What is handicap betting? Our guide explains how it works
Read how handicap betting works in football, American football and many other sports
What is handicap betting?
Handicap betting is a way for bookmakers to make a sporting fixture more even in terms of the prices they offer.
This type of bet is generally used when one team is far superior to their opponent and this is reflected in a short price to win. To make them a more attractive proposition to back, bookmakers will offer a price on them to start at a theoretical disadvantage.
The opposite is also true, whereby the supposed inferior side are offered at a shorter price to start the match ahead of their opponents.
How handicap betting works
The best way to explain how handicap betting works is with an example.
Imagine Manchester City are to face Barrow at home in an FA Cup match – you would expect the hosts to be overwhelming favourites to win.
Because of such a pronounced gap in quality, Pep Guardiola’s side could be priced around 1/20 to win, while Barrow are 30/1. Given that Manchester City’s price is so short, it’s unlikely to attract many or any customers looking for value.
To make their price more attractive, we could instead back City to win the game by at least four goals. To do this, we would take them on at a -3 handicap – effectively, they start the game three goals down.
Conversely, we can also bring Barrow’s price down by backing them to start any number of goals ahead. If we were to back them on a +3 handicap, as far as this bet were concerned, they would start the game three goals ahead.
For that bet to win, they would have to not lose by more than two goals because a three-goal defeat would mean the match were level from the perspective of the handicap bet.
How does handicap betting work in football?
The above is the most popular way to get involved in handicap betting in football, but ante post outright handicaps are also available before a season starts.
These bets are only offered before the season starts as they rely on each team being given a specific handicap based on how likely they are to win the league before anyone has any points on the board.
This would work with the pre-season favourites for the title being given no handicap and each team below them being given a higher points handicap based on their outright price to win the league.
Looking at the Premier League, let’s say Manchester City are given no handicap, whereas Fulham were given a 47-point head start. You are betting on the team to accumulate the most points over the course of the season. If Manchester City finish on 100 points, Fulham would need to finish on 54 points – 54+47=101.
How does handicap betting work in NFL?
Handicap betting in American football is the most popular way to bet on the sport and is very easy to master.
An individual handicap will be worked out by the bookmaker for each match based on the quality gap between the two sides playing.
They are then available to back, at the positive or negative handicap, at the same price. This is called a point spread.
For example, if the New England Patriots faced the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Patriots might be expected to win by at least seven points.
In this case, they would be offered at a -6.5 handicap, while the Jaguars would be offered at +6.5. For a bet on the Jaguars to land here, you would need them to keep the margin of defeat down to six points or fewer.
How does handicap betting work in rugby?
Rugby handicap betting works in much the same way as it does in the NFL, where a customer is given odds of one team winning or losing by a certain amount of points.
If England were given a handicap of -5 against Scotland, a bettor would need them to win by five points or more for it to land.
Scotland, on the other hand, would need to lose by no more than four points for the converse bet to come in.
How does handicap betting work in basketball?
Handicap betting works the same way in basketball.
Both sides will be given the same price to overcome a pre-determined points gap, which will be positive or negative depending on their status as the favourite or underdog.
How does handicap betting work in cricket?
Handicap betting in cricket follows the same principles as other sports, in that it reduces the perceived gap in quality between two sides in order to extract greater value from a market, but does so in a slightly different way.
In cricket, the handicapped outcome is the total number of runs scored by a particular team.
For example, if England were playing Bermuda in a T20 match, you would expect them to be short-priced favourites. They go on to set a total of 215 runs in their 20-over innings – a hefty run chase that shortens their price further.
In this example, you would be able to apply a handicap to Bermuda’s run chase, reducing the amount they need to score for the wager to land.
What is Asian handicap betting?
The term Asian handicap gets its name from a betting technique that is popular in Asia.
It is a type of football betting market and has the exact same principle as the standard handicap markets – to level the playing field.
The difference with Asian handicap markets are that there are only ever two outcomes – win and lose. This is done by offering the number of goals a team starts with in increments of 0.5.
In practice, this means that a handicap bet on a team to win by -3.5 would land if they won 4-0, but would lose with any smaller winning margin.
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