What Does the Term ‘Handicap’ Mean in Sports Betting?

December 17, 2018

- Grant Whittington

Sports betting brands have been under the microscope of late, following the decision of gambling chiefs to impose a blanket television advertising ban during live sporting events that are broadcast prior to the watershed.

According to key market players like Ladbrokes and William Hill, this ban is a simple response to sustained public concerns, highlighting the changing nature of sports betting and the way in which it’s perceived outside of the industry.

Little looks set to change for punters, who will continue to lay down in-play wagers on a host of popular sports including football, boxing and tennis. They’ll also be able to place a diverse range of different wagers, with handicap betting particularly popular in football and competitions such as the Premier League.

What is Handicap Betting?

To explain handicap betting, we’ll focus on the Premier League, in which there are perceived differences between the abilities of respective teams and players – particularly when you compare the top six clubs with the rest.

If Manchester City were to host Fulham at the Etihad Stadium, for example, the Citizens would start as odds-on favourites and with a price that delivers a relatively small payout on a modest wager.

This represents a delicate balance, however, as while operators want to minimise their losses they must also present odds that offer some form of incentive to punters. This is where handicap betting comes into play, as operators use a numerical figure (in this instances goals) to counter the lack of equality between two competitors and create more competitive odds.

There’s more to this market than meets the eye, however, with different types of handicap bet available to punters. We’ve listed a few of these below, each of which can help you to seek out more frequent and sizable wins over time.

The Level Handicap

We’ll start with the level handicap bet, which is one of most underrated wagers in modern-day sports betting.

With a level handicap, there’s no perceived difference between two teams. This means that no handicap bias is assigned prior to the game, so each side starts with zero goals and on a level playing field.

As with a standard bet, punters are required to identify the team that they think will score the most goals and win the game, but the key advantage here is that it eliminates the draw from the equation.

This means that all bets are refunded in the event of a tied game, as the terms of a zero or level handicap wager are binary and dictate that neither team has an advantage in the absence of a clear winner.

So while this type of wager is not necessarily suited to one-side encounters, it can prove to be extremely lucrative and increases your chances of winning by removing one of the potential outcomes from consideration.

A Single Handicap

The most common iteration of this wager is a single handicap bet, which is applied when there’s a clear difference in abilities between two competing sides.

This is determined through an array of factors, including the division in which each side competes, their respective form and the quality of players at their disposal. The handicap is then set according to the perceived difference between the competitors, while it generally increase in increments of 0.5.

In the case of our previous example, let’s say that you choose to back Manchester City to beat Fulham with a handicap of -1 goal. In this instance, City must win by more than one goal to cover the handicap and realise the full value of the wager.

In the event of a single goal win, your stake is refunded as the result is technically a draw. Should City actually draw or lose the game, however, you’ll lose the bet and the amount that you’ve staked.

This type of bet is used widely on matches where one competitor has a clear and obvious advantage, as it offers access to better odds without necessarily compromising your chances of winning.

A Split Handicap

For more seasoned bettors, a split handicap may well be a popular wager than can be applied when there’s a small and barely discernible difference between two competing teams.

With this bet, you can effectively split your stake over two handicaps. For example, you may back Manchester City to win at handicaps of 0 and -0.5, as this will create more competitive odds while still paying out in the event of a win for the Citizens.

This is an extremely tempting prospect, even though a draw in this instance will only see half of one stake returned to your account. Ultimately, this is the most complex iteration of handicap betting, and one that must be used cautiously and only used to wager on relatively tight matches.

The recent EPL clash between Liverpool and Manchester United would typically offer a relevant example, as while the Reds were clearly favourites this is historically a tight game with small winning margins.

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