Handicap betting can be one of the best ways to make money betting online. All betting sites offer it in some form for most sports, but there is a skill to know which bets offer the best value.

We’re going to look at how handicap betting works, which betting sites are best for handicap betting, and strategies that will allow you to win more from these bets.

What is Handicap Betting?

One of the most common questions we see get asked is “What is handicap betting?” We’re going to take a minute to explain how that works.

A handicap is something that is applied to a bet to make an equal chance of victory. This can be added to one result or something that is removed.

A lot of betting sites refer to handicap betting as line or spread betting. Essentially what happens is the betting sites set a line, usually for points scored and then you pick which line you want to take.

This form of betting is incredibly popular for games where one team is a strong favorite over the other. What you often find when this happens is the favorite offers little to no value.

As an example, you might have a bet that is priced at -500. This would indicate that it has a probability of 83.3% chance of winning. The reality though is that at -500, you need to stake a lot to take just a small return. In this example, it would mean a $500 stake to make just $100 profit.

A handicap can be applied to that bet to even things up. As stated, this is usually in the form of points and for the favorite, it will be points removed from their score.

It’s the betting site’s role to then set a handicap (line) for the team that they think makes it an even playing field. A -500 bet is a strong favorite so the handicap will be larger, but a favorite that is priced at -125 is much less likely to win, so the handicap will be smaller.

How Does Handicap Betting Work?

The easiest way to look at a handicap bet is to work through a couple of examples. These bets are accessible for basketball, American football, baseball, hockey, tennis, soccer, and many sports as basic betting markets. It would be rare to not see a handicap of some sort on all games for these sports.

The handicap is something that is subjective. By this, we mean that the bookmaker has complied all their data and created an advantage (and disadvantage) that would make the teams equal in terms of betting odds.

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

We’re going to look at an upcoming NFL game as our example between Arizona Cardinals and the Chicago Bears.

Before we jump into the handicap market (Bovada uses the term “Spread”) we wanted to highlight the win (Moneyline) first. As you can see, Arizona is a strong favorite for this game and is priced at -370, with Chicago priced at +285.

Given that the game is heavily favored toward Arizona to win, the handicap or spread will be bigger than most. As you can see, in this case, the line is set at -7.5 points for Arizona and +7.5 for Chicago.

Only when the game ends, does the handicap apply. For the sake of ease here, if you backed Arizona at -7.5 you would need them to win by 8 or more points. If you backed Chicago at +7.5 you would need them to not lose by 7 or more points.

The price for the handicap bet is -110 for both results. This is because, as we’ve explained, the handicap creates a level playing field for both teams regardless of their Moneyline/win bet odds.

You’re going to find that handicaps can be displayed in one of two ways. They are either a decimal (0.5) or a whole number.

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

If you look at the game above between the Chargers and the Bengals, the handicap is set at +/- 3.0. Whereas our previous example was +/- 7.5.

When games have whole numbers, it means that bets can be a push. For example, if you backed the Chargers at +3 and they lost the game 30-27, it would mean that they have 3 points added, making the adjusted handicap score 30-30 and a tie. When you tie in handicap bets, your bet is pushed.

When you have markets that are fractional numbers, there will always be a result. Scores in sports don’t have half numbers, so if the same game had a +/- 3.5 handicap, then the adjusted final score would be 30 – 30.5, meaning your bet would win.

We mentioned earlier about handicap bets being subjective and this is exactly why they can offer great value. It’s usually straightforward to set a favorite and an underdog for a bet but working out just how much of a favorite one team is over the other is tough.

You can find great value in handicap sports betting as a result as this is one of the main reasons why so many professional bettors use this betting market almost exclusively. We will talk more about the process in our strategy section later in the article.

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How to Place a Handicap Bet?

Because handicap betting is readily available, placing a handicap bet is about as straightforward as you’re going to find. We’ve created a step-by-step guide below to show you just how easy it is.

Our example is going to be using Bovada, who are one of the best when it comes to handicap betting. If you don’t have an account with them then you can click this link to sign up and get up to $1,000 in bonus cash.

Alternatively, if you’re using a different sportsbook, the process is likely going to be very similar.

Step 1 – Find Your Sport

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

We’ve assumed that you’ve created an account and funded your account.

You then need to navigate to the sport that you want to bet on. For this, we’re going to use Basketball and to get there we simply click on the basketball icon at the top of the page.

Step 2 – Choose Your Game

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

Bovada are going to list a huge range of games to bet on. They start with the live betting section at the top of this page and if you scroll down, you can see games that start at a later date and are located all over the world.

We want to bet on an NBA game, so we select the “NBA” in the left menu which brings up our list of games.

Step 3 – Place the Bet

We want to bet on the Boston Celtics versus Utah Jazz game. We scroll down to find that games and can see a range of markets to bet on.

Bovada calls handicap betting the spread, so this is where we need to head. To place the bet simply click on the handicap odds. When selected properly the bet will turn blue and it will be added to your bet slip.

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

All we need to do then is enter the amount you want to stake into the “Risk” box and then you see the projected profit within the “Win” box. You can mess around with your stake to see how much you will win before placing your bet if you’re not familiar with how American odds work or what they represent.

Winning a Handicap Bet

We want to look at a couple of examples of when a handicap bet would win and when it would lose. It may seem a little confusing at first, but it gets easier the more you work with these bets.

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

We’re going to take the above NBA game between the Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors. As you can see from the betting markets, the handicap for the game has been set at +/- 7.0 points.

As Golden State are the favorites to win on the Moneyline, they have the negative handicap and Phoenix has the positive handicap. Here are several scenarios that might occur from this bet.

Let’s assume that the game has finished 100 – 95 in favor of GSW.

  • If you backed GSW at -7 then your bet would lose. The adjusted score for the game would be 93-95 as you take 7 points off GSW score.
  • If you backed +7 points on Phoenix, then your bet would win. The adjusted score for the game would be 100-102 as you add 7 points to Phoenix’s score.

Let’s assume that the game finished 100 – 93 in favor of GSW.

  • If you backed Phoenix at +7 then the score would be 100-100. This would mean a push for your bet and your stake returned.
  • If you backed Golden State at -7 then the score would be 93-93. This would also mean a push for your bet and your stake returned.

Let’s look at a handicap game that has the line set as a fraction.

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

In the game above you can see that the handicap applied for the game is between Cleveland and Washington, set at +/- 3.5 points. As we know, when handicaps are fractional, there are no pushes and always a result.

Let’s assume that Washington wins the game 103 -100.

  • If you backed Washington at -3.5 the adjusted score would be 99.5 – 100 meaning your bet would lose.
  • If you backed Cleveland at +3.5 the adjusted score would be 103 – 103.5 meaning your bet would win.

Handicap Betting Strategy

We’re going to look at a range of handicap sports betting strategies that you can incorporate to make more money betting on sports. They are in no order, but each of them are incredibly important as a group, so take the time to digest and implement each point.

Find Your Handicap Line

We’ve gone through several handicap betting examples already and what you will notice is that each handicap is the line that is set by the betting site to get as close to even as possible. Handicaps that are fractional are priced at -110 each and then whole numbers usually between -105 and -120 or thereabouts.

It’s imperative to do your research to see if these lines make sense or not. If not, then there are alternative handicaps that you can bet on.

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

The table above gives you an overview of handicaps that can be applied to both teams. What you will notice is that for each handicap the odds change. The less likely to cover that line, the higher the odds.

For example, the spread for this game is set at +/- 3.5 points. But if you think that Washington are able to clear this line easily, then you can start to look at -4.5 or even -5.5 which has longer odds and for you, more value.

Don’t just look at the game line handicap and use prop bet markets to find better value.

Look at Moneyline Bets Instead of the Under Handicap Bet

When you bet on the under for a handicap market, then you’re saying the favorite is going to win the game and they are going to win relatively comfortably.

However, when you bet on the underdog to win on a handicap market, often the value lies on the Moneyline bet. This is because the number of times that when the underdog wins, they cover the spread is exponentially higher than the time the favorite wins with the lower spread.

This means that you’re better off just taking an outright win on the Moneyline than a positive spread bet for the handicap for some games.

Track Line Movement

Single or even half points added or removed from handicap bets can be huge. In sports like the MLB, NHL, and NFL, single points will equate to a huge shift in momentum for a single bet.

You need to be able to track how lines move throughout the week leading up to that game and then understand why this has occurred. Injuries, suspensions, the pre-game build can all equate to why lines might move, and then you need to be ready to jump on this.

If you’re able to predict when this might happen or if it might happen, you’re going to be getting maximum value from your bets. If you can get that extra point or half-point on the handicap for the same odds, then you’re golden.

Work Out Your Own Handicaps Before Checking Online

One of the best skills for any sports bettor is to become their own handicapper. You need to have the ability to spot when you think a line is wrong and where you think you can get value.

Don’t forget, each line that is set is highly subjective and usually a lot less black and white than a Moneyline bet for example. You will see different lines from each betting site, so even if the “best” can’t agree on a handicap line, then there’s a chance of getting great value from these.

Before you head on over to your betting site, take the time to do your research and set your line. Work out who is favorite and then create hypothetical lines that you think will offer good value.

For example, let’s assume that you handicap a game and set the line at +/- 3.5 points. This would be priced at -110.

As you log on, you see that the line is set at +/2.5 points priced at -110. You think that one team is capable of covering a -3.5 bet, so to get the same handicap odds for a -2.5 spread is going to provide insane value.

The reason that we suggest doing this before seeing the odds is that they can often influence you before you do your research. By creating your own book, you can then compare where you think bets offer the best value.

Be OK with Placing Multiple Wagers on a Single Pick

Handicap lines move about all the time. They ping back and forth throughout the day, with most reflecting where the money is heading and the exposure the betting site has.

There may be times where you take an early price on a line set by the sportsbook, before seeing that line reduce or increase, creating more value.

For example, let’s say that you back the Patriots at -4 to beat the Dolphins. A ton of money comes in for Miami and the price for the handicap spread moves to -3.5 for New England.

You’re now getting a smaller handicap at the same handicap odds and if you’re confident of your pick, it’s now time to take advantage. You will have increased exposure, but you’re getting a shorter spread on a pick that you think offers good value.

Handicap Betting in Sports

Handicap betting features heavily in a range of sports. All of the US-based sports have extensive handicap betting sections, but as do sports from all over the world.

Below we’ve included a range of sports and how they introduce handicap betting into their betting markets.

NBA Handicap Betting

Handicaps in basketball can be larger than in most sports as the points are higher. For example, in NFL you might get games that are around the 50-point mark total, but in basketball, they are often in excess of 200 points.

Obviously, we aren’t looking to bet on the points line here, but it’s still relative to how a game can pan out. It’s for this reason that you can get handicaps on games as high as 10/11/12 points, depending on a team’s dominance over their opponent.

If you are wondering how does handicap sports betting works in basketball, then the process would be the same as other sports. The bookmaker chooses a betting line for the handicap and then you can choose to pick the addition or subtraction of points.

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

The game above between New Orleans and Dallas is a good example of how it works. As you can see, both teams have an NBA handicap applied in the furthest left column. In this case, it’s +6.5 for New Orleans and -6.5 for Dallas.

At the end of the game, the points will be dedicated from the main score and then creates a handicap-adjusted score. If your team wins after the handicap has been adjusted, then you win the bet.

NFL Handicap Betting

NFL handicap betting works in a similar way to the NBA in that, you have two possible handicap bets for each game. The spread is a little less erratic than the NBA and by this, we mean that there are fewer games that have huge spreads.

In the NFL they tend to mix between whole and fractional numbers a lot more. One of the main reasons for this is the sheer volume of bets that come in for this market.

NBA games come thick and fast with dozens each week, but the NFL has just 16 games each game week and over a much shorter season. This means that betting is more concentrated over this period and means that lines move more often.

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

You still get games that have huge handicaps attached, such as the one above between the LA Rams and the Jacksonville Jaguars. A 13-point spread is huge for an NFL game and given the timing of this article being released, this could easily be a game where that line is moving further into the 14’s as the money starts to pour in nearer to kick off.

Handicap Soccer Betting

The concept of handicap betting in soccer is the same as in the NBA or the NFL, but the markets are created and posted much differently, which can be a little confusing at first.

One of the key things to note with these bets is that a tie (draw) is a common result. Most games will be a three-result market, which is a home win, away win, or a draw. This will influence how the handicap is created.

Another thing to note is that goals in a soccer game are much less than the points scored in an NBA or NFL game. In terms of average goals per game, this is much lower than NHL and MLB as well, so handicap lines can be harder to call.

When lines move so do the odds. But they move in a much bigger way than most American sports. A 0.5 change in handicap betting on soccer can double the price in some matches.

You will find a much larger range of handicaps to choose from with soccer matches. They include Asian handicaps which are handicaps that always produce a result (more on this later) and are very popular.

The biggest difference is the odds. It’s rare to see a handicap that evenly splits the odds, as it might in US-based sports.

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

The table above shows a range of games from the English Premier League. As you can see, none of the odds for any of the handicaps on this market are the same, meaning that one result always has an edge over the other. This is because of the low-scoring nature of each game, meaning that even tiny movements in spreads or lines have big implications for odds.

Tennis Handicap Betting

Tennis handicap betting is unique in that it has little bearing on the outcome of the game but instead, the accumulation of games won by each player throughout the match.

For example, if you have a game that finishes 6-4, 6-4, the one player has won 12 games and their opponent has won 8 games.

Handicapping these markets is the same as other sports in that, you have a positive and a negative number to reflect games added and games taken away. The favorite to win the handicap has games removed and the underdog has games added.

The odds for this compared to soccer in that you don’t get a split price for each of these bets. So, if you were to have a game that was +/- 4.5 games on the handicap, you generally won’t get a split of -110 on each result as one is usually more likely to happen than the other, although it’s much tighter than betting on the Moneyline.

Let’s run through a quick example of how this might work.

A match between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer takes place with Djokovic the favorite to win. The handicap for total games is set at -3.5 for Djokovic (-130) and Federer +3.5 (-110).

Djokovic goes on to win the game 6-2, 5-7, 6-4. The total number of games won for each player is:

  • Djokovic = 17
  • Federer = 13

If you had backed Djokovic to win at -3.5 then you would have won with his adjusted handicap of games won being 13.5, just 0.5 more than Federer’s 13.

If you had backed Federer at +3.5 games, then you would have lost. Federer’s adjusted game count of 16.5 would still be less than Djokovic’s tally of 17.

Handicap bets can also be adjusted to work in specific sets as well as the total for the match. Set betting is more common for in-play betting where you can get a feel for how the game is being played out.

How to Read Handicap Betting Odds

If you’re new to betting, then landing on a sportsbook such as Bovada and seeing a ton of numbers on the screen might appear to be quite daunting. The reality is that it’s very simple and these “numbers” are reflective of the odds for each bet.

Most US-based sportsbooks will have their odds in what is referred to as American style. For this, each number is either positive or negative.

The positive numbers reflect the amount of profit you will make for every $100 that you wager. The negative numbers will reflect the amount you need to stake to make a $100 profit.

Handicap Betting - What Is Handicap Betting and How Does It Work?

Let’s use the example above from an NHL game between the San Jose Sharks and the New York Rangers. If you look in the handicap section, you see two sets of odds. One is +1.5 (-145) and the other is -1.5 (+125).

The first number is the handicap spread that is on offer for that bet. In this case, it’s 1.5 goals. In the brackets are the odds for each of those bets. Let’s assume we place a $100 bet on each outcome:

  • $100 on San Jose sharks at -145 would return $169.90 if the bet won. $69.90 would be a profit.
  • $100 on New York Rangers at +125 would return $225 if the bet won. $125 would be profit.

You can, of course, change how the odds appear if you wish. Decimal is the most popular form in Europe which signifies the amount you get back for every single unit staked.

Fractional odds are popular in the UK. They show two numbers, such as 7/2. The right-hand number is the amount you need to stake to get the return of the left-hand number. In this case, for every 2 units you wager, you get 7 units’ profit.

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Is Handicap Betting Worth It?

Any bet that offers value is worth placing. You’re looking for an edge over the bookmaker and if that just so happens to come from a handicap betting market, then so be it.

We think that handicap betting is often misused by many. Lots of punters take short, priced favorites on the handicap expecting to win by big margins, but that’s not always the case. In fact, research would suggest that you’re often better siding with the underdog to cover the spread.

Like all bet types, there are pros and cons to handicap betting. We’ve outlined some of these below:


  • Great for parlays – Given that most handicap bets are around even money, they can be great additions for parlay bets. Even including 3 or more picks can soon see the numbers rise. A 5-fold parlay at odds of even money each is +3200, allowing for sizeable returns to be had.
  • Find value by becoming your own handicapper – We spoke about it earlier, but the best way to extract value from these bets is to handicap the game yourself. Use as much data as possible to create a handicap and then see how that compares to the betting line. If you get longer odds with the sportsbook, then you have yourself a value bet.
  • Able to adjust the handicap – Most sportsbooks will create a handicap to get two even money bets, or thereabouts. What many people don’t realize is that a lot of additional handicap lines can be accessed within the props betting section. If you feel that the line set by the sportsbook is way out, head over to these additional lines to get a better price on what you think is a more realistic handicap.
  • Add value to short-priced favorites – Most of us aren’t interested in placing singles at odds of -200 or above. The return is low, and it takes a lot of the fun out of the game. The handicap allows you to still root for the favorite, whilst getting longer odds with a handicap applied.
  • Better chance of success – The handicap allows you to win bets even when your pick losses the game. For example, you can back an NBA team at +7 and say they get beat by 4 points, you still win your bet. Even when games are dead in terms of the outright result, handicap bets can still very much be in play.


  • Tight lines – Bookmakers often have tight lines and big margins on handicap bets. You will notice that markets are often priced at -110 a piece and sometimes we’ve seen them as high as -120. The latter creates a 9% overround on that bet, which means the bookmaker is getting a huge advantage.
  • Can be confusing for beginners – We hope this article has outlined how they work, but there is no doubt that the handicap can be confusing at first for beginner bettors. There are several rules on connotations that you need to note before placing these bets.

Handicap Betting vs Asian Handicap Betting

We briefly touched on the Asian Handicap earlier in the piece and we need to expand on that here.

As the name would suggest, the Asian Handicap was derived from Asia and was created to remove any chance of the draw from handicap bets.

To do this the Asian Handicap uses fractions for their betting lines. These are still represented as plus or minus numbers for goals or points to be added or subtracted, but they have different connotations based on each number.

The main numbers that you need to note are 0.25, 0.50, and 0.75. Given that no game can have fractions for the final score, a result will always take place. The handicap can also include whole numbers, which allows for wins and pushes, respectively.

Betting the FAVOURITE Betting the UNDERDOG
Team Result
Bet Result
Your Team’s Result
Bet Result
0 win win 0 win win
draw push draw push
lose lose lose lose
-0.25 win by 1 or more win +0.25 win by 1 or more win
draw lose half draw win half
lose lose lose lose
-0.5 win win +0.5 win win
draw lose draw win
lose lose lose lose
-0.75 win by 2 or more win +0.75 win or draw win
win by 1 win half lose by 1 lose half
draw or lose lose lose by 2 or more lose
-1 win by 2 or more win +1 win or draw win
win by 1 push lose by 1 push
draw or lose lose lose by 2 or more lose
-1.25 win by 2 or more win +1.25 win or draw win
win by 1 lose half lose by 1 win half
draw or lose lose lose by 2 or more lose
-1.5 win by 2 or more win +1.5 win or draw win
win by 1 lose lose by 1 win
draw or lose lose lose by 2 or more lose
-1.75 win by 3 or more win +1.75 win, draw or lose by 1 win
win by 2 win half lose by 2 lose half
win by 1, draw or lose lose lose by 3 or more lose
-2 win by 3 or more win +2 win, draw or lose by 1 win
win by 2 push lose by 2 push
win by 1, draw or lose lose lose by 3 or more lose

The table above shows the breakdown for each bet and the results that would occur from them. As you can see, there are bets that allow for up to four possible outcomes, so there is a lot going on.

Handicap Betting Conclusion

Handicap betting allows you to have a great amount of creativity when it comes to betting. The ability to formulate a handicap of your own and then compare that to the bookmaker is one of the easiest ways to find value in your bets. Many bookmakers offer handicap betting, so shop around before you settle.

What does +2 handicap mean?

Where can I place a handicap bet?

What sports offer handicap betting?

How do you win a handicap bet?

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Jonathan Askew
Sports Editor

Jonathan has been working within the iGaming sector since 2007. After graduating with a BA Hons in Marketing from Northumbria University, he's been able to set up his own online content business, working with some of the biggest brands in the iGaming sector. Outside of work he enjoys any type of sports, especially cricket, golf, football and darts.

All posts by Jonathan Askew
Author photo
Jonathan Askew Sports Editor

Jonathan has been working within the iGaming sector since 2007. After graduating with a BA Hons in Marketing from Northumbria University, he's been able to set up his own online content business, working with some of the biggest brands in the iGaming sector. Outside of work he enjoys any type of sports, especially cricket, golf, football and darts.

All posts by Jonathan Askew