Against the Spread Betting Term Meaning

In betting, the term against the spread simply refers to a wager on the fixed-odds points spread market instead of the betting line (otherwise known as the money line) market. Against the spread is often shortened to ATS or you may hear it called ‘covering the spread’.

Spread betting is better known in the UK as handicap betting. The theory behind spread betting is to create two equal sides of a binary market (a market with two possible outcomes). 

For instance, Manchester United are drawn to play Fleetwood Town in the FA Cup at Old Trafford. With Man Utd being heavy favourites, there is little betting interest for Fleetwood Town in the match result market. This is not ideal for a bookmaker whose job it is to attract money on both sides and thus secure a profit from the margin it sets.

To avoid this, and make betting on such matches more entertaining, Charles K. McNeil invented spread betting. This offered a market on the match like:

    • Manchester United -3.5 (goals)
    • Fleetwood Town +3.5 (goals)

Effectively, Man Utd are handicapped by 3.5 goals, so for a punter to win a bet of United, they win by 4 or more goals. On the opposite side, Fleetwood have 3.5 goals head start, so even if they lost 4-1, you would still win the spread bet on them.

Against the spread betting can be a good strategy when you find a low point spread or you believe that the side you want to bet on can win by at least the spread margin. If you believe Manchester United will thrash Fleetwood by more than a four goal margin, you will make some good profits by betting ATS.

Sports bettors also use against the spread as one of their metrics before having a wager. There are websites that compare teams’ ATS records over a variety of ways, including the current season, past five matches and head-to-head versus forthcoming opponents.

This is not stating whether the team won or lost the game, just how it performed against the point spread it was given by the bookmaker. For example, the Chicago Bears were 12-5 ATS during the 2018/19 NFL season. 

This was a success rate of 70.6% which would have meant a good return for bettors covering the spread on the Bears over the course of the season.