Known as ‘spread’ betting in the American market, handicap betting in European football terms involves giving a head start or deficit to one of the teams involved in a fixture for the purposes of creating longer, more lucrative or more achievable betting odds.
The reason for the handicap is to even the playing field for the purposes of the bet, usually with an extra goal (or more) deficit being applied to the favourite and extra goal advantage applied to the underdog. Selections only win if the chosen team’s score is still greater than its opponent’s after the handicap has been applied.
Handicapping is common place in football betting, but it is usually used by bettors to attain larger reward from backing a favourite. Strong teams in good form generally have very short odds to win a fixture, and if they are especially playing at home against a notoriously weaker team their odds to win are near pointless backing because of the certainty of a result.
Typically, teams such as Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain’s ‘La Liga’ competition will generally have very short odds because of the qualities of their line ups in comparison to most of the other teams in the division. Typically, if either side plays at home to a team placed any lower than fifth in the league the odds are impossibly short – so this is where the handicap comes into place. It is introduced to give far more value if a bettor strongly fancies a team to win by a clear margin.
See the picture below for the difference in odds (in fractional values) between an outright Real Madrid win against Almeria, and below the odds for Real Madrid to win the game by a handicap of -2.
As explained, handicap betting is used to even the field slightly. So, it also allows bettors to give their unfavoured selection a head start in games for the chance at more realistic returns. Almeria’s odds shorten with the two goal handicap applied, but they can also be found just to offer better values on any match, regardless of the gulf in class between oppositions. Read on as we delve deeper in to how handicapping works in football betting.
Still speaking about the example above, pitting Real Madrid against Almeria from the Spanish top division, Almeria effectively have a 2-0 advantage for the purposes of the bet before the match begins. Essentially, for a bet on Real Madrid (-2) to succeed, they need to win by three clear goals. The actual result of the fixture will have the handicap applied to it in order to determine the winning team or outcome for the purposes of the bet.
In the above image the option stands for a bettor to pick a handicap draw, which effectively means that the outcome of the game will end with a two goal margin, leaving both sides level after the handicap has been applied. For example, if Real Madrid were to win 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 and so on, the handicap draw would be the winning market from the match.
Standard handicaps in football markets are typically found as ranging between one goal and four goals because of the relatively low scoring nature of the game. When a goal is scored the score line moves up in increments of one so there is little reason to go any higher with handicap numbers. However, there are different variations on handicap betting which don’t consider the possibility of a draw occurring, which are explained further below.
The Asian Handicap is a variation on the standard handicap method already explained. This style of handicap works similarly, in terms of both teams in a match being given a virtual head starts or deficit scores which are added to or taken away from at the full time whistle. However, the key difference is that the possibility of a draw is not considered, leaving only two outcomes to choose from.
If the result is a draw after the handicap has been applied following the match, the stake the bettor originally placed is returned. Typically, many UK bookmakers will offer Asian handicap markets under the alias of a ‘no draw handicap,’ with both terms effectively meaning the same thing. However, apart from the two markets already explained, there are other styles of handicap betting which are less popular but still crop up with bookmakers.
Both standard and Asian handicaps tend to appear in the format of whole numbers, with the possibility of a draw being possible in both types. While the stake is lost in a draw for a standard handicap and returned in an Asian handicap, the possibility is eliminated out of the question completely when ‘half handicaps’ are introduced.
Half handicaps are used to ensure that after the match is completed there will always be one winning team after the handicap is applied. They help to eliminate one possible outcome from the betting market and allow only two possible results for the purposes of the bet.
Half handicaps are always found in decimal format, and although they are not offered by every bookmaker the half handicaps are very popular. They are seen in increments of 0.5 to separate both sides at the end and decipher whether a market wins or loses.
Referring back to the example above featuring Real Madrid hosting Almeria in Spain, if each team were applied a handicap of 1.5 for instance (Real Madrid -1.5 and Almeria +1.5) the 1.5 would be added to Almeria’s total goal sum at the end of the game while taken away from Real Madrid. In order for Real Madrid to win, they would have to win the match by two clear goals or more, while anything beneath that margin would result in an Almeria victory in betting terms.
Split handicaps may also appear from time to time. Teams are generally given two handicaps in total – one goal and one half goal in this betting instance.
For example, given Real Madrid (-2,-2.5) vs. Almeria (+2,+2.5) are the markets, the total bet placed would be divided between the two handicaps of the team the person bet on. For example, at £5 bet would be split into 2x £2.50 bets on each handicap.
Real Madrid would need to win by three goals or more for the full stake and full pay out to return to the bettor if that was the chosen selection. A win by two goals would mean the -2.5 handicap is lost and the -2 handicap (half the bet) is returned as stake to the bettor, while anything less than a two goal victory for Real Madrid would see the entire stake lost. The roles reverse for a bet on Almeria but the same rules apply, just as opposites.
Though difficult and confusing to get to grips with, the several different variations of a handicap in football markets are used to even up the possibility of betting on any outcome in a match. Typically, they offer better value on choosing an underdog to win a market and offer further reward on a favourite.