What Does PK Mean in Basketball Betting?

By Andrew D

August 23, 2022

So, before we look at how it affects the betting public, let’s clarify what we mean. What does “PK” mean in betting?

PK is short for pick’em, pk’em, or pick.  It is a situation that occurs when both teams are deemed to be equal in strength by the bookmakers.

Without a clear favorite, we’re in a place where all you can really do is…well, “pick’em”

Ok, let’s step back a little and explain the basics.

By far the most popular kind of action on NBA (and NFL) games is point spread betting.

Whereas a straight or Moneyline bet simply has us choosing which team we think will win, a spread is different. We are judging the margin by which we think one team will triumph.


We handicap the favorite team artificially. It’s like giving the underdogs a head-start. Instead of wagering on which team wins, we’re predicting the margin of victory.
Each team is attributed a set number of points that will be added to, or subtracted from, their final score to determine the game’s winner

Let’s take the Los Angeles Lakers @ Boston Celtics as an example.

We might see something like this:

  • L.A.Lakers +8.5

  • Boston Celtics -8.5

What we are seeing is the Lakers be given 8.5 points before the game even begins. If they finish the game within 8.5 points of Boston then…

…even if they don’t win, our bet is a winner!

Like this:

  • L.A. Lakers 98 – 106 Boston Celtics

With their extra points, the Lakers would win the game. That is how a handicap system works.

If we want to bet on Boston to win in this kind of bet, then they are going to have to overcome that deficit.

Like this:

  • L.A. Lakers 98 – 107 Boston Celtics

Now Boston have “covered the spread” and our bet on them is good.

Since there is usually a clear favorite/underdog in any NBA matchup, the point spread was created as a means to level the playing field.
It must have been such a pleasant side-effect for them to realize that this adjustment also induced people to wager more money on the games.

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  • Boston Celtics -8.5 (-110)

  • Los Angeles Lakers +8.5 (-110)

So. We have our point spread. 8.5 points will be the difference according to the calculations of the sports book’s dastardly algorithm.

Alongside the point spread, we have the betting odds. Unlike in a typical Moneyline wager, they tend to be much closer to each other in a point spread bet.

If we were to put a straight bet on the Celtics to win, we might get odds offered of -250. That means we will have to put down a stake of $250 just to claw back $100. They are the clear favorites and the sportsbook expects them to triumph. That’s a lot of money to risk for a much lesser potential return.

Many bettors choose a point spread as a better alternative

If we bet the spread as listed above then we only need to wager $110 to win back $100. -110 is an exceptionally common value to see on any betting line. When we factor in the “vigorish” or “juice” (see our sports betting glossary for definitions) it simply means the bookmaker is saying that they give that particular outcome a 50/50 chance of happening. But in the world of online sports betting there are no 50/50s. You have to pay them for the privilege of betting against them. So the extra 10% is their fee and you will never see -100 unless there is some kind of special offer.

So, why is one price so much better than the other?

It’s just how the math works. Our examples may differ from how they would appear in the real world. But the principles remain. Predicting the margin of victory (what a point spread does) is harder than it sounds. Remember, in this example, they’re only giving the favorites 8.5 points to overcome. But if they were out-and-out dead-set favorites then that number would be higher.

In March of 1993, a 24-point line was given to the Dallas Mavericks when they faced the Phoenix Suns. This is highly unusual. But it can and does happen.

The point spread numbers usually have a half-point at the end rather than a round number.

This is to prevent too many “push bets” where the stake has to be returned and it’s back to square one.

It also means that they can have equal action on both sides, and earn their vigorish with less risk.


So, if the online sportsbooks consider the two teams to be equal. Without a clear underdog and favorite, they cannot give one team a handicap before the game begins.

Their lines actually have no spread.

They might be represented like this:

  • Phoenix Suns +0 (-110)

  • Portland Trail Blazers -0 (-110)

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With a little effort, research, and experience, point spread betting can be easily understood and utilized as a part of any successful NBA betting strategy.

It’s not the most popular form of wagering without good reason.

In fact, its success is what drives the constant competition between online sportsbooks.

They need a constant supply of fresh meat. Sure, they want to hang onto their oldest customers. They can keep them nicely in check and feed off them regularly like fiscal vampires. But they need new blood too. They will offer enticements and promotions to draw you in. Feel free to take advantage of as many of them as you can. But remember, they all come with a raft of terms and conditions.

Always check gambling regulations in your particular state and stay aware of the situation if you move around from state to state.

They’re not going to just give money away. You often have to bet significant amounts in a short space of time to claim anything at all. Still, it’s the best you’re going to get from them before they have their fangs in you too. May as well get what you can.


Use line movement to your advantage

As soon as your chosen sportsbooks start publishing the betting lines for any matchup, you can start wagering.

It is unlikely that they will all publish at the same time, so pay attention to when each one tends to drop its lines and be ready.

Lines move as the money starts lending on either side of them.

If you really know what you’re doing then you might spot “soft” lines that have value in them at the time of publishing. These are bound to change later so you need to ask fast.

In order to shop around for the best lines, you’ll need accounts with multiple online sportsbooks. This is where your promotion-grabbing antics earlier will come in useful. You’ll now have accounts with several different bookmakers.

Let’s take an example where a sportsbook opens up its betting markets on Sunday night  ready for the following week:

  • Chicago Bulls -6.5 (-115)

  • Charlotte Hornets +6.5 (-105)

Now then. Things like home-field advantage will already have been factored into the betting markets.

But, as the week progresses, events might occur that drastically change the outlook and drive the odds down instantly. Injuries, rumors of disgruntled players. Anything. You have to be like a super-sleuth and keep your ear to the ground for these.

Not to mention, hundreds and thousands of dollars will be placed on either side of the line.


By midweek, the lines now look like this:

  • Chicago Bulls -4.5 (-115)

  • Charlotte Hornets +4.5 (-105)

So. The spread has moved by full two points.

The Hornets are now only given a 4.5-point head-start in the game. The chances of them hanging on are reduced but the odds have stayed the same.

So we’ve beaten the system. The bookmaker now believes that there is an almost even chance that Charlotte will not lose by more than 4 points. We’ve got them with a cushion of +6.5

We won’t win any more money if they manage to pull it off.

But we have 2 extra points as a cushion for them to do so.
Long-term winning when sports betting is all about these small margins and advantages. Could they still lose by more than 6.5? Of course. But we’ve given ourselves an edge over what the bookmaker now thinks will happen. You have to take the wins where you can get them in this game…


If you see the letters PK in a National Football League betting line, it again means that neither team is the favorite.

In sports gambling, you might also see the letters “EV”. These represent the word even and it is another common way of saying that there is no favorite.

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A PK bet operates somewhat differently in a sport like soccer.

Yes, UK pedants, we are aware that you prefer that we refer to it as “football” but that term is already spoken for here. Oh, and the word soccer was your idea ok? So suck it up.

Ties/draws are extremely common in soccer due to its general lack of action and scoring. Players tend to spend more of their time rolling around pretending to be injured than they do actually playing the game. It is like some curious, embarrassing dance of the ninnies. A bastardized version of their truly ridiculous Morris Dancing. Seriously, check it out then tell us that there’s anything at all to do in England if this is still an option…

Subsequently, nothing of note ever happens in any soccer game and many of them end without goals (supposedly the focus of the game) or excitement of any kind. There may be some system of reward for the best on-field acting efforts but we have yet to discover how that functions.

We suspect that gangs of toddlers and kittens are brought in to toughen the players up if they have been scarred emotionally by anyone daring to come near them on the playing field.

A standard soccer bet is a basic Moneyline. Simply pick one team to prevail and settle down for a nap as the “action” ensues. A third option is to bet on the tie. Then re-evaluate how your life brought you to this.


So, this article didn’t really end up saying much about PK betting. There’s not much to say. Both teams are deemed to have an equal winning chance.

Take your pick.

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