Handicap betting is one of the most popular bet types and is definitely in vogue at the minute. The concept is pretty simple in that a handicap is applied to a certain selection to even it up against their opponent. The handicap in question is imaginary, of course, and only for the purpose of the bet, and will be applied to the final result.
Once the handicap for that selection has either been added or subtracted, then the handicap bet can be settled and the bet either lost or payed out.
Why use a handicap?
The handicap has been applied to bets for decades now and originally it was to simply level the playing field between two outcomes (teams/opponents/players etc.). With a lot of sports, there are fixtures where one team will be a massive favourite over their opponent, and because of this, the odds for that bet will likely be unappealing to most and will discourage people from betting on that outcome.
By giving one outcome a theoretical advantage, it means that bookmakers can offer much more appealing odds for the punter and in turn make the bet worth wagering on.
The handicap betting system is one that is used a lot in American sports for this exact reason. The gulf between the top teams and the bottom teams in the US is often larger than in most other sports and leagues around the world. As they work geographically and don’t use a promotion/relegation system, this means that betting on certain teams to win could be massively unappealing because of that team’s dominance. The handicap system enables bookmakers to create a fairer fight in betting terms at least, and provide a more tempting price for each team.
Where is handicap betting most commonly found?
The handicap bet is most commonly found in the outright winner market of individual games. Football (soccer) uses handicap betting in a similar fashion to US sports, as a way to level the playing field. Other sports such as tennis, rugby, basketball and so many more all use handicap betting. In fact, these days pretty much all sports do, such is the popularity.
Let’s run through a couple of examples to better highlight the concept of handicap betting in the real world. We’re going to use football as our example for this as it’s probably the sport that uses these types of bets most across Europe.
Let’s say that Chelsea are playing Stoke City in an upcoming fixture. Chelsea are currently sat at the top of the Premier League and Stoke are struggling near the bottom. Chelsea are clear favourites to win with the bookmakers and are priced at evens to win with Stoke priced at 10/1 to win.
The handicap market will be highlighted with either a plus or minus sign for each team; this will highlight the number of goals that are either added or subtracted to each team at full time to create the handicap. Chelsea, being the favourites, will have a negative number of goals and Stoke will have a positive number. With a 1 goal handicap applied, the bet now looks like this:
Chelsea -1 (5/1) v Stoke +1 (5/1)
As you can see, the odds for each bet have changed massively because of the handicap. We decide to back Chelsea to win with a -1 handicap. The real-life full-time result is a 3-1 win for Chelsea. As we backed Chelsea at -1 the score will be adjusted to 2-1 as a full-time handicap result, which means our bet would win.
Using the same example and the same score, let’s switch it so that we backed Stoke to win with a +1 goal handicap. The actual score was 3-1, but after applying our +1 goals to the Stoke score, it finishes up 3-2 to Chelsea. However, it still leaves Chelsea as the winner meaning our bet would lose.
Now let’s change the real-life score to 2-2. If we backed Chelsea to win at -1 in this scenario then the handicap result would read 1-2 to Stoke, so we would lose. If we backed Stoke at +1 then the adjusted score would read 2-3 to Stoke, and we would win.
There are a couple more things to note with these types of bets. The first is that if the adjusted handicap score finishes as a draw, then most bookmakers would deem this a ‘push’ and simply refund your original stake (please note, some bookmaker will deem this a loss, so it’s worth checking terms and conditions before betting on this market).
Also, the number of handicap goals that you can select for each team is theoretically limitless, but are usually capped at around 5, depending on the quality of the opponent.
Asian handicap betting
Asian handicap betting is another form of handicap betting that eliminates the draw result in a game. It does this by adding fractions into the handicap bet. These fractions can be 0.25, 0.50, 0.75 and 1, with positive and negative variations of each. The fraction essentially represents the number of goals each team starts with.
The 0.50 variable is the most popular bet type on the Asian handicap as it offers up a simple win or lose outcome. The other fractions will have variables such as half win, half lose and bet refunded. The numbers (goals) that can be included with the fraction, like handicap betting, is theoretically limitless, but usually won’t go much further than +/- 4.5 goals.
Let’s continue with our Chelsea v Stoke example to show you how Asian handicap betting works. The bet will be set out something like this:
Chelsea -0.5 (5/1) v Stoke +0.5 (5/1)
The bet is basically telling us that by backing Chelsea we are taking negative 0.5 off the full-time score, and by backing Stoke we are adding positive 0.5 goals on to the full time.
We decide that we want to back Chelsea to win again and the score finishes up 2-1 to Chelsea. As we backed Chelsea with a negative goal handicap this means the full-time score would actually read 1.5–1, which includes the 0.5 goals that need to be removed from Chelsea’s score, meaning our bet would win.
We back Stoke to win with the same final scoreline, now making the full-time score 2-1.5, with Stokes positive 0.5 goals added on. As you can see, Chelsea would still win this game and our bet on Stoke would lose.
If the score finished 2-2 and we had backed Chelsea at -0.5 then we would lose, as the final adjusted scoreline would be 1.5-2 in Stokes favour. Using the same scoreline but backing Stoke to win, the Asian handicap result would be 2-2.5 with the positive 0.5 goals added, meaning our bet would win.