What is ATS in Betting? – Betting Against The Spread Explained

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Written by Dan Fitch

Updated: 06:10 am EST, 10/07/2024

ATS is an abbreviation for the betting term ‘against the spread’. It refers to when you bet on a sports team to perform better than the points spread set by a sportsbook. We’re going to explore the subject of what is ATS in betting, so that you have total understanding of how it works.

How Does Betting Against The Spread Work?

Spreads are amongst the most popular betting lines for sports bettors. A points spread sees the underdog team given a points advantage and the favored team hampered with a points handicap.

The bettor can choose to place a wager on the favorite to win by a greater margin than their points handicap. Or they can bet on the underdog to not lose by a margin greater than their points advantage.

Let’s give you an example, so that you better understand how ATS in betting terms works.

Imagine there is an NFL game where the spread looks like this:

  • Kansas City Chiefs -7.5
  • Denver Broncos +7.5

This means that the Chiefs are favorites for the game and have been given a handicap. If you bet on them at -7.5 they must overcome that handicap, by winning by a margin of 8 points or more.

The Broncos are the underdogs and have been given a points advantage of +7.5. Your bet on the Broncos will be successful if they either win the game, tie the game, or lose by a margin of 7 points or less.

So if the Chiefs won the game by a score of 32-28, though they have won the contest as a whole, they would have lost on the spread, because their 4 point winning margin was not enough to overcome their handicap of -7.5. The Broncos would be the outright winner on the spread.

ATS Explained

Now that you understand how a spread works, it should explain ATS. Whether you bet on the Chiefs at -7.5, or the Broncos at +7.5, you can be said to be betting against the spread.

Sportsbooks set spreads in order to make a more even market than is generally available on the moneyline. The moneyline favorite can often be priced at quite short betting odds, with the underdog at larger odds, but with a fairly remote chance of winning.

In such instances, moneyline wagers are not that appealing. The idea of a points spread is that the two teams are set on an even playing field, with odds that are at the very least quite close to one another. This is often a more attractive prospect for bettors.

As well as the main spread, there are generally alternative lines available with differing spreads applied to the selections. You’ll notice that most spreads tend to have half points applied. So in our previous example, the Chiefs were given a handicap of -7.5, rather than being made the 7-point favorites.

This is to ensure that there is a clear winner on the spread. If a team were the three-point favorites and the margin of victory by the favorites was exactly three points, then the market would be tied, resulting in a push (where the stake is returned to the bettor).

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular sports at offshore sportsbooks and how ATS applies to them.

What Does ATS Mean in Football? – NFL Betting Against the Spread

nfl

ATS in football betting is extremely popular. It’s a high scoring sport where there can be pretty large winning margins and short-priced favorites on the moneylines. Spreads are therefore a necessary way for online sportsbooks to create more even markets for the NFL.

That said, due to the popularity of the sport, the odds can still end up shifting quite a bit, as bettors wager on their favorite team. This can create opportunities where you can find differences in expected value.

What Does ATS Mean in Betting on Basketball? – NBA Betting Against the Spread

nba

Of all the major sports in this section, a basketball game is where you will see the most points scored. Over the last couple of seasons, individual NBA teams have averaged 114 points-per-game.

Put two teams together and that’s a lot of points being scored in a single game, giving a lot of potential for the winning margins to be wide. Because of this possibility, spreads are difficult for oddsmakers to get right, which is good news for clued up NBA fans.

What is ATS in Betting on Baseball? – MLB Betting Against the Spread

mlb

With baseball seeing narrower margins of victory than the two aforementioned sports, the spread line is set at -1.5 and +1.5 runs. This spread market is known as the baseball run line and because it is always set at -1.5/+1.5 regardless of the opposition, there can still be some pretty clear favorites.

You will be able to find alternative spreads for MLB games, in which the odds of the two teams involved are closer.

What is Betting Against the Spread on NHL Ice Hockey?

nhl

Ice hockey shares some similarities with baseball when it comes to ATS betting. Firstly, it is another low scoring sport where the main the spread line is set always at -1.5 and +1.5 goals.

Secondly, it also has an alternative name for the spread, which in this case is the puck line. Again, it’s possible to find some pretty clear favorites and large underdogs on the main spread, but there are alternative lines where the odds will be closer.

Pros & Cons of Betting Against the Spread

Any deep dive into what is ATS in betting, requires an examination of the advantages and disadvantages. In our opinion, here are the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Can make a betting market more even
  • Great choice when moneyline favorite is at short odds
  • Alternative spreads available that provide additional options
  • Half point employed to prevent ties

Cons:

  • Frustrating when your team wins but don’t beat the spread
  • Set spreads of +1.5/-1.5 in NHL and MLB don’t always produce even lines

What is ATS in Betting Strategy? – Top Tips

If you’re ready to put what you’ve learned into practice, we’d recommend that you first read our tips on the best strategy for against the spread betting. Follow this advice to boost your profitability.

Learn to Predict Form Swings

There is normally a good reason for a sportsbook to set one team as a favorite and another as an underdog in a spread market. Factors such as home advantage, form and team news can have an impact.

Yet though the spread will have been set for logical reasons, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily right, or that factors can’t change. Consider possibilities that could make the spread inaccurate.

This could include things like a weather change, or an injury to a key player. Teams with a busy schedule that have done lots of travelling can tire, so analyse their upcoming games for when their team performance could falter.

Study the Stats

There is a lot for oddsmakers to consider when setting a spread. They start with who is likeliest to win the contest and then have to estimate the margin of that victory.

This is where things can get very complicated for them. When analysing the likely respective team scores in a basketball match, they could be faced with an excellent attacking team taking on a brilliant defensive team.

Who will come out on top? Sportsbooks can make mistakes with their spreads in such circumstances, so study the stats to try and find an edge.

Consider Alternatives

When you take a look at a sporting event to bet on, there will generally be a main spread market that is one of the first available betting options. Perhaps that spread will suit your needs, but if it doesn’t then there will normally be alternative spreads available.

Check these out, as there will often be a bet available that you prefer to the main spread. If your bookie isn’t offering plenty of alternative spreads, then find one that does. Also look for sportsbooks that allow teaser bets, where you can manually adjust spreads to your liking.

Fan Support Can Distort Spreads

Fans like to bet on their own teams. This can distort all manner of betting lines, but especially those that involve a spread, which can be tricky for oddsmakers to set accurately.

If fans bet on their team in large enough numbers, then oddsmakers must adjust their prices and spreads. They will try to factor this element in when setting the market, but can still be taken by surprise.

Be aware of teams with large fanbases such as the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL, who can often end up at shorter odds than they really should be, due to the volume of bets from their fans.

Look For Good Losers

For our final piece of ATS strategy, remember a spread bet on a losing team can still be a winner. Of course, it will be a more pleasant experience when watching the contest if they win or draw, but a narrow loss also has potential profit in it.

With a spread bet on an underdog, they can be defeated as long as it is by a margin smaller than their points advantage. This creates the potential for bets on teams that you think will probably lose, but are still capable of keeping the scoreline respectable.

ATS Sports Betting Terms

During our exploration of ATS meaning in betting, we have used a number of gambling terms that you might want some clarification on. Here are some of the terms related to ATS in online sports betting.

  • Spread – The predicted winning margin or margin of defeat between two teams in a sporting event. Spread markets are for creating even betting markets from uneven contests.
  • Favorite – The favorite has a negative point spread which they must overcome to win on the spread.
  • Underdog – An underdog has a points advantage. They can win against the spread with victory, a tie, or loss by a smaller margin than their points advantage.
  • Line Movement – This refers to the movement of a points spread or the odds in a spread market. Movement of this kind has factors behind it such as betting volume, injuries or weather conditions.
  • Half Points – The spread is generally set with half points, such as 7.5 rather than 7, in order that there are no ties and that the spread market always sees a winner.
  • Push – If there are no half points on the spread, it is possible that there will be a tie. In such circumstances, this will result in a push, and stakes returned to bettors.
  • Vigorish – Often abbreviated to the ‘Vig’ or ‘Juice’, this is the percentage of a betting market that a sportsbook takes as their profit.
  • Teaser – A type of bet where you can manually adjust spreads to your liking. As you adjust the spreads, the same thing happens to the odds automatically.

FAQs

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