Against The Spread

Question: What does the term “against the spread”, or “ATS”, mean?


Answer: If you play for a sports team, or if you are a fan of a sports team, all you care about is wins and losses. For sportsbooks, often it is not profitable to take wagers on whether a team will win or lose. For example, how many sportsbooks would really allow people to bet on a whether a 30-point favorite defeats an underdog? There just isn’t enough attention on the underdog to warrant offering that kind of bet. Enter ATS bets.

When wagering ATS, we are focusing on the Las Vegas (or sportsbook) winners and losers; we don’t care as much about who wins. We care more about how teams play against a given spread.

Courtesy of our friends over at, we’ll provide an example.

Focus on the game involving Northwestern and Michigan. First, the bottom team is always the home team. Focus your attention on the first column, where 741 is next to Northwestern and 742 is next to Michigan. This is the betting identifying number, more about this later. The first number to the right of the team names is what is called the “moneyline,” the moneyline will be covered next week; for now, ignore it. Where our interest is, at least this week, is on the column to the right of the moneyline, this is the point spread (“against the spread” or “ATS”). Usually this column will be a one or two digit number (sometimes three digits if there is a half-point spread involved, such as 8.5). The team who is favored will always have a minus sign followed by a number; the team who is the underdog will always have a plus sign followed by a number.

If you thought Michigan would defeat Northwestern by MORE THAN 8 points, you would have checked the box next to Michigan that says “-8”. If Michigan defeated Northwestern by more than 8 points, you would win the bet.

If, however, you thought Michigan would defeat Northwestern by LESS THAN 8 points (or if you thought Northwestern would win the game outright [also called “straight up” or “SU”]), you would check the box next to Northwestern that says “+8”. If Northwestern defeated Michigan (or lost by less than 8 points), you would win the bet.

If Michigan defeated Northwestern by 8, the bet is called a “push”, meaning there would be no action, and you would get your money back. The goal for sportsbooks, with most sports, is to have a half-point spread.

Michigan defeated Northwestern 66-64 in overtime. So a bet of Northwestern +8 was a winning bet, since Northwestern lost by less than 8. Remember, overtime does not affect a payout.

For example, look at the Northeastern and Hofstra game. Notice that Hofstra was a 3.5-point favorite. If you bet Hofstra -3.5, Hofstra needed to win by 4 or more in order for a person to win the bet. If you bet Northeastern +3.5, Northeastern needed to lose by 3 or less, or defeat Hofstra. Note that no matter what the outcome, there will be a winner and a loser. Northeastern won the game, 64-62, so a bet of Northeastern +3.5 was a winning bet.


Other notes related to wagering against the spread:


  • How do I place a bet in Las Vegas?: If you were placing this bet in Las Vegas, the proper way to place the bet is by the identifying number. You do NOT approach the bookmaker and say “I would like Michigan ATS”; instead, say “742”, remembering that 742 is the unique identifier for Michigan. Be sure to indicate whether the bet is for a single game contest or whether it is part of another wager. Two things: (1) The unique identifier may be different from sportsbook-to-sportsbook, do NOT assume that they are the same; (2) The minimum sports bet at Las Vegas casinos varies, from $5-$10 a contest. Consult your sportsbook for exact minimums and maximums.
  • When can I collect my winnings?: Depending on the sportsbook, contests are collectable once a final result is posted. If you are placing a sports wager, other than online, you may be able to mail in a winning ticket. Consult the sportsbook of your choice as to whether that method is available.
  • What if the game goes into overtime?: Remember that a contest generally includes overtime. For example, if you had Northwestern +8 against Michigan, and the game goes into overtime, it does not necessarily follow that a bet on Northwestern is a winning bet. If Michigan wins by 6 in overtime, a bet on Northwestern +8 is a winning bet. If, however, Michigan wins by 9, a bet on Northwestern +8 is a losing bet. Consult the sportsbook of your choice for their rules.
  • When does a contest go final?: It depends on the sportsbook and what sport you are wagering on. In baseball, a contest is considered final once a team wins, obviously. If however, the game needs to be shortened, it is considered final after at least five completed innings have been played, and where one of the teams is leading. Where an inning has not been completed or where the score is tied, in the case of baseball, the event will be suspended (picked up where it was left off) or cancelled (the event will start over from the beginning, but wagers placed on the original contest will be refunded). Consult the sportsbook of your choice for their rules.
  • The line changed since I placed by wager, what happens?: NOTE: Whatever your ticket says is the spread for the contest matters! Do NOT refer to a different spread. For example, assume you bet Michigan -8. Since you place your bet, Michigan becomes a 7.5-point favorite (this would be due to more people betting Northwestern ATS as opposed to Michigan ATS). Michigan still must win by more than 8 in order for you to win your bet! Generally, you may not cancel and re-bet in order to gain the benefit of the more favorable spread. By contrast, a less favorable line that occurs after the placing of a wager does not affect your wager.
  • I want to wager on a game, but I don’t see it as being available: Not all games will be available to bet on. Sportsbooks pick the contests that are likely to have the most action. Note that some sportsbooks will not accept bets on certain teams (The Palms will not accept bets on the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, because the Maloof family, owner of The Palms, owns the Kings; Harrah’s casinos will not accept bets on the NBA’s Boston Celtics because Harrah’s has an ownership interest in the Celtics).
  • The game I wagered on says “refund” or is no longer on the board, what happens now?: Sometimes a sportsbook will remove a game which they had previously allowed bets on. This may occur due to an injury or some other concern. When this happens, sportsbooks will refund the amount wagered, and a new bet can be placed once the new spread is posted. Occasionally, a sportsbook will still honor the original bet; consult the sportsbook of your choice for their policy.
  • I saw that The Palms Las Vegas had one spread listed, but Flamingo Las Vegas has a different one listed, will the Flamingo Las Vegas honor the spread listed at The Palms Las Vegas?: Sportsbooks may have various spreads for a given game. Note that whatever sportsbook you place a wager at, that spread (which is listed on your ticket) governs the game. Generally, you cannot request a different spread other than the one that is posted.
  • The team that I bet on won, do I win?: It is possible for a team to win a game, but lose against the spread. For example, say Michigan defeated Northwestern 65-60. Michigan will have won the game, but Northwestern will have won ATS. Going back to my original point, fans and participants care about who wins and loses, but Las Vegas (and sports gamblers) care about the score.


Other questions related to betting “Against the Spread” or another Sports Wagering question? Email us at

One response

  1. Pingback: New Content Added: Week of January 15th « beforevisitingthesportsbook

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