What does Cover the Spread Mean?

by Big Al Staff

What does cover the spread mean?

We're here to teach you all about point spread betting, no matter how experienced you might be.  When you're doing some research on sports betting, and find yourself on Twitter or other social media, the term 'cover the spread' might have passed by.  But what does it mean?

To understand what the term means, you should understand the bet type it's associated with -- the point spread bet.  Remember that the objective of the bookmaker is to try to get -- as much as possible -- an equal amount of money wagered on each team, so the point spread is a mechanism used to level out the talent disparity between the teams.  With the point spread, the bookmakers assign a number, which will be added or subtracted to the final score of the two teams.  One team is installed as the favorite, while the other is installed as the underdog.  At the end of the game, the favorite has the point spread subtracted from its score, while the underdog has the point spread added to its score.  Then, following that mathematical exercise, the team with the higher score is determined to have covered the spread.  Because the point spread gives both teams a relatively equal chance to cover the spread, no matter the difference in skills, it’s the most popular bet among bettors.

In this betting guide, we'll show you how to get started with point spread betting.  No matter which team wins, you can always predict the right team to cover the spread, so let's get you started right away!

How to get started with point spread betting

The first thing you do when you're diving into this type of bet is to figure out the exact way the point spread works.  Unlike the moneyline wager, where you simply predict which team wins outright, the point spread bet takes it up a notch.  Both teams have roughly an equal chance to cover the spread.  But to give you a proper explanation, we will work with an example.  Let's take an exciting NFL game between the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers.  Your betting lines might look like this for the spread:

  • New England Patriots -2.5
  • ​Green Bay Packers +2.5

As you can see by the plus sign (+) and minus (-) sign, the Patriots are the favorite, while the Packers are the underdog.  The number of points represents the amount which will be assigned to a team’s final score to determine whether it covers the spread.

  • The New England Patriots need to win by more than 2.5 points to cover the spread
  • The Green Bay Packers need to win the game outright OR lose by less than 2.5 points to cover the spread.

No matter the difference in skill, this leaves both teams with a similar chance to cover the spread for their bettors. Now that you understand the basics of this wager type, we'll dive into some variations, and also explain the payouts.

You might wonder, why do these betting lines work with half-points?  Certainly, you can't score half-points in major sports like football, basketball, baseball or hockey, but that's part of the reason why the half-point is there.  When any matchup ends with the final score differential being equal to the point spread, then neither team covers the spread -- it’s a push (tie).  Thus all bettors get a refund.  With half-points used in the betting line, there's not a chance that the game will end up as a push.  So, bookmakers are ensured to earn their vigorish.  The other reason why half-points are used is because a point spread is designed to split the betting action equally between the two teams.  Half-points are necessary to help balance a bookmaker’s handle.

Run-lines and puck-lines
The most popular sports for point spread betting are football and basketball.  With football betting and basketball betting, there are lots of points scored every single game.  Currently, NFL games average more than 45 points per game, while NBA games average more than 220 points per game.  With sports like hockey or baseball, scoring is a lot less frequent.  An MLB game generates about nine runs per game, while an NHL game gets about six goals, on average.  Many hockey and baseball games have moneyline odds near -200, which bettors tend to dislike.  Thus, bookmakers came up with run-lines and puck-lines to level out the odds, and bring them closer to -110.  In essence, they work the same as regular point spreads, but they're generally set at +/- 1.5 runs (or goals).  The effect of adding/subtracting 1.5 runs might be that an MLB team which would otherwise be favored -240, now would be -130, while an underdog of +200 on the moneyline might be +110 if it gets +1.5 runs.  Thus, gamblers are more inclined to wager on the game because the odds are nearer to -110.  

How to calculate your point spread payout
The first thing you should know about spreads when you want to know how much you can earn is the way the odds work.  With moneyline wagers, parlay wagers, and teaser bets, the odds are all you look at.  They can vary per team and can bring in huge rewards.  With point spreads, you're not getting these extreme payouts.  Instead, the odds are generally close to -110.

Even though point spread odds are close to -110, they can vary among sportsbooks.  And some, like BetAnySports (our #1-rated sportsbook), offer reduced juice.  Thus, bettors can lay -105 on a football or basketball game rather than -110.  Also, in popular moneyline sports like hockey and baseball, there's often significant differences among sportsbooks as some oddsmakers will price their odds to realize a larger vigorish -- that is, their profit.  This shows how important it is to find the right bookie.  If you like to bet on baseball, go with sportsbooks like BetAnySports, BetNow, WagerWeb, or GTBets, as those offer “dime lines” rather than 20-cent lines, so their vigorish is less.  Nevertheless, let's assume -110 odds to illustrate a payout calculation.  We'll take a match between the Broncos and the Chiefs -- two of the biggest rivals in the NFL.  Your betting lines could look something like this:

  • Kansas City Chiefs -7.5 (-110)
  • Denver Broncos +7.5 (+110)

The Chiefs are the point spread favorite, while the Broncos are installed as the underdog.  Let's assume we're convinced the Chiefs will crush the Broncos and win by more than 7 points.  That brings two possible scenarios:

  • You wager $110 on the Chiefs to cover the spread.  The final score is 24-13 in favor of the Chiefs, which means Kansas City covers as a 7.5-point favorite.  You win $100, and your total payout would be $210.
  • You wager $110 on the Chiefs to cover the spread.  But you are wrong, and the Chiefs only win by three, 17-14, which means they fail to cover as a 7.5-point favorite.  This means the Broncos cover the point spread, and you lose $110.

How to use spread betting in your sports betting strategy

When reading through this betting guide, you might notice that we don't mention any other sports besides football, basketball, hockey, and baseball.  The reason is simple:  sports like Nascar racing, horse racing, and the UFC don't involve incremental scoring like the four major sports.  It leaves out the possibility to bet the spread.  As we wrap up this article, we want to give you some advice to start your spread betting career the right way.

The right sportsbook is key
No matter if you're in New York or Vegas, Dallas or Arizona, there are tons of opportunities when it comes to finding the right sportsbook.  You should know that not every single sportsbook is available in every state, but that's slowly starting to change.  More states are welcoming sports betting in general; thus, sportsbooks are setting up shop in more states.  And there’s also the fact that many of the best sportsbooks will continue to be the offshore books.  We're always looking out for the customer-friendly sportsbooks that put their bettors first.  We’ve done extensive research to determine which sportsbooks are the right fit for our audience.

  • One thing we look at is the year of establishment and the acquired licenses.  When a sportsbook has been around for decades, and has a perfect payout record, it gives customers a great sense of security.  Besides that, it's essential to know whether the sportsbook has a license to operate in your state.

  • Another key factor is the user experience.  This starts at the moment you deposit money and continues to the placement of the wagers, through the withdrawal of your winnings.  The logistics are important.  Are your preferred deposit and withdrawal options available?  Are the sports you want to bet on available?  How big are the wagering limits?  Is the website modern, fast, and easy-to-use?

  • Perhaps the most important factor are the odds.  When shopping around for the best lines, you will notice it's smart to have accounts at multiple sportsbooks.  Sharp bettors always get the best line.  Plus you can reel in sign-up and reload bonuses and promotions at each separate sportsbook!  When shopping for the best lines, it’s advantageous to be with sportsbooks that use their own numbers (like BetAnySports, Bovada, BetNow or BetOnline), rather than ones that copy them from the major operators.

Consider this the start of your journey to find the right sportsbook.  There's no perfect one, and as we said before, it doesn't hurt to have accounts at multiple sportsbooks.
Manage your bankroll and do your research!
When you're wagering on the point spread, it's your task as a sports bettor to pick the right matchup.  You can't find the right matches without doing proper research first.  With major sports leagues across the world, there's always a game you could bet on.  Start your search by narrowing down the sports on which you like to wager, and then which games are available.  Start with a more straightforward bet, then slowly start building up the confidence to make some bigger wagers and bets with a little more risk.

It’s true that sports started for entertainment purposes only.  But with the development of sports betting, sports are now a vehicle to earn money.  Nowadays, thousands of sports bettors wager professionally.  They do so by doing thorough research and placing wagers quickly and effectively.  That also means not placing all their eggs in one basket.  If you manage this the right way, you're in for the long-run, not just short-term gains.

We want to wish you happy betting!  Always feel welcome to visit our betting guides to gain additional knowledge about the field of sports gambling!  And remember to enjoy yourself.

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

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