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Betting Against The Spread (ATS) Meaning

With the popularity of legal sports betting continuing to rise in the US, by now, you’ve probably heard someone talking about betting against the spread, but you may not be sure what it means or how point spreads work.

Betting against the point spread, or with the spread for that matter, is a slight step up from placing a moneyline bet on which team will win the game outright. Instead, point spread bets involve wagering on whether a team will win or lose by more or less than the projected winning margin set by oddsmakers. ATS betting entails the underdog getting points which are applied to the final score when settling a spread bet.

Moneyline betting odds can be undesirable depending on the perceived outcome of a given game. Point spread betting is designed to even the playing field by encouraging an equal amount of action on both sides. The betting lines reflect that by being close to even money, which is how a sportsbook turns a mismatch into a 50/50 proposition.

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Point Spread Betting

Point spread betting is commonly used for basketball and football games due to the larger scoring differentials. The traditional sports betting type is also used in other sports like baseball, hockey, and soccer, but because of the lower margin of victory in those sports, the run line, puck line, or goal line is usually set at -1.5.

Depending on the matchup, the betting line may stray further from even money, reaching upwards (+/-) 200. Contests expected to be extremely lopsided may be moved to a point spread of -2.5 to reset the odds closer to even.

Along with tennis, a handful of niche sports like darts, eSports, lacrosse, and rugby also have point spread betting options. These sporting events receive less attention from oddsmakers. Sports bettors may find value in the higher probability of mispriced lines.

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Betting with the spread explained

When you bet with the spread, it means you’re taking the favorite to win the game by more than the projected number of points set by the sportsbook. This is known as covering the spread. The favorite is indicated by the (-) next to the point spread and odds.

If the final score falls on the number, the point spread bet is considered a tie between the bettor and the sportsbook. As a result of a push, a bettor is refunded their money and doesn’t lose anything on the juice.

Betting against the spread explained

The opposite of betting with the spread is wagering that a team won’t cover the spread. Betting against the point spread means you’re taking the underdog and the (+) points in a contest.

To cash a bet against the spread, the underdog can win the game outright or lose by less than the point spread. Starting the game with a lead never hurts, but it may not be enough.

Calculating your Spread Betting Payouts

Calculating spread betting payouts is done with the help of the three-digit number located in close proximity to the point spread. The number next to the spread represents what a winning $100 wager would payout. A $100 bet at plus-money odds of +110 will return $210. A $100 wager on a betting line of -110 will receive $190 back from the book.

These days, the online bet slip does all the heavy lifting. Most online sportsbooks will allow you to see the potential payout in the slip without being signed in.

When searching for value among point spreads, look for odds closer to -105 or +100, as opposed to -115 or worse. The difference between larger wins and smaller losses can add up over time. An odds-tracking website or app is an excellent way to compare the odds offered by multiple online sportsbooks in a hurry.

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How Point Spreads Change

Betting lines, including point spreads, are set well in advance. It’s not uncommon for an opening line to change from when the original numbers are posted until the start of the contest. Changes to the point spread can happen for a variety of reasons.

If enough public money comes in on one side, oddsmakers will adjust the point spread in an attempt to minimize the sportsbook’s risk. Injuries, weather reports, and other external factors can also play a part in line movement for a particular game. A good starting quarterback being ruled out before the game begins can swing a point spread by more than three points.

Most changes to point spreads are slight, but if a significant enough adjustment occurs before the start of the contest, experienced bettors may attempt to limit their risk by taking the other side of their original bet. This strategy is known as hedging.

Another form of point spread betting is live betting, which has become big business for the sports betting industry in recent years. The concept is similar to regular point spread betting but the lines are set and reset based on the in-game action. Patient bettors may wait for the contest to start before placing a wager in hopes of getting a betting number.

How to Bet Against the Spread

When betting against the point spread, it’s important to keep in mind key numbers. In the NFL, those numbers are well-defined as three, four, six, seven, 10, and 14. Specifically three and seven, as that, is usually how points are accumulated. The two margins of victory are the only outcomes that occur close to 10 percent of the time or more.

With how often key numbers hit, the half point (0.5) should be of particular interest to bettors. Referred to as the hook, half points are often added by oddsmakers to help avoid a push.

Depending on the online sportsbook, bettors can find a range of higher and lower point spreads known as alternative spreads, which scale in price accordingly. These additional options can be used to avoid or include the push.

With more customization, alternative spreads have all but replaced traditional teaser-type bets. The majority of sports betting sites offer additional point spreads in the prop bets section. Other online sportsbooks will have options to pick from in the bet slip.

Betting Against the Spread Examples

For an example of betting against the point spread, let’s look ahead to week one of the upcoming 2023 NFL season. The first game on the slate posted by popular betting site BetMGM is the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Detroit Lions.

As the home team, Kansas City is favored by -6.5, which means Detroit can lose by +6 or less and still cash against the spread. Below are a couple of possible outcomes for the final score, each with a varying margin of victory. The team to cover the spread is highlighted in bold.

  • Kansas City 28 – Detroit 24
  • Kansas City 13 – Detroit 7
  • Kansas City 21 – Detroit 14
  • Kansas City 10 – Detroit 17

In the first two examples above, Detroit lost the game but won against the point spread. This is because they lost by fewer points than the spread bet allowed.

Bettors taking the Lions against the spread in the above example should consider buying up the 0.5 to bump the number to +7 and include the push. They will give up some profit to do so, but it’s a small price to pay to reduce overall risk. Alternative spreads should begin to show up closer to the start of the season.

If a bettor thinks the underdog will win, they can take an alternative point spread that offers plus-money odds on a spread with them favored. Most NFL underdogs that win against the spread also win outright.


What does ATS mean in Online Betting?

The phrase ‘against the spread’ is often referred to as ATS for statistical record keeping and handicapping purposes.

ATS reflects how a team performs when the point spread is applied to a game instead of their straight-up wins and losses.

ATS betting stats can be broken down in various ways similar to win/loss records to provide additional insight. For example, a basketball team might be 4-1 ATS in their last five games when their best player scores more than 25 points.


Which sports offer spread betting options?

Popular sports that offer spread betting options include baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer, and tennis, as well as niche sports like darts, eSports, lacrosse, and rugby. Due to the limited number of scoring opportunities in baseball, hockey, and soccer, the point spread is generally reduced to 1.5 and referred to as the run line, puck line, or goal line.

What do the + and - mean in spread betting?

In spread betting, the (+) and (-) indicate the number of points to add or subtract from the final score of the team wagered on. The underdog is represented by the (+), while the favorite is found next to the (-). The (+/-) also refers to the odds of a winning payout being better than or less than even money.

What does it mean to bet against the spread and with the spread?

Betting against the spread means the underdog can win outright or lose by up to a specific amount. Betting with the point spread means the favorite must win by more than the listed number. If the result falls on the point spread, it will be considered a push, and the stakes will be returned. A half-point hook is often added in an attempt by sportsbooks to avoid the tie.

Is beating the spread the same as covering the spread?

Beating the spread and winning the wager is the same as covering the point spread. To accomplish this, the favorite must win the contest by more than the projected margin of victory. The purpose of spread betting is to even the playing field of a perceived mismatch by encouraging equal betting on both sides.

What does a -7 spread mean?

A -7 point spread means the team or participant listed next to the number is favored by that amount and must win by more than that for the wager to cash. In the NFL or college football, this spread is considered a one-score game.

How do you bet against the spread in the NFL?

When betting against the point spread in the NFL, it’s important to remember key numbers. In football, those frequent final scores include differences of three, six, seven, 10, and 14. Particularly, three and seven which are the only outcomes that occur 10 percent of the time or more. If betting against the point spread of -6.5, the underdog can win outright or lose by up to +6. Bettors can give up some juice and buy the half point to include the push at +7.