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What is handicap betting?

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Handicap betting is a way of backing a team to overcome a hurdle such as goals or points.

In a David vs Goliath sports fixture, there is often little value in having a punt on the overwhelming favourite, but that becomes a more attractive option with handicap betting.

What does handicap mean in betting?

Rather like horse racing in which the runners are allocated weights according to their ability, handicap betting is a market designed to level the playing field where one side is superior to another. 

Instead of backing a team simply to win, teams are effectively weighted depending on form or the gulf in class between the sides. 

Handicap betting is a popular way of placing a wager, so we’ve picked out football, NFL and both codes of rugby to explain how it works in practice.

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Handicap betting football

The FA Cup often throws up ties in which there are several divisions separating the two sides and although shocks are a common occurrence, the odds from the outset suggest the favourites should progress.

Let’s say a punter is successful with a £10 bet on Team A to beat the underdogs Team B at 1/10 inside 90 minutes. The return from a tenner on this market would be £11 in which the £10 stake is added to an overall £1 profit.

However, goal handicap betting is a way of helping you increase the odds on the favourites, so in the above example Team A may be 13/8 to win by three goals or more which would appear as -2 in the dropdown. 

Team B have effectively been given a two-goal start, so should Team A win 3-0 or 4-1, for example, then you have a winning bet because they have overcome the handicap. 

Football betting sites usually offer a range of outcomes on their handicap markets and the higher you go, the bigger the odds.

Alternatively, you may decide to back the underdogs to defend the handicap which may appear as +1, +2, +3 etc…next to Team B. 

If you backed Team B at +3 and they went on to lose by a two-goal margin then the bet is classified as a winner, but +2 would be deemed a losing bet.

It’s also possible to bet on a draw in football handicap betting which is effectively the same as predicting the winning margin offered by many betting sites

For example, should the underdogs be +3 and you click on the draw option at, say 4/1, you have a winning ticket should Team A win 3-0, 4-1, 5-2 etc…

In other markets, punters can bet on the half-time winner on the handicap and some bookmakers offer card options. 

For example, a non-league side facing a team several divisions above is likely to receive more cautions, so a market is priced accordingly.

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Asian handicap betting explained

If you’re not a fan of draws, then it may pay dividends to get involved in Asian handicap betting where wins are the only possible outcome.

The way markets are priced is different in Asian handicap betting which uses decimals. 

For example Team A may be 11/10 to overcome a -2.5 handicap, so a three-goal margin of victory or better would do the job. 

The decimal point rules out the prospect of a share of the spoils, making it a two-way outcome. As you can see, the handicap meaning in betting has different definitions.

Premier League handicap betting

For those who like a season-long handicap bet, many gambling sites offer an alternative to the usual Premier League outrights. 

Before a ball is kicked, a bookie will give all the teams an imaginary number of points in which the favourites start from scratch.

The favourites for relegation will start with the most points and all the clubs are given the same odds, with the idea they should all end on the same points total at the end of the campaign. 

Obviously that would never happen, so the skill is to unearth the dark horses who will exceed expectations. 

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NFL handicap betting 

Betting terminology is slightly different in NFL handicap betting, but the principles are similar to other sports like football. 

Betting on the result in American football is generally known as the ‘money line’, but many punters enjoy placing wagers on the spread which is effectively Asian handicap betting.

For example, if Team A are the favourites at -4.5, they must beat Team B by five points or more for a successful bet. 

As underdogs, Team B would be +4.5, so they would pay out if they won, tied or lost by four points or fewer. The odds for both teams are usually the same at a shade under evens.

Handicap betting rugby

Rugby union handicap betting and rugby league betting operate in exactly the same way as its American cousin, so it’s possible to back teams to win or draw, but the spread cuts out the possibility of a draw.

Let’s say Ireland are 8/13 to beat England in the Six Nations odds, but their price would be slightly bigger on the spread set at -2.5. 

In this case, you would have a winning bet if the Irish won by three points or more at higher odds than if you had backed them simply to win.

Some rugby betting sites have both two-way and three-way handicap options. The first example is the Asian variety without the prospect of a draw using decimal points and the second incorporates the possibility of a tie. 

For example, Harlequins may be -3 to beat Leicester Tigers at +3 in which both teams are available at 10/11. 

The tie may be priced at +3 in Leicester’s favour at something like 16/1 which would pay out if Quins won by three points.

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Warren Barner is an experienced sports journalist who has spent the last few years writing for Ladbrokes, Coral, Bwin and PokerStars/BetStars. He covers football, tennis and golf and is a lifelong York City fan.

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