What Is Handicap Betting?

There are many types of bets available these days, and one of the most popular is the “handicap”. This unique way of betting opens up considerable opportunities for bettors, as it can be used to bet on teams/ sides that seem to have less chance of winning. In this article, we will look at what a handicap in sports betting is, how it works, and how to maximize profits with its help. Ready to dive into the world of handicaps? Then let's get started!

What Is a European Handicap in Sports Betting?

Handicap, also known as the European handicap, is one of the most popular and widely used types of bet. The term may seem unfamiliar to some, but the gist of it is simple – it's an odds equalizer for participants in a sporting event.

The way a handicap works is that a team or player is given a virtual “advantage” or “disadvantage” at the start/in the course of a match or event. This advantage is expressed as points/goals and is added to the team's score before the outcome of the match is determined.

Let's look at an example to better understand the mechanism:

Let's take an NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants as an example. The 49ers are considered the ber team, and bookmakers give a handicap of -10 points for them and +10 points for the Giants.

What Is Handicap Betting?

  • If you are betting on San Francisco with a -10 handicap, this means that they must win the match by 11 points or more to win your bet.
  • If you bet on New York to win with a handicap of +10, they must win the match or lose with a difference of no more than 9 points to win.
  • A San Francisco win by exactly 10 points will return your bet.

Handicaps make matches more interesting to bet on, even if there’s a clear favorite. This betting method is widespread in the USA and is popular in various sports, including soccer, basketball, and hockey.

Types of European Handicap

The European handicap has different varieties which include negative (minus), positive (plus) and zero handicaps. Let's look at each of them in more detail.

Negative handicap (minus)

A negative handicap is given to the ber team or contestant (favorite). This means that they must win the match with a given negative handicap. For example, if soccer team A has a -1.5 goal handicap against team B, it means that team A must win the match by 2 goals or more for the bet to win.

Positive handicap (plus)

A positive handicap is given to the weaker team or participant (the match's underdog). Essentially, such a handicap provides them with extra points or goals. For example, if basketball team C has a +7.5 point handicap against team D, a bet on team C will win if team D wins the match or loses with a difference of no more than 7 points.

Zero handicap

A zero-handicap bet doesn't give any advantages to either of the teams or participants. A zero-handicap bet means that the match will be decided without any initial advantage. In this case, the team or participant who wins the match wins the bet. Meanwhile, a draw result will bring the bettor a bet return.

These types of handicaps allow you to make sports betting more interesting and balanced, even if one of the teams is considered a clear underdog or favorite. The choice of a suitable handicap depends solely on your preferences, predicted results, and chosen betting strategy.

Asian Handicap

An Asian handicap is a variation of the classic European handicap, which uses a decimal format in 0.25 increments. The main difference is the more precise handicap setup, which allows accounting for even the smallest differences in the strength of the teams or participants. Compared to the European handicap, the Asian handicap provides more accurate and flexible betting options, which makes it popular among bettors. But it is also more complicated and fiddly. It is popular among bettors from the United States.

Types of Markets

In the field of betting, there are plenty of markets, even for handicap betting. We have selected the most popular ones and detailed them below.

“On the ultimate match outcome”

This market offers an opportunity to bet on the entire match outcome, both on the favorite with a good negative handicap, and on the underdog with a positive one. It also allows you to capture a draw result, thus securing your progress.

The most popular handicap values for the “On the ultimate match outcome” market:

(0) (-2) (+1) (+2.5)
(-1) (-2.5) (+1.5) (+3)
(-1.5) (-3) (+2) (+4)

Most often these numbers are the goals, pucks, or points scored. However, each sport has a handicap indicator of its own:

Type of sport Possible indicators for a handicap bet
Hockey Pucks scored, penalty minutes, shots on goal, etc.
Basketball Points scored, number of fouls, number of shots taken, etc.
Football Points scored, number of attempts completed, number of yards passed, etc.
Soccer Goals scored, yellow/red cards, number of corners/penalties, etc.
Tennis Number of games, sets, aces, etc.

“On an individual half/period of a match”

This market allows you to bet on the outcome of individual halves or periods of a match. You can also bet on the victory or defeat of one of the sides but within a certain timeframe.

The most popular handicap values for this market are the same the outcomes in the “On the ultimate match outcome” market:

(0) (-2) (+1) (+2.5)
(-1) (-2.5) (+1.5) (+3)
(-1.5) (-3) (+2) (+4)

But the sports and their indicators are a bit different here. The market doesn’t always have all the indicators are available, same as for the entire match. Usually, players make bets with a handicap for a part of the match on these indicators:

Type of sport Possible indicators for a handicap bet
Hockey Pucks scored and shots on goal
Basketball Points scored
Football Points scored and the number of yards passed
Soccer Goals scored and the number of corners or free kicks taken
Tennis Number of games

“On cards”

This market involves betting on the number of cards (yellow/red) that will be shown in a match. It's only available for soccer, as in other sports such indicators are simply not available or are rarely used. Using this market, the bettor must determine the number of cards that will be received by the teams for the match/selected period. It is not necessary to bet on any of the sides, and you can also bet on the total number of cards in a match.

The most common outcomes used in this market are the following:

(0) (+1)
(-1) (+1.5)
(-1.5) (+2.5)

“On corners”

Here, players can bet on the number of corner kicks in soccer. Such handicap betting is available for an entire match and a chosen half or period. Here you can bet on the total number of corner kicks, that of one of the teams only, or a contest between the sides.

There are many popular indicators for outcomes in this market:

(0) (-2) (+1.5) (+3)
(-1) (-2.5) (+2) (+4)
(-1.5) (+1) (+2.5) (+5)

“On the number of goals”

This market offers an opportunity to bet on the total number of goals scored in a match or a selected interval. It features outcomes of the total number of goals in a match, a team's score (either separately or as a competition between the sides), or goals between selected players.

There are many popular outcomes for the market, but the most used handicaps are considered to be the following:

(0) (-2.5) (+1) (+2.5)
(-1) (-3.5) (+1.5) (+3.5)
(-1.5) (-4.5) (+2) (+4.5)

Note that these are just a few of the most popular sports betting markets available to punters. Each of them offers unique opportunities for prediction and winning, so always use the market that is right for you.

Types of Handicap Bets

In modern betting, there are only two types of bets, which are divided by the number of possible outcomes — 2-way and 3-way. Let's explore each of them in more detail.

2-way handicap

The two-way handicap is the most commonly used one because of its simplicity — a bettor has a choice between two teams only, and needs to determine which of them will win based on the handicap chosen.

NFL. Baltimore Ravens – Indianapolis Colts

Handicap Betting meaning

As an example, we took an NFL game between the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts. The average handicap is set at -7.5 for the home team at odds of -120. To win this bet, the Ravens must win with a difference of 8 or more points.

3-way handicap

A 3-way handicap is somewhat less common, but you shouldn't avoid it. It's more common to use a 3-way in sports, where a draw is not uncommon. For example, in soccer. The process of betting on such a handicap looks the same: a punter should pick a winner of the match considering the handicap but can/should also use the draw score.

EPL. Arsenal – Tottenham

Handicap betting soccer

As an example, let's take a look at an EPL match between London's Arsenal and Tottenham. The most logical bet here seems to be a handicap (-1) for The Gunners, with odds of +111. However, to win this bet, you need Arsenal to win by 2 goals or more because their victory of 1 goal will only bring a full return of the bet.

How Do You Calculate a Handicap?

Calculating a handicap in sports betting is simple. It involves using numerical values that indicate the advantage or disadvantage of a team or participant in a match. Here's how it works using simple examples:

Hockey. NHL. Los Angeles – Arizona. Handicap 2 (+2) with the odds of -115. The match result is 3-2, and considering the handicap — it's 3-4. The bet won.

Basketball. NBA. Toronto Raptors – Sacramento Kings. Handicap 2 (-8) with the odds of -145. The match result is 92-100, and considering the handicap — 100-100. Full return of the bet.

Soccer. MLS. Inter Miami CF – Toronto. Handicap 1 (-1.5) with the odds of +105. The match result is 4-0, and considering the handicap — 2.5-0. The bet won.

Soccer. MLS. D.C. United – Atlanta. Handicap 2 (+0.25) with the odds of -103. The match result is 1-1, and considering the handicap — 1-1.25. Half of the bet won, the other half is a return.

Tennis. ATP. Tsitsipas - Djokovic. Handicap 1 (+5.5 games) with the odds of +127. The match result is 0:3 (15:20 in games), and considering the handicap — 20.5:20 in games. The bet won.

These are basic examples of handicap calculations in sports betting. It is important to remember that handicap can be applied not only to hockey and basketball, but also to other sports, and the formulas may differ depending on the rules of a particular betting type.

Examples of Handicap Betting by Sport

Let's take a look at a few examples of handicap betting on real-life matches in different sports.

NFL Handicap Betting Example

Suppose we have an NFL clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots. Dallas is the favorite, and the bookmaker provides a handicap of -7 for Dallas and +7 for New England. In this case, we decided to bet on Dallas' handicap at the odds of -120. Let's consider the options of the final result and our bet:

  • A Dallas victory by 8 or more points (e.g., 28:14, 30:10, etc.) – bet won.
  • A Dallas victory by 7 or more points (28:21) – bet return.
  • A Dallas victory by 6 or more points (20:17) – bet lost.
  • Any New England win (28:31) – bet lost.

NBA Handicap Betting Example

Here we choose an NBA match between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. The home team is the favorite, and the bookmaker provides a handicap of -5.5 for them and +5.5 for the guests. Let's make a bet on the Celtics' victory with a handicap of +5.5 at the odds -115. Now let's consider the possible options:

  • A Lakers victory of 6 points or more – bet lost.
  • A Lakers victory by less than 6 points – bet won.
  • A Celtics victory – bet won.

NHL Handicap Betting Example

Suppose there's an NHL match between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. The visiting team is considered the favorite, so bookmakers put up a negative handicap of -2. We will use the reverse bet and take the handicap +2 on Toronto at -107. Here, we have several possible outcomes:

  • A Toronto victory – bet won.
  • A 1-goal Montreal victory within the main time – bet won.
  • A 2-goal Montreal victory – bet return.
  • A Montreal victory of 3 goals or more – bet lost.

MLB Handicap Betting Example

Now let's take an MLB clash between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The home team is the favorite, so the bookmaker provides a handicap of -1.5 for the Yankees and +1.5 for the Red Sox. Here, we suggest betting on the guest's victory with a plus handicap, especially since the odds predispose – 105. Now let's consider the possible outcomes of the match:

  • A New York Yankees win by 2 points or more – bet lost.
  • A New York Yankees victory by a 1-point margin – bet won.
  • A Boston Red Sox win – bet won.

Football Handicap Betting Example

Let's take a look at the APL match between Manchester United and Liverpool. The Red Devils are considered underdogs, despite the home game. Bookmakers offer a plus handicap of 0.5 on the hosts at the odds of -110, and we will take advantage of it. Now let's look at the possible outcomes of the match:

  • A victory for MU by any score – bet won.
  • A draw in a match – bet won.
  • A Liverpool win by any score – bet lost.

Handicap Betting Strategies

Certain strategies can help increase your chances of successful betting. We have selected several popular and effective handicap betting systems:

  1. Favorites: In this system, it is necessary to bet on the clear favorites of the duel with a negative handicap. The implication is that the favorite will win by a large margin, which can increase your chances of success.
  2. Support the underdogs: Look for teams that you think are underrated and bet on them with a positive handicap. If they lose by a small margin or even win, you will make a profit.
  3. Asian handicap: Use the Asian handicap to reduce your risk and increase your chances of winning. This format offers more flexibility in betting.
  4. Reverse bet: Bet on a team with a positive handicap and wait for the odds to rise, then reverse bet on the other side (usually the favorite) to guarantee a win or minimize losses.
  5. Betting line monitoring: Watch the handicap and odds changes in real time and place bets when you see the line going in your favor.
  6. Handicap parlay: Make several handicap bets on different matches within the same coupon. This will increase your potential winnings but seriously reduce your chances of success.
  7. The Martingale: This is an aggressive strategy of doubling your bet after every losing bet. It requires caution and a large pot but can bring stable profits.
  8. Bankroll control: Determine a percentage of your available funds that you are willing to risk on each bet and stick to that limit. This will help you avoid big losses and you won't lose your entire bankroll instantly.

When choosing betting strategies, you should understand and follow your betting style and comfort level. It is important to remember that handicap betting is always a risk and there is no guarantee of winning.


⭕ Why is the Asian handicap less popular than the European handicap?
The Asian handicap provides more flexible betting options, but it is less popular due to its complexity. Therefore, most beginners opt for the European handicap and continue to play with it as they gain experience.

⭕ What is the difference between a zero handicap and 1X?
The difference between a zero handicap and a 1X bet is that the former removes the possibility of a resulting draw and makes it similar to betting on one of the team's victory. A draw brings a return when betting on zero handicap, while 1X leaves the possibility of a win even with a draw.

⭕ What handicap is popular in the US market?
In the US market, the most popular type is the Asian handicap. It has become widely used in American bookmakers, especially in the context of sports leagues, such as the NBA and NFL.

⭕ How many types of handicap are there?
Handicaps have two main types: Asian and European. The European handicap provides integer values, while the Asian handicap uses decimal values in 0.25 increments to create more flexible bets.

⭕ What is a European handicap?
A European handicap is a form of betting in which a fixed virtual advantage or disadvantage is assigned to one of the teams to make the outcome of an event more competitive. This type of bet is often used in Europe and involves positive and negative numbers.

⭕ What is an Asian handicap?
An Asian handicap is a form of betting popular in Asia, where teams are assigned half or quarter goals as a handicap to equalize the sides' chances of winning. This type of bet allows you to reduce risk and create more varied outcomes.

Used literature, references

Oleg Borshchev
Having a huge wealth of knowledge and 11 years of betting proficiency, Oleg kindly shares his tips and experience in our blog. In his articles, you'll learn more about different strategies and bet types, as well as find a lot of useful advices and tips.
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