What Does A Negative Point Spread Mean?

by | Jan 23, 2022

With every point spread in sports betting, there is either a plus or a minus in front of the number. For beginners, they may not quite understand what a negative means, and how to approach a bet when they see a number like this.

What Does a Negative Point Spread Mean?

The simple answer is that a negative point spread indicates the number of points, runs, or goals a team is favored to win by. For example, if a team starts as a -3.5 favorite, they must win by four or more to be considered the winning team in this bet.

On the other side, a positive point spread is for the underdog. If a team is +3.5, they have to either win, or lose by three or fewer to win the bet.

What’s the Point of a Point Spread?

The point spread acts as a way to even out the two sides in a head-to-head bet as much as possible. One team might not have much of a chance to win outright, but keeping it close enough that the margin of victory is still under the negative point spread is a moral victory in the eyes of sportsbooks.

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Every bet on a point spread will pay out roughly the same, except in sports where the point spread doesn’t change much. In soccer, baseball, and hockey, they set the point spreads usually at -1.5 and +1.5. Instead of adjusting the spread, they will adjust the payouts. It makes it a bit of a hybrid point spread/moneyline option.

What is the advantage of betting on negative point spread options?

Betting on a team with a negative point spread means they are the favorites. If they still seem likely to win and cover, they can start to pay out pretty well. Some hate the idea of trusting the underdog team to stay competitive in a matchup.

What Does Covering the Spread Mean?

Every favorite needs to win by the amount they are favored by (or more) to cover the spread. When “cover the spread” gets mentioned, it’s a gambling term that has turned more and more mainstream. With legalized sports gambling in certain states, people are less hesitant to discuss point spreads in non-gambling scenarios.

Take a team favored by 3.5 points. If they are going to win from a betting perspective, they need to win by four or more points. If the sportsbooks end up listing a team as a full number without the hook, there is always a chance of a push happening. When a push happens, the sportsbook returns everyone’s bet, and it goes away like nothing ever happened.

Many people track whether or not teams can cover the point spread are not. Teams that are continually impressing by winning by more than they are supposed to can start to gain momentum in the betting world. The sportsbooks are always trying to adjust accordingly, but they might not be able to keep up with a team on a hot streak. This leads to a several-game stretch of winning and covering.

Is There Always a Negative Point Spread in Sports Betting?

It’s not a guarantee that every matchup will have at least one team with a negative point spread. If it’s a true pick’em game, there might not be a point spread at all. This is essentially the same thing as betting on the winner and loser, throwing the margin of victory out the window.

Keep in mind that the payout likely won’t be exactly even. That’s because the sportsbook has to earn their money as well. In this case, both teams are going to have a negative payout.

What Does the Juice/Vig in Point Spread betting Mean?

The traditional way of sports betting with a point spread is to have both sides payout -110. That means putting $11 down will result in a $10 win. Not getting a true 50/50 payout is done because sportsbooks need to be paid. That extra money is referred to as the vigorish or juice in sports betting.

This essentially ensures that a sportsbook is always making a profit. Since the goal is to get the same amount of bets on either side, earning that little bit back will help them keep them in business.

From a long-term winning perspective, the juice or vig is very important. Most sports bettors believe that they need to win roughly 53% of the time in head-to-head matchups to earn in the long run. The win percentage drops when placing bets on events that have multiple winner choices.

Be on the lookout for sportsbooks that have their vig a little too high. It’s a pretty standard rate from the top sportsbooks, but paying an extra vig just makes it more difficult to win long-term.

Keeping Up with Point Spread Changes

Sports are constantly changing. With more information out there than ever before, it’s pretty common to see the point spreads change as well. There are a few reasons why point spreads will change, even sometimes going from a negative point spread to a positive point spread in a matter of minutes.

What are the main causes for a point spread change? Any of these can lead to things looking a little different in a hurry.

One-Sided Action

Sportbooks don’t like it when all the action is coming in on one side. That means that they likely did not do the best job of setting a proper point spread in the beginning. They will start to adjust accordingly so that they get as close to a 50/50 split as possible. This ensures that no matter what happens, they will earn money in the end.


Injuries play a pretty big role in sports. In team sports, losing a key player changes the point spread very quickly. Quarterback injuries in the NFL are particularly impactful on point spreads. Teams can go from favorites to underdogs with just one announcement.

Teams are pretty vague about injuries in a lot of the major sports. That’s why if any injury concerns are leading up to the game, try to hold off on betting until it is close to game time. That provides the clearest picture of who is playing and who is not.

If there is an injury in an individual sport, sportsbooks will often pull the contest down altogether. There are just too many variables when trying to figure out how injured someone is right before the contest begins. They might even cancel any bets already placed depending on the severity of the injury.

More Information Becomes Available

Point spreads can be released quite a bit in advance, and they will change depending on how teams are playing. This happens more in sports that are going on multiple times a week instead of football or soccer where there are only one or two games.

How a team looks from night to night will impact their point spread. If it seems like a team is struggling, they might drop a bit as favorites in the next game. Keep an eye on point spreads after new information becomes available.

Is It Worth Shopping for the Best Point Spread?

Options are never a bad thing. In sports gambling, more sportsbooks mean that people can shop around and find the line that works best for them. Most want to find the odds that are the best for them, especially if they are sure that one side will win over the other. Even getting an extra half-point can make a big difference.

To be ready for the shopping opportunities, have an account on all the leading websites. This means that if something does pop up, it’s very easy to jump on a line that works a little better. This can make the difference between winning and losing in the long haul.

Is It Worth Betting on a Negative Point Spread Option?

Many professional sports gamblers have had success betting mostly on negative point spread options. They can identify where there are still some inefficiencies with the market, and they pounce on those opportunities.

Hunting for underdog winners is the opposite type of strategy, but also works in some cases. There is also the opportunity to do a mixture of both, reading each opportunity and seeing what’s out there.

Keep in mind that betting on a team with a negative point spread means that they need to dominate to win the bet. That side must be in great shape to do more than just win. It also helps if the opposition puts up a minimal amount of resistance.

Final Thoughts on a Negative Point Spread

There’s a reason why betting on teams with a negative point spread is extremely popular. They are the favorite to win, and those who do so strategically will find that they can win pretty consistently.

It’s important to keep in mind that the payouts aren’t anything crazy, but it does start to add up as time goes on. Get to a consistent winning percentage, and it can be a smart short and long-term strategy.


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