What is Handicap Betting?

Sports betting is phenomenally popular all around the world. In fact, the global value of that market has been estimated at over $85 billion and it is growing fast. Even the global pandemic and its associated lockdown of many sports events and betting venues has not been able to slow the growth of this fast moving sector, which now covers everything from e-sports to table tennis.

The most popular sports betting markets remain those covering the outcome of individual events or tournaments. Betting on the winner of the Superbowl or weighing up the money line in an NBA clash is a regular feature of sports betting and is the way that most sports betting fans approach betting.

But sports betting companies and bettors alike are becoming increasingly sophisticated and many prefer to tackle other markets, that offer the chance of finding an edge for those prepared to master the intricacies. Handicap betting is one of those popular alternatives.

Why are the Odds Different?

The first thing you notice about a handicap betting market is that the odds will look very different to a standard money line or win betting market.

This is because handicap betting is not about weighing up which team or competitor is the best. The key to handicap betting is working out how much better one is than the other.

For example, you might find that the New England Patriots are -160 to beat the New York Jets in a typical NFL money line market. In this case, you simply have to choose whether you are willing to take that price about a Patriots win. But a typical handicap market betting market forces you to ask not which side is going to win, but by how many points.

How to Read Handicap Odds

To continue the example from above, let’s imagine that you open up the handicap market on this fictional game and see the following options:

  • New England Patriots -16.5
  • New York Jets +16.5

In this case, if you think that the Patriots will win by more than 16 points, then you can choose the Patriots -16.5 betting option. On the other hand, if you feel that the Jets will win or that the Patriots will win by 16 points or fewer, then you would bet the Jets at +16.5.

The obvious difference from a standard money line or Win bet is that you may still win your bet even if your team loses. Instead of having the choice of backing the Patriots at short odds or hoping that the Jets will pull off a surprise at long odds, you have a more nuanced option. For instance, you may feel that the Jets can’t beat the Patriots, but that they have the ability to keep the game close. In that case, you can bet on the Jets with the extra security of a 16.5 point head start. Even if they lose the game by as much as 16 points, your bet will still be a winner.

The handicap will usually be set in such a way that the odds for each of the two options is around Evens or 2.0 in decimal odds, though some sportsbooks will offer an array of handicap markets.

What are 2-Way and 3-Way Handicaps

The handicap example above is known as a 2-Way handicap. In this case, the odds are set on a half-point basis. Since no-one can score half a point in an NFL game, this ensures that there are only two possible outcomes from a completed game, and so betting on a 2-Way handicap means that you will either be a winner or a loser, with no middle ground.

With a 3-Way handicap, you have a third option. In this case, the market on the Patriots v Jets game might look subtly different:

  • New England Patriots -16
  • New York Jets +16

The removal of the half-point now opens up a third possibility. If the Patriots win by exactly 16 points then we have a handicap tie. In that scenario, your stake would be refunded. In this case, to land your bet on the Jets you would have to hope that they finish within 15 points of the Patriots. But you would have the security of knowing that you’d get your money back if they lose by exactly 16.

Handicap Betting Approaches

Handicap betting is generally available on most sports, but it is particularly popular in high scoring sports such as American Football, rugby and basketball and many dedicated sports bettors have developed their own handicap betting strategies.

While there are many ways to approach handicap betting, a common strategy is to look for fixtures in which a strong favourite may not run up a big score in winning. Perhaps they will be resting certain players for a future fixture, or perhaps their opponents are particularly strong defensively. In this scenario, the handicap betting market can offer a useful way to profit on your knowledge by backing the underdog with the handicap, giving you the chance to win even if your team loses.

The match winners markets will likely remain the most popular betting options for most sports betting fans, but by getting to grips with handicap betting, you can not only open up another potential route to profit, you will also be able to look at a sports event from a new angle, adding another edge to your sports betting expertise.

Mike Lovatt

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