Handicap Betting – Explaining Sports Handicapping

Handicap betting gives you a chance to make online sports wagers and get even money return on games that might be mismatched. The weaker team is given some kind of boost in the points or totals to even out the matchup.

This type of betting has become extremely popular in sports where one team or individual is pitted against another. All the top gambling sites include handicap sports betting as a major part of their wagering menus.

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Read on to find out all the ins and outs of handicap betting, including how to make a handicap bet and how some unique types of wagers that fall into this category work. When you’re finished, you should be ready to start making these wagers at the online gambling site of your choice.

What is Handicap Betting?

What is Handicap Betting?
Have you ever heard another person challenge somebody to a contest and say something like “I can beat you with one hand tied around my back?” If you have, you’ve got the idea of a handicap bet meaning. One team or individual is “handicapped” by the oddsmaker to make a match even.

To understand a handicap in sports, think about a hypothetical scenario where one basketball team that has won every game all season long is playing a team that hasn’t won a game. If you were to make a straight moneyline bet on that game on one team to win, it wouldn’t be very enticing. The odds on the unbeaten team would be so low that you hardly get back enough money in profit to make it worth your trouble if they won, and betting on the underdog is like throwing money away because they have little chance of winning.

A handicap sports bet solves that problem. By putting a burden on the favorite and giving a boost to the underdog, it evens the two teams for betting purposes. You can bet on either side knowing you’d have a pretty good chance of winning and that you’d get a decent return on your investment.

How Does Handicap Betting Work?

The basic concept of sports handicap betting is that one team gets points added to their tally while the other gets points taken away. We’re using points as a general term here, but it can be any method of scoring that is handicapped, depending on the sport. For example, in soccer, the handicap would be rendered in goals.

No matter what the handicap in sports might be, the favorite, which is the team deemed more likely to win, “gives” points to the underdog. The underdog “gets” points from the favorite. These points are applied to the final score of the game to determine which team is on the winning side of the wager.

As an example, let’s use an NFL game to show how handicap sports betting works. Imagine that you wanted to bet on a game which that has the following “line,” which is the term used to describe the oddsmaker’s handicap odds:

  • Atlanta (+3 ½)
  • Carolina (-3 ½)
For ExampleThe Carolina Panthers are the favorites and are giving 3 ½ points to the Atlanta Falcons. Or, you could flip it and look at it from Atlanta’s perspective and say that they’re getting 3 ½ points from the Panthers. 3 ½ is known as the “point spread.”

To figure out the bet, you can either tack 3 ½ points on to Atlanta’s score at the end of the game or take 3 ½ points away from Carolina’s final score. Or you could simply look at it this way: Carolina must win by a final margin of four points or more, while Atlanta must either win or lose by a margin of three points or less.

Let’s take a look at some potential final scores of the game and how they would apply to the handicap sports bet:

  • Carolina 24, Atlanta 17. Carolina won by 7 points, which is more than 3 ½. That means Carolina bettors win.
  • Carolina 21, Atlanta 20. Even though Atlanta lost the game outright, they lost by less than 3 ½ points. Atlanta bettors win.
  • Atlanta 28, Carolina 13. Any time that an underdog in a handicap bet wins, they also win the bet. Thus, Atlanta bettors win in this scenario.
You might be wondering why an oddsmaker at a top gambling site would add a half-point to a handicap line. After all, there is no way that a football team can score a half-point. And that’s exactly why the oddsmakers do this.

By including a half-point in a football handicap betting, the oddsmaker ensures that the bet can’t be a draw, which would mean all bettors get their money back. That’s not to say that you won’t see handicap bets with whole numbers as the point spread. But the half-point lines are used, if at all possible, to help the betting sites make a profit (which won’t happen with a draw or “push.”)

What Sports have Handicap Betting?

As we mentioned above, any sport that pits one team against another, or one individual athlete against another, can have handicap betting. Football handicap betting might be the most well-known of all. Point spreads in games are widely advertised, which is why it can be helpful to have an NFL Handicapping Guide at your disposal.

Important:You’ll also find that many bettors are involved in handicapping baseball games. Because baseball is such a low-scoring sport, the spread, also known as the “run line” in baseball, is usually capped at 1 ½ runs. Handicapping MLB Playoffs is also extremely popular.

Other sports with a handicapping element include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Basketball
  • Hockey
  • Soccer
  • Lacrosse
  • Rugby

What is Asian Handicap Betting?

Asian Handicap betting works in much the same way as other forms such as point spreads, but it includes a unique twist. Whereas point spreads are rendered in either whole numbers or ½ points, Asian Handicaps, which are mostly used in the sport of soccer, occasionally include quarter-point or three-quarter point spreads. These particular spreads offer a two-way betting experience.

With one of these sports handicap bets, you get wagers on the whole number line and the fractional line at the same time. That means you can win both bets, win one and lose one, or lose both at the same time. The amount that you wager is split between the two.

For example, let’s say that you bet $50 on a soccer team at -1.25. That means you’ll get a $25 bet on them at -1 ½ and a $25 bet at -1. Here are potential results:

  • The team wins 2-0. You win both bets because they won by both more than 1 goal and more than 1 ½ goals.
  • The team wins 3-2. You push the bet at -1 because they won by 1 goal, but you lose the bet at -1 ½.
  • The team loses 4-1. You lose both bets.

Because you’re getting two different sets of odds in Asian Handicap betting, you’re getting a chance to hedge on a single bet. The downside to that is that the moneyline odds, which determine your potential profit, will be less profitable with Asian Handicap bets on the quarter and three-quarters. A typical handicap bet will pay more but is riskier.


We hope that you understand the concept of sports handicap betting a little bit better. Once you’ve made a few of these wagers, you’ll find that the handicap bet meaning becomes quite clear. And you’ll start to devise strategies to help you become a more successful bettor using handicaps to your advantage.


Jim Beviglia
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About Jim Beviglia
Jim Beviglia has been a gambling writer at LegitGamblingSites.com since 2018. During that time, he’s written just about every type of article related to gambling, including reviews of betting sites, guides to popular casino games, betting tips on both casino and sports betting, sports and casino blog posts, and game picks. In addition to online gambling, one of Jim’s other major interests is music. He has been doing freelance work for various music sites and magazines for two decades. Among his outlets past and present are American Songwriter, VinylMePlease, Treble, and The Bluegrass Situation. Jim has also written five books on music that were published by Rowman & Littlefield.