Handicap Betting Guide: Handicap Bets Explained

Handicap football betting is the most popular form of betting in the United States and many countries around the world. However, a soccer match can also be wagered using a handicap, much like American football.

Betting on football and betting on soccer are both very similar in this way, although the point spreads are often much greater in a football game. There is also a range of sports events, other than a football match or a soccer game, that can be bet using a handicap betting line.

Speaking of which, a handicap betting line is simply a way for the oddsmakers to level the playing field. The only way a poor team can compete with a superior team is to give the inferior squad virtual points.

The larger the disparity between the opponents the more points the weaker team will get. The team getting points is referred to as the underdog while the stronger team is identified as the favorite.

On any given weekend during the football season, you will see point spreads on a range of games on the NFL and college football odds board. But not all sports have handicap betting, as we can see during the auto racing season that racing handicappers typically bet on drivers by the moneyline odds attached to them.

Best Sportsbooks for Handicap Betting in 2023

What is handicap betting?

The handicap betting market exists to allow a weaker team the virtual ability to compete against a stronger team. We can illustrate this type of betting by comparing a golfer who typically shoots 100 competing against a much stronger player who routinely shoots par or 72.

The difference in strokes between these individual players is 28 (100-72=28) which means the weaker player would get 28 strokes subtracted from his final score or the stronger player would get 28 strokes added to his score. In the game of golf, the lower the score the better, which is different than virtually every other sport.

In this example, we can make a case for betting on the inferior player because of the sizeable advantage they are getting from the oddsmakers but if all things were equal, and no handicap was given, no one would ever bet on the underdog as there was no built-in advantage.

Therefore, all bets would be on the favorite and the bookmakers would close up shop because they have no chance of winning. Now we can see why handicap betting is used in team sports such as football, basketball, soccer, and to some degree in hockey and even baseball. The superior team starts with a disadvantage of a certain number of points or goals depending on how much better they are than the team they will be playing against.

In soccer, the goal advantage could be 1, 1 ½, 2, or even more so the better team gets that number of goals deducted from their final score while the underdog adds that goal advantage to their final score. Either way works. Recreational bettors are mainly acquainted with handicap wagers, which is why it is the most popular.

Reading Handicap Odds

The underdog always has a positive handicap which is indicated by a plus (+) sign before the number of points that the underdog is getting.

An example is Cleveland Browns +4 if the Browns were four-point underdogs. In soccer, the goal margin is indicated the same way.

If the Browns were playing the Steelers, then Pittsburgh would be getting a negative handicap indicated by a minus (-) sign before the number of points that will be deducted from their final score.

Therefore, the Pittsburgh Steelers -4 is how you would read these betting odds if Pittsburgh was a four-point favorite. The Steelers would need to win by a margin of victory greater than four to cover the spread.

If Cleveland lost by less than four points or won the game outright then they would have covered the spread. However, if the Steelers won the game by exactly four points then the bets on both sides would be considered a tie, also known as a push in the sports betting parlance, which means money is returned to both sides with no profit or loss to the underdog or favorite bettors.

Placing a Handicap Bet

The handicap betting market is particularly robust during the NFL season and can be accessed easily at any online sportsbook. The lines will generally appear as follows:

  • Green Bay Packers: -6
  • Houston Texans: +6

The handicap market is plentiful on NFL Sunday and college football Saturday but it is critically important to make your wagers at online sportsbooks that have a proven track record of superior customer service, extensive betting markets, generous bonuses, but most of all a history of paying their customers promptly when a payout is requested.

Industry leaders like Bookmaker, BetOnline, Bovada and Heritage Sports are all proven commodities in the sports betting realm and are the most popular for the pros and the amateurs.

Asian Handicap Table

Although there are many betting opportunities for recreational and professional bettors alike, there are a few different kinds of handicap markets and one happens to be the Asian Handicap Table, which offers a huge range of point spreads on soccer matches.

In this form of wagering that started in Asia, there is a table replete with several different point spreads and corresponding payout odds.

Asian Handicap Bet

Asian handicap betting has grown in popularity in the West in recent years but this form of betting has been popular in China, Indonesia, and the Far East almost exclusively for soccer matches. It eliminates any possibility of a draw and the split handicaps give more than a few Asian handicap betting options.

The Asian handicap market is akin to a puck line in hockey or a run line in baseball with the favorite handicapped -1 ½ goals while the underdog can get + ½ goal. The same principles apply to fractional spreads on Asian handicaps, except your wager is shared between the two nearest half numbers. It’s just a more convenient way to indicate that you wish to divide your wager between two spreads.

European Handicap Bet

Handicap spreads take a few forms and one of them is the European handicap, in which there is a favorite, an underdog and an option for betting on a tie game. In the example below we see that Brazil is -2 over Australia +2 in this international soccer match.

  • Brazil: (-2)
  • Draw: (-2)
  • Australia: (+2)

Therefore, if Brazil wins by more than two goals, those bets on Brazil would win. If Brazil wins by exactly two goals, then only draw bets win. If Brazil wins by one goal, ties, or loses outright, then a bet on Australia will win.

No-Draw Handicap Bet

Bet types can vary but draw handicap match betting allows bettors to wager on a draw using the point spread which is not a literal tie game but a handicap draw. Draw handicap match betting is popular in Europe but in America, handicap betting is generally reserved for a no handicap draw bet which means the punter can bet on the favorite or the underdog but a draw is not an option.

Handicap League Bets

Basic bet types are usually reserved for individual games where a single goal can decide the event. But handicap league bets span an entire season with the favorite starting at even while the teams below them will get a handicap of a certain number of wins depending on how close they are to the favorite.

For instance, the second favorite might get +2 wins while the worst team in the league could get +10 wins. It all depends, but it gives the bettor a season’s worth of action for the cost of only one bet.

Handicap Betting Strategy

Many new to betting want to understand their chances of success but the simple answer is that it depends on how much effort one is willing to put into handicapping games. Although there is not one comprehensive guide that is necessarily better than another, there is plenty of information available on teams, injuries, historical matchups between the opponents and line movement.

A solid betting technique consists of all of these components but it is important to also solicit opinions from other handicappers who you trust and respect, perhaps for their differences in ability. Sports betting forums are also an excellent resource where people who enjoy sports betting can come together and offer their opinions on games and events in every sport. 

Find Your Handicap Line

Novice bettors are often unaware of where to turn for lines at all of the major online sportsbooks and are accustomed to betting on the lines offered only at the sportsbook in which they do business. But even recreational bettors understand that not all lines are uniform.

Having more than one sportsbook available is imperative if you want to be successful over the long run. The lines are dynamic which means they can move a half-point to a full point in the blink of an eye. Make sure to research several sportsbooks before you make a bet and choose the best line available.

Track Line Movement

As stated above, the lines move and it is important to track the line movement because it could be indicative of a late scratch, perhaps a key player, which can considerably impact the outcome of the game.

It is a competitive market and the simple answer to getting the best lines and making accurate predictions is to track where the lines are moving at the major online sportsbooks and determine if all of them are adjusting in the same direction or if is it only one book in particular.

Place Multiple Wagers on a Single Pick When it Makes Sense

As we know, lines move and when they move in our favor it is time to make your bet. The handicap market doesn’t stay stagnant and if the line continues to move favorably, you should make another bet on the same team at a better number.

For instance, if you have already bet on the Raiders -7 and a book moves them to -6 ½, then don’t be afraid to make another bet on them at a more favorable line.

Advantages of Handicap Betting

This form of betting allows the bettor to avoid risking a large amount of money to make a small amount on a big favorite as the moneyline betting odds can be untenable. Handicap betting utilizes a point spread with what is usually a standard 10 percent commission. This makes it much easier to wager on favorites and gives underdog bettors a better chance of cashing.

Frequently Asked Questions About Handicap Betting

What does a handicap draw mean?

A handicap draw includes the point spread and does not mean a literal tie between the teams. The current form of handicap draws is one of the three choices in European handicap betting and if the teams push (tie/draw) with the point spread included then the draw option will win.

What is the difference between a handicap bet and a spread bet in betting?

These terms are often used interchangeably and involve a point spread with the field leveled by the underdog getting points and the favorite giving points. Spread betting and handicap betting are essentially the same thing.

What does a minus sign mean in handicap betting?

Handicap odds involving spread betting that show a minus sign indicate the favorite. The Patriots -3 means the Patriots must win their game by greater than three points in order for the bet to cover. It is a negative handicap for the favorite versus a positive handicap for the underdog.

How do you determine who the underdog is for handicap betting?

The weaker team is always considered the underdog which means they are getting points and not giving points. When you see a plus (+) sign in front of a team, that indicates it is the underdog like the Jaguars +6.

Can you bet on a tie with an underdog bet?

Sports bettors bet the underdog to win or cover and not tie. The only way to bet on a tie is to bet the draw option in European handicap betting.

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