In an effort to have equal money on both sides of a wager, the sportsbook operator will move the point spread to attract money on the side that customers aren’t betting on. The odds for a point spread might change before the actual point spread. There are certain point spread numbers, like 3 and 7 in football, the sportsbook operators would like to avoid moving away from since they final score margin falls on these two numbers most often.
Once you understand how the NFL point spread works, you can make smarter choices when it comes to your NFL picks. The most important takeaway: It’s not you against the bookie. Think of NFL spread betting in terms of a marketplace, where customers tend to overvalue some teams and undervalue others. Figure out which teams those are, and you’ll find where the profit margin is.
You'll also usually be given the option to wager on the game with the money line in football and basketball. In this case, all you have to do is pick the winner of the contest, but there's one drawback. If you bet on the team that's expected to win, you can find yourself risking much more money than you stand to win. Each team is assigned odds, much like in a horse race where a 2-1 favorite will pay out much less than a 15-1 longshot. This method also evens the playing field for bookies, sportsbooks and other gambling institutions.
The bookmaker functions as a market maker for sports wagers, most of which have a binary outcome: a team either wins or loses. The bookmaker accepts both wagers, and maintains a spread (the vigorish) which will ensure a profit regardless of the outcome of the wager. The Federal Wire Act of 1961 was an attempt by the US government to prevent illegal bookmaking. However, this Act does not apply to other types of online gambling. The Supreme Court has not ruled on the meaning of the Federal Wire Act as it pertains to online gambling.
In general, the betting public tends to gravitate towards favorites when betting the games regardless of the actual pointspread. This is especially true with high-profile teams such as Dallas and Green Bay in the NFL and Golden State and Cleveland in the NBA. The sportsbooks are well aware of this phenomenon and often times they will adjust the betting spreads accordingly. This, in turn, actually adds some value to the underdog when you consider that a pointspread is nothing more than a handicapping tool that is designed to even out the match.
A point spread, or “the line,” is a number set by oddsmakers to give an advantage to one team and a disadvantage to another team based on the margin of victory or defeat for the two teams. The favorite team is giving up points for purposes of the wager, meaning they not only have to win, but they have to win by X amount of points. The underdog team is getting points for purposes of the wager, meaning they can still lose the game, but they must lose by less than X amount of points.
Notice that point spreads adjust the score for the favorite team. This is easiest to see with an example: If the New York Knicks are playing the Boston Celtics, and Boston is favored to win by a 4-point spread, then a bet on Boston only pays out if Boston wins by more than 4 points. A bet on New York pays out if New York wins or if they lose by less than 4 points.
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