What is Handicap Betting?

Learn how handicap betting works with Marathonbet’s latest betting guide. Here’s all you need to know about handicap betting…

What is Handicap Betting? Handicap Betting Guide

For anyone new to betting, handicap betting can initially seem like a confusing concept.

However, once you get a handle on it, it can often be one of the best ways to bet on a sporting event.

How Does Handicap Betting Work?

Put simply, handicap betting is a means of a bookmaker making a sporting event more of an even-looking contest.

That means this form of betting can be attractive for fixtures that look nominally one-sided, giving the bettor more flexibility rather than simply being offered the standard 1X2 ‘To Win’ bet.

In handicap betting, a heavy favourite must overcome the handicap placed on them by the bookmaker for the bet to pay out.

Here’s how a handicap bet works…


The easiest way to understand handicap betting is to look at a theoretical working example.

It’s FA Cup Third Round weekend.

Liverpool have been drawn at home to Leyton Orient.

Given the vast gulf in class between the two sides, in the standard 1X2 market, the teams are priced up as follows:

DRAW – 8/1

In terms of value, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to back Liverpool to win this match-up, given the odds are stacked so heavily in the Premier League club’s favour.

That’s where handicap betting can make things interesting.

What if you backed Liverpool to win, but they had to do it by at least four goals?

That changes the market completely.

In this handicap betting scenario, the odds would now be priced up as follows:

LIVERPOOL (-3 goals) – 9/5
DRAW (+ 3 goals to underdog) – 18/5
LEYTON ORIENT (+3 goals) – 21/20

That means, for your bet on Liverpool to pay out, the Reds would need to win by at least four goals – in the process spicing up a game where the result looks a racing certainty on paper.  

So, whilst Liverpool have to win by a certain number of goals for your bet to win, the rewards are greater should they do so.

As an alternative, there are also two-way handicaps offered. These take out the ‘handicap draw’ option by returning your stake in such cases, but the odds reflect this.

To recreate the above example as a two-way handicap, the odds would be:

LIVERPOOL (-3 goals) – 11/8
LEYTON ORIENT (+3 goals) – 3/5

Let’s say the final result was 3-0 to Liverpool. In the three-way handicap, the outcome would be a draw on handicap and your bet would lose.

However, in the two-way handicap, as no price was offered on the handicap draw, you would get your stake returned.

So, the greater risk for the bettor is on the handicap with the draw, which is reflected in the respective odds.


Away from football, handicap betting is also popular on sports where final outcomes can be traditionally high scoring, such as American Football, basketball and rugby, all sports where points differentials between sides can vary wildly from match to match.

In fact, opting for handicap betting on these sports can be a shrewd option if you happen to regularly study the form or have a working knowledge of the tactics certain teams tend to deploy in-game.

While some sides might go for broke while in the ascendancy to blow their opponents away, other coaches might encourage their team to take a more pragmatic approach to close out the win.

Studying form and approaches to play all helps when it comes to placing a handicap bet.

Let’s look a simple example using a NFL game:

BUFFALO BILLS (+3.5) 8/15

That means if you bet on the Ravens, and they still have the points gap needed to win the game after subtracting 3.5 points off their final tally, your bet will pay out.

Aside from handicaps on goals or points, the handicap system can also be found on other sports to make betting on a match more interesting.

For example, in tennis, you will find handicap betting based on the total match games, as well as on the total match sets. In volleyball matches, there are handicaps both by sets and points available.


What is Asian Handicap betting?

Originating from Asia (hence the name), it’s a form of handicap betting that removes the option of a draw entirely in the market.

In the most common Asian handicap betting, the bookmaker will provide a ‘half goal’ total for the number of goals a team starts with – i.e. 0.5 goals, 1.5 goals etc.

That means your bet will have two possible outcomes – either win or lose.

Let’s say Chelsea are playing Sheffield Utd, with Chelsea at -2.5 and the Blades at +2.5 in the Asian Handicap betting.

If the Blues run out winners in a 4-1 victory, your Asian Handicap bet would win if you opted to go with Chelsea -2.5.


This is a more complex form of regular Asian handicap betting, where your stake is effectively split across two different handicap selections.

As an example, this may show as a betting option on our website in this format:  Manchester City (-1.5,-2.0) @ 5/6

If you placed £10 on this selection, you are effectively placing £5 on each of Man City -1.5 goals and £5 on Man City -2 goals.

If Man City were to win 3-0, both bets would win. However, if Man City won 2-0, the –1.5 bet is a winning one and your stake is voided for the -2 part of the bet.

A full description of this betting option can be found here.

Ready to try out Handicap Betting?

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