Handicap Betting – What Does Handicap Mean in Sports

7 minutes

Last Updated: September 12, 2022

handicap betting

Handicap betting is a terminology that is used very often in the world of sports betting. In fact, through the years, the handicap bet has become one of the most popular bet types.

Today, there isn’t an online betting site that doesn’t offer handicap markets for almost all popular sports.

All of this makes handicap betting a very important subject for bettors, and in this article, we bring you everything you need to know about this bet type.

What Is Handicap Betting?

Handicap betting is a name for the betting activity in which bettors place wagers on the handicap market (also known as spread betting in some parts of the globe).

Sportsbooks have created the handicap market to even the playing field (and the odds) for games in which there are favorites.

To create a handicap market, the bookmaker gives one team a handicap in the form of goals, points, or whatever else is used to keep score. This automatically means that the other team gets an advantage.

For example, if you are betting on the handicap market of a basketball match, this market will be presented in the form of points.

On the other hand, if you are betting on football, the handicap market will be presented in the form of goals.

Handicap Betting vs. Spread Betting

handicap spread betting

Handicap betting and spread betting are the same bet type. What term bettors and bookmakers will use mostly depends on the region they are located in.

In Europe and Asia, the sports betting community prefers the term handicap. On the other hand, their counterparts in North America almost always use the term spread betting.

Which term will be used also depends on the sport to which the bookmakers and the players refer.

When talking about football, bettors and bookmakers will exclusively use the term handicap markets and handicap betting.

What Do the + and the – Mean in Handicap Betting

Sportsbooks use mathematical symbols “+: and “-“ to give players more information about the handicap market. To explain how these symbols are used and interpreted we will use an example.

If you visit a sports betting site, and you open the handicap market for a football match between Manchester United and Liverpool, it will be displayed like this:

Manchester United Liverpool
Handicap -1.5 2.00 +1.5 1.70

This table looks very simple but it gives a lot of information to bettors that know how to interpret it, and don’t worry, after you finish reading this text, you will be one of them.

So, based on the displayed data, players can conclude that Manchester United is a pretty big favorite in this match. They know this simply because there is a minus sign before the numbers under the team's name.

On the other hand, under Liverpool's name, there is a plus sign before the numbers, which means they are the outsiders.

Apart from informing players about the power ratio in this match, the mathematical symbols have another goal. They inform bettors how to calculate the handicap after the game is finished.

Let’s say the final score is Manchester United 2:1, Liverpool, now the players need to count in the displayed handicap of 1.5 goals.

Players who placed a bet on Manchester United 1.5 goals need to deduct 1.5 goals from United’s total number of goals.

In this case, United has scored 2 goals and they need to deduct 1.5 goals:

  • 2 – 1.5 = 0.5

So, after we count in the handicap, the final score is Manchester United 0.5:1 Liverpool which means the bet is lost since the home team didn’t manage to cover the handicap.

The Asian Handicap

asian handicap

In the last decade, the Asian handicap has become one of the most popular bet types, not only in the handicap market but overall.

One of the things that make the Asian handicap a fan favorite is the number of formats it has.

Thanks to its unique way of calculating football handicaps, the Asian handicap gives bettors more betting options than any other market. To explain how the Asian handicap works, we will use one of its most popular types.

Asian Handicap 0.0 (Also Known as Draw No Bet)

Asian handicap 0.0 is used by sports betting sites to create only two betting options, home and away. This type of handicap market is very popular in football matches because it allows players to bet only at home and away.

Players don't have to consider the draw. If the game ends in a draw, the bet will be voided.

Arsenal Chelsea
Asian handicap 0.0 2.50 0.0 1.50

As you can see the Asian handicap 0.0 table looks pretty similar to the basic handicap. The only difference is that the plus and minus signs are missing.

In this example, the Asian handicap is calculated the following way.

If a bettor places $100 on Arsenal the following scenarios are possible:

  • Arsenal win – the bettor will receive $250 (their stake + $150 profit)
  • If the game ends in a draw – the bet will be voided (the bettor will receive the $100 back)
  • Chelsea win – the bettor will lose their stake (-$100)

If a bettor places $100 on Chelsea the following scenarios are possible:

  • Chelsea win – the bettor will receive $150 (their stake + $50 profit)
  • If the game ends in a draw – the bet will be voided (the bettor will receive the $100 back)
  • Arsenal win – the bettor will lose their stake (-$100)

We should also mention that there is the most basic type of Asian handicap hence it is the easiest to calculate and understand for newbie bettor.

Handicap Betting Strategies

Before you jump in and start betting on the handicap markets, there are a few things that you should know. Incorporating these tips into your handicap betting strategies will have a positive impact on your bottom line.

Find Online Bookmakers With the Lowest Edge

This tip isn’t specific for handicap betting and you should use it as an overall guide for your betting activities. But we will keep our focus on the handicap markets this time.

Different online betting platforms have different house edges. For the handicap market (at least the main handicap line), betting odds can be anywhere from 1.80 to 1.91. As you can see there is a pretty big difference in odds.

what is handicap betting

To put yourself in the best possible position to be profitable while handicap betting, you need to do your research and use online betting platforms with the lowest house edge. This strategy is one of the easiest ways to increase your bottom line.

Break Down the Handicap Based on the Sport

This handicap betting strategy is also very easy to implement. It will only take some of your time depending on how experienced you are with the sports that you want to bet on.

You see, different sports have different handicaps that are put by the sportsbook based on the rules, dynamics, and statistics of the game.

This means that one point can make a small difference in one sport but a big difference in another.

Learning the most common handicap lines for different sports and what impact the dynamics and the rules of the game have on it will help you to better recognize good handicap opportunities.

Take Value Odds as Soon as You Spot Them

The handicap market relies on small differences in points, goals, or games, and because of this it is much more volatile than other markets.

This is especially true for smaller leagues and markets.

One point can mean a difference between a losing and a winning bet and this is why online bookmakers constantly adjust handicap markets. And, over the years, they have become more and more efficient.

To combat this, we recommend that you take value odds as soon as you sport them. The more you wait the bigger the chance that the betting platform will adjust the price and that the value will go throughout the window.

Take Advantage of Alternative Handicap Lines

Apart from offering the main handicap line, many of the top online bookmakers also offer additional handicaps.

Depending on the bookmaker the number of alternative handicap lines can range from 3 to 10.

Of course, the alternative handicap lines also have different prices. But the second important thing is that they offer bettors to choose the line that they think is appropriate.

These alternative lines can also be a great way to maximize your value in situations when there is sudden news about the game, and the bookmaker is slow to react.

In these situations instead of taking the main handicap line, you can take the alternative handicap line with better odds.

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