Many of the leading gambling bookmakers from the 1930s to the 1960s got their start during the prohibition era of the 1920s. They were often descendants of the influx of immigrants coming into the USA at this time. Although the common stereotype is that these bookies were of Italian descent, many leading bookies were of eastern European ancestry.[4]
This arrangement tells us a lot: which team is home (listed on bottom, in this case the Seattle Seahawks), which team is the underdog (listed with a plus sign next to their name, in this case the New England Patriots), we know which team is the favorite (listed with a minus sign next to their name, in this case the Seattle Seahawks), and we know the point spread (2.5 points).
Without a points handicap, it would not make sense to pay both sides of a wager the same amount when it's clear that not all teams are on equal footing. In fact, it is entirely possible for a team to lose the game in real-life but still win a bet if they only lose by less than a set number of points. Vice versa, a team can win a game, but lose the wager if they do not win by more points than what was predicted.
Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned NFL spread? Not only does the point spread remain the king when it comes to wagering on pro football, it is a favorite among pro sports bettors and beginners alike. Also known as the line or spread and as betting “sides,” a common misconception is that sportsbooks set the spread as a predicted margin of victory. It’s actually the number oddsmakers predict would be a good balance between people who want to bet the underdog and those who want to bet the favorite.
For example: New England –2.5 (–110) or Philadelphia +2.5 (–110) means you’d wager $110 for the chance to win an additional $100 if you bet on the point spread. Depending on which side is receiving the most action, a sportsbook will often move the line up or down in order to incentivize betting on the less popular side. Injuries or unforeseen changes can also impact a point spread gambling line. Point spreads are often listed with a half-point (ex: 2.5) in order to prevent the final margin from landing exactly on the point spread (ex: 10-point spread, final score of 20–10). A “push” or “tie” usually goes to the house or sportsbook, unless another arrangement has been agreed upon beforehand.
The general purpose of spread betting is to create an active market for both sides of a binary wager, even if the outcome of an event may appear prima facie to be biased towards one side or the other. In a sporting event a strong team may be matched up against a historically weaker team; almost every game has a favorite and an underdog. If the wager is simply "Will the favorite win?", more bets are likely to be made for the favorite, possibly to such an extent that there would be very few betters willing to take the underdog.
While most football fans have seen a point spread before, not everyone understands how they work. There’s a common misconception that the oddsmakers are trying to outsmart their customers by posting the spread and getting people to bet on the wrong side. At the same time, many bettors think that their goal is to “beat the bookie.” This is false; as mentioned, the sportsbook is incentivized to keep the action on either team as balanced as possible, in order to limit exposure.
If the Cowboys are 6-point favorites, their odds are -6. If the Giants are 6-point underdogs, their odds are +6. From the oddsmakers' perspective, the Giants are starting the game with a 6-0 lead, while from the Dallas side, the Cowboys are starting with a 0-6 deficit. If you bet on the Cowboys and they win 34-30, they failed to cover the spread by two points. If you bet on the Giants, they beat the spread by two points.
The most famous historic example of this is Super Bowl III when the New York Jets stunned the football world and upset the Baltimore Colts. The Jets were 18-point underdogs, still the largest point spread in Super Bowl history. They won 16-7, and people wondered what the oddsmakers had been thinking. Noted oddsmaker Bob Martin was later asked if he was embarrassed making the Colts such huge favorites. He said he was not because in what was then one of the heaviest bet sporting events ever, his number drew a fairly even amount of bets on both sides. This guaranteed a profit for the house.
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This arrangement tells us a lot: which team is home (listed on bottom, in this case the Seattle Seahawks), which team is the underdog (listed with a plus sign next to their name, in this case the New England Patriots), we know which team is the favorite (listed with a minus sign next to their name, in this case the Seattle Seahawks), and we know the point spread (2.5 points).
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