Points Spread Betting Term Meaning

The betting term ‘points spread’ has a slightly different meaning depending on your country of origin, which means different sportsbook operators have a different interpretation of it. This article will help you distinguish one from the other so you can join any site safe in the knowledge you understand the language being used.

The points spread is most often referenced in relation to American sports such as NBA. There is a considerable difference between US and UK points spread betting, which we’ll highlight later.

Before the 1940s, savvy punters would rarely bet on a heavy favourite. If the odds were short, there wasn’t much of an incentive to back that particular player or team. That was until Charles McNeil, an American bookmaker (and former mathematics teacher) invented spread betting. 

McNeil would add a theoretical ‘points spread’ to the underdog’s score, which would even out the betting between the favourite and the underdog. This became known as handicap betting in the UK.

Let’s look at an example from the NBA. The Denver Nuggets are playing the New York Knicks, with the Nuggets at odds of 1.15 to win. The Knicks are at odds of 6.00, so Denver are the heavy favourite and wouldn’t attract much betting action. 

The spread is 11 points for this match, so that means New York gets 11 points added to their total at the end of the game. The odds for both teams are at 1.9 in the points spread betting wagers. If you were to bet on Denver, that could look like this:

Denver Nuggets (-11) 1.90
New York Knicks (+11) 1.90

Final score Denver 110-100 New York

  • Add the points spread to New York’s score (or subtract it from Denver’s)
  • Adjusted final score: Denver 110 : 111 New York
  • New York win. Your selection was incorrect.

Final score Denver 120-105 New York

  • Add/subtract the points spread 
  • Adjusted final score: Denver 120 : 116 New York
  • Denver win, and your selection is correct.

The points spread totals will usually be in half-point increments to prevent the possibility of a draw situation. Where the spread is not listed in half-points and a tie does occur, the bookmaker would refund the punter’s initial stake.

US points spread vs UK points spread

UK points spread betting grew in popularity during the 1980s, but is very different to the traditional fixed-odds wagers of US spread betting.

Let’s use a Spanish La Liga football match between Barcelona and Real Madrid as an example. The market of interest is the first goal Barcelona will score.

MarketUnder (minutes)Over (minutes)
Barcelona’s 1st goal  27 30

The first thing you will notice is that there are no odds with this format of points spread betting. The profits and losses come from the amount staked multiplied by the minutes. 

If you placed a £10 bet on Barcelona over 30 minutes, you are banking on them not scoring before this time. If they do, you lose. If they score after 30 minutes, you win.

  • Barcelona score on 5 mins: 30 mins - 5 mins = 25 minutes x £10 = £250 loss
  • Barcelona score on 20 mins: 30 mins - 20 mins = 10 minutes x £10 = £100 loss
  • Barcelona score on 31 mins: 31 mins - 30 mins = 1 minute x £10 = £10 win
  • Barcelona score on 55 mins: 55 mins - 30 mins = 25 minutes x £10 = £250 win
  • Barcelona score on 80 mins: 80 mins - 30 mins = 50 minutes x £10 = £500 win

This type of betting is classed as high-risk, so we urge caution if you are new to betting. Take your time and learn more about how it works. 

Following that, research every bet as comprehensively as possible. Points spread betting can be very lucrative if you know what you’re doing, plus you can set stop losses to limit the damage which can help to preserve your bankroll.

Points Spread FAQ

What is Points Spread?

The points spread is an American betting term for handicap.