Moneyline vs Point Spread Explained

Betting on sports gives you a ton of options. Everyone has their own ideas and approaches and preferences. Wager types will vary by person. And yet, no two bets are more popular than the moneyline and point spread. They are the wagers both newbies and pros use, staples that are easy to understand because they deal with the outcomes of straight events or, in some cases, future bets.

Of course, because moneyline and point spread wagers are so absurdly popular, they often get confused for another. And if that’s not an issue, it can also be tough to decide which bet to place depending on the situation. Complicated still, even the most thorough betting guides only loosely touch on the differences and merits between the two. There isn’t enough literature that goes into detail, covering the ins and outs of everything you could possibly need to know.

Until now.

How Moneyline Bets Work

Let’s begin with the moneyline, the most basic wager of all. When you’re betting on this, you’re trying to choose the winner of an outcome. That’s it. That’s the whole point.

Moneyline investments only get slightly difficult to parse when looking at potential returns. They are all over the place, depending on how heavy a favorite or underdog or team or player may be at the time.

Assume you’ve perused the latest NBA betting odds and come across the following game line: Los Angeles Lakers (-250) vs. Detroit Pistons (+350). A few things should stand out here. First and foremost, the presentation alerts to the favorite and the underdog.

Negative moneylines indicate the favorite, in this case, the Lakers. They tell you how much you need to wager in order to make a $100 profit. The Lakers’ hypothetical line means you need to gamble $250 to secure a potential payout of $350.

On the other side, positive moneylines constitute the underdog, which for us would be the Pistons. This tells you how much of a profit you’ll make for every $100 you put on the line. So if you laid $100 down on the Pistons’ moneyline against the Lakers, you’d have a chance to nab a total payout of $450, for a $100 profit. 

This is really all you need to know for now. You can get into parlay bets for moneylines and futures, but the information we’ve outlined here is the basis for which every moneyline investment should be made.

Piece of cake right?

How Point Spreads Bets Work

Reading point-spread lines is a little bit more difficult. These bets don’t have you predicting a winner necessarily. They deal more in having you cover certain point differentials.

Let’s say you’ve poked around the upcoming week’s college football betting odds and happen upon the following line: LSU Tigers (-6.5) vs. Clemson Tigers (+6.5). Unlike the moneyline, not all of your options consist of forecasting who will take this game. But like the moneyline, these numbers should clue you into the favorite and underdog.

Point spreads presented with a minus sign represent the favorite, and you would read this line as LSU giving 6.5 points. This means that you not only need them to beat Clemson but that they have to do so by seven ore more points, lest your wager is deemed a miss.

Meanwhile, point spreads with a plus sign symbolize the underdog in a given matchup. You would read our example as Clemson getting 6.5 points. This, in turn, means that you don’t need them to win if you take their spread; instead, you merely need them to lose by fewer than seven points (or outright win).

Online Sportsbooks and betting experts will often refer to the outcomes of these wagers as “covering.” If LSU wins by seven or more points, they have covered this spread. Conversely, if LSU covers the spread, it means they’ve lost by fewer than seven points or actually taken home the W.

Why Bet Moneylines as Opposed to Point Spreads?

There are a few different reasons why sports gamblers prefer moneylines to point spreads. Overall, though, it pretends on the level of confidence in the bet they're placing.

For this next example, let's say you've searched through the latest NFL betting odds and see this game line: 

  • Point Spread: New England Patriots (+3.5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5)
  • Moneyline: Patriots (+150) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-175)

The moneyline in this instance should, above all, should appeal to anyone who believes the Patriots are going to win. Underdogs always payout more than 1-to-1 (New England is 1.5-to-1 here) while all point-spread bets typically return -110. This part's a no-brainer.

Contemplating the moneyline for favorites is a little bit more difficult. Risking $175 just to make a profit of $100 on the Chiefs might seem like a lot for some. At the same, if you think Kansas City will win but aren't quite sure whether they can do so by at least four points, the moneyline gives you the ability to wager on a straight victory rather than the terms under which it comes.

This is why so many gamblers prefer moneyline. It removes some of the guesswork. You're just trying to pick a winner. It's simpler. You'll find that higher rollers especially enjoy betting moneyline favorites. They won't care about how much overhead they're encountering in return for a certain profit. 

Consider someone who's willing to lay $10,000 on the Chiefs' moneyline. If we plug the line and wager into an odds calculator, we see that they stand to make a profit north of $5,700. That's a pretty significant amount of cash and likely worth the risk if you can stomach a potential loss.

Why Bet Point Spreads as Opposed to Moneylines?

Betting point spreads come in handy if you're confident in favorites pulling off a blowout, regardless of what the game line actually says.

In our hypothetical game, if you think the Chiefs are going to handily beat the Patriots, it makes sense to take Kansas City at -3.5 rather than taking their moneyline. By going this route, you guarantee yourself as almost a 1-to-1 return. Betting on their moneyline, at -175, would net you much less than that.

Money vs Spread Vector

Now, if you're interested in underdog wagers, the point spread is especially useful if you aren't sure whether they'll actually win. 

Sure, the Patriots' +150 line might be intriguing. Who doesn't want to earn a 1.5-to-1 return? You could get $150 in profits for every $100 you put on the line! By doing that, though, you're also pigeonholed to a specific outcome: The Patriots have to win, otherwise, you lose.

Point spreads offer a way around that. If you're not sure whether the Patriots are going to win, but you're certain they'll keep the game close all the way through, then taking them at +3.5 will have some appeal. You're only subjective yourself to a -110 line, but you're also ensuring you aren't tethered to inflexible betting terms. New England can still lose while you win.

Moneylines in Futures

You should not treat moneylines any differently when you're gambling on futures - which, for those who don't know, are bets in which you're predicting a distance outcome, usually a division, conference, or championship victory.

Let's stick with the NFL. Super Bowl odds are considered a moneyline future. If you want to predict that the Chiefs will win the next Super Bowl, you'll see a line along the lines of +450 or something. Like with single games, this means that for every $100 you place on them, you'll net a $450 profit should they actually win the Super Bowl.

The lucrative return often associated with moneyline futures is why so many people love them. Even championship favorites will frequently payout better than 1-to-1 because you're pitting them against the entire league, not just one team. This obviously increases the risk attached to your bet, but it's a worthwhile route to consider if you have strong inklings as they pertain to league titles.

On top of that, this is also why many prefer moneylines in general. They have more versatility. You won't find point spreads in futures. You'll find ways to wager on a future over/under if you're betting on win totals, but point spreads are strictly a single-game venture.

Which is Better for You: Moneylines or Point Spreads?

Unfortunatley, this is a question without a concrete answer. Both moneylines and points spreads have their uses for everyone. Whether one is more useful than the other depends on the type of bet, you're confidence in your decision, and how much you're trying to ensure that you can win.

Use all of the aforementioned information we presented to you as your guide when looking to choose a bet, though.

Money vs Spread Vector

Generally speaking, however, moneylines are most useful to those with unrivaled faith in underdogs, a taste for futures, and a knack for building lengthy parlay betting slips. The point spread is more geared toward those who wish to prioritize a stable odds return—again, moneylines usually bring back -110—and who have the utmost confidence in favorites winning games in dominant fashion.