Handicap Betting Explained

For many people on betting websites, they stick to the basic markets. For example, they choose a team to win a game of football. Unfortunately, they miss out on great odds and fantastic betting opportunities simply because they don’t understand some of the terms used in this industry. Fear not, we’re going to introduce one of the biggest of today; handicap betting. By the end, you should understand handicap betting in addition to the ramifications of making such a bet!

What’s Handicap Betting?

Essentially, handicap betting is the best way to get greater odds on individuals and teams expected to easily beat their opponent. By giving them a handicap and expecting them to get back from this imaginary handicap, it makes the odds more attractive for betting. If Manchester City were playing a non-league team in the FA Cup, it would be ultimately pointless adding them to an accumulator because the odds would be so small. By adding a handicap, the odds improve.


Let’s stick with the same example and say that Manchester City are playing a lower-league team. Instead of the silly odds of Manchester City to win, we’re going to choose Manchester City -3. What does this mean? Well, it means that the non-league team are starting the game 3-0 up. Since you’re still backing Manchester City, they need to win by four clear goals.

If the score is 4-0 to Manchester City at full time, they still win 4-3 even with the imaginary advantage you gave to their opposition. Rather than predicting Manchester City to win, which would have been incredibly likely anyway, you predicted them to win by four clear goals.

We chose an extreme example here by choosing a Premier League team and a non-league team, but there’s no reason why you can’t take the same principle into more important games. For example, Arsenal -1 against Norwich City would allow Norwich to start with a one goal advantage. As long as Arsenal win by two clear goals, you win. Because you gave Norwich a head start, this win would be at larger odds than if you simply chose Arsenal to win alone.

Handicap Betting Sports

If you’re wondering why we chose football for the example, this is because it’s the most common sport for handicap betting. This being said, we’ve seen handicap markets available for rugby, golf, and tennis. While rugby will see a points advantage for one of the teams, golf will bet on individual rounds (for example, +2 shots).

On the other hand, tennis is slightly different because we have a little more control. If you place the bet on games, the set format is forgotten, and it all depends on the number of games each player wins. Elsewhere, you might give a player a two-set advantage when you expect the bigger name to win 3-0.

Asian Handicap

As well as handicap, you might also see the phrase ‘Asian handicap’ on various betting platforms. At first, Asian handicap may seem a little more difficult to understand but we promise you that the effort will be worthwhile. In normal handicap betting, you will only ever find whole numbers. For example, we mentioned +2, -2, and -3 above. With Asian handicap, there’s an opportunity to put -0.5 and other decimals on certain events.

Often, using these part-goals deals with the problem of draws in football. If there’s a handicap of -0.5 and the game ends as a draw, the player will actually have their stake returned. Alternatively, players can also get their stake returned through what’s called the ‘push’. If we bet a -1 handicap and the favourite only wins 1-0, this is essentially a draw (1-1), a push, and the stake is returned. For those with betting experience, you will have noticed that this is essentially a ‘draw no bet’ market.

If we choose Newcastle +0.5, what we’re actually putting on is a ‘double chance’ bet; we’re betting on Newcastle or a draw. Aside from the examples mentioned, Asian handicap betting is the same as standard handicap betting. In other words, a -2.5 handicap means that the favourite needs to win by at least three goals.

If you still feel a little confused, know that the two do overlap somewhat. In our experience, it’s best to look around and assess the odds in the different markets. Even though some bets do the same thing, you will find that odds differ.

Split Handicaps

Again, split handicaps are something else confusing to everybody but those who understand how it all works. When we start looking at split handicaps, we find quarter points or even two numbers next to each other.

When looking through the markets, you might find Manchester United (+2.5, +3.0). With some bookies, they will display the second number as 2.75. Either way, a split bet will see your stake shared between the two suggestions. While half will go towards +2.5, the other half will go on +3.0.  If Manchester United lose by three goals, the +3 is considered a push because the scores will be level. Meanwhile, the +2.5 bet is lost.

Opening the Door to More Opportunities

Now that you understand how the different forms of handicap betting work, the only thing separating you from success in this area is experience. If you have an account with various bookies, feel free to look at the markets, assess the odds, and play around with some small-stake bets. As long as you remember that a handicap places an imaginary advantage or disadvantage on a team before the event even starts, you will be good to go.

If you’re trying 16-team accumulators each week in the hopes of winning thousands of Euros, we suggest trying a smaller bet using handicaps instead. Especially when you tend to avoid the big teams because the odds are too small, handicap betting opens the door to more betting opportunities. As far as betting is concerned, choice is always a good thing!

Carl Hughes - Editor

Carl Hughes is a leading expert on sports and casino betting. Carl began his career with a BSc in Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences from the University of Birmingham before working within the industry for some of the bigger names (GVC and Bet365) and has been praised as being "a leading sports betting commentator".