Handicap Betting Explained

Read our guide to handicap betting to learn how you can get more attractive odds when there's a clear bookies' favourite.

Handicap Betting Explained

What Is a Handicap Bet?

Handicap betting is a way for bookmakers to make sporting events more appealing to bettors when one selection is a clear favourite and the other is an obvious underdog. As you can imagine, this can make sports betting a lot more interesting when a game or match is ostensibly unbalanced.

How Does Handicap Betting Work?

An Example of a Handicap Bet

Handicapping makes the match betting market more appealing to punters by giving the favourite selection a deficit to overcome and the underdog a head start. Imagine a hypothetical match-up between Arsenal and Plymouth Argyle at Emirates Stadium. The Gunners are the heavy favourites, especially on their home turf, so you might expect traditional betting odds for home win to be something like 1/10. 

Bettors wouldn’t get much value from backing Arsenal at these odds, even if it is something of a sure bet.  What if you could back Arsenal to win the match, but they had to do it by at least three goals? The betting odds for an Arsenal win might now be Arsenal (-2 goals) – 9/5. If you back Arsenal this way, and they go on to triumph 2-1, your bet would lose as the Gunners didn’t win by a large enough margin. 

You can see how handicap betting makes the game outcome trickier to predict. The bookies give the favourite a disadvantage and the weaker team or player an advantage. In doing so, they level out the playing field for selections and allow punters to bet on the margin of victory rather than a straight-up win.

Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons of Handicap Betting


  • Can provide better value than match betting
  • Makes betting on events with a clear favourite more exciting


  • Not available for all sports

Handicap Betting Markets

Variations On Handicap Betting

it’s important to note that handicap bets can come in various flavours. Let’s look closer at some of the most popular handicap markets at UK bookmakers.

Three-Way Handicap

The three-way handicap betting gives you three options to back: team A to win, team B to win, or a draw handicap. This is in contrast to two-way handicaps, where betting on a draw isn’t an option. Let’s say it’s derby day in the northwest, with the Red Devils facing City at Old Trafford, and your bookmaker deems Manchester United the favourites. The bookie offers a -1 goal deficit for United as a handicap bet, and you decide to bet on a draw. If the final scoreline is 2-1 to United, it would count as a 1-1 draw for this betting market thanks to the -1 goal deficit applied to United at the start. You’d therefore win your bet.

No Draw Handicap

A no draw handicap is a betting market that eliminates the possibility of a tie between teams or players. With only two potential outcomes, no draw handicaps are often called two-way handicaps. Imagine Liverpool and Newcastle are facing off in the FA Cup. Bookmakers might give Liverpool a half goal head start of 0.5, thereby removing the possibility that the teams will end the match at level pegging. If the final score is 1-1, for example, the result for betting purposes would be a 1.5 win for Liverpool.

Asian Handicap

There are several handicap markets referred to as ‘Asian handicap’, due to origins that can be traced back to Indonesia. Level Asian handicap betting is the same as the ‘Draw No Bet’ market.  the Asian handicap betting is a more complex variation where you can split your stake between two possible outcomes, and you certainly don’t have to be based in Asia to play this way. Let’s say Chelsea are given a couple of handicaps for a match: -1.5 and -2. In this case, your wager will be split between these potential outcomes.

If the match ends with Chelsea ahead by three or more goals, it means both sides of your Asian handicap bet have come good. If Chelsea win by two goals, you’ll only get a payout on the -1.5 portion of the bet, while the -2 portion is deemed a draw with that half of your stake returned. If Chelsea only win by one goal, or draw, or lose, then both parts of your Asian handicap bet lose.


Which Sports Can I Place Handicap Bets On?

While most bettors have heard of each way betting in relation to horse racing, this betting market is also available for a wide variety of other sports. Greyhound racing and cycling are obvious contenders, though the likes of golf and football also provide plenty of opportunities for bettors to try their luck with each way bets.

For example, you can place an each way bet on the Premier League or the Masters, and get a payout if your team/golfer either comes top of the league/leaderboard, or finishes in one of the upper positions. As such, sporting events with multiple competitors are the perfect breeding ground for each way betting opportunities. Of course, you won’t be able to bet this way for individual games of football, darts, snooker and so on, as these individual matchups can only end in a win or a draw.


Your Questions Answered

What happens if my horse is a non-runner?

There are plenty of reasons why a horse might be a non-runner. If this happens to your selection, you’ll usually get your bet stakes refunded. A withdrawal can also affect your bet even if you haven’t backed that particular horse. Say the removal reduces the number of runners in the field to four – your each way pick must now win the race. The same principle applies to any event with each way betting opportunities.

The people behind this page

Compare.bet's online gambling content experts helped write, edit and check this page:

Daniel is Head of Operations at Compare.bet. He has half a decade of experience writing on topics including sports betting, online casino and the NBA. Daniel also covers Premier League football for Compare.bet news and has interviewed Louis Saha, Richard Dunne and Gary Pallister. In his spare time, Daniel enjoys film photography and making Spotify playlists.