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  Page last updated on Mon Jul 06 07:20:00 EDT 2015
How To Read and Understand the Point Spread

Most newspapers and websites publish the line on a football or basketball game simply as a single number. In our example we will use Chicago against New York in which Chicago is favored by 4 over New York. The usual format for this game would be displayed as:

  • Chicago -4
  • New York +4

What is generally understood with such a line is that in a wager on this game one would risk 110 to win 100. For example you may risk $55 to win $50 or $110 to win $100, but what is understood in the presentation of the line is that a bettor will lose an extra 10% of their wager amount if they should lose.

However in the era of online gaming, business competition has led to a better deal for the gambler. One no longer needs to risk and extra 10% on every wager they make. For example, at Sports.com, if you make a wager on Fridays, you will find that you only need to risk 5% on most games. In this case the line would be displayed as:

  • Chicago -4 -105

One would only be risking $105 to win $100 on a wager on Chicago. If you win, you still win $100. However if you lose, you only lose $105 instead of $110.

Sometimes the line will be displayed as a rather larger number after the point spread. There are 2 different ways to display this number. On ScoresAndOdds.com, the number displayed is the difference between the bet and the payoff. Other sites add 100 to the number, showing what you'd need to bet in order to win $100. Let us look at an example where you would need to wager $120 in order to win $100: On ScoresAndOdds.com this would be shown as:

  • Chicago -4 -20

Other sites will show it as:

  • Chicago -4 -120

Just remember that these represent identical odds, and are just 2 different ways of displaying the information.

In this case, the bookmaker is getting a lot of business on Chicago and is trying to generate more business on New York. The bookmaker has two choices, they can either move the game to Chicago -4.5 or if they like they number 4, they can stay on 4 and move the "juice" instead.

In this example, a bettor who placed a $100 wager on Chicago would be risking $120 to win $100. On the other hand, if one where to wager on New York, they would only be risking $100 to win $100, they would not be risking anything more than their wager amount. This is how the bookmaker entices bettors to wager on New York and balance their book.

In general most bookmakers apply the principal that the difference between betting on the favorite and the dog is 20 cents. So if the favorite is -115 then the dog is -105. If the favorite is -125, then the dog is +105. And if the favorite is -110, then the dog is -110.

The same principal applies to wagers on the total of the game. If the game total is 41o20, then a wager on the over is risking 120 to win 100 and a wager on the under is risking 100 to win 100. If the line simply states 41, then a wager on the over or the under are both risking 110 to win 100. (of course the difference between the favorite and the dog is only 10 cents on Fridays at Sports.com)

A Money Line wager is a wager on the outcome of the game regardless of the point spread. Who will win straight up. The usual display for a money line wager in football is as follows:

  • Chicago -200
  • New York +170

In this example, a wager on Chicago to win the game would be risking 200 to win 100. One may bet $200 to win $100 or $150 to win $75. The bottom line is the same, one has to risk 200% of their wager to win 100%. A wager on the underdog, New York, would be a risk of 100 to win 170. One may bet $100 to win $170 or $200 to win $340. The bottom line is the same, one has to risk 100% of their funds to win 170% back.

The same principal applies to baseball and hockey wagering.

We also have a parlay calculator for your convenience. Please click here to access the calculator.

Note: Lines and scores highlighted in blue signify an update within the last ten minutes.


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