Point Spread & Handicap Betting
Point spread and handicap betting are very similar: they both follow the same basic principle. Wagers of this type involve a bookmaker making an adjustment to the points or goals scored by a team. The adjustment is made solely for the purposes of the wager, with points usually given to the weaker team and deducted from the stronger team.
In North America, where point spread betting is common, the general idea is to create a theoretically level playing field. The size of the point adjustment is known as the spread, and the aim is to create a spread where the odds for each team are very similar. Therefore the spread is bigger when one team is a clear favorite, more than when there isn't so much of a difference between the two sides.
The term handicap betting is used in the United Kingdom, Europe, and some other parts of the world: it's essentially the same thing. The best way to fully explain how bets of this type work is to use some examples, as we have done below.
Example 1 – Point Spread Betting (Football Matches)
The above image is taken from a US sports betting site. It shows some available point spread bets on football matches. The numbers in brackets are the relevant odds for each selection, while the other numbers are the points which are added (+) to a team or deducted (-).
You'll notice that the first game doesn't display any odds. This means that the odds for both selections are -110, the standard odds for a point spread. Some betting sites will display the odds when they are -110, but, as you can see, some sites don't.
The spread for the first game is 1.5 points. This is a small spread, which means that the two teams must be closely matched in the opinion of the bookmaker. If you place a point spread wager on the Kansas City Chiefs to win, 1.5 points would be deducted from their final score. You would need them to win by 2 points or more to win your wager. With odds of -110, you would win $100 for every $110 staked. You would lose if the Chiefs lost the game or won by only a single point.
If you place a wager on the Cincinnati Bengals to win, 1.5 points would be added to their final score. You would need them to win or lose by only one point to win your wager. The odds are also -110, so again you would win $100 for every $110 staked. You would lose if the Bengals lose by 2 or more points. Note that because there's a half point in the spread, a push (tie) isn't possible.
In the second and third games shown, a push would be possible. For example, it would be a push if you bet on the Seattle Seahawks to win at -2, and they do win by exactly two points. In this scenario, your stake would be returned to you.
If you would like some advice on point spread betting for American sports, please see the following page - Advice for Point Spread Betting.
Example 2 – Handicap Betting (Soccer Match)
This screenshot is from a UK sports betting site showing a selection of handicap bets available for a single soccer match. The gray numbers show the number of goals that will be added or deducted, while the yellow numbers are the odds. In this example, the handicap isn't being used to create a level playing field, but rather to provide a few different betting options.
If you were confident that Liverpool was going to win by quite a few goals, you could place a wager on them at -3.0. Three goals would be deducted from their final tally, so you would need them to win by four or more goals. Odds of 6/1 mean you would win $60 for every $10 staked. If they won by less than four goals, however, or drew or lost the match, then your wager would lose.
If you felt that Southampton might give Liverpool a close game, you could place a wager on Southampton at +2.0. Two goals would be added to their final tally, so your wager would win if they won the match, drew it, or lost by only a single goal. Odds of 4/6 mean you would win $6.67 for every $10 staked.
You can also choose to bet on the tie with handicap betting. This is a bit harder to get right, because you need an exact goal difference to win. If you bet on the tie at +3.0, Southampton would have three goals added to their final tally. This means you would need them to lose by exactly three goals to win your wager.
Example 3 – Handicap Betting (Soccer League Winner)
This is another screenshot from a UK sports betting site for the handicap betting market on the winner of the Premier League. The adjustments here relate to the teams' total points scored over the course of the season.
At the end of the season, each team would have the relevant adjustment made to their total. If the team you backed was top of the league following these adjustments, then you would win. You may notice that Chelsea has the term scratch next to their name rather than a number. This means that they have no points added to their total.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2015
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