A brief guide to handicap betting

One of the most popular forms of online wagering is handicap betting. It is a necessary part of betting as well because it affords punters the chance to look for odds value, even in matches where there is a heavy favourite.

More often than not in sporting events, there is a strong favourite lining up in a fixture. If the favourite happens to be playing at home, then that adds to their chances of producing a win in the eyes of the bookmaker.

So a strong favourite at home leaves very little meat on the bone so to speak, for punters to feed off in terms of value. Backing the Canberra Raiders at 1.4 at home against the Gold Coast Titans, for example, is not going to scream a value option for betters. Extremely short odds means larger stakes needing to be played, which in turn increases risk.

Levelling the field

So that is where handicaps come in. More often than not in AFL matches, it is not the head-to-head market which is played the most. It is the points line. That is a handicap bet where a punter will use their skill to try and pick out value from a match where the heavy favourite will still wins, but the conditions of that win are narrowed down.

What is a handicap?

A handicap bet is where a virtual points deficit or advantage is given to a team. This means that a punter will then be able to make a selection based upon how big of a margin that they think a team will either win or lose by.

As an example, a bet placed on Canberra -8.5 means that they would need to win the match by at least nine points for the wager to be successful. Because Canberra would be the favourites for the fixture, it’s a way to back them at a better price than just selecting them in a head-to-head win.

The alternative method of placing a handicap would be to back the underdog to not lose by a certain spread. Say it is Carlton at +8.5 and in backing that bet, as long as they didn’t lose by more than eight points, the bet on them would win. So while the outcome of the match (who wins) would remain the same, it’s the conditions that change the odds.


There is a skill to handicapping and it’s not just down to picking arbitrary numbers. Some punters will spend a lot of time sifting through statistics to see what they say about what potential margins could be coming into play. Of course, nothing is sports and therefore betting, is certain. 

Types of handicap bets

There are different types of handicap markets that come into play across sports betting. They all pretty much follow the same principles and depending on where you are in the world and on what sport you look at, the name may even change.

For markets like American Football, it’s common to see a handicap called a Points Spread. In English Premier League soccer, it is handicap betting. In Australian Rules, it could be Lines or Points.

Multiple Options

For any given event for which there is a handicap, then there will be more than one option. This is where the skill of the handicapper comes in. Handicapping can become a personal thing.

The line can shift, along with the odds involved, to what your perception is of the outcome of the game. If you backed Canberra at -16.5 for example then their chances of winning the game are made a lot more difficult because of that virtual margin. 

Therefore the option will be at a much bigger price. The reverse of that would be backing the underdog to lose by a smaller points margin. Setting the more constrained limitations of points increases the odds.

Basic Handicap Overview

All of the aforementioned handicap bets are just standard handicaps. It is a choice of picking how much a team will win or lose by. The appeal for punters is that line adjustments (the size of the margins) can be selected according to their own personal preference.

No Draw Handicaps

In a standard handicap, if you have backed a team to produce a win by covering a -7 point spread, but that teams win by exactly seven points then the bet is lost. A draw in a handicap produces a loss. 

So that is a variable which can be eliminated through a No Draw Handicap. In these markets, which just operate the same way, half points are used. So you would see a -7.5 or a +7.5 option instead of whole numbers. Then there’s no way a draw situation can be produced. This is also referred to as alternative lines or alternative handicaps. 

Asian Handicaps

Asian Handicaps offer half goals and quarter goals as options and is generally found on soccer matches. There are no losing outcomes in Asian Handicaps if the handicap result is a draw. If you back a -1 selection and the team wins by 1 goal exactly, a stake refund will be issued.

For options such as a -1.25 Asian Handicap, it is essentially two bets and you can think of a stake being split in half on it, half on a whole goal (-1) and one on a half goal (-1.5). So then if the team selected lost by exactly 1 goal, half of your stake is returned. That’s because the -1 part returns what stake was on it, then -1.5 would have been a straight loss.

A learning curve

All of the talk of half goals and quarter points may seem a little daunting at first, but handicapping is not a difficult thing to pick up. When you are familiar with it, there will likely be good clear opportunities presenting themselves to you.

It is a useful tool to learn because there is not always the value in the head to head markets and match outrights. So learning alternative ways to maximise value from handicap conditions can help show  where an operator is perhaps overvaluing or undervaluing a selection.

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