What is ATS in Betting? Complete Guide to Betting Against the Spread

ATS stands for Against the Spread and is used to state when a bet is placed on the points spread. The spread is a predetermined set range of points designed to level up games and remove a favorite or underdog, much like a handicap would.

In this article, we’re going to look at what is ATS in betting. To do so, we’ve included an explanation of the bet, how ATS works across a range of sportsbooks, spread betting examples, and ATS strategy.

How Does ATS (Against the Spread) Work? – What is a Points Spread?

A point spread, often referred to simply as “the spread,” is a number set by the best online sportsbooks to create a balanced betting market. It’s used to even the playing field between the favorite and the underdog teams in a sporting event. The spread represents the margin of victory that the favorite is expected to win by or the underdog is expected to lose by.

Against the spread (ATS) betting involves wagering on whether a team will cover the point spread. Here’s a real-world example to help illustrate how ATS betting works:

Let’s say there’s betting on an NFL game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos. The sportsbook sets the point spread as follows:

  • Kansas City Chiefs -7.5
  • Denver Broncos +7.5

If you bet on the Chiefs ATS, they must win the game by more than 7.5 points for your bet to be successful. If the Chiefs win by 8 points or more, your bet wins.

Suppose you decide to place a $100 wager on the Chiefs ATS at odds of -110. The -110 odds indicate that you need to bet $110 to win $100, which includes your original stake. If the Chiefs cover the spread, your $100 wager would yield a payout of $190 ($100 in winnings + $90 as a return of your original stake).

Alternatively, if you bet on the Broncos ATS, they can either win the game outright or lose by 7 points or fewer.

It’s important to note that betting odds and payouts can vary depending on the sportsbook and the specific point spread. The -110 odds used in this example are common, but they can be different based on the betting market and the betting volume on each side.

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Different Spread Lines

Points spreads can be referenced as either whole numbers or fractions. It’s vital that you distinguish which is which, as the way they work is very different.

Spreads that are fractions will be to the nearest half point, such as 5.5, 6.5, 7.5, and so on. Obviously, games don’t have half points, so this means that there will always be a result based on this spread. If you bet on a -7.5 spread and the team scored 30 points, the points would be adjusted to 22.5 points for the purpose of this market.

Whole numbers bring in an additional result, which is the “push”. A push in sports betting is where the scores are tied, and the stake is returned to the punter. For example, let’s assume you’ve bet on the favorite at -10 and they win 30-20. The adjusted score would be 20-20 or a tie, so this will be a push and your stake returned.

Example of Betting Against the Spread

Below is an example of how an against the spread bet might work in an NBA game. We’ve used the spread as a whole number and highlighted how all three results would pay out.

  • Game: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Brooklyn Nets
  • Point Spread: Lakers -4.0
  • Odds: Lakers -110, Nets -110

If you bet on the Lakers ATS, they must win the game by 5 or more points for your bet to be successful. Let’s assume you decide to place a $50 wager on the Lakers ATS at odds of -110.

Outcome 1: Lakers cover the spread

If the Lakers win by 5 points or more, your bet will win. With -110 odds, you would receive a payout of $95.45 ($45.45 in winnings + $50 as a return of your original stake). The sportsbook typically pays out your original wager plus the winnings.

Outcome 2: Lakers do not cover the spread

If the Lakers win by 3 points or fewer, or if they lose the game outright, your bet is not successful, and you would lose your $50 wager.

Outcome 3: Lakers win by exactly 4 points

If the Lakers win by exactly 4 points, it results in a “push.” In this case, your original $50 wager would be refunded, and there would be no winnings or losses.

It’s important to note that the -110 odds used in this example are common, but they can vary among even the best offshore sportsbooks and depending on the betting market. Additionally, the specific odds and payouts may change based on fluctuations in the betting lines and the amount of money wagered on each side.

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How Do You Bet Against the Spread?

The process of betting against the spread is simple and applies to all spread bets. We’re going to show how to bet against the spread using one of our top-ranked betting sites in BetOnline.

  1. Open an account – Before you place a bet, you need to open an account by clicking on the green “Join now” button within the sportsbook.
  2. Make a deposit – Once the account is set up, log in and head to the cashier. You will get a range of payment options to choose from then choose the amount you want to deposit.
  3. Navigate the sportsbook – Use the menu section to pick the sport that you want to bet on. Scroll through the list of games and not the “Spread” column for all spread bets
  4. Add to bet slip – Click on the odds to add the bet to your bet slip. Choose the amount you want to stake and then confirm your bet.
  5. Track bets – Live bets can be tracked within the bet slip under “my bets” or within your account section.

ATS Betting Strategy

Used correctly, betting against the spread can be one of the most lucrative markets. In this section, we’ve included ATS betting strategies that will not only help maximize winnings from the market but arguably more importantly, limit losses.

  1. Research and analysis – Thoroughly research teams, including their performance, statistics, injuries, recent form, and head-to-head matchups. Analyze factors such as home/away records, playing styles, and coaching strategies. The more information you gather, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed betting decisions.
  2. Follow line movement – Monitor the movement of the point spread leading up to the game. This can provide insights into how the betting public and sharp bettors are influencing the line. If you notice significant line movement, investigate the reasons behind it and determine if it aligns with your analysis. Consider taking advantage of favorable line movement (offering more points than you think fair) if it aligns with your research.
  3. Key number awareness – Familiarize yourself with the key numbers in the sport you’re betting on. In football games, for example, key numbers are often 3 and 7 due to the scoring structure. Consider teasing through these key numbers or look for opportunities where the point spread crosses them. Being aware of key numbers can help you identify advantageous betting situations.
  4. Bankroll management – Implement a solid bankroll management strategy to protect your funds and maintain discipline. Set a budget for your betting activities and avoid placing large, disproportionate wagers on a single game. Consider using a percentage-based approach where you bet a fixed percentage of your bankroll on each wager. This strategy helps mitigate losses during losing streaks and ensures a sustainable betting approach.
  5. Track and evaluate performance – Keep a record of your bets and analyze your results regularly. Review your wins, losses, and overall performance to identify patterns, strengths, and weaknesses. Identify which strategies work best for you and adjust your approach accordingly. Continually learning from your past bets and making data-driven adjustments can significantly improve your long-term success.

ATS Betting Sports Examples

Against the spread bets will vary based on the sports you’re wagering on. For example, in football and basketball, the number of points scored is a lot higher than the likes of baseball and hockey, meaning that the spread is larger.

In this section, we’ve taken a few examples of how the points spread will work for each sport and highlighted any notable differences.

NFL

The NFL is probably the best sport to bet against the spread given how popular the sport is. This means that lines can move more than in most sports due to bettors simply betting on their favorite team, which creates value betting opportunities for sharp bettors.

Spread NFL bet.

The example that we’ve used is from an upcoming game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Minnesota Vikings. As you can see, the like is set at 5.5 points.

  • Game – Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Minnesota Vikings
  • Spread – 5.5
  • Odds – Buccaneers +5.5 110, Vikings -5.5 -110

Outcome 1 – Buccaneers cover the spread

The Buccaneers are +5.5 points on the spread to win against the spread they either must win the game outright or not lose by 6 or more points. For example, if they were to lose the game 30 – 25, then they would still cover the spread as their adjusted points total would be 30.5.

Outcome 2 – Vikings cover the spread

For the Vikings to cover the spread they need to win the game by 6 or more points. Any other result and the bet will lose. For example, if they won the game 26 – 23, then their adjust points total would be 20.5, meaning they would fail to cover the spread.

Both results on the spread for this game are priced at -110. This means that to make a $100 profit, you need to wager $110.

NBA

Basketball averages around 220 points per game and there are often games that are a blowout, meaning that one team massively dominates the other. As a result, the spread can be tougher to call, which is both positive and negative in that, lines can be less sharp than NFL, but they also won’t move as much due to it not being as popular.

At the time of the writing, the NBA is currently in its offseason, so we’re going to pick up a game from the WNBA, which works in exactly the game way.

WNBA spread bet

The game above is between the Indiana Fever and the Las Vegas Aces, with the spread set at 15.5 points. It’s worth noting that this is an unusually large spread for any basketball game, but not uncommon.

  • Game – Indiana Fever v Las Vegas Aces
  • Spread – 15.5
  • Odds: – Fever +15/.5 +115, Aces -15.5 -105

Outcome 1 – Fever covers the spread

For the Fever to cover the spread they would either win the game outright or not lose the game by 16 or more points. For example, if they lose the game 120 – 109, then they would cover the bet and win the spread, with an adjusted points tally of 124.5.

Outcome 2 – Aces cover the spread

For the Aces to cover the spread they would need to win the game 16 or more points. This is a huge deficit for any spread bet, but if you look at the disparity in the moneyline odds, you will see they are big favorites to win this game outright.

A point worth noting here is that the odds aren’t equal for each respected point spread. Aces are priced at -105 and the Fever pried at -115. This means that the sportsbook thinks that the line is not quite exact and more likely dead on 15 points. But they’ve opted for a “no push” result, so have included the half point and adjust the odds accordingly.

NHL

Betting against the spread in the NHL is a little different than the NFL and NBA in that it’s referred to as the “puck line” instead. All games will start with the same line of +/-1.5 goals. The reason for this is that the scores are much lower than the NFL and NBA, and as a result, will adjust the odds slightly based on this.

NHL spread betting

The example below between the Panthers and the Golden Knights highlights this.

  • Game – Florida Panthers v Vegas Golden Knights
  • Spread – 1.5 goals
  • Odds – Panthers +1.5 -165, Golden Knights -1.5 (+145)

Outcome 1 – Panthers cover the spread

For the Panthers to cover the spread at +1.5 they would need to win the game or not lose by no more than 1 goal. The odds for this are -165 which means that you would need to wager $165 to make a $100 profit. For example, if they lost the game 4-3, they would still cover the spread as their adjusted goals would be 4.5.

Outcome 2 – Golden Knights cover the spread

The Golden Knights are -1.5 goals on the puck line and to cover this would need to win the game by 2 or more goals. The price for this is +145 meaning that you would make $145 profit for every $100 wagered.

As you can see, the odds are not anywhere close to even money for either result, which means the puck line is not perfect. Some sportsbooks will allow you to adjust this within alternative puck line markets, usually found within the prop bets section.

You can use the odds from the moneyline bet to see the advantage that one team has over the other and then refer to the puck line to see if this offers value or not.

MLB

The MLB works in a similar way to the NHL in that betting against the spread is a set line at 1.5 runs. The odds then reflect how much of an advantage or disadvantage this line has for each team. The example below is from a game between the Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners, with the latter being a strong favorite on the moneyline and a big underdog betting on the spread.

MLB spread market

 

  • Game – Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Spread –5 runs
  • Odds: – Phillies +1.5 +123, Diamondbacks -1.5 -143

Outcome 1 – Nationals cover the spread

For the Nationals to cover the spread they would need to not lose by no more than 1 run in the game. Alternatively, if they win the game then any scoreline will be a winner. A $100 wager at odds of +123 makes a $123 profit.

Outcome 2 – Mariners cover the spread

The Mariners need to win by 2 or more runs to cover the spread in this example. You would need to wager $143 to make a $100 profit at odds of -143. For example, if the final score was a 9-8 victory for the Mariners, then they would fail to cover the spread as their score would be adjusted to 7.5 given they are -1.5 for this bet.

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Pros and Cons of Betting Against the Spread

Like all bet types, there are pros and cons as to why you might want to bet against the spread. We’ve highlighted some of these below.

Pros of betting against the spread:

  1. Increased betting options -Betting against the spread expands your wagering options beyond simply picking the winner of a game. It adds an extra layer of excitement and strategy to your betting experience.
  2. Balanced odds – The point spread is designed to level the playing field and create more balanced odds between the favorite and the underdog. This can present opportunities for bettors to find value on both sides of the bet.
  3. Risk mitigation – Betting against the spread can help mitigate risk by providing a cushion. Even if your selected team doesn’t win outright, they can still cover the spread and result in a winning bet.
  4. Higher potential payouts – By successfully predicting teams’ performances relative to the point spread, you can achieve higher payouts compared to simply betting on the moneyline. This is particularly true when wagering on underdogs who cover the spread or favorites who win by a significant margin.
  5. Strategic opportunities – Analyzing teams’ performance against the spread allows you to identify patterns, trends, and potential advantages. This can help you make more informed betting decisions and capitalize on favorable betting situations.

Cons of betting against the spread:

  1. Increased difficulty – Betting against the spread adds complexity to your wagering. Predicting a team’s performance relative to the point spread requires a deeper analysis of various factors, including team strength, playing styles, and margin of victory.
  2. Lower odds and payouts – Compared to betting on the moneyline, ATS bets often come with lower odds and payouts. The sportsbook adjusts the lines to balance the betting action, resulting in reduced potential returns.
  3. Higher margin of error – The point spread introduces a margin of error in your betting predictions. Even if you correctly pick the winning team, they must cover the spread for your bet to be successful. This adds an additional challenge and increases the chances of losing your bet.
  4. Unpredictable backdoor covers – Backdoor covers occur when a team scores late in the game to cover the spread, despite being behind for most of the game. These unexpected outcomes can result in frustrating losses for bettors.
  5. Vulnerability to line movement -The point spread can be influenced by line movement, particularly due to betting volume and sharp bettors. This means that the spread may change before you place your bet, potentially impacting the value or attractiveness of the wager.

What Circumstances Can Change the Point Spread?

The point spread is one of the most fluctuating markets when it comes to the odds. Betting lines are constantly moving be it in terms of the price or the spread itself. In this section, we’ve highlighted a few reasons why the point spread might move.

Betting Volume

The amount of money wagered on a particular side of the point spread can heavily impact the line. If a large volume of bets is placed on one team, the sportsbook may adjust the spread to encourage more balanced betting action and reduce their potential risk.

Injuries

The availability or absence of key players due to injuries can significantly impact a team’s performance. If a star player is injured or ruled out, it can lead to a movement in the point spread as the sportsbook adjusts the odds to reflect the impact on the team’s chances of covering the spread.

Team News and Performance

News about a team’s recent performance, coaching changes, or other relevant developments can influence the point spread. Positive or negative news can affect public perception and lead to adjustments in the line to reflect the team’s current form.

Weather Conditions

Weather can play a significant role in certain sports, such as football or baseball. Extreme weather conditions like heavy rain, strong winds, or extreme temperatures can impact a team’s performance and affect scoring. The sportsbook may adjust the point spread to account for these conditions.

Sharp Bettors

Professional or experienced bettors, often known as “sharp bettors “, have a reputation for making well-informed and significant wagers. When sharp bettors place substantial bets on a particular side of the point spread, it can prompt the sportsbook to adjust the line to account for their expertise and attempt to balance the betting action.

ATS Payouts – Why Are Odds Not Even Money?

Spread bets are designed in a way to apply a handicap that makes the contest a more even battle. It’s the handicapper’s role to set the number of points advantages or disadvantages to make the bet as even as possible.

In theory, the spread will make the game a dead-even contest, but the odds won’t reflect this. You’ll notice that the odds for the spread are anywhere from -105 to -120, which is obviously not even money.

The reason for this is that the betting sites charge a commission with each market they have live. This can vary from site to site but ranges anywhere from 2% up to 10%.

NFL even spread.

To highlight how this works we’ve taken odds from an upcoming NFL game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers. You can see that the odds are -110 and the spread is set at 6 points.

The easiest way to work out the juice (commission) applied is to run it through a betting calculator which converts the odds to implied probability.

  • -110 = 52.4% implied probability

We can then take the 52.4% implied probability and multiply it by 2, which gives us an overall implied probability of 104.8%. The probability can’t be more than 100%, so we subtract that to get the juice.

  • 8% – 100% = 4.8%

So, the juice charged on this market is 4.8%, which is why the odds are not even money for spread bets.

Against the Spread Betting Terms

Spread betting has a lot of terms that are used to describe aspects of this bet type. Below we’ve listed a range of the most common terms that you need to familiarize yourself with.

  • Point Spread – The predicted margin of victory or defeat between two teams in a sporting event. It’s used to level the playing field and create balanced betting opportunities.
  • Favorite – The team expected to win the game, and they have a negative point spread. They are considered the stronger team in the matchup.
  • Underdog – The team expected to lose the game, and they have a positive point spread. They are considered the weaker team in the matchup.
  • Cover the Spread – When a team wins by a margin greater than the point spread assigned to them. If you bet on the favorite, they need to win by more than the point spread for the bet to be successful. If you bet on the underdog, they need to win or lose by fewer points than the point spread for the bet to be successful.
  • Push – When the final margin of victory lands exactly on the point spread. In this case, all bets are refunded, and there are no winnings or losses.
  • Vigorish (Vig or Juice) – The commission or fee charged by the sportsbook for placing a bet. It’s typically a percentage of the wager and ensures the sportsbook’s profitability.
  • Line Movement – The change in the point spread or odds over time, often influenced by factors such as betting volume, injuries, weather conditions, or sharp bettors. Monitoring line movement can provide insights into market sentiment and potentially identify advantageous betting opportunities.
  • Teaser – A type of bet that allows you to adjust the point spread in your favor for multiple games. Teaser bets typically require you to combine two or more bets into a single wager, with adjusted spreads, but at reduced odds.
  • Over/Under (Total) – A bet on the combined score or total points scored by both teams in a game. You wager on whether the actual total will be over or under the sportsbook’s predicted total.

FAQs

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Jonathan Askew
Sports Betting and Casino Expert

Jonathan is a freelance writer working with Techopedia. He has been working within the gambling sector for over 15 years and has been fortunate enough to work with brands that include Gambling.com, CheekyPunter.com, BasketballInsiders.com and Betfair. He specializes in US and UK-based sports and casino content for Techopedia.