What’s the Difference between the Moneyline and the Spread?

When most North Americans get ready to place a “side” bet on their favorite sport, they typically face a choice of whether to bet on the moneyline or the point spread. These are the two most common betting markets for the four major North American sports. Still, there are many who don’t know the difference between the two markets, so we are going to break each down for you to help you understand why players choose one over the other and when it’s more advantageous to choose the moneyline over the spread and vice versa.

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Understanding The Point Spread

Let’s start with the point spread. This is the type betting market that you most often hear about when people talk about football and basketball games. The point spread is a wagering option where the favorite is handicapped by a specific number of points. This makes betting on either side of a game a more accessible option for bettors, especially if they’re looking to back a prohibitive favorite. Sportsbooks use the point spread to try to get the same amount of money bet on each side of a game, thus removing the risk from their perspective.

Let’s have a look at a typical point spread, using the NFL as an example.

At a participating sportsbook, the point spread option for a game between the Browns and Patriots might look like this:

  • Cleveland Browns +13.5 (-110)
  • New England Patriots -13.5 (-110)

Let’s break that down. First, the matchup features the Cleveland Browns against the New England Patriots, which for the purposes of this example is a complete mismatch. The Patriots are perceived to be the much stronger team in this matchup so they must be handicapped in some way for bettors to want to take Cleveland. This is where the point spread comes into play. In this example, the Patriots have been set as a 13.5-point favorite in the game. Expert linesmakers have determined to the best of their abilities that this is the handicap that must be applied in order to even out the game.

This example means that if you want to bet on the Patriots, you have to “lay” the points. This basically means you will be starting the game with the Patriots losing 13.5 to 0. In order to win the bet, you have to believe the Patriots will win by 14 or more points. Conversely, if you think that the Browns can keep the game close, then you would want to “take the points” and start the game with Cleveland leading 13.5 to 0. What makes point spreads so much fun for gamblers is that the team you select does not actually have to win the game. All they must do for you to win your bet is “cover the spread,” which means they are within the number that is posted.

This is also where gamblers can become very frustrated, especially in situations like this. Perhaps the Patriots are up 21 points late in the game and are easing off the throttle. Cleveland comes down and scores a late touchdown, and instead of kicking an extra point to be down 14, they go for 2 and get it, now down 13 points, and causing all bets on the Patriots to lose. This is what is known as a “bad beat”. Point spreads can be a friend or foe, but they do give both sides a chance to bet without being gouged.

The point spread is also used in other sports like hockey and baseball but is commonly referred to as the “puckline” and “runline” in the NHL and MLB respectively.

Juice or Vig: The (-110) part of the line is the amount you have to wager to win back $100. The $10 difference is what is called the “juice,” which is really the fee that the sportsbook takes for offering the wager in the first place. In a perfect world, there is the exact same amount of money bet on both Cleveland and New England, leaving the bookmaker to simply collect the 10% fee with no risk of losing money.

Understanding the Moneyline

Let’s now take the same game, but look at the moneyline. A moneyline bet is one where you are solely picking the winner of the game, no matter what the final score ends up being. For a game with a heavy favorite like our example, here is what a moneyline could look like:

  • Cleveland Browns +280
  • New England Patriots -300

The numbers next to each team represent the return in factors of $100. In this scenario, the Patriots are likely going to win the game, so the sportsbook makes you wager a lot of money to get a return – you would have to risk $300 to win back $100 in profit with the above line. If you think that Cleveland is going to pull off a huge upset, then you are going to be rewarded with $280 back in return for a bet of $100.

Bear in mind that while both of these spreads are using $100 as a guide, you do not have to bet that much. It is essentially a multiplier, so for example if you only wanted to bet $50 on the Patriots moneyline, you would get back $66.67 in the event of a New England win.

Which Market is Better?

The answer is, it depends. If you have a big bankroll and can make moneyline bets on favorites that will produce decent returns, then that could be the right wager for you. Otherwise, the point spreads move the risk to the outcome of the score rather than the outright winner. It is really a personal preference for gamblers and comes down to what you see happening in a specific game. Use your best judgement and assess your bets on a game-to-game basis.

We will cover other types of markets and betting strategies in depth in our Guides section, but for straight wagers, these are the two most common forms of odds used by the North American gambler.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a difference between the moneyline and the point spread?

Yes. The result of a moneyline bet is dictated only by which team wins where a point spread bet result is determined by a handicap applied to each team in the matchup.

What is the number after the point spread?

The number after the point spread is the “juice” or “vig” that you will pay on a given wager. If the juice is -110, it means you will have to bet $110 to make a $100 profit.

What does it mean to take the points?

Taking the points means to take the underdog on the point spread. If the underdog was +10.5 in an NFL game and you want to bet on them, you would “take” 10.5 points and add them to the underdog’s final score.

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