What does cover mean in sports betting?

by Big Al Staff

What does cover mean in sports betting?

One of the most popular bet types in sports betting is the point spread.  The point spread refers to the number of points (plus or minus) applied to the respective final scores of the two teams in order to determine the outcome of a bet.  One of the teams is designated the underdog, while the other one is the favorite.  With a moneyline wager, the odds on the favorite are often prohibitive, and you may have to lay $500, $700, or even $2,000 dollars to win $100.  However, with a point spread, the playing field is leveled, which makes both sides of the bet equally as attractive since the odds are generally close to -110 for both teams.

With each matchup, the oddsmakers need to determine the appropriate point spread.  Typically, the point spread will reflect the difference in talent between the two teams, and will be adjusted by various intangible factors, such as schedule, motivation, home field advantage, and the like.  After the game goes final, the bookmaker will add the point spread (if an underdog) or subtract the point spread (if a favorite) to determine the winner of the bet.  When a team won the bet, it is said that the team covered the spread.

Thus, cover in betting refers to 'cover the spread' -- when a team wins for its bettors after the application of the point spred. To further illustrate how point spread betting works, we'll dive in to show you all there is to know to get you started straightaway!

How does point spread betting work?

Alright, so you're into wagering, and you're already familiar with moneyline betting.  Now, it’s time to dive into some other options.  Sports bettors in the United States prefer to wager on the point spread.  But how does it work?  Let's start with a simple definition of the point spread.  The spread is a median number, calculated by the bookmaker, which has as its objective the equal division of money wagered on both the underdog and the favorite.

Point spread betting is most popular in football and basketball since there are lots of points scored in those games.  It's also possible to make spread wagers in hockey and baseball, as well, but in a different form (we'll dive into that later).  For now, we'll zoom into the way the number works -- how to read the point spread betting lines.

How to read the point spread numbers
To display how the point spread works, we'll use an NFL match between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.  The betting lines for this NFL game might look like this:

  • Dallas Cowboys -3.5
  • Philadelphia Eagles +3.5

As you can, two teams are competing against each other here.  One carries a plus sign, while the other a minus sign alongside the spread number.  The favored team is the Dallas Cowboys, and the Philadelphia Eagles are the underdog.  The number represents the amount of points to be applied to the final score to determine the point spread winner.  For the Cowboys, they need to win by more than 3.5 points to cover the spread.  The Eagles, on the other hand, need to either win the game outright, or lose by less than 3.5 points, to cover the spread.

As you can see, it’s quite possible that a team could win the game, straight-up, but not cover the spread.  Here, the Cowboys could earn a narrow win by just two points, and fail to cover the 3.5-point spread.

Understanding the payout in spread betting
You're in this to make money, so we'll show you just how to calculate the amount of money you can win.  You must understand that the betting odds for point spreads are generally close to -110.  Now, let's take the previous example and add the betting odds:

  • Dallas Cowboys -3.5 (-108)
  • Philadelphia Eagles +3.5 (-112)

In this example, you'll see two different odds for each team.  The odds are designed to provide the sportsbook with a means to earn its “vigorish,” or profit.  When you see -108, that means you need to bet $108 to win $100, and with -112, you would need to wager $112 to win $100.  Thus, the lower your odds, the less risk you have to take with your bet to secure a nice payout.  Most sportsbooks will set the betting odds for a point spread wager around -110, but they have the latitude to adjust the odds, as needed, to balance the betting action.  It goes without saying that some sportsbooks have better odds for their players than others.  BetAnySports, for example, is our #1-rated sportsbook, primarily because it has reduced juice.  Unlike most other sportsbooks that have standard -110 odds, BetAnySports offers its players -105 juice on football and basketball games, which is a major benefit.  

Half-point spreads
​In the NFL example that we used earlier, you'll have no doubt noticed that the point spread was a half-number, and not a whole number.  Point spreads incorporate a half-point system.  This has a dual function.  Most importantly, it allows a bookmaker to more easily balance its books on a particular game.  And a secondary function is that it eliminates any chance of the game resulting in a tie, and thus the bet 'pushing.'  When a bet pushes, there’s no winner, so a sportsbook returns the stakes to the bettors, and doesn’t earn any vigorish.

Point spreads in other sports than the NFL and NBA
There are sports all over the world.  And even though football and basketball are prevalent in the States, it's not that way throughout the world.  Indeed, there are millions of fanatic soccer fans who eagerly watch the English Premier League.  And sports like hockey and baseball are also very popular.  With these sports, bookmakers also offer spread betting, but it works in a slightly different way than with football and basketball.  The reason for this is the fact that there is a lot less scoring in soccer, hockey and baseball than in a regular football or basketball game.  So, the spread tends to be fixed -- usually at 1.5 goals (soccer, hockey) or runs (baseball).  And if the action on the game is unbalanced, the oddsmaker will adjust the associated moneyline odds, rather than the spread.  That’s a departure from how spread betting works in football and basketball, where the oddsmaker will move the point spread to try to balance out the betting action.

Also, bookies use different terms in soccer, hockey and baseball.  In those sports, the spread is referred to as a goal-line, puck-line or run-line, rather than point spread.  But they work in the same way, with spreads generally fixed at 1.5 goals or runs (but sometimes it will be +/- 2 or +/- 2.5, etc.).

How to win at spread betting

The sports betting industry is no different than other industries.  There’s stiff competition among the books to earn the business of sports gamblers.  When trying to determine which sportsbooks to join, we want to share some tips:

Pick the right sportsbook
In spread betting, there's a lot of movement in the betting lines.  You have the opening numbers when a game is first listed for wagering.  And the closing numbers at game time.  But in the hours or days in between, there can be major line movement, especially in games with injuries.  As a bettor, you can take advantage of this by keeping a sharp eye on the odds and place your bet at the right moment.  Nevertheless, you always need a proper sportsbook.  You might wonder, how do I find the right sportsbook?  Well, allow us to share a few tips:

  1. Explore your options:  There are hundreds of sportsbooks. Before the internet, you only had the brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in Las Vegas, or illegal bookmakers on the street corner.  Now, there are online sportsbooks that can be accessed by a few clicks of a mouse.  Start by doing a quick search on the most prominent and trusted sportsbooks out there (we also have a Top 10 Sportsbook section at our site, along with extensive reviews).

  1. Determine what’s important:  To make a proper decision, you need to understand your needs.  You can do this by listing the most important criteria that you want in your sportsbook.  Think about odds/reduced juice, sign-up and reload bonuses, parlay/teaser odds, prop bets, betting limits, modern website, banking methods, etc.

  1. Gain some experience:  When you're new to sports betting, you might feel overwhelmed by the options.  The one misconception that people might have is that they need to pick one sportsbook for the rest of their life.  You can (and should) have accounts at multiple sportsbooks, since this will enable you to shop the lines to get the best number.  Indeed, sports gamblers should have a minimum of three sportsbooks.  So don't be afraid to try out a couple of betting sites that match your criteria!  

Although our sportsbook reviews will go into this with more depth, here are some sportsbooks to join if you’re specifically looking for certain things.  If you want the best odds, join BetAnySports (which is our #1-rated sportsbook).  If you’re a big bettor, and want to wager $50,000 on an NFL side, then BookMaker should be your choice.  If you want the best website, Bovada is tops.  And if you’re looking for unique odds so you can shop the lines, then BetNow and BetOnline are perfect for that.  Finally, if you like betting parlays and teasers, BetAnySports has the best odds for those bet types.

Don't be afraid to ask for help
Sports betting can be difficult, especially with adrenaline flowing through your veins because your money is on the line.  You want to make the right call all the time, but sometimes your vision might be dazed, and you feel lost.  In these moments, you shouldn't be afraid to ask for help.

You could call, e-mail, or simply purchase the picks of a professional handicapper with just a couple of clicks.  All you need to do is ask for help, and you might just put yourself on a winning streak.  Some professionals have a track record that dates back decades, so they are sure to bring you profits over the long run!

Point spread sports betting terms

To sum up this article, we want to share a couple of common terms in spread betting.  You don't need to know every single one before you start wagering, but you'll come across these when doing your research, so it doesn't hurt to bring yourself up to speed beforehand.

  • ATS - against the spread:  The ATS term represents the point spread track record for a team.  In the statistics for a team, you might see 6-1 ATS.  That means the team covered the spread six times and failed to cover the spread once.
  • Chalk:  Chalk is the favored team.
  • Cover:  When a team wins with the bet after the application of the point spread, the team covers the spread.
  • PK - Pk'em:  In some matchups, the two teams are rated equal by the oddsmakers, and there’s no points in the point spread -- the game is a Pk’em.  Thus, the team which wins straight-up will bet the winner of the point spread bet.  
  • Push:  When the scores of the two teams, after the application of the point spread, are equal, the game results in a push (or tie), and no team covers the spread.  All bettors receive a refund of their initial stake.

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

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