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A Beginners Guide to Spread Betting

Oct 24, 2007
I've never been in a bookies office, but the idea of spread betting in the comfort of my own home offers significantly greater appeal, and there are a number of websites I can look to find ideas. Spread betting offers a more interesting bet on the difference between two teams' scores, or the likely total outcome of goals, points or scores in a sporting event, than traditional sports betting.

With the proliferation of online bookmakers, and peer-to-peer or exchange betting sites, you can also make a bet online, potentially against real bettors, rather than bookmakers. But to begin with, it might be more straightforward to get to grips with the basics of spread betting, and find out what you can potentially win (or lose)!

The bookmaker's interest in spread betting is to encourage people to make a wider range of bets. In the US, this is usually applied to the difference in scores between two football or baseball teams. In the UK, it tends to be applied to the total amount of goals or corners during a football match.

In spread betting, a bettor bets on a difference score (an index), rather than a win outcome. For example in a game between Aston Villa and Chelsea, a bookmaker might offer a spread of between two and three as the total number of goals scored (this could be a decimal figure). As a bettor, you could choose to 'buy' when you believe the total number of goals will be greater than three, or 'sell' where you believe the outcome will be less than two (the lower end of the bookie's range).

The amount you stake will normally have a maximum limit. If you believe, contrary to the bookmaker, that this will be a high-scoring game, then you will 'buy' for a score above an upper limit.

Say your stake was 10 quid, then for a 3-2 outcome (a total of 5 goals) then you would receive 10 GBP (your original stake) for every point or goal above the upper limit of three, which would mean 2 X 10 = 20 pounds. If the outcome was 1-0 to Chelsea, you'd lose by threepoints (3 x 10=30 pounds). Obviously, you'd need to have enough in your account to cover the worst-case scenario.

The same could be applied to horse racing, where the spread would be the total number of points awarded to the bookie's favourite, second favourite and third favourite horses. You could bet on a US football game, following the American style of betting on the difference between the two teams' scores. Or if cricket is your preferred sport, you could choose to bet on the total number of runs made by an individual player either side of a certain range.

The history of spread betting
Before the invention of spread betting, people were likely to bet on a standard win or lose situation such as that favourite Chelsea would beat Aston Villa by an odds of three to one, or that underdog Colchester United would beat Arsenal depite the odds being 6 to 1.

Spread betting was invented by American Charles McNeil in the 1950s, a one-time maths teacher, and gambling afficionado who had opened his own bookmaking operation. He believed that he could determine not just who would win, but by how much, and being something of a whizz, he generally got it right.

Online spread betting
These days, you have a number of places to find out about or make your first spread bet. You can go directly to a high street bookmaker to open an account in the light of a future match. Or you could visit an online gaming site, where you may be able to benefit from introductory offers and read articles about how to find out more about spread betting.

Introductory offers could include cashback for a certain number of bets - have a look around to find the deals that suit you best and at odds that make sense to you. Peer-to-peer or exchange betting sites match potential betters with opposing views on the likely outcome of a sporting event, so that they bet directly against each other.

Perhaps the best thing about spread betting is that it offers a way for people to combine the old-fashioned skill of the football pools with the ease of modern technology.
About the Author
Shaun Parker has been spread betting for several years now. To learn more about this for of gambling visit
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