How the Point Spread Is Made in Sports Gambling

Quarterback on the football field


A number of sports gamblers, both beginners and veterans, fail to understand the true meaning of the point spread and the thought process that goes behind making the spread for each game. The point spread isn't designed to be a true representation of a particular team's ability to win against an opponent. It is designed to attract an equal amount of money on both teams so that the sportsbooks are guaranteed a profit.

How Does Vegas Determine the Point Spread?

Many times you may hear that the point spread is designed to create a case where half of the bettors choose one team and the other half of the bettors make wagers on the other. That's close, but it's not entirely correct, as not all sports bettors wager the same amount. If a sportsbook receives 50 bets on the Lakers for $110 each but receives 50 bets on the Spurs for $330 each, the person creating the point spread (the oddsmaker) hasn't done a very good setting the point spread, even though the same number of bettors are betting on each team.

The sportsbooks are aware that the so-called wise guys (smart bettors) are going to wager more money on the average than a typical bettor, so the point spread is created with trying to beat the wise guys. If a sportsbook has the wise guys on one team and the general public betting on the other side, they typically will be rooting for the public, with the knowledge that the public bettors are more likely to give back their winnings on another game.

Famous Point Spread Stories

One of the most famous stories involving the point spread occurred after Super Bowl III when the New York Jets, who were 18-point underdogs, upset the Baltimore Colts. A reporter asked oddsmaker Bob Martin if he was embarrassed about making that point spread, and Martin replied that was one of the best numbers he ever made because it split the betting money down the middle.

Because bettors risk $11 to win $10, any time the money is close to even on a particular game the sportsbooks are happy because they guarantee a profit without any risk. If a sportsbook receives $33,000 in bets on Team A and $33,000 on Team B, they stand to make $3,000 regardless of who wins the game. Such a scenario doesn't happen nearly as often as the sportsbooks would like, but it does happen on occasion.

The Rise of Interest Sports Gambling

For a number of years, the point spread for the upcoming football games was released every Sunday night by the Stardust Race and Sportsbook. It was almost a circus-like atmosphere, as lottery numbers were drawn to see which bettors would have the first chance to bet on the unveiled point spread. The popularity of internet sports gambling has taken away a lot of the thunder from the Las Vegas sportsbooks, and most sportsbooks now are content to follow the general point spreads of the other sportsbooks.

A sportsbook who varies its line too much from the consensus line of the other sportsbooks is likely to receive many wagers on the team offering the best odds, and puts itself in financial risk should that team happen to cover the point spread. If all of the sportsbooks had the Steelers as 7-point favorites over the Jets, but one sportsbook released a point spread of Pittsburgh -5, they would get a lot of bets on the Steelers and very few on the Jets. Sportsbooks do not like to be exposed to situations where they can stand to lose a great deal of money.

The next time you see a point spread, remember the person taking the bet doesn't necessarily believe the favored team is that many points better than the underdog. However, they do think the point spread will generate an equal amount of money wagered on both teams.