What Does Handicap Mean in Betting?

Learn how the handicap markets work on sports betting sites, using examples from football and tennis.

Handicap betting explained
Written by Steven Hubbard
Verified by BettingLounge team
Last updated 17/06/2024

Handicap Betting Explained

Handicaps are used to level out the playing field for a sporting event with one clear favourite. UK online betting sites offer handicap bets for a range of sports, but football and tennis are probably two of the most popular where the handicap can be used to achieve value bets.

For the former, you might want to make sure you are using the right football bookie, and you can do so with our comprehensive ranking. We also have a top 5 list for tennis, so enthusiasts of that sport do not need to be worried.

With the handicap, one team or player is effectively given a headstart in terms of scoring. The idea is that the handicap puts the teams or players on more of an even keel, with the result that prices offered are likely to be a lot more tempting for sports fans browsing the betting markets.

The advantage given by the online bookmaker is purely virtual, not affecting the real-world outcome of the game, but the handicap is added to the scoring to decide which bets are won.

It might sound complicated, but using the example of a handicap bet can help to clear it up.

Example of a Handicap Bet in Football

Let's say that Belgium are taking on Slovakia in the prestigious Euro tournament. Belgium would be favourites in the eyes of the bookmakers, with Slovakia considered a big underdog. In order to make the betting markets more appealing to sports fans, a handicap will be offered.

handicap markets

Belgium -2 is an example of an option that would be available in the handicap against Slovakia. This means that for the purposes of the bet, two of the goals they score won't count.

Let's say that Belgium win the game 3-0. Belgium -2 handicap bets see their three goals cut to one, so they still win the match 1-0 and the Belgium -2 handicap bet therefore is a winner.

However, if the final score in the match was Belgium 2-0 Slovakie, that would mean that in the eyes of the Belgium -2 handicap market, the match had ended in a 0-0 draw. So, a Belgium -2 handicap bet means that the Red Devils have to win the game by more than two goals.

Example of a Handicap Bet in Tennis

Football is not the only major sport where handicap bets are starting to get very popular. In tennis, handicap markets are also used to provide more value in the event that one player is strongly favoured in the eyes of UK online bookmakers - just like in the 2021 Wimbledon final.

Novak Djokovic was the defending champion, seeking to win the title for the sixth time. Facing the Serb was the Italian Matteo Berrettini, who few gave any chance at all of winning the match.

With Djokovic expected to beat Berrettini quite easily, the handicap markets will have been of interest to tennis fans who wanted to have a bet on the showpiece day in the sport's calendar.

For tennis handicaps, the top option to bet on is usually the number of games a player wins. So, Djokovic -5.5 would be an example of a handicap bet for the final against Berrettini.

This means that Djokovic would have to win at least six more games in total when compared to Berrettini in order for that particular handicap bet to be a winning wager.

As the final score was 6–7(4–7), 6–4, 6–4, 6–3, Djokovic did win six more games than Berrettini, so anyone who backed Djokovic -5.5 on the handicap with their bookmaker would be a winner.

Types of Handicap Bets

Above, we have looked at some of the most common handicaps in both tennis and in football. However, there are a few different types of handicap bets that can be used these days. One of the most popular variations, Asian handicap wagers take away the potential for a draw result.

They do this by using half numbers rather than whole numbers in the handicap options offered. So, instead of Liverpool -2 being an option, creating the chance the bet is drawn if the Reds win by two goals, the options will be Liverpool -1.5 or Liverpool 2.5 on the Asian handicap instead.

Split handicap markets are also available with a lot of the UK's top sports betting sites too. With this type of wager, an example would be Liverpool -1, -1.5, using the FA Cup game above.

In this split handicap wager for the FA Cup tie against Tranmere Rovers at Anfield, half of the stake goes on Liverpool -1 and the rest goes on Liverpool -1.5. If Liverpool were to win the game by two clear goals at least on the day, then both legs of the bet would be a winner.

Twin handicaps and double handicaps are the same as split handicaps, by a different name

Steven is an experienced iGaming content writer who has been working in the industry since 2018. He is passionate about sports betting and enjoys writing about all aspects of the industry, including bookmaker reviews, betting tips and strategies, and news and analysis. If you have any questions about online gambling in the UK, please don't hesitate to contact him.