Handicap Betting

Handicap betting or more commonly referred to as point spread betting is a very popular sports betting type which effectively evens out a contest but subtracting points from a favorite and adding points to an underdog. 

LearnTheLines’ handicap betting guide, explains exactly what a handicap bet entails, how they work, the thought process behind a sportsbook setting a handicap line and why you might consider placing a handicap bet. 

What is handicap betting? 

A handicap wager is exactly the same as a point spread bet in the United States in pretty much everything but name, however in Europe they prefer to call it a handicap bet. 

With a handicap bet there will almost always be a favorite and underdog. The favorite of the contest will be assigned negative points before the game, which will be the team with the minus sign (-). The underdog will be assigned positive points, meaning that they start the contest with a head start. The underdog will be represented with the plus sign (+). A handicap bet is designed to level out the playing field between the favorite and the underdog. 

How does handicap betting work? 

As mentioned above there will usually always be a favorite and an underdog in a handicap bet. The favorite (-) will start the contest with negative points, meaning that effectively they begin behind. The underdog (+) will start the contest with positive points meaning that they start the game ahead. 

Usually both the favorite and the underdog will have the same odds, usually -110 either side of the handicap which makes handicap betting an attractive option for anyone who perhaps wants to back a heavy favorite and are willing to sacrifice points for value or for anybody who fancies the underdog to win or only lose marginally.

Let’s say that the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets are facing each other in the NBA, you might see a handicap like this:

Indiana Pacers -9    -110

Houston Rockets +9   -110

In our example here we can see that the Pacers are the favorite of the contest and have been ‘handicapped’ with 9 points taken from them. Whereas the Houston Rockets will start the contest ahead by 9 points. The number in red is the odds, as you can see both teams are -110 on the handicap. 

This essentially means that the Pacers (the favorites) would have to win by 10 clear points or more for you to win your bet. Houston Rocket backers would on the other hand hope that the Rockets either win the contest, tie or not lose by less than 9 points. 

The variance (the difference) between the + numbers and – numbers represents the deemed strengths margin between the favorite and the underdog. For example a soccer match in La Liga between Real Madrid and Levante may have a standard handicap which looks like this:

Real Madrid -2 

Levante +2

Soccer games are generally relatively low scoring affairs compared to other sports, so for a team to have a higher than one goal handicap shows how strong a favorite or weak an underdog a team is. Real Madrid are heavyweights of Spanish soccer, whilst Levante are often fighting near the bottom of La Liga, so the sportsbook traders have set the handicap accordingly, knowing there is a huge gulf between the two teams. 

So in this example if Real Madrid were to win by 3 clear goals, favorite backers would win their handicap wager. If Levante win, tie or only lose by 1 goal, underdog backers would win their bet. 

Asian Handicap 

Asian handicap is a type of soccer bet, similar to a standard handicap bet but it removes the possibility of a tie/draw. In usual 1X2 (three-way) moneyline bets with soccer there are three potential outcomes: Team A Win / Tie / Team B Win. 

With an Asian handicap bet the potential outcomes reduces to just two: Team A to win or Team B but the favorite will need to win by a certain margin for favorite backers to win their bet. 

You might see a English Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea looking like this in the standard 1X2 (three-way) market:

Chelsea   -110

Tie    +280

Manchester United +120

With both teams being fairly closely matched an Asian handicap market without the draw may look like this:

Chelsea -0   -110

Manchester United +0  -110

Any 0 asian handicap market means that both teams have no handicap and effectively you are just backing either team to win with the insurance that if the game was a tie, your stake would be returned to you by the sportsbook

This is effectively the same as a draw no bet wager in everything but name. 

.25 and .75 Asian Handicaps

This is where an Asian Handicap can get a little more tricky. Any markets you see listed with either .25 or .75 are effectively placing two bets that cover different outcomes but not to the extent of half asian handicap lines so you will generally be offered greater odds. 

-.25 quarter asian handicap betting means you bet on a team with a negative value and they start the contest with a disadvantage of -.25 goals or points. If the team you bet on wins the game, your bet will settle as a winner, if your team loses your bet will settle a loser, if your team ties you’ll get half your stake back.

With -.75 quarter asian handicaps your team you bet on starts the game with a disadvantage of -.75. That means in order for you to fully win your bet, the team will need to win by 2 clear goals or points. If the team wins by 1 clear goal your bet will be divided so you win one half of your bet and will have your stake returned on the other. You will lose a -.75 asian handicap bet if your team ties or loses the game. For positive (+) quarter asian handicaps the situation will be reversed. 

Reasons You Might Place a Handicap Bet

The main two reasons you might consider placing a handicap bet is because either A. you want to back a favorite and want more value than just betting on them in the moneyline but also feel like the favorite is strong enough to overcome the handicap set against them. Or B, you think the underdog has a sporting chance within the game and may either win, tie or lose narrowly. 

A handicap bet on a favorite makes your bet harder to win but you know you will stand to win more than a moneyline bet, so that’s the compromise on offer with handicap betting on favorites – harder to win but a greater potential return from your stake.

What Determines The Handicap? 

A sportsbook will look at two contesting teams before deciding which should be classed as the favorite and which should be the underdog, they work this out by looking at recent form, strength of the roster and other factors such as home advantage etc. The handicap amount is then determined by the gulf in class between the favorite and the underdog. Between two closely matched teams, the handicap may only be marginal but if it’s a team near the top of their league/conference and in strong form against a team near the bottom of the league/conference on a losing streak, the handicap could be a much greater amount. That is because it is expected that the favorite will win by a much greater margin against a weaker underdog. 

Handicap Betting FAQs

A handicap in betting is quite simply a goal or point advantage/disadvantage set by a sportsbook in order to even out a game between a favorite and an underdog. The positive and negative handicap amount set depends entirely on the strength of the favorite and the weakness of the underdog.
A handicap bet or most commonly referred to as a point spread bet is one of the most popular bet types in the United States. Betting against the spread is the most popular bet in basketball and football, whereas Asian Handicap betting is a common feature of soccer.
You will see handicap bets (or points spread bets) offered at all established sportsbooks due to its popularity amongst bettors. Check out our sportsbook page for a list of all the operators who offer this in your state.

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