Should you bet the money line or the point spread?

January 23, 2001 10:10 AM
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The point spread is the great equalizer. It makes it possible to bet prohibitive favorites at nearly even money, and to bet woeful underdogs without actually having to win the game.

In Nevada, the sports books create a point spread, then allow players to bet either side — the favorite or underdog — at slightly less than even money. (The typical bet is $1.10 to win $1.00, which is represented as -110).

Most sports books also offer a money line, which is simply a decimal version of odds, in which no point spread is involved. Few books post a money line when the point spread extends into double digits, although it does occur.

Using the Super Bowl as an example, Baltimore is favored by 3 points to beat New York. Some books have posted a money line of -155 on the Ravens and +135 on the Giants. (The minus indicates the team is the favorite; the plus means the team is the underdog.)

The notation means the odds on the Ravens are 1-to-1.55, and you risk $1.55 to win $1 for a total return of $2.55. The odds on the Giants are 1.35-to-1, so a $1 bet wins $1.35 for a total return of $2.35.

Always keep in mind that the underdog pays more than even money, while the favorite pays less than even money.

There is no hard-and-fast correlation between a game’s point spread and the money line. The sports books will adjust the money line to reflect the amount of money wagered. But here is a sampling of money lines for a variety of point spreads:

21/2 points: -150 and +130

3 points: -155 and +135

4 points: -190 and +160

5 points: -220 and +190

6 points: -280 and +240

7 points: -360 and +280

10 points: -550 and +385

Obviously, the odds increase as the point spread increases. Also obvious is the possibility of generating some large payoffs by betting the underdog on the money line. But is it worth giving up the points to receive odds?

To help answer that, the Guru exampled a sample of 114 NFL games that had a money line posted. Overall, 79 of the 114 favorites (69.3 percent) won their game outright, although only 54 favorites (47.4 percent) covered the point spread.

The numbers are more revealing when you break down the betting spreads into groups:

(1) Under 3 points (24 games): favorites won 15 and lost 9 (62.5 percent)

(2) 2. 3 to 51/2 points (40 games): favorites won 23 and lost 17 (57.5 percent)

(3) 3. 6 or more points (50 games): favorites won 41 and lost 9 (82 percent).

Even though favorites won "straight up" nearly 70 percent of the time, they were only 54-60 against the point spread. In addition, in games with a spread of six points and more, underdogs covered 26 of the 50 spreads, though they could only win nine games outright.

For money line bettors, the limited sampling would indicate betting a team to win straight up when the spread is six points or more is risky. The dog won only 18 percent of the time.

The dog did much better, of course, when the line was less than three points. It won 37.5 percent of its contests.

Somewhat surprisingly, the underdog did best when receiving between three and six points, when it won 42.5 percent of the time.

These are only statistics based on a limited sampling, not concrete betting formulas. But if the Giants remain at +3 points with a money line of at least +130, guess where the Guru’s hard-earned sheckels will be deposited?