Handicap betting is best thought of as a levelling of the playing field in terms of sporting events.

When there is an overwhelming favourite in a sporting event, particularly in points or goals-based sports like rugby, football, snooker or American football, a bookmaker will present a handicap market that is – in its purest form – designed to make it an even contest.


Before placing handicap bets, be sure you clearly understand what you are betting on. You can use a handicap betting calculator, particularly in sports like rugby or basketball where the handicaps can sometimes be vast.


Once you are familiar with reading the handicaps and you fully understand how they affect the odds in each market, as well as the relevant handicap betting rules, this form of betting could help increase those all-important winnings or limit the losses!

How does handicap betting work?

This generally involves giving the underdog a head start. For example, in a soccer match where Chelsea are favourites to beat West Ham, the handicap might be set to give West Ham a one-goal advantage. Effectively, if you strike a bet in this market, then West Ham begin the game one goal up for the purposes of your bet.


Similarly, in a rugby match where England are favourites to defeat Scotland, the handicap might see Scotland in receipt of seven points (expressed as Scotland +7 for a handicap betting example).


In this case, England by association could be backed at -7 in the same market. Effectively, the odds are implying a seven-point differential between the teams. This is the margin by which the bookmaker’s odds are suggesting one team is superior to the other – in terms of their chance of winning.

If you placed a bet on Scotland +7 in the scenario above, and England actually win the game by 6 or fewer points, your bet is a winning one in the handicap market.

Almost all events in points or goals-based sports now have a handicap market.

As the demand for betting options has increased, you can now employ alternative handicaps in most cases. With this option, you can increase or decrease the handicap based on the confidence you have behind the selection.

In the example above, England may be considered even-money to fulfil the seven-point handicap assigned to them. However, if you believe they have a credible chance of winning by more than seven points, you can increase the handicap (based on the markets offered) and therefore also increase the odds offered, e.g. England -10 in this instance might be 7/4.


Football betting has become hugely popular. Nothing frustrates punters as much as the last minute goal that denies their bet. As well as straightforward handicap betting, you can also consider handicapping options that remove the draw from the equation. In this handicap betting example, there are only two possible outcomes in a contest instead of three, with the draw no longer possible.


In a soccer match where Liverpool are favourites to beat Everton, the no draw handicap market might see Everton given a 0.5 goals head start. This means if you back Everton, and the game ends level, your bet wins on account of the virtual half goal assigned to them in this particular handicap market.

As with regular handicap markets, you can increase this handicap to +1.5 goals etc. if desired and the price will be reflected.

Similarly, if you were backing Liverpool as favourites in this example and you are extremely confident, you could handicap them by conceding a 1.5 goal start. This means that for your handicap bet to win, Liverpool must win the match by two clear goals.

Asian Handicap Betting

Asian handicap betting is a variation on the no draw handicap system. If you back a team to win on Asian handicap at -1.0, for example, your bet wins if the teams wins by two or more goals. If they win by 1, thus making your bet a draw, your stake is refunded.


With Asian handicapping you can choose split handicaps. You might elect to split your stakes on a selection at -2 and -2.5. If the selection wins by 2, you lose half your stake (on the -2.5 line) while you get the second part of your stake back (on the -2 line). If the team wins by three or more goals, both lines are deemed winners.
As with most handicaps, you can choose from a variety of handicaps in the Asian betting markets.

Handicap Betting - FAQ:

What Do The Handicap Numbers Mean?

Usually, you will see the following numbers when searching for handicap odds: +2, +1, 0, -1, -2 and sometimes +3 and -3. Essentially, the underdog will be given the positive numbers while the favourite is given the negative – giving the underdog a virtual head start.

What Sports Are Best For Handicap Betting?

Handicap betting is popular in football but 888sport offer this wager type on most sports.

What Is 'No Draw' Handicap Betting?

With some handicap betting, you can get a ‘draw’ but this eliminates any chance of a drawn wager. Traders will price the handicap line at .5 in order to prevent this from happening.

Handicap League Betting - Explained

Handicap league betting allows punters to place a bet that spans the whole season. For example, bookmakers now offer Premier League handicap odds at the beginning of the season, with the favourite to win the title starting with a handicap of 0.

On the last page of our Sport betting guide we will learn about What is Spread Betting!
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