Point Spread Betting Explained: How It Works & How to Bet

Point spread betting is one of the three standard sports betting markets. You can find it in football, basketball, hockey, tennis, and nearly all sports. As the name suggests, points spread bets are all about betting on the variation in goals scored between two teams. You can bet on the favourite to cover the spread.

Read more to explore everything you need to know about this market.

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What Is A Point Spread Bet?

Point spread betting, also called puck line betting in hockey, is a popular sports betting market involving how many points a team scores more than the other. Here's an example of a point spread betting line in an NBA match between the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors:

  • Detroit +8.5 (-119) Toronto -8.5 (-119)

In this example, Toronto Raptors are the favourites, while the Detroit Pistons are the underdogs. If you bet on Toronto to cover the spread, they’ll need to score at least 9 points more than Detroit, like in a 26-35 score.

You'll need to bet at least $119 to win $100 from that bet. If the Raptors win by less than 9 goals, you lose that bet. conversely, if you bet on Detroit, the team must lose the game by not more than 8 points, like in a 26-34 outcome. You also win the bet if Detroit beats Toronto.

If the team loses by more than the point spread, you lose the bet. Spread betting often offers better odds in matchups where there's an obvious favourite. Betting on the moneyline bet may offer little if everyone knows the favourite will win. The spread bet offers a chance to bet on a higher goal difference, which comes with more risk and higher odds. Bookies offer different point spreads, so you can shop for the most competitive odds and markets.

What Does Covering the Spread Mean?

Covering the spread is a term used to reference the favourite's potential to win the bet. For the favourite team to win a spread bet, they must "cover the spread", which implies they need to score more than the set threshold. If the favourite team wins a spread bet, it means they covered the spread. For example, if the threshold is 8.5 points, the favourite must score at least 9 points to cover the spread.

What is ATS?

ATS is an acronym for the phrase "against the spread" and is the opposite of covering the spread. The term is used about the underdog. When you bet for the underdog not to lose by a specific number of points, you're simply betting against the spread.

For instance, if Toronto Raptors are favourites to beat the Detroit Pistons at a spread of 8.5, you can bet on the Pistons not to lose by more than 8 points. In this case, you're betting against the spread.

What is the number Next to the Spread?

The number next to a point spread bet is the threshold set by the bookie to determine how many points the favourite must cover or the underdog must avoid. Most bookies use a .5, like in 8.5 or 11.5.

There are no .5 points in most sports, so the favourite must score 9 goals in an 8.5 spread. The underdog can concede 8 or fewer in this case. Bookies can set unique thresholds depending on the match predictions and h2h stats.

Run Lines & Puck Lines

Run lines and Puck lines are other names for spread betting. The only difference is they’re used in specific sports. Point spread bet is the universal term used for football, basketball, soccer, and most sports.

In hockey, Puck Lines is the term and is derived from the round/square ice hockey puck. In baseball, we use Run Lines. The name comes from the runs players make to win matches in the sport. Puck Lines, Run Lines, and Point Spread bets work the same.

What is ‘Juice’ or ‘Vig’ In Point Spread Betting?

Vig, vigorish or juice is the amount a bookie charges for taking the point spread bet. An example is -110 or -105, featured next to the points spread threshold.

The vig is always denoted by a negative sign (-) in point spread betting. If the vig is -110, the bookie needs a $110 bet to pay out $100 when you win the bet. You'll get $100 for every $110 you wager.

Why Do Point Spreads Change?

You might notice the number of points changing multiple times before the match begins. Most Canadian betting sites change the point spread bet to balance the books. If the number of points goes up, it means more punters are betting on the favourite to cover the spread.

If the points go down, it means more people are betting against the spread. The bookies adjust points to avoid significant losses.

What Is Line Shopping?

Line shopping is precisely what the name suggests; shopping around for the best betting lines and odds. Bookies set different lines and odds to attract punters or increase their profit margins.

You can compare lines from various bookmarkers to find the most competitive odds. The goal is to find a bookie that provides the most return for the bet. In spread betting, this might come in terms of a lower vig.

Possible Outcomes In Point Spread Betting

Point spread betting can result in two primary outcomes. The favourite will either cover the spread or fail to cover it. Bookies use a "hook" to structure point spread and totals (over/under) lines. The hook is the margin of winning for either team to cover a spread. A hook is represented as a .5 at the end of a whole number. 

Here’s an example:

  • Toronto Raptors -8.5, Detroit Pistons +8.5

For a bet on Toronto to win, the team must score 8.5 points more than Detroit. Since there's no .5, the team must score 9 goals or more to cover the spread. If you bet against the spread, Detroit must not lose by more than 8.5 points, which means all they need to do is win or lose by 8 points or less.

The hook plays a crucial role and is also used in over/under bets, where the bookie may offer betting lines like Over/Under 223.5. Betting on Over means the game should produce at least 223.5 (224 or more) points.

If you bet on under, the game total points must not exceed 223.5 (223 or less). Ties are rare in spread betting, especially when the lines feature a hook. 

The .5 eliminates all chances of a draw except for games beginning with a handicap. Introducing a handicap enables the outcome to become a tie. A team can begin the match with a +5.5 handicap, which means the team has 5.5 points to their name before the match. Only handicaps with a .5 can result in a tie.

How to Make A Spread Bet?

Making a spread bet is effortless once you understand point spread rules. The steps are basic across most bookies. You can find a reputable sports betting website based on your preferences, leverage bonuses, and explore your favourite sports. Note that spread betting has subtle differences from game to game.

NHL betting features low-scoring events, while NBA betting is high-scoring, so you might find more variations during in-play betting in basketball.

To make a spread bet, find the game you love on the sportsbook and launch it. The point spread bet is part of the the markets available in the snippet. You can bet for the spread or against the spread. Some bookies offer handicaps, and three-way point spread bets. You can also leverage unique sports betting tips, strategies, and features like parlays and in-play (live) betting.

Tips & Strategies for Point Spread Betting

Point spread betting is an exciting option for seasoned punters. Beginners can also enjoy the opportunities in spread betting. Whether you prefer NHL or NFL betting, the market is always present across all sports with a points or goals system. Here are tips to help you enjoy the point spread bets:

  • Start With A Reputable Bookie

Betting on the spread is all about determining the goal variation in a match. You need a bookie that features events on sports you love. Look for credible platforms with a legitimate license from Ontario iGO, Kahnawake, Malta, the UK, Curacao, and other known regulators.

You should also review security features, sports betting coverage, payment methods, and customer service.

  • Shop For Competitive Odds

Shopping for the best odds involves comparing offers from different bookmarkers.

For instance, Bookies A and B may offer a point spread bet of -8.5. Bookie A may accept the bet at -119, while Bookie B takes -118. If you bet with Bookie A, you need $119 to make $100, while Bookie B takes $118 for the same payout. 

The "vig” doesn’t affect the match outcome, so you should find the best offer possible from leading bookmakers.

  • Bet On Sports You Know/Follow

Choosing a sport or league you understand is the best way to get a head-start on spread betting. The NBA is a good place to start if you're a basketball fan.

If you fancy football or hockey, NFL and NHL betting make more sense. You probably know more about the teams, stats, and overall gaming atmosphere, which are crucial when predicting sports events.

How Spread Bets Are Calculated?

Spread bets are calculated based on the variation in the number of points or goals scored. The bookies subtract the set hook/threshold from the outcome of the favourites to determine if they covered the spread.

You can also add the spread to the outcome of the underdog. Bookies use various factors to calculate spread bets and odds, including h2h stats, team current form and position in local leagues, form, and more.

Parlays vs Singles

The points spread bet is popularly used as a single bet, meaning you can have the market alone in your slip. Backing the underdogs offers a higher likelihood and good money for the risk. You can also invest in the favourites to increase your potential outcome. Seasoned punters know a single bet requires more investment to generate a significant payout.

A popular alternative is to create parlays or multi-bets. You can have a point spread bet for one match and another in a different event. Having two matches in your slip immediately increases the odds and potential payout should you win both. 

The caveat is you have to win all events in your parlay slip to get a payout. One wrong result voids the entire slip unless you leverage tools like cash out to save something before the last event is played. Leading bookies allow point spread odds to be combined with other markets in creating combo bets.

You can find same-game parlays where you bet on different markets within the same game. An example is betting against the spread and totals in the same slip. You can also find different game parlays and even different sports parlays.

Point Spread Betting FAQs

Why was my point spread bet cancelled?

Your point spread bet may be cancelled for various reasons, including match postponement, missing player, and accidental odds. Humans run bookies, so you may bet on accidental odds that the system corrects soon after. Your bookie may also void a spread bet if the game doesn't occur on the scheduled day or occurs but ends early due to injury or bad weather.

Is point spread possible/available on live betting?

Yes. You can find point spread betting on live betting events. The odds change rapidly during live betting, especially in basketball, where points are scored more frequently. You can bet on the spread in football, hockey, baseball, tennis, and other sports during live games.

How does spread betting work?

A spread bet involves betting on the variation between the goals scored by the winner and the loser. You can back the favourite to score by a specific margin or bet on the underdog not to lose more than a specified margin.

Where can I bet on point spread bets?

You can find point spread bets online. All you need is a reputable sportsbook that can provide enough sports coverage and thousands of markets every week. Stick to licensed, secure sports betting websites with competitive odds, fast payments, and exceptional customer support. 

Is point spread betting better than moneyline betting?

Point spread bets and moneyline bets offer unique merits and drawbacks. The moneyline is a safe bet on a team to win the match. You can also increase the risk by backing the underdog for a higher payout. Spread betting increases the chance of winning with the underdog.

What are handicaps in point spread bets?

A handicap in point spread markets is like any other handicap. The favourite starts the game at a disadvantage/handicap, like 0-1 in hockey. If a team has a handicap, the handicap must first be met before the team checks whether they covered the spread.

How can I bet on point spread in Canada?

Betting on point spread bets in Canada is effortless. You can find the best operators and sign up for a real money betting account. Next, launch the sportsbook, find your sports, choose your favourite games and locate the spread bet. You can also deploy bankroll management strategies.


Point spread bets are standard across all bookies. If you’re a sports fan, consider starting with your beloved sport, teams, and events. You should also shop for competitive odds and fast payouts. Stick to reputable bookmarkers licensed to offer sports betting odds in Canada.