Handicap bets, or as they are commonly referred to – line betting, are a common practice in sports where the results are based on points. This means you can place handicap bets on football, basketball, hockey, and so on. These bets are quite popular in horse racing as well.

They reflect the way a bookmaker decides to give lower or higher odds to certain teams so as to even the field, a.k.a. adding points to the teams less likely to win. Let’s imagine Argentina’s national team is playing against Bulgaria’s. The former is more likely to win so the bookmaker gives Bulgaria 4-0 advantage. If you now place a handicap bet on Argentina and they only win by 3-0, your stake is lost – the bookie sees the result as 3-4 in Bulgaria’s favour.

These handicaps could be graphically presented as follows:

Argentina (-4) evens
Handicap tie (-1) 9/4
Bulgaria (+4) 2/1

It’s important to note that handicaps apply only to your chosen selection.

If the bookie finds the two teams evenly matched, the term ‘scratch’ will be used and no handicaps will be applied.
An interesting variations is the handicap league betting where you place a handicap bet on a team’s performance throughout a season. You stake your bet at the beginning of it based on given odds. Usually a scratch is given to the favourites, whereas the other teams are given handicaps according to the bookmaker’s expectations and predictions. The difference here is that you need to apply the handicaps to all teams, and not only to your chosen one, in order to calculate the results of your bet at the end of the season.

The purpose of handicaps is to make games with an obvious favourite a tad more enticing, so that people would be interested in betting on them.

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