyline odds (e.g., -110).  When betting on sports, you’ll notice that sportsbooks move their lines now and then in reaction to, and in anticipation of, bets placed by sports gamblers.  The numbers are in constant flux, and different sportsbooks will have different odds.  As a gambler, you always want the most favorable odds. That's why it's critical to have accounts at multiple sportsbooks.  Our advice is to have at least three sportsbooks to give yourself a good opportunity to get the best number.  And, ideally, you want accounts at sportsbooks that post unique odds -- that is, they’re not “followers” -- they don’t copy odds from other sportsbooks.  The best sportsbooks in this regard are BetAnySports, BetNow, Bovada, BetOnline, and BookMaker.

How to calculate your point spread payout
For many, ATS betting is something done for entertainment purposes.  However, we're betting to make some dollars here, so let's get down to business.  When you're comparing the odds at separate sportsbooks, you need to determine which sportsbook has the best odds for your particular wager.   To calculate your payout, we'll provide you with a short example to illustrate:

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers -6.5 (-115)
  • San Francisco 49ers +6.5 (-105)

In the betting lines above, you can see that the Buccaneers are the point spread favorite, while the 49ers are the underdog.  However, the odds for both teams are slightly different, as the sportsbook has moved the moneyline odds away from the standard -110 odds to try to attract more money on San Francisco.  This leaves you with two possibles outcomes of this game:

  • You wager $115 on the Buccaneers to cover the spread.  The final score is 24-13 in favor of the Buccaneers, which means they cover the spread.  You win $100, and your total payout would be $215.
  • You wager $105 on the 49ers to cover the spread.  The final score is 20-19 in favor of the Buccaneers, which means the Buccaneers failed to cover as a 6.5-point favorite. This means the 49ers cover the point spread, and you win $100. Your total payout would be $205.

What are the terms you have to know in spread betting?

When you're scrolling around social media or various sports betting portals, you will see many gambling-related terms.  It might feel a bit overwhelming at times since you're not entirely sure what they all mean.  You could call up your buddy who knows every term or head to google to get familiar.  We've constructed a short list of all the terms you should know when ATS betting.

  • Against the spread (ATS):  This refers to the statistic that shows the ATS record of a particular team.  The ATS record is made up of the win/loss record in the games where the point spread was available.
  • Cover the spread:  A team covers the spread when their margin of victory or defeat in the game was better than that predicted by the oddsmaker’s point spread.
  • Handicapping:  Handicapping is the method to calculate a team’s scoring advantage (or disadvantage) in order to project by how much a team might win (or lose).  Handicappers are those bettors who engage in the process of handicapping.
  • Half-point: The number of points for a point spread can be either whole or half-point numbers.  The use of half-points is a means to balance out the action, done by oddsmakers.  An additional benefit for the sportsbook is that half-points take away the possibility of a bet resulting in a push (tie), which sportsbooks prefer since they cannot earn their vigorish on bets that tie.
  • Line moves:  The moment a game becomes available for wagering, you'll see a point spread for both teams.  Over time, as bettors put money on one team or another, or significant players are ruled out of the game due to health, the line can change. This movement of numbers is called line movement.
  • Pk'em:  When two teams are so close to each other that there's no clear favorite or an underdog, you end up with a Pk'em game, or PK, for short.  In such games, whichever team wins straight-up will cover the point spread.
  • Push: When a wager, after the application of the point spread, ends up as a tie, your bet will push.  This means that neither team covers the spread, and you will get a refund of your stake.

Now that you’ve finished this betting guide, you have everything it takes to figure out what ATS means in sports betting and how to place your first point spread wager.  Any team has its own ATS record, but what will be your record?  Let's see how you will perform and know where you stand in comparison to other handicappers!  As always, happy betting!

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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