Handicap betting is one of the most popular bet types and is defiantly a bet type that is 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, of course, only for the purpose of the bet and will be applied onto final results. Once the handicap for that selection has either been added or subtracted, then the handicap bet can be settled and in turn, the bet can be settled.

 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 always games or matches where one team will be a massive favourite over their opponent. Because of this, the odds for that bet will likely be very unappealing to most and it will discourage people 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 don’t use a promotion/relegation system and simply a geographical inclusion, this means that betting certain teams to win could be massively unappealing. The handicap system means that bookmakers can make it a much fairer fight and in turn, 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, in an attempt 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 (soccer) as our example for this as it’s probably the sports that uses these types of bets the 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 accordingly at Evens to win with Stoke priced at 10/1 to win the match.

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. 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 applied. We decide to back Chelsea to win with a -1 handicap. The full time result comes through as 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.

Let’s say, using the same example and same score, 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, meaning our bet would lose.

Let’s now say that the full time score finished 2-2. If we backed Chelsea at -1 then the 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 would finish 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 opponent.

Asian handicap betting

Asian handicap betting is another form of handicap betting, but this format works a little differently to what we have talked about above. Simply put, the Asian handicap is in place to eliminate 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 game from the above 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 decided 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.

With the same score line, we back Stoke to win, now making the full time score 2-1.5, with Stokes positive 0.5 goals added. 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 backed Chelsea at -0.5 then we would lose, as the final adjusted score line would be 1.5-2, in Stokes favour. Same score line, but this time we back Stoke to win, with 0.5 added making it 2-2.5, meaning our bet would win.