Betting Guides

Understanding Spread Betting: The Comprehensive Guide to Mastering the Game

By Dean Smith

Spread Betting Explained

Published: 15:05, 11 June 2023 | Updated: 11:42, 18 December 2023

Spread betting is generally considered a more specialised form of gambling with higher risks and rewards than an ‘ordinary’ bet. If placing a spread bet seems alien to you or too difficult to understand, keep reading, and we’ll break down the process.

Defining Spread Betting

The main difference with spread betting is that a punter is given a spread of numbers and will then pick whether what will happen is above or below that spread. The amount of ‘points’ you win or lose is multiplied by your stake. 

In regular betting, if you have a £5 bet and it loses, you have lost £5. In spread betting, if you are wrong by 10 points, that is multiplied by your stake, so you are down £50. This is a huge difference and why spread betting has a niche clientele. 

History & Origin of Spread Betting

Spread betting came from a financial background and became popular in the 1980s. It grew simply because it was something different and a way of separating the wheat from the chaff regarding who knew most about sporting outcomes. It remains more of a specialist style of betting today, which rewards those who put the work in and punishes those who don’t. 

The Nitty-Gritty: How Spread Betting Works

Manchester City V Bournemouth might have a total goal spread of 4.25-4.4, given the expected margin of victory for a high-scoring team with home-field advantage. You sell if you think there will be four goals or less and buy if there are five goals or more. 

The most significant difference is that when you win or lose, your stake is multiplied by how many points the result was on either side of the spread. 

An easier way to show this is cricket. Take a Kent V Hampshire Twenty20 game where the total game runs spread is 365-375. 

If we place a £5 stake on buy and there are 380 runs, we win £5 X 5 runs, so a £25 profit. If there are only 355, then our £5 is multiplied by 10, and we lose £50! It’s crucial to understand that, unlike a standard bet, we won’t lose our stake if we get it wrong – we lose it multiplied by how far wrong we were! 

Spread betting in UK vs US

Unlike the UK, when talking about spread betting in the US, they are talking about what we know as handicap betting. The New York Giants +7 against the Philadelphia Eagles, for example. If you back the Giants, you are hoping that if they lose, it’s by six points or less, and if you back the Eagles, you’re backing them to win by eight points or more. It is down to the margin of victory for the outsider or the favourite team.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Spread Betting in Different Sports

The scoring method varies between sports, so it should be no surprise that spread betting also has to change. In football, you might be backing how many goals will be in a game, in basketball, how many total points are scored in a game or quarter by quarter, while in cricket, runs are split in total or a team as an individual. 

Horse racing is entirely different. In traditional gambling, you would be looking to find a race winner. With spread betting, you could bet on things like how many favourites would win on an entire card, what the total winning distances would be at a meeting or on the performance of a set jockey. 

Advantages of Spread Betting – What Makes Spread Betting Appealing

Making money by backing winners is the appeal of any gambling, and in spread betting, there is the opportunity to win far bigger. The dream of finding a spread so wrong that it can be beaten by many points is hugely exciting to all who take part.

Picking the winner of a football match is excellent, but getting paid more and more for each goal they win makes spread betting so different and alluring. 

The Risks Tied to Spread Betting

As we have alluded to earlier, the most considerable risk is that if you get something badly wrong, you risk losing big. A punter must have a deep understanding of the sports on offer when having a spread bet. 

There are some horror stories out there when it comes to financial spread betting. These are almost always those who don’t understand what they are doing, so it is so essential that you gamble responsibly when it comes to spread betting. 

Top Strategies for Spread Betting

When it comes to spread betting strategies, there is only one – specialise in a single area. All gambling is best done off the back of lots of study, but while most ordinary gamblers can have a bet on the horses, the football and the rugby all on the one day, doing that when spread betting is much more complex.

First, pick a specific sport and don’t gamble outside it. By knowing a particular sport intimately well, you can immerse yourself deep enough to understand the potential pitfalls and limit the risks you take. By all means, diversify in time but kick things off small and understand fully before trying to spread your wings too much.

Legalities & Regulations Around Spread Betting

The UKGC (United Kingdom Gambling Commission) is in charge of overseeing spread betting. Every provider of bets has to follow strict guidelines, which include how to look after their customers. Both know your customer checks and affordability are hugely important to help spread betting people do so responsibly. 

Final Thoughts: Is Spread Betting Right for You?

So, spread betting is very little like what we in the UK understand as regular gambling. It is much more complex and prone to much bigger profit and loss swings than most day-to-day punters are used to. 

If you are lucky enough to possess an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of a specific sport and a mathematical brain to understand the management of risks, then spread betting could be the way to go. 

For most punters, the risks that come attached are too high, especially when it comes to those bad days when you might lose 10+ times your stake in a blowout. Anyone who is a cautious punter and generally risk-averse in life should not be looking to start spread betting.