Betting Against the Spread

Betting Against The Spread

As time passes, new and unique betting strategies come into prominence. Everyone is looking for the next way to win big. One of the most popular current strategies is "Against the Spread” betting - sometimes referred to as ATS.

You may well have already heard about spread betting. Well, there are two different types of spread betting. The first is betting with the spread, and the second is betting against the spread. In this article, we are going to take a closer look at betting against the spread and explain how you can use this within your overall strategy to try and make more money.

Spread Betting

So, what do we mean by the spread? The "points spread" is a number set by the bookmaker that helps to level out the playing field between two different teams in a sports event. It makes seemingly one-sided games much more appealing to bet on. The favourite for a particular tie is listed with a minus (-) sign, while the underdog gets a positive (+). A bettor will win their bet if the favoured team wins the match by more points than the bookmakers ‘spread’. So, for example, the Argonauts are -5 to beat the Montreal Alouettes. You would need the Argonauts to win by more than 5 points for your bet to come in if you were betting with the spread. The opposite runs true for the underdog. This is where betting against the spread comes in.

What is Against the Spread Betting?

So, now we know a little more about the spread in general, what exactly is ATS betting?

So, to bet against the spread, you are rooting for the underdog. When looking at a spread line you are looking at the team with the positive number next to them. They are the team least likely, according to the bookmaker, to win the tie. For your ATS bet to come in, you want them to win the game outright or to lose by a margin that is less than the “point spread” stipulated by the bookmaker. 

So, let’s walk through a hypothetical NFL game where we can take a closer look at how against the spread betting works in real life:

New York Giants+7.5 (-110)+17548.5 (-110) O
Tampa Bay Buccaneers-7.5 (+110)-22048.5 (-110) U

This is a typical betting line you might see on your sportsbook. From the above example, it is fairly clear to see that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are pretty heavy favourites in this game with -7.5 points. As we previously touched upon, this is denoted by the negative number. You will regularly see half numbers attached here to avoid any confusion over potential ties or “pushes”. It is still common to see whole numbers though, and we will explain how the payouts work for those a little later on.

When calculating the tie's final score, you will need to be subtracting 7.5 points from the Buccaneer's total score to see the end result of your bet. If after deducting 7.5 points the score still exceeds that of the Giants then they are covered. However, if the Giants are within the 7.5 point gap and the deduction sees them win, then you have successfully won your bet against the spread.

Calculating Against the Spread

When spread betting there are multiple ways the bet can be scored. Below are the three main scenarios you can expect to find on the top sportsbooks.

For a Winning Bet

In our above example, the New York Giants would have to lose by seven points or less. Once the game reaches full time, you would add your 7.5 points to the tally, and if it were higher than the Buccaneers score you would win.

For a Losing Bet

Using the same example, if the Giants were to lose by 8 or more points your bet would be a losing one. If you add the 7.5 to their total score and Tampa Bay still runs out as the winner, then unfortunately your bet is off.

For a Tie

In our example, there cannot be a tie as we are using half numbers, however, you will regularly see sportsbooks offering whole numbers. If the example was based on New York Giants +7 and they finished 7 points off the Buccaneers, the bet would be tied. In the event of a tied spread bet, the wagered amount is returned to the bettor and there will be no winnings. Essentially, the bettor gets their money back to try again.

What sports have spread betting?

Spread betting is extremely popular with fans of American Football. Their high-scoring matches ensure that bettors can have a lot of fun and win a lot of profit on the spread. They can increase the size of the spread to make things more interesting and risky, or they can play it safe with the smaller margins. 

Spread betting is also incredibly popular in basketball. The high-scoring nature of games makes them perfectly suited to the spread system. In both basketball and football, you can expect to see point spreads into the double digits. However, not all sports have high-scoring results and so it becomes slightly trickier to make a profit from this strategy.

The NHL uses point spread betting but under the aptly named title of puck line betting. Although it has a new unique name, it works exactly the same as NFL or CFL point spread betting. The only real difference here is that the spread is significantly smaller. It is always assigned as 1.5 in ice-hockey games due to the relatively low-scoring nature of the game. This means that the favourite will always be assigned -1.5 and the underdog +1.5.

Spread betting on baseball follows almost exactly the same pattern. The lines are almost always fixed at 1.5 due to the scoring nature of the sport and instead, it is referred to as a run line. Similarly, in soccer, it is referred to as goal-line betting. Soccer is slightly more flexible than both hockey or baseball in that it isn’t necessarily set with a -1.5 and +1.5 spread. The spread will depend on the skill level of the two teams playing. So, although it is undoubtedly most popular in football and basketball. There are many different sports available if you want to get into this type of betting.

Changes in the points spread

As with every sports bet, the odds of the spread will change in line with how much money is being deposited on it. As more bettors back one side of the spread, the sportsbook may alter the spread in order to lower or increase demand. From our Giants and Buccaneers example, if a lot of money is being placed on the Giants, the sportsbook may look to lower the spread from 7.5 down to 7 or even 6.5. Likewise, if more money is getting pumped into the Buccaneers then the spread may shift upwards to 8 or 8.5, and so on.

There is no real limit on how much a line can move in the lead-up to a match. It will all depend on betting patterns. Lines can also move in both directions as they are extremely flexible and versatile. This means you have to keep an eye on them and ensure you bet at the right time. As well as the spread changing, the odds on the spread bet can also fluctuate. You could be getting odds of +7.5 on the Giants when all of a sudden news comes out that the Bucs are missing a handful of key players through injury or illness. 

All of a sudden, tons of people flock to bet on the Giants. In this instance, the sportsbook could change the line, but people have already placed their wager on the previous line. They don’t want to go refunding all those wagers so instead, they will adjust the odds (the numbers in the brackets). What was Giants at +7.5 (-110), Bucs -7.5 (+110) now becomes Giants +7.5 (-140), Bucs -7.5 (+135). Essentially, the Giants are now more likely to cover (there is less risk), therefore, their odds offer less reward.

For a tie that is evenly matched the spread may be as small as +3 and -3, however, this can grow significantly for more one-sided ties.

When to bet against the spread

Choosing when to bet against the spread is crucial to the success of your strategy. The golden rule for any betting strategy is to only place a wager where there is value. By value, we mean where there is a combination of lower risk and higher reward. There are a few key things to look out for when assessing when to bet against the spread and we are going to take a quick look into them. 

The biggest advantage to spread betting is experience. The more you study and place bets on points spreads, the better you will understand them. This experience will help you interpret lines differently and you will learn when you should bet with the spread and when you should bet against it.


Spread betting is an incredibly popular method of betting on sports such as basketball, football, baseball, and hockey. It is probably at its most prominent in the NFL markets. Remember, betting against the spread means that you are backing the underdog. You are saying that with the points handicap given to them, they will come out on top and outscore their opponents. It is no different from giving someone a head start in a race. The spread itself is a calculated number of points that is assigned by the sportsbook. It suggests that this will be enough points for the underdog to even up the tie.

As a general rule, the spread usually lies within 0 and 14 points. The lower the figure in the spread, the more even the two teams will be. The higher the spread, the more uneven they are. Betting against the spread is a useful market to utilize, it’s popular in many popular Canadian sports, and can also be hugely profitable. Gaining experience and understanding what the spread signifies is essential to being successful. So, if at first, you don’t succeed, try again!