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Peter Addison

Handicap betting applies artificial advantages and disadvantages to competitors to add challenges to betting and to make prices more attractive. Read on to find out the handicap betting meaning.

How Does Handicap Betting Work – the Betting Handicap Explained

The first question we have to answer is what does handicap mean in terms of betting. Handicapping has long been a feature of sport. All amateur golfers have a handicap, and in many horse races, the horses are handicapped by carrying extra weight. The idea is to make events more competitive by levelling out the competitors.

Handicap betting works differently. All handicaps applied are purely artificial and have absolutely no outcome on the bearing of any event. The aim of handicap betting is to make betting more interesting or to allow a punter to take advantage of more beneficial odds.

Let’s take a look at an example, for England’s opening match in the 2024 Euros against Serbia. Here are the main handicap lines offered at bet365.


The number in white is the handicap, and the number in yellow is the price offered.

So, if you back Serbia, you get odds of 2.62 and you also get to add one to their final goals tally. This means that your bet wins if Serbia win, or the game ends in a draw.

If you back England, you get odds of 2.25 but you also have to subtract one from their final goals tally. This means England will have to beat Serbia by two clear goals for your bet to win as a single-goal win is reduced to a tie.

The draw (or tie) is less clear. Which team receives the -1 handicap? It can’t be both, as any draw would in that case still be a draw. Well, the team that receives the -1 handicap is the same team that receives the -1 handicap for the win, which in this case is England. So, if you back the tie the only result that would create a winning bet is a single-goal England victory.

Please note that in this case, bet365 has selected +1/-1 handicap as the most appropriate one. In games with heavy favourites, the most appropriate handicap will likely be greater. In any case, if you search for ‘Alternative Handicap Result’ you will be able to select from a range of handicaps from +1/-1 and beyond.

Football Handicap Betting

Handicap betting in football is tremendously popular, especially English Premier League handicap betting. All sports betting sites in the UK will offer handicap betting on the final scoreline. Remember though, in terms of some cup competitions and international tournaments, extra time and penalties are possible. These extra periods do not count when it comes to betting, so if a tie does go into two periods of extra time, the game will be settled, in terms of betting, as a draw.

Another reminder, when looking at a football event only the most popular handicap may be obvious. Betting sites choose what they think the most popular handicap will be depending upon the strength of the two sides. If you don’t like the handicap offered, look for ‘Alternative Handicap Result’ and pick accordingly. If you still don’t like the handicap, you may be able to ‘request a bet’ and ask the site to offer you a price for the handicap you would like to handicap bet on.

Basketball Handicap Betting

Handicap betting works differently from football betting, at most sites anyway. Many sites copycat the American system of a handicap bet meaning ‘betting on the spread’.

When you see the handicap totals for basketball you should instantly notice one aspect – the total will include half a point. If you know anything about American sports then you will know that ties are extremely uncommon – if a game is tied at the end of regulation time extra periods are played until one side wins. The spread totals include a half point so that the final handicap scoreline does not artificially produce a tie.

Depending on the site you are betting at, you may be able to place handicap bets on each half, and even each quarter. Alternative spreads or handicaps may be tough to uncover, though.

Rugby Handicap Betting

Handicap betting is something that seems to be becoming increasingly popular in both rugby codes, Union and League. Handicap betting in rugby works in much the same way as handicap betting in football, with one team given a negative points advantage (the favourites) and the other a positive points advantage (the underdog).

Because rugby scores are usually much higher than football scores, the handicaps will be on an ad hoc basis, depending on the strength of the teams. You may also find 2-way and 3-way betting. With 2-way betting, the handicap total will contain a half point, so that ties are not possible. With 3-way betting, the handicap total will not contain a half point, so that ties are possible.

You do not commonly get alternative handicaps with rugby betting, but you should be able to handicap per half.

NFL Handicap Betting

Handicap betting on American football works much in the same way as betting on the NBA. Most betting sites will again, use the American betting system of ‘the spread’ as opposed to calling what they offer handicap betting.

nfl handicap

Here, the Ravens are the underdogs (+2.5) and the Chiefs are the favourites (-2.5). If you bet on the Ravens, you add 2.5 points to their final score. If you bet on the Chiefs, you have to subtract 2.5 points from their final score. So if you bet on the Ravens and they lose 21-19 your handicap bet actually wins as the ‘spread adjusted’ score is 21.5-21, with the Ravens handicap added.

Even the biggest betting sites in the UK tend not to offer alternative spread totals on NFL matches.

Note that handicap betting is available on nearly all popular sports at online bookmakers, and you can see which sports are best to bet on if you follow our ‘Best Sports to Bet On‘ guide.

Don’t confuse handicap betting with Asian handicap betting. Asian handicap betting has more elements, such as handicap totals containing quarter points, the chance of losing only half your stake, and a handicap tie meaning your entire bet is pushed back to you. (Non-Asian) handicap betting is much simpler and easier to understand. We do offer a full guide to Asian handicap betting.

The Advantages of Handicap Betting

So, why handicap bet? Why not bet the normal way? We take a look at some advantages of handicap betting below.

Make an Event More Interesting

Let’s go back to that England game versus Serbia. Say you think that England are going to win 2-0. You could place a ‘correct score’ bet, but what if England win 3-1? You got the margin of victory correct, but your bet lost. If you simply backed England to win, you’d win the same amount no matter if they win 1-0, 2-0 or even 9-0.

You could consider backing England with a -1 handicap. That way no matter the final scoreline, if England win by at least two clear goals then your bet is a winner.

Better Odds and Better Returns

If you are confident about your handicap betting wagers, then you will enjoy both better odds and returns. Heading back (again) to our England Euros example, England were 1.48 to win the match. Backing them to win by two goals (i.e. with a handicap of -1) they were 2.25. That means for every £1 you back them, you’d win an extra £0.75 backing them with a handicap and they win by at least two goals over straight backing them to win.

Rewards Betting via Statistical Analysis

Handicap betting odds are always better than straight ‘1X2’ betting odds. If you are into your statistics and you are intent on developing a system that is more often right than wrong when predicting winning margins, then continually back the match handicap meaning greater returns from winning bets.

Potential Drawbacks of Handicap Betting

There are no real potential drawbacks of handicap betting as long as you are betting responsibly. The only drawback is that you lose your stake when you lose your bet. There is less room for error though than with handicap betting. If you back a team to win, then any victory wins your bet. If you back a team to win with a -1.0 handicap then a single-goal victory becomes a tie. It is though perhaps worth the small extra level of risk to gain the more advantageous odds of handicap betting.

Handicap Betting Tips and Strategies

Handicap betting is only likely to reap the rewards for you if you know what you are doing. To help you define your own handicap betting strategies, here are our four top tips from our team of betting experts.

  1. Identify Value

    All successful bettors go on about ‘value betting’, but what is value betting? This is where the odds offered by a bookmaker are over-generous, allowing punters to take advantage. The key aspect of handicap betting is looking at the ‘1X2’ odds and seeing if it is more advantageous to sacrifice the one-goal victory or even the two-goal victory in order to secure the better odds offered. This is where you can gain significant extra value with a match handicap meaning you will increase your returns.
  2. Crunch the Numbers

    The key to successful handicap betting is the ability to correctly predict winning margins, no matter the sport you are handicap betting on. This is one aspect of sport that it is difficult to have ‘gut feelings’ about. It’s far better you get used to filling spreadsheets with data as the most consistently successful bettors are those who take an almost scientific approach to statistics and handicap betting.
  3. Double Up and Hedge

    Say you are backing a team to win at a -1 handicap at odds of 2.00. To win the game, they are 1.25. It therefore makes sense to cover or use hedge betting for your handicap stake with a smaller stake on the win. Say you bet £10 on your handicap bet. You could hedge this with an £8 bet on the win. This would give three potential returns: Lose £18 (team loses), lose £8 (team wins by one goal) or win £30 (team wins by more than one goal).
  4. Pays Out Early

    If you are going to back -1 handicaps, make sure you do so at one of the sites that has the ‘pays out early’ feature. That way, your bet will be paid out as soon as your chosen side goes two goals up, no matter the final outcome of the game.


Handicap betting is a great way of getting extra value and returns from accurate football predictions. Instead of backing a team to win, ascertain the expected margin of victory and bet on the handicap instead. By doing so, you will enhance your returns if your predictions are correct. Take care though, as handicap betting requires more due diligence than simply backing the winners.


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Peter Addison
Peter Addison

Peter is one of the most well-known and well-respected names working in the field of online sports betting today. Having a Bachelor of Arts degree, Peter has worked for many high-profile publications in the industry, both online and in the real world. He joined the SafestBettingSites team in 2021 and has provided millions of words ever since. When not writing, Peter enjoys performing and writing music, gaming, reading and he is a massive movie buff, with a particular love of Japanese cinema and anime.