If you’re literally just getting started in sports betting, we’d recommend sticking to simple Match Result wagers. As soon as you’re comfortable with those, however, you should get to know handicap betting immediately. Do so, and a whole new world of gambling opportunities will be opened up for you.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about handicap betting. We’ll explain what it is, how it works, and even give you some top tips on turning a profit.
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How We Ranked the Top Handicap Betting Sites
Above, you can immediately take in the 10 very best handicap betting sites operating in the UK right now. These rankings were not thrown together at random. Instead they were the result of many hours of testing and research, with these being five of the most important criteria we looked at.
- Betting Markets
This is the first thing we looked at when evaluating handicap betting sites. The vast majority of modern sportsbooks will provide some form of handicap betting. The actual quality and variety of the handicap markets varies wildly, however.
At the very least, we like to see a good selection of sports being represented for handicap betting. This will ideally go beyond football to include a range of other markets. Different forms of handicaps are also preferable (more on that later), including both regular and Asian varieties.
It’s not just the variety of handicap betting markets which is important, but their quality too. After all, if a bookie provides inferior odds then you’ll always be facing an uphill struggle to make a profit, however smart your picks are.
You can rest assured that all our recommended bookies provide prices which are at least as good, if not better than that of the competition. This is true for pre-match and in-play handicaps, and some sportsbooks will let you further improve their odds by applying price boosts to your handicaps.
- Mobile Features
In today’s smartphone-obsessed world, a bookie’s mobile features are arguably just as important as its regular desktop ones. All of our recommended bookies have mobile apps available, for both iOS and Android users, and all of those will let you place handicap wagers.
Again though, we’ve assessed the actual quality of our chosen brands here. In each case, the apps are modern, streamlined, and easy-to-use. Crucially, they’re also highly reliable, with lagging and crashes being kept to a minimum.
- Payment Methods
Before you can place any handicap wagers, you naturally need to fund your account. The more options a bookie gives you with which to do this, the better.
Every modern sportsbook will let you use Visa and Mastercard debit cards here, and most will allow bank transfers too. We like to see betting sites going beyond this though, providing choices for eWallets, prepaid cards, and so on. Both deposits and withdrawals should also be processed swiftly, with no fees being charged, and the minimum and maximum limits should be fair too.
- Peace of Mind
When your personal information and your hard-earned money are on the line, you naturally want to rest assured that both are being protected. We’ve checked the security measures in place for both purposes, and ensured that they’re up to scratch.
The likes of SSL encryption, firewalls on a bookie’s servers, and some separation between company and customer funds are basically non-negotiable. The same goes for at least one license with a reputable regulatory body; preferably the United Kingdom Gambling Commission. In addition, we like to see KYC checks and other anti-fraud measures, 2FA in place for users, and more.
What is Handicap Betting?
We’ve already shown you the best handicap betting sites, and explained how we created that ranking. Now though, it’s high time to explain what handicap betting actually is.
With a regular Match Result wager, you’re betting on a player or team to win an encounter. It doesn’t matter whether they win by one goal or five goals, one point or fifty points, and so on. If they win, you win your wager.
The problem with Match Result wagers is that they have some of the lowest odds of any bet type. They’re relatively straightforward and easy to win, and are extremely popular with punters, so bookies are able to lower the odds and still get plenty of action.
Handicap bets are a more user-friendly take on Match Result wagers. You’re still betting on a team or player, but get much more control over the ‘winning’ margin and – crucially – the odds.
Betting Handicaps Explained
With a handicap wager, the real-world matchup begins with a ‘fake score’, specifically for the purposes of your bet. Let’s say Manchester United are playing Newcastle, and you take ‘Manchester United -1’. That means – in your wager – Man U are starting the game 0-1 down.
If Man U win your fake game (meaning they win the real game by two goals), then your bet wins. If they draw your fake game (i.e. win the real game by only one goal), your bet is a ‘push’. This means you simply get your stake refunded to you.
Regardless of the sport, and the specific bet type, all handicap betting follows this basic structure – you start with a fake score, and must overcome that fake score to win your wager.
The Different Types of Handicap Betting
Handicap betting has proven extremely popular with punters over the years. It’s been no surprise, therefore, to see that bookies have consistently added more and more varieties of handicap wagers to their markets.
While you’ll find plenty of smaller handicap props on a big-time matchup, the handicaps themselves will almost always take one of three main forms. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
This remains the most popular handicap bet type. It’s available on the widest range of sports, and still sees the most wagering action.
This is essentially the type of handicap we described in the previous section. You wager on one team or player, who will start the game with a ‘fake score’ for the purposes of your bet. If they beat your fake score, you win your wager. If your fake game is a draw, you push and get a refund. If they lose regarding your fake score, your wager loses as normal.
Intriguingly, there are actually two main ways you can go with standard handicaps. You can give a team or player a ‘-’ score, as shown in our previous example, or a ‘+’ score.
With the latter, your team or player can lose their real-world matchup, but still win your handicap. Using the same matchup, let’s say you take ‘Newcastle +2’. Even if Newcastle lose their real game 0-1, your handicap still wins, as – with your fake score – the game finished 2-1 to Newcastle.
No Draw Handicap
No draw handicaps are a very popular alternative to the main type. Mechanically they are almost identical, but have one key difference.
With regular handicaps, you always take integers (round numbers): -2, -1, +1, +2, and so on.
With no draw handicaps, you instead take half-numbers: -2.5, -1.5, +1.5, +2.5.
This has two consequences, which are related to each other.
Firstly, it removes the possibility of a push, and – therefore – a refund. There’s no middle ground with a no draw handicap – you either win or you lose. Secondly, because the push has been removed from the equation, you’ll also find that your odds will be higher with a no draw handicap.
(Note that, as in the screenshot below, some bookies may refer to no draw handicaps as Asian handicaps. Technically though, they are slightly different bet types).
Asian Handicap Betting
Asian handicaps are essentially a combination of the two previous handicap types we’ve looked at. They contain both a regular handicap, and a no draw handicap, within the same bet. The format will look something like this:
This bet type basically makes it possible to split your wager. If you took the Chelsea market in the example above, you’d win the whole bet if Chelsea won by three goals. If they won by two goals then you’d win the first part and push on the second part (getting half the total stake back). If they only won by one goal, you’d lose the whole wager.
5 Key Tips to Winning Handicap Bets
As you can probably already see, handicaps are extremely useful bet types. There’s naturally still no guarantee you’ll turn a profit on them, but – if you follow the steps listed below – you’ll definitely improve your chances.
Best Sports to Bet On For Handicaps
As noted, handicap betting is extremely popular, particularly among experienced punters. Accordingly most bookies will provide you with a big range of options here, with these being some of the very best.
Handicap Betting in Football
This is the most popular sport for handicap betting in the UK, by an absolute mile. Every respectable sportsbook will not only provide markets on football betting, but specifically handicap betting markets on the beautiful game too.
All three of the main handicap bets will be available here, on just about every professional matchup in world football. You’ll also find not only pre-match and live wagers, but – on some sites – even outright handicap markets (on a team’s overall points total, for example).
Like football, tennis enjoys near-universal coverage among sports betting sites. It’s also an extremely popular option for handicap markets, for both pre-match and in-play punters. The most common way to wager here is on the winning margin, in terms of sets. Bet live though, and some sites will actually let you place a handicap wager on the winning margin of an individual set, in games.
NFL Handicap Betting
Handicap betting is extremely common in betting on American sports, such as baseball, American football, and basketball. It’s generally referred to as ‘betting the spread’ here, but the mechanics are the same, with you – the bettor – putting a fake score in place before a matchup kicks off.
With the NFL, spread betting is arguably the most popular and most effective way to wager. If you’re betting a big favourite, you might take them right up to -6.5 or more, and hope they win by at least a touchdown. This helps you reach odds you’d never get on a straight-up ‘Money Line’ wager. Likewise, if there’s a big-time underdog, you can ‘give’ them points and pray they don’t get beaten too badly.
NBA Handicap Betting
The NBA is another major market for spread betting. In fact, most NBA tipsters will focus on spreads, rather than regular Money Line wagers. It’s very straightforward here, simply applying to the winning or losing points margins of the teams, and can be a particularly thrilling in-play option when you’re watching a game live.
After football, horse racing betting is the second-most popular betting market by a distance. Because of its nature though, handicap betting is less popular on the ‘sport of kings’.
Handicaps are put in place, specifically for gambling purposes, but they work differently. If a horse is a major favourite going into a race, it will actually be given some extra weight to carry as a physical handicap. Obviously this makes the horse run slower, helping to balance the field, and – in turn – balance the betting odds too.
If you’ve grown tired of the simplicity of straightforward Match Result wagers, or frustrated at being limited to a specific set of odds, handicap betting might be perfect for you.
For starters, it gives you a huge amount of flexibility. It allows you to specifically say exactly how you think a matchup will turn out, in terms of the winning margin. In turn, it also gives you far more control over the odds you’re given. You really can balance risk and reward for yourself here, rather than being made to accept the bookie’s odds on a single market.
If you do want to give handicap betting a try, we’d recommend starting small and building up from there. A huge selection of sportsbooks will let you do so, and you can see our number one pick below, along with the rest of the top 10 at the top of this page.
With all that said, we’ve now told you everything you need to know about handicap betting. All that remains for you to do is pick a site, fund your account, and give it a shot for yourself.