Handicap Betting Explained – A Beginner’s Guide

Handicap betting, sometimes known as spread betting, is a popular choice among punters for points-based sports like football, rugby, basketball, and American football. Essentially, it evens up the chances of a bet on either team winning — so it can add an extra layer of excitement to matches with an otherwise clear outcome.

On this page, we’ll run you through all you need to know before you try handicap betting for yourself. And once you’re up to speed, you can explore our recommended bookmakers to compare offers, sign up, and place your bet.

Handicap Betting Explained

The Basics of Handicap Betting

At the best betting sites, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to the different wagers you can make. Most involve betting on an outcome — if it occurs, your bet wins, simple as that. Handicap betting is a little bit different, in that one team is given an artificial advantage. 

Put simply, it’s a way for the bookie to turn what could otherwise be a mismatch into an even money contest. For the punter, that means a bet on either team or competitor is feasible, even if you’re looking at a David and Goliath mismatch. It also means you can find value betting on the underdog when they don’t stand a chance of winning the game.

Here’s a quick example to illustrate how it works. Say the Washington Wizards are playing the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA. The sportsbook lists the 76ers as clear favourites with odds of 1/6, while the Wizards are priced at a measly 9/2. A 76ers is the most likely outcome, but many punters might not view the returns on this bet as worth the risk. 

Instead, you could opt for a handicap bet — or ‘point spread’ as it’s commonly known in American sports. In the above example, both teams are given odds of 10/11 and the spread is set at +12. That means the 76ers have to win by at least 12 points for a handicap bet on them to succeed. Meanwhile, a bet on the Wizards succeeds if they lose by less than 12 points or win the match outright. Simple! 

But what happens if the 76ers win by exactly 12 points? This is considered a draw or ‘push’, and how it’s handled depends on your sportsbook — usually, your bet will be void and the stake refunded, but check the T&Cs before you bet. 

Handicap Betting Variations

Outside of standard two-way handicaps like the NBA example above, there are a few other variations of handicap betting you might find at top bookies:

  • Three-way handicaps – In this type of bet, it’s possible to bet on a draw. Say the underdog is given a handicap of +1 in a football match and the final score is 1–0 to the favourite. Neither team covered the spread, resulting in a draw. 
  • No draw handicaps – Here, the line is set at a decimal number so the possibility of a draw is removed. The spread in an NFL match could be 22.5, for example, so winning by 23 points will cover the spread. 
  • Asian handicap – Named for its popularity in Asia, this type of handicap is unique to football and can use whole or half point spreads. Many Asian handicap markets combine two bets into one, a bit like an each-way in horse racing. Take Tottenham (-1.0, -1.5) vs Chelsea (0.0, +0.5) for example. If you bet on Tottenham and they win by at least two goals, both portions of the bet win. If they win by just one goal, the -1.5 portion loses and the -1.0 portion is void with your stake returned. 
  • League handicap – Here, you can bet on the performance of a team across an entire season. Each team in the league is given a handicap by the bookmaker, and the final table is calculated with these in mind when the season concludes
Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons of Handicap Betting



  • May offer better value – When the odds are pretty disparate, handicaps can give bets on either team a shout of winning.
  • Can offer more excitement – If a game is likely to result in a landslide, handicap markets can make things more interesting when it comes to betting.
  • Handicap variants – There are several different handicap types available so you can bet in a way that suits you.
  • Wide range of sports – Handicaps can be placed on most points-based sports.
  • Outcome of draws – Most bookies treat a handicap draw as a void bet and your stake is returned.
  • Valid for free bets – You can usually use bookmaker offers for handicap betting.


  • Harder to call – By their very nature, handicaps are a way for bookies to make an event even money. That means it can be tricky to pick a winner.
  • Risk of losing – As with any type of bet, there’s always the chance you’ll lose. With that in mind, always gamble responsibly.
Reading Handicap Betting Odds

How Handicap Betting Odds Work

Handicap betting odds work just like odds for any other market. At most UK bookmakers, they’ll be displayed as ‘fractional odds’ by default. 

Take our previous example of 76ers vs Wizards, where a handicap bet on either team is priced at 11/10. The numerator (11) is the profit you stand to win from a stake equal to the denominator (10). So a winning £10 bet would return £11 in profit plus your original stake — £21 in total. 

This can also be represented in decimal odds. In this example, it would look like 2.1. Here, simply multiply the decimal odds by your stake to calculate the total return (profit plus stake), which is 2.1 x £10 = £21. 

You might also come across American odds — also known as moneyline odds — although it’s uncommon at UK bookmakers. These are typically set at -110 in handicap betting. For negative odds such as those, that’s the amount you need to bet to win £100. When you see positive moneyline odds, that’s the profit you stand to win from a £100 bet.

Handicap Betting Markets

Popular Sports for Handicap Betting

Handicap betting is available on the majority of points-based sports, including the following:

  • Football – The great game is an incredibly popular choice, especially with the unique Asian handicap markets. 
  • Basketball – This American sport is another great option for handicaps, adding to the thrill of its fast-paced nature. 
  • American football – Another market from across the pond, the NFL presents some excellent handicap opportunities.
  • Tennis – With matches often hinging on a few points here and there, tennis can be a thrilling option for handicap betting, where you’ll be wagering on the number of games.
  • Golf – Handicap betting in golf can be done at both the tournament and round level, creating a more level playing field for the contestants.
  • Rugby – This exhilarating contact sport allows for handicap betting in both union and league matches. 
  • Cricket – In cricket, handicap betting involves an adjustment to the number of runs or wickets needed to win a match. 

Getting Started with Handicap Betting

Want to place a handicap bet but not sure where to begin? It’s easy — just follow these steps.

Red Man Magnifying Glass STEP 1
Choose a Bookmaker
Use our handy lists to compare bookies, and read our full expert reviews if you need more detail.
Blue Man Checklist STEP 2
Review Welcome Bonus
Check out the welcome bonus on offer to make sure it suits your needs. Don’t forget to give the T&Cs a onceover.
Blue Present Money Card STEP 3
Sign Up and Deposit
Once you’re happy, click through using our link to sign up and add funds to your account.
Red Man Playing Games STEP 4
Place Your Bets
Head to the markets, pick your sport and match, and select handicap or point spread. Add your pick to the betslip and enter your desired stake before confirming the bet. Good luck!
Bonus Offers

Handicap Betting Promotions

If you’re looking for a new bookmaker, you’ll be pleased to know that most welcome new bettors through their doors with a sign-up bonus. These can usually be used on handicap betting markets, provided they meet any minimum odds requirements. Below is a quick preview of the different types available, but you can compare the full list on our betting bonus page.

As simple as it sounds, these offers give you a bonus bet to use instead of real money. While the free bet can’t be cashed out, any profit is usually yours to keep. 

An odds or price boost will let you place a bet at an improved price, so you’ll get a bigger payout if it wins. This can be a popular option to combine with a handicap, as these markets are generally close to even money. 

With a money back bet, your stake is refunded up to a certain amount if your bet — usually your first placed at the site after signing up — loses. The refund could be given as withdrawable cash, but it’s more often returned as free bet credit that can’t be withdrawn. 

Staying Safe

Responsible Gambling

Whenever you place a bet — handicaps included — you’re putting money on the line, and there’s a risk of losing it. There are never any guarantees in gambling, so staying in control is paramount to keeping things safe and enjoyable. Pillars of responsible gambling include setting a budget, not chasing losses, and only gambling when sound of mind. 

Before you begin handicap betting, why not check out our responsible gambling guide? It’s packed with tips and advice to help you stay on track. Or, if you feel like gambling is having a negative impact on you or someone you know, head over to GamCare or BeGambleAware.org for more support. 

Sign Up & Play!

Compare Handicap Betting Sites and Sign Up

Ready to start handicap betting? We’ve got all you need to find your next bookmaker here at Compare.bet. Head over to our betting sites page for the full roster, and simply compare, click through, and sign up!


Frequently Asked Questions

Is handicap betting safe?

Yes, although as with any form of betting, there’s a risk you’ll lose money. You should also only bet on handicaps at a licensed betting site. Bookmakers licensed by the UK Gambling Commision are beholden to standards around security, fairness, and responsible gambling. All the sites we recommend at Compare.bet meet this requirement so you can browse with confidence.

How can I win at handicap betting?

There’s no surefire way, but the main way to improve your chances is to do some thorough research. Say you’re betting on football — you’ll want to take into consideration recent and historic performance of the team, any recent player injuries, whether it’s home or away, etc. You might consider looking at expert betting tips or analysis as well. Keep in mind that handicaps typically even up the chances of a bet on either team succeeding, so it can often be hard to call.

Is it good to bet on handicap?

It depends on your preferences as a bettor. Many punters opt for handicaps when the standard win markets don’t offer much value, like when there’s a clear favourite and the underdog has little chance of succeeding.

What’s the difference between handicap betting and spread betting?

They’re essentially the same thing. The term ‘spread’ betting is more typically associated with American sports like NBA, NFL, and MLB (with NHL often calling it the ‘puck line’). 

Can I view win and place odds in both fractional and decimal formats?

Yes. Online bookmakers cater for their members by allowing you to view odds in fractional and decimal formats, according to your personal preference. There may be a clear way to toggle between the formats, or you may have to enter your account settings. 

What is handicap in horse racing?

In horse racing, handicap refers to a type of race where the runners carry lead weights based on their perceived ability, with the intention of making the field more even for a tighter and more exciting finish. Handicap betting — as discussed on this page — is not typically available for horse racing.

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.

The following external expert(s) contributed to ensure this page provides maximum value, accuracy and insight:

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James is a betting and casino expert at Compare.bet who specialises in writing and editing in-depth guides and reviews. As well as producing copy for the site, James is instrumental in making tweaks that keep our pages at the cutting edge of gambling comparison.