Moneylines vs. Point Spreads
There are no types of betting more fundamental than moneylines and point spreads. Regardless of the sportsbook you choose, be it in Ontario or elsewhere, you will find the opportunity to place these wagers on every single betting market.
Part of their ubiquity stems from their relative simplicity. Both of their underlying concepts are essential to a general understanding of sports, anyway, and talking about them can serve as an effective shorthand in conversations. Even casual sports fans who do not bet often have some knowledge of them.
Because these two types of bets are everywhere, you, the smart Ontario bettor, need to have a working knowledge of them and an understanding of their key differences. So, here is your reference page for how moneylines work, how point spreads work, and how the two cross paths.
What is a moneyline?
A moneyline is a wager about the eventual winner of a game, match, or contest. The manner of or the degree to which the victory occurs does not have any bearing on the bet whatsoever.
Moneylines are denoted by a set of three-digit numbers in a given matchup. Each player or team will have a number listed next to it. In most cases, one of the numbers will be negative, and the other one will be positive..
- Team A -220
- Team B +160
The team with the negative moneyline, such as Team A, is the favourite to win the game, according to the sportsbook’s oddsmakers. The team with the positive moneyline, like Team B, is the underdog.
In some cases, you may encounter a moneyline pairing with two negative numbers. It may look something like this:
- Team C -115
- Team D -105
This type of situation arises if both teams are equally matched and have roughly the same chance of winning. The team whose number is farther from zero – Team C, in this example – is the favourite, but not by much.
What is a point spread?
A point spread is a wager about the eventual margin of victory in a game, match, or contest. The sportsbook estimates both which team or player will win and the margin of victory that their victory will produce. In a sense, a spread bet takes the moneyline’s question and adds a dimension to it.
Point spreads are identifiable by a pair of twin numbers. Each team in the matchup has one of the numbers next to its name. One of the numbers will always be negative, and one will be positive.
- Team A -5.5 -110
- Team B +5.5 -110
The negative spread denotes the team favoured to win the game, and the number indicates the amount of points by which the book expects the team to win. So, in this pairing, Team A is favoured to win the game by 5.5 points.
Betting on the favourite means that you are predicting it will win the game by more than the estimated spread. So, Team A would need to win by 6 points or more for your bet to pay out.
The positive spread is associated with the team expected to lose, or the underdog. The sportsbook predicts that Team B will lose the game by 5.5 points.
If you choose to bet on Team B, you win your bet if the team can keep the game closer than that. An outright win from Team B is an automatic win for this wager.
Lastly, spreads are often expressed in half-points because the sportsbook wants to avoid having to push all the bets on a tie.
The American odds format
Now, you may have noticed that both types of wagers bear similar three-digit numbers.
Those numbers are the advertised payouts for winning bets on each side of the wager. This type of ratio listing is known as the American odds format or, for obvious reasons, the moneyline format. Here’s how it works:
- If a payout ratio is positive, the listed amount is how much the sportsbook will pay out in profit on a $100 bet if the bet wins.
- If a payout ratio is negative, the listed amount is how much the player must pay in order to receive a $100 profit if the bet wins.
So, let’s say we’re looking at the following moneyline listing:
- Team A -200
- Team B +150
In this example, you would have to pay $200 to win $100 for a successful bet on Team A. However, you would receive $150 in winnings if you correctly bet $100 on Team B.
There are two things to bear in mind about this format. The first is that the payouts listed do not include the amount of your wager. So, if you made the abovementioned bet on Team A, you would receive $300 when you cashed out – the $100 in profit plus the $200 you had to wager to receive it. Conversely, Team B bettors would get $250 on their $100 bet, since they’d have $150 in profit to go with their $100 stake.
The second thing to realize is that the numbers listed are ratios, not absolute figures. You do not have to bet the exact amounts listed or even multiples of them. Sportsbooks will automatically scale the expected payout appropriately to the size of your wager.
The role of vig
A sportsbook is a business and it does not work for free. Its business model is to host the wagers and keep a small portion of each bet for itself. This portion of the bet is the vigorish, or as it is more commonly known, the “vig.” The vig can also be envisioned as the sportsbook’s house advantage, if you like.
One primary difference between moneylines and point spreads is how readily you can pull out how much the sportsbook is keeping for itself. Point spreads lay out their vig plainly, but moneylines have their vigs baked into the numbers.
So, for instance, the two payout ratios for the spreads listed above were both -110s. In other words, you have to pay $110 to receive $100 in profit. The $10 premium you pay is the vig.
Although a 10% vig seems pretty high in comparison to the house edges for other games, the reality is a bit sunnier after some quick math. As it happens, most sportsbooks maintain a house advantage of only 4.54% or so. Here is an example of how to see that number:
- Team A -5.5 -110
- Team B +5.5 -110
Let’s say that both Team A and Team B receive $1100 in wagers. So, the combined pool of wagers on the game is $2200. After the game ends, one group of bets wins, and the other one loses. The losers get nothing, but the winners collectively receive $2100 from the sportsbook – $1000 in profit and $1100 in wagers.
The pool of bets was $2200, but the total payout was only $2100. Thus, the sportsbook keeps the extra $100 for itself. This extra $100 is the vig. 100 divided by 2200 yields a figure of 4.54%, the actual house edge.
Moneylines present a much more difficult question to answer, vig-wise. It’s not readily possible to separate out exactly how much moneyline has been baked into the odds themselves.
However, it is important to recognize that the odds you’re seeing for moneylines are not the true odds of the situation. The listings you see have been adjusted to help the sportsbook make its standard cut of the profits.
One bit of flexibility that you enjoy with spreads and not moneylines is the existence of alternate spreads. There is nothing stating that you have to accept the sportsbook’s take on the matter at hand. Instead, if your research and/or gut feeling indicates a wildly different margin of victory is likely to occur, you can look to take advantage in the “more wagers” section of the bet.
For the most part, this listing will be quite long and include some very high and low spread numbers. All of these bets are likely losers, but you may be able to find some good payouts this way.
Puck and run lines
The puck line and the run line are two bet types that share attributes with both sides of the table. The problem arose when oddsmakers realized that bet on a spread is untenable in a sport that frequently features low scoring. So, sports like hockey and baseball presented quite the challenge for enterprising sportsbooks. Thus, the puck and run lines were born.
Here’s how it works:
- The spread for the game is set at a standard 1.5 points.
- Both a favourite and an underdog are designated appropriately with their positive or negative benchmark.
- The payout ratio, however, varies far more wildly in a similar manner to the moneyline.
Although the puck/run lines help to negate the problem of close games, there are still quite a few games that will end by a margin of a single goal or run. So, the puck and run line may bear a strange sort of “reverse” situation.
In those cases, the “favourite” to win the bet may actually bear a positive moneyline. In other words, the book is basically saying that although the team is favoured to win the game, it is less likely that it will be able to beat the spread in the process.
Here’s an example:
- Team A -1.5 +138
- Team B +1.5 -170
In this case, Team A is the favourite in the game, but the book believes that Team A is not as likely to beat the spread as it is that Team B will cover the spread. So, you may have to pay a premium to bet the underdog, oddly enough.
Reasons to bet
Different bets make sense for different situations. Although the moneyline and point spread are somewhat similar and have many elements in common, their use is optimal for specific reasons only, and they are not interchangeable. So, here are the reasons why you would choose one wager over the other.
Why you should bet the moneyline
The moneyline is great for certain sports and certain types of bettors. However, it does bear some possible downsides that you need to understand beforehand. Here are the main reasons to look to the moneyline:
- You prefer to bet on hockey or baseball games. The truth of the matter is that the puck line and run line are the sportsbooks’ attempts to rectify a problem. They are much harder to predict or anticipate – the “reverse” situation above proves that even oddsmakers struggle to make sense of the spread situation. So, if you prefer your games on ice or inside the basepaths, the moneyline is probably a better choice.
- You don’t care about the details of the victory. If you just want to bet on winners, the moneyline is the natural choice. The determining factor for these bets is simply which team comes out on top, regardless of how they do so. At their basic level, moneylines are the simplest of all wagers.
- You want to have a bit more risk and reward in your wagering. Point spreads typically pay out just under 1:1 to their winners. The only subtraction from a pure 1:1 payout is the book’s vig. However, moneylines offer many more opportunities at payouts with greater multipliers. A well-placed moneyline bet on the underdog might net you profits of two or three times the amount of your wager. You won’t find point spreads offering the same opportunities often.
- You like to make parlay wagers often. This advantage dovetails with the previous one. The fact that there is more variability in the odds and payouts means that you can have a richer parlay with odds closer – not close, but closer – to the actual probability of winning the bet. In other words, your potential compensation for the risk you take is much truer to what it should be.
Why you should bet the point spread
The point spread is likely the best-known type of sports wager, if not the most popular. Its continuing popularity is based upon its wide applicability and the relative ease of understanding its concept. However, if you’d like to be a bit more intentional about your spread betting, here are some reasons to do it:
- They are safer than moneylines. Because point spreads usually offer payout ratios around -110, your exposure is limited to only slightly more than an even-money wager. Where moneylines can get quite expensive – especially if you are betting heavy favourites unsuccessfully – you’re usually going to be able to keep things in check with the spreads.
- Consistent success is easier. Generally speaking, you can realize long-term positive results through spread betting if you can win 55% of your wagers. We know this percentage because the house edge for spread betting is roughly 4.5%. However, the payout ratios for moneylines can vary much more wildly and make the success percentage higher.
- The middle. The point spread offers an opportunity for wagering that moneylines simply do not. You can bet “the middle” and cut the risk for losing your entire stake to zero. Furthermore, the middle makes you eligible to win a double bet. So, if you want to have the option to middle, the point spread is the way to go.
The bottom line
So, you may be wondering which type of wager, the point spread or the moneyline, is the better of the two.
The short answer is: it depends.
As mentioned above, there are specific reasons to use either type of wager, and it’s probably not useful to think of them in terms of “better” or “worse.” Like many things, types of wagers are your tools in the sports betting journey, and you have to use the correct tool for each situation.