How sports spread betting works
Most commonly, spread betting involves betting that the scores in a sports event will be above or below a specific margin.
Other examples of spread betting include:
- the minutes into a soccer game when the first goal will be scored
- the number of yellow and red cards awarded during a match
- the number of runs in a cricket match
- the position of a golfer at the end of a tournament
- the number of lengths by which a favourite horse will win a race.
Betting that an outcome will be higher than the spread is known as “buying”; betting it will be lower is known as “selling”.
A spread bet you place doesn’t simply win or lose. Instead the amount you win or lose depends on how right or wrong your prediction was.
Sports spread betting examples
Say a bookmaker predicts that the total number of goals scored in a football match will be between 1.8 and 2.2. Fractions are common in spreads because the predictions are calculated based on averages from previous events.
You think one of the teams is significantly stronger than the other, and that more than 2.2 goals will be scored during the match. Accordingly, you decide to “buy” at £10 a point. This means you stake £10 that the total goals will be a point higher than the margin predicted by the bookmaker.
The final score for the match is 2 - 1, meaning that a total of 3 goals were scored. This is 0.8 higher than the maximum number of goals (2.2) predicted by the bookmaker, so your bet wins. Your winnings are calculated as follows:
£10 (your stake) x 0.8 (the margin by which your wager was correct) = £8. You’ll also retain your original stake of £10, meaning that your total winnings on the spread bet are £18.
So in this example, your spread bet wins you £8.
Now say the outcome of the match was a score of 1 - 0, giving a total of 1 goal. You bet that the match would produce more goals than the 2.2 predicted by the bookmaker, so your bet loses.
This means you’ll lose:
£10 (the value of your stake) x 1.2 (the difference between the bookmaker’s prediction of 2.2 and the actual number of goals) = £12
You’ll also forfeit your original stake of £10, meaning that your total losses on the spread bet are £22.
Types of spread betting
Spread betting may be based on either a single index or a multi-player index.
Single-index spread betting
The most popular spread betting format, and the easiest to use, is single index spread betting. It’s also known as over/under betting or betting on the total, and involves betting that an outcome – like the total number of goals scored by a particular player in a match – will be over or under a specified spread.
Multi-player spread betting
Multi-player spread betting involves betting on outcomes that involve multiple players or teams. In golf, for example, it’s popular for bookmakers to assign a different number of points to each player based on their leaderboard position by the end of a tournament.
For example, a bookmaker may use an index like 80-40-30-25-20-15-10-5, with 80 points awarded to the overall winner, 40 to the runner-up, 30 for third position and so on. You can then bet that a particular player will be ranked above or below a specified point spread. For instance, you might bet £10 that Ernie Els will rank higher than a spread of 21 to 25.
Spread betting pros and cons
Spread betting is very different from fixed odds betting in that you don’t know how much you stand to win or lose before an event finishes. This will depend on how right or wrong your prediction was. As a result, spread betting tends to be riskier than fixed-odds betting. It can also be more exciting. Even with a fairly small stake, you could win big or lose big.
It’s important to consider the worst-case scenario, or how much you could potentially lose, before placing a spread bet. This will depend partly on the nature of the betting market you’ve chosen. For example, the total number of goals in a football match seldom reaches double digits. This helps limit the losses you can incur – your prediction can’t be more than a small number of goals out from the spread predicted by a bookmaker.
If you’re betting on the number of minutes before a goal is scored, however, there’s much more potential for your prediction to be significantly out – meaning that there’s greater risk of significant losses.