What is handicap betting?
Handicap betting, also known as line betting, is a form of spread betting that is common in sports where goals or points determine the winner, most notably football, rugby, basketball and American football while handicap means something different in horse racing.
Essentially the bookmakers will place a handicap on one of the teams that they must overcome to win. When matches are particularly uneven this provides a good alternative to the usual bets on a simple outcome where there will not be much value.
For example, let’s take an imagined game between Arsenal and West Ham in which the Gunners are 1.4 in the outright betting and 3.1 in a -2 handicap market.
If Arsenal win by two clear goals and you bet on the -2 handicap, then a £5 stake would return £15.50 including your returned stake. In contrast, a £5 wager on a win at 1.4 in the outright betting would have returned £7, including your returned stake.
While this may appear relatively simple there are a number of variations on this straightforward handicap bet known as Asian lines which we go into further detail below.
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Handicap betting in football
Football handicap betting is one of the most popular forms of handicap betting because of the popularity of the sport and punters always looking for a new angle to bet on.
There are a number of mismatches in football, especially in domestic cup competitions, so handicap markets provide a great way to keep the game interesting for customers.
Handicap betting is also one of the various in-play markets offered by various bookmakers, with bet365 being a notable example that offers Asian handicap betting and regular handicap betting in play. For a full rundown on the best bookmakers to bet in-play with, visit our comprehensive guide here.
Bet builders are an increasingly popular form of betting on football in which bookmakers allow you to combine your selections to boost your odds. Paddy Power and various other bookmakers will allow you to include handicap selections in these bets meaning you can get even better odds. We have provided a detailed breakdown of everything you need to know about bet builders here.
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Asian handicap betting explained
Asian handicap betting originated in Indonesia where it was originally known as ‘hang chang betting’ but was given its new name for a western audience in the late 1990s and has proved particularly popular in the UK.
The various Asian handicap options are known as lines and the most notable line in an Asian handicap is -1.5 that we will use to understand how they work. Here the underdog goes into the game with a 1.5-goal lead before it starts.
If you then bet on the favourite at -1.5 they need to win by two clear goals for your bet to land otherwise you lose your stake. If you bet on the underdog at +1.5 and they avoid defeat or lose by just one goal then your bet will win.
The situation becomes a little more complicated when looking at quarter and three-quarter goal handicaps.
If you bet on a favourite at -0.25 Asian handicap market the bet will win if the favourite wins, if the result is a draw then half of your stake is returned and if they lose, your bet loses. If you bet on the underdog at -0.25, your bet will win if they win the game and if there is a draw, you will retain half your stake and win the other half at the odds you placed the bet on while if they lose, so does your bet.
When betting on the 0.75 Asian handicap line the inverse is true. If you bet on the underdog at +0.75 and they win, your bet lands, if they lose by a goal then you lose half your stake while the other half returns to your account and if they lose by two clear goals, you lose your stake. If you bet on the favourite at -0.75 your bet lands if they win by two clear goals while half of your stake will return and the other half will win if they win by a single goal. If they draw or lose, your bet will fail.
The principles of the -0.25 and +0.75 Asian handicap betting are then used on the 1.25, 1.75, 2.25, 2.75, 3.25 and 3.75 lines.
Asian handicap betting is distinctive as it often rules out the possibility of betting on a draw. If a game ends in a draw with a whole number handicap applied, the bet is voided and the stake is returned to the bettor.
It is also worth noting that the odds are almost always presented as decimals in Asian handicap betting.
Here is a table of the various outcomes on offer with Asian handicap betting:
European handicap betting explained
European handicap betting has a longer history than Asian handicap betting and is therefore offered more consistently by the biggest and best bookmakers in the United Kingdom.
As you might expect, it works in a very similar way to Asian handicap betting but the big difference is that it is a three-way market so the draw is now a market to bet on with a handicap.
For example, if you are betting on a -2 draw and the favourites end up winning 2-0 then your bet will win.
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Top six handicap betting bookmakers
bet365 handicap betting
Asian handicap betting is referred to as Asian lines on bet365 and is available on a number of markets other than the result. You can bet on Asian total cards and Asian total corners, which work in a similar way. For example, on a corner line of 8.5, if you bet over 8.5 and there are more than eight corners then your bet wins.
bet365’s in-play offering on Asian line markets is also worth a look. You can bet on Asian handicaps in play where the bets are settled on the goals scored after your bet as well as Asian corners in play.
European handicap betting is referred to simply as goal lines and is available when betting on the result and is also available on in-play betting.
bet365 has a reputation as one of the best bookmakers on the market and its handicap betting offering matches that. The number of in-play markets helps them stand out from the competition.
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Sky Bet handicap betting
Sky Bet is known for its extensive football markets that allow you to bet on almost anything in the game. The platform does provide the ability to bet on European handicap betting but there is no Asian lines option.
The European handicap betting option ranges from -4 to +2, making it a good option for those new to handicap betting and reluctant to bet on the more complicated Asian handicap.
Sky Bet’s sign-up offer is also one of the best around as you only have to place a £5 wager to unlock £20 in free bets, which come in the form of four £5 free bets.
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BoyleSports handicap betting
BoyleSports gets on this list as its handicap betting markets are under an easy-to-find tab when you are looking at the markets on a specific football match.
Again, Asian handicap betting markets are not available but there is a good range of European handicap markets available.
The sign-up offer is also good as it gives you bonuses which open up the platform beyond its excellent sportsbook for customers to explore.
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Unibet handicap betting
Unibet offers both European handicap markets and Asian handicap markets and they are easy to find in a tab when you are looking at a specific match. The markets are even available on the games in more niche competitions from across the world.
Its sign-up offer is also good, meaning you can fully explore its handicap markets.
BetVictor handicap betting
BetVictor is unique when compared with the other bookies previously mentioned as it exclusively offers Asian handicap betting markets and not any European handicap betting markets. As well as Asian goal lines for 90 minutes, BetVictor also offers Asian goal lines for the first half.
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PariMatch handicap betting
Like BetVictor, PariMatch only offers Asian lines betting and not European handicap betting. It is easy to find at the top of its interface when you have clicked on the specific game you want to bet on.
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Drawbacks to handicap betting
Asian handicap betting and European handicap betting can be seen as particularly complex to those new to betting. With our in-depth guide and handy table you should have everything you need to know to understand how they work but it is vital you fully comprehend the various outcomes before placing a handicap bet.
Handicap bets may not be the right option if you feel that the underdog is going to win. If you want to bet on the underdog to win a game you are likely to get better odds by backing an outright market rather than dipping into the Asian lines market.
It could be said that handicap betting favours the bookmaker because it minimises the risk they are taking by balancing it with those wagering on either side of the handicap.
Handicap betting in other sports
Football is not the only sport where you can use handicap betting. Essentially every sport where a winner is decided by points or goals, handicap betting could be available. Handicap betting is very popular in both rugby codes, NFL and NBA.
Horse racing also uses handicaps but these are not handicap markets as in football and various other sports as above. Horses are allocated a weight to carry, including the jockey and all of their tack (saddle and weight cloth), based on a rating calculated by the British Horseracing Authority and if they need to make extra weight lead is added to the horse’s saddle cloth. A full rundown on how handicapping in horse racing can be found here.
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