How Does Sports Spread Betting Work

Brett Curtis
Last updated: | 10 min read

Spread betting is one of the most popular ways to bet on sports, including football, basketball, and soccer. It is betting on a player or team to cover a specific margin of victory or defeat. This makes it an exciting market for games where one team or player is heavily expected to win, as it can even up a potentially one-sided battle, making for an entertaining betting experience.

We will explain spread betting in greater detail by providing some examples, exploring the rules of this growing market, and helping you find the best sportsbook to place your spread bets.

What Is Spread Betting?

Rather than simply betting on which team or player you think will win the game outright (known as the moneyline market), spread betting provides a different avenue into betting on the outcome.

The spread essentially represents the number of points the online sportsbook expects the favorite to win by (and the underdog to lose). The favorite will be given a minus point spread, while the underdog will be given a positive point spread. You could think of either a negative (shown as “-“) or positive (shown as “+”) handicap, meaning it will be added to or deducted from their final score.

How Does Spread Betting Work?

To put this explanation into practice, let’s take a look at the spread odds on Super Bowl 58 between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs:

Super Bowl betting odds

As the screenshot above shows, this online sportsbook has made the 49ers favorites to win the game and have been given a -2 points spread. This means the online sportsbook expects the 49ers to win Super Bowl LVIII by two or more points.

As this is a whole number, the 49ers would need to win by three or more points for your bet to win. If the 49ers win by two points exactly, your bet would be pushed, with your stake returned in full. If they win by only one point – or lose the game – then your points spread bet would be a losing bet.

Likewise, if you bet on the Chiefs to cover the +2 spread, they would need to lose by no more than one point – or win the game – for your bet to win. If they lose by two points exactly, your bet will be pushed (no loss, no profit). If they lose by three or more points, your bet would be a loser.

Let’s imagine the game finished 38-36 to the 49ers. If you have bet on the 49ers to cover a -2 spread, we must deduct two points from their total score for the purpose of point spread betting. This makes the game result in 36-36, which is why your bet would be pushed.

Spread Betting Doesn’t Only Apply To The Full Game

Some bookmakers will break games into halves and quarters depending on the sport and event. In the example above, the 49ers have been given a -½ spread headstart in the first half and each quarter. However, be aware that the odds will usually vary on each market, based on how the online sportsbook expects the game to play out through each stage.

Super Bowl betting lines

To clarify further, we have taken a screenshot of the spread odds between Brentford and Manchester City in the English Premier League. Unlike the Super Bowl example, this soccer game has a half point on the spread market, meaning your spread bet can not be pushed. Man City has been given a -1 ½ spread, meaning the online sportsbook expects them to win the game by one or two goals. If you bet on them to cover this spread, they will need to win by two or more goals for your bet to win. If they only win by one goal – or draw or lose the game – your bet will lose.

Likewise, if you bet on Brentford to cover the +1 ½ spread, they must only lose by one goal – or draw or win the game – for your bet to win. If they lose by two or more goals, your bet will lose.As you can see, despite a draw being a possible outcome in soccer games, the draw box has been left blank in this market. This is because there is no way to bet on a draw regarding spread betting. The only way your bet can ‘draw’ is if it is pushed, but this is impossible when half numbers are involved, such as in the example above.

Spread Betting Rules

All sportsbooks will have house rules for betting, specifically for spread betting. The rules at most sports betting sites are generally similar for this particular market. These are some important ones to consider when spread betting:

  • If the game is a tie after the spread has been applied, the result of the wager will be a push. Your stake will be returned in full, with no profit or loss for either party as a result.
  • Your bet will be fully refunded if the game is postponed or canceled.
  • Odds may adjust after you’ve placed your bet, but your spread bet will be settled using the sports betting odds that you accepted (unless specifically stated otherwise).
  • Bets are settled using official league data.

Please ensure that you understand all terms and conditions before placing a bet. Most sportsbooks will have excellent 24/7 customer service ready to help you with any confusion.

Why Choose Spread Betting?

Many sports bettors turn to spread betting as an alternative way of betting on the outcome of a game. Sporting contests can be one-sided,  especially if there’s a wide difference in record, meaning moneyline betting does not always appeal. This is because you are faced with either betting on incredibly low sports betting odds on the favorite, or on an underdog that you may consider as being incredibly unlikely to win.

In this scenario, spread betting events the two opponents up into a closer contest. Not only does this make the game more worthwhile for outright betting, but it can also increase your excitement while watching the game. Back the favorite and cheer every time they score, or side with the underdog and hope they can dig in to cover the spread! If you want to know more about other types of betting, check our guide on types of sports bets.

The Benefits Of Live Spread

As with several markets, most online sportsbooks will allow you to bet on spread after the event has already begun. This can help you understand how the two opponents are shaping up and potentially spot value on spread betting as a result. Does the favorite appear to be playing in second gear? Or are the underdogs even worse than anticipated?

It also means that if you are eating dinner with the family or running late back from the gym, you don’t have to place your bets before the event has started to still join in with the fun. This places less stress on your time management skills for what should ultimately be a hobby.

However, be aware that odds will likely change with much greater frequency during play as traders continuously react to live events. Markets may also become suspended for the same reason without guaranteeing they will be reinstated.

How to Sign Up and Place a Spread Bet

If you want to sign up for one of the best online betting sites, follow these simple steps. In this guide, we’ll use BetOnline as an example of a top-rated sportsbook. However, the process should be just as easy with any established provider.

Step 1: Choose an Online Betting Site

BetOnline Review

Visit the homepage of the sportsbook you prefer. Our recommended option is BetOnline, one of the best offshore sportsbooks. They offer fast and easy payouts and a 100% bonus on first-time deposits and do not charge deposit fees. Also, if you prefer crypto payments, you can take a pick from our list of the best bitcoin betting sites.

Step 2: Create a Betting Account

To create an account with most bookmakers, look for the “Join” or “Sign Up” option in their website’s top right corner.

You must provide personal information, including your name, address, date of birth, and other necessary details. The screenshot below shows the required information needed to create an account at BetOnline.

After filling out all the necessary information, simply click on the “Create Account” button to complete the process.

Step 3: Verification

After submitting your details, the bookmaker will verify them. The duration of this process varies depending on the bookmaker and your background, but it is usually fast, especially with BetOnline.

Step 4: Fund Your Account & Enter a Promo Code

After verifying your details, the next step is to fund your account and enter any required promo code. Please ensure that you deposit enough funds to qualify for the welcome bonus.

You can select your preferred payment method, and different welcome bonuses may be available based on your banking option.

Step 5: Start Playing

Your account is fully verified and funded so that you can start spread betting! However, if you are still unsure of the basics of the sports betting, make sure to check our guide on how to bet on sports online.

Top Sports Spread Betting Tips

Every form of sports betting comes with an element of risk. You can have all the knowledge in the world or spend as much time researching as you want. There is always a chance that the sporting event does not play out as expected. However, plenty of sports bettors profit consistently over the long term while enhancing their sports viewing experience. Here are some helpful tips when it comes to spread betting:

  • Make sure you are comfortable with the spread number: Does the spread number inherently feel too large/small to be a realistic winner in your eyes? Then don’t force it.
  • Research the form: Pay greater attention to the margin of victories/defeats. For example, a team may consistently win, but by a small margin. How often have they covered the spread on the upcoming game, and do the odds reflect this?
  • Compare the odds: You can easily compare odds on a specific market between sportsbooks. This ensures that you receive maximum value for money on your spread bet. Compare site or simply cycling between the sportsbooks where you already have an account.
  • Compare the spreads: You can also compare the designated spread numbers on an event. It helps you find a number you are most comfortable with wagering on.
  • Gamble responsibly: Set staking plans, and only bet what you can afford to lose. Take breaks between gambling, and avoid placing bets when emotional/intoxicated/stressed.

Pros and Cons of Spread Betting

Pros Cons
  • Provides an alternative way of betting on the outcome of a game, rather than simply the winner/loser on a predictable game with poor odds.
  • It can create added stress while watching a sporting event, as even if a team/player wins by a large margin, your spread bet may not feel safe.
  • You can find great value in spread betting, as some teams/players consistently cover their spread against the odds.
  • Teams/players can lose motivation when they are already winning, potentially cutting away at their winning margin and the outcome of your bet.
  • Spread betting rewards the most knowledgeable sports bettors, as correctly predicting how much a team/player will win/lose is difficult.


What does spread betting mean?

Spread betting refers to placing a wager on the winning/losing margin of a team/player’s victory/defeat. More on how to hedge a bet in our guide

What does + and – mean in spread betting?

If a team/player is designated with a + number in spread betting, they are expected to lose by that amount of points. Likewise, if a team/player has a – number, they are expected to win by that amount of points.

How do you know who the favorite team is in spread betting?

The favorite team is designated with a minus number in spread betting. This amount is deducted from their total points at the end of the game to determine whether your spread bet is a winner.

Is spread betting better than moneyline betting?

Spread betting evens up potentially one-sided encounters, providing a more interesting way of betting on the outcome of the game.