What Is Handicapping In Sports Betting?

by S. Ateljevic  ·  April 29, 2021

Sports betting on the best UK betting sites can offer lots of excitement, together with plenty of favourable odds. You only need to find those elusive value bets and place wagers on your favourite teams or players.

But what happens when the opponents are not evenly matched, and the odds are unattractive? Well, that’s when handicap betting steps onto the scene. You’ll find this system at every sportsbook on the globe, with UK bookmakers being no exception.

So, if you want to learn all there is to know about handicapping, you came to the right place. We’ll start by answering: “What is handicapping in sports betting?” and then cover the process in specific sports.

The Six Quick Facts

  • Handicap betting is on the menu at almost every betting site on the planet.
  • Handicapping has been a part of the betting realm for decades.
  • A handicap compensates for the perceived difference between two opponents.
  • Sports betting handicap levels the playing field and equalises the odds.
  • Bookmakers can place a handicap as a positive or negative value.
  • Handicap betting is at bettors’ disposal in almost every sports category.

Handicap betting might not be the only wagering process you’ll find at UK bookies, but it attracts lots of bettors. The reason lies in the fact that handicapping improves the odds when betting on favourites. After all, many punters have eyes only for top contenders and look for ways to maximise returns when placing wagers.

Meanwhile, lots of bettors don’t fully understand the meaning of handicap in betting. They place blind bets, relying on luck and wasting their hard-earned money. That’s why it is essential to grasp the basics of handicap betting and add this mechanism to your strategy. By doing so, you’ll have a shot at improving winnings and collecting more profits in the long haul.

So, without further ado, let’s jump into the world of handicap betting.

What Is It?

In essence, handicap betting acts as a mechanism for equalising the odds and providing fair competition. This process aims at creating an even-money contest, especially in the event of a dramatic difference between the opponents.

Handicapping helps the underdog while making things more challenging for the perceived favourite. If this sounds too complicated, let’s look at how handicap betting behaves in action.

How Does It Work?

The idea behind handicapping is relatively straightforward, and it’s best to explain it through an example. Let’s say a professional sprinter is preparing to run a 100-meter race against a group of average blokes from your next-door pub.

A pro runner stands a high chance of winning in such a situation, but hardly anyone would bet on him because the odds would be too low. To spice things up, bookies could give the average pub-dwelling blokes a 50-meter advantage. Arguably, the trained sprinter would win either way, but the contest would be much more exciting than before.

So, what does handicap mean in betting? It implies that favourites have an obstacle to overcome, albeit a virtual one. The perceived disadvantage typically comes as goals or points allocated against a team or a player. For instance, bookmakers can set a handicap of -2 on Liverpool when the Reds face a lower-division club in the FA Cup. In translation, Liverpool trails by two goals even before kick-off.

Bettors should note that the handicap applies only to the selection they’re betting on, such as Liverpool in our example. That said, the underdog can also come with a handicap, albeit a positive one. The key to understanding handicap betting is in trying to even out the playing field. Therefore, a team with lower winning chances will have a positive handicap to improve its position and get a head start.

Of course, handicapping takes many forms as it adjusts to different sporting events. Later on, we’ll cover the specifics of every handicapping type. But before we proceed, we should also mention that handicapping in sports comes by many names. Depending on the location, you might hear bettors using terms like line betting, points betting, or the spread. Regardless of the terminology, the concept remains the same.

What Is Asian Lines?

Another term related to handicapping is Asian lines or Asian handicap. As the name implies, the origin of this betting process is in Asia. These days, you’ll find Asian handicap betting at almost every sportsbook on the planet.

Again, the handicap comes as added points for an underdog or deducted points for a favourite. However, Asian lines remove the draw from the equation. In practice, these betting markets come as the following propositions: +0.5. -1.5, +2.5, and so on.

Therefore, the game can never end in a push, even if each of the teams scores two goals. In this case, the inherent sports betting handicap only allows two outcomes. Yet, many bookies also offer round number handicaps, such as -1 or +2 on the Asian lines. Here, bettors receive their money back if the game ends in a draw.

No matter which option you choose, Asian handicaps should offer higher odds than the ‘European’ handicap. Of course, the reduced number of choices is the culprit for the more favourable odds.

Now that we know more about handicaps, it’s time to analyse how these markets affect the most popular sports.

What Does It Mean in Horse Racing?

Now that we have the basics of betting handicap explained, bettors can look for ways to add handicapping to their betting strategies. For example, horse racing betting goes hand in hand with handicaps, and this type of betting is now an integral part of races.

Since racing competitions do not use a point-based system, the favoured horses carry lead-filled bags to slow them down. A racing steward or a dedicated official will determine the weights and allocate handicaps before a race. Theoretically, the handicaps should cause a dead heat race, i.e., all horses should arrive at the finish at the same time. In practice, such an outcome rarely happens.

What Does It Mean In Football?

Football is another area where handicaps play a prominent role. Asian or standard, handicap betting is on the menu all year round. As we said, handicaps in football allocate goals before the match or deduce them, depending on the situation.

On average, bookies will add up to three or four goals as a handicap, but specific fixtures can have different representations. Either way, your selection must overcome the virtual disadvantage for you to win the bet.

We should also note that handicap betting in football can also play a role in derby matches and contests with equally matched opponents.

What Does It Mean In Basketball?

Like we said, handicap betting can spice things up when the opponents are relatively similar regarding their strengths and winning potential. Thus, you’ll often see handicap betting in basketball as a method for increasing the odds and boosting the excitement.

Again, the handicap can work both ways — either the underdog receives extra points before the game, or the favourite starts by trailing a few points. Depending on the competition, the handicap stands around 9.5, 11.5, or similar. For example, your selected NBA team must win by at least 10 points if it starts the match with a -9.5 handicap.

It’s worth noting that the best betting sites in the UK also offer Asian handicaps on basketball.

How Does It Work In Tennis?

Handicapping in tennis adds an extra layer of fun to an already action-packed betting market. Like in all other sports, bookies can set a positive or negative handicap on the opponents in a tennis match.

Hypothetically, a handicap of +3.5 on Nadal means he opens the game with a head start. So, even if Djokovic wins the match with 20:18 (6:4, 6:4, 2:6, 6:4), you’d still win the handicap bet thanks to the previously allocated points. (3.5 + 18 = 21.5, which beats 20).

What Is It In Rugby?

Finally, we should also mention the importance of handicap betting in rugby games. Like in almost any other sport, handicap evens out the playing field and reduces the perceived difference between the teams.

For instance, World Cup games sometimes see matchups between clear favourites and underdogs. That’s when handicap betting saves the day, offering a bet-worthy market for rugby lovers. The allocated handicap in rugby stays near 11.5 or 13.5, but it can be lower or higher, depending on the opponents.

Conclusion: The Pros and Cons of It

No matter if you call it the spread or points betting, handicapping in sports is sometimes necessary. It changes the complexion of fixtures where the odds are not attractive to any serious bettor. By allocating or deducing points, bookmakers can reduce the difference in winning chances between the opposing sides.

When someone asks, “What is handicapping in sports betting?”, you can say that this process breaks up the monotony, making the betting process even more interesting than before. Or, you could direct them to some of the best betting sites in the UK, where they’ll find the most favourable handicap options.