Handicap Betting: What Does +1 / -1 Mean on a Bet?

Plus 1 Minus 1Value betting odds can be found daily on horses, on outright bets and of course within multiples such as the typical football accumulator.

Sometimes however in football matches, and especially in matches where the draw is highly unlikely such as in rugby, handicap betting is needed to make things more interesting when there is a strong favourite.

Put simply, handicap betting is a way to level the playing field by giving one team a head start. For a handicap bet to win, your chosen team needs to be ahead after the handicap is taken into account.

What Is Handicap Betting?

Rugby Handicap Betting

Depending on your chosen sports, as well as the bookmaker you are using or the territory you are betting in, handicap betting can also be known as the ‘spread’ or ‘spread betting’.

Terminology aside, handicap betting basically gives one selection in a game a virtual deficit, known as the ‘handicap’, for them to overcome from the start of the event. This is done when the selection in focus is the perceived favourite to win.

On the other hand, the opposite team or player in the bet will be given a virtual head start. Essentially, if your selection’s result or score is better than the opposition after the handicap is taken into account, then your selection is a winner.

The idea is that a handicap market evens-up markets so that a supposed inferior selection has a great chance of winning the event, at least virtually and for betting purposes.

Handicaps work particularly well within rugby for example, as the draw is unlikely. When a team is 1/14 there is no point in backing them to win. Even with the opposition a tempting 8/1, you know an actual victory for them is highly unlikely.

On the handicap however, -16 may be offered on the favourite at 10/11 with +16 offered on the underdogs at around the same price. This evens things right up.

If you think the favourites will destroy the opposition by more than 16 points, then now you can get 10/11 rather than 1/14. If you think the opposition will put up a big fight albeit in defeat, then you can back them at +16 and celebrate a win even if the team loses by 15 points or less.

What Does +1 and -1 Mean in Football Betting?

With the basics explained, lets look at a football example:

Handicap Betting Example

In this football match Newcastle are favourites to win on the match betting coupon. Some punters may think that they are set for a very good day, and so are unwilling to accept odds-on about them and want to increase the odds.

If you thought Newcastle were capable of winning this match by at least 2 goals, then you could take ‘Newcastle -1’ at 15/8.

This means Newcastle will start with a theoretical one-goal disadvantage. Should they lose or draw, the bet is a loser anyway as normal. If they win by one goal, the bet is also a loser. If however they win by two goals or more, then this handicap bet is a winner.

It’s important to remember that basic handicap betting differs from Asian Handicap Betting, though we have info on this in another article.

Handicap Betting Strategy

Man Deep in Thought With Smartphone

Within British sports betting especially, handicap betting is still all too often overlooked as a way of eking out some good value.

As the chief betting sports are horse racing and football, handicap betting is not used as often as it should be. Around a quarter of all football games end in a draw, which makes 1X2 match betting decent value on the whole, while even fancied horses can go off at 10/1.

To use handicap betting to your advantage, with a main focus on football this time, remember these points:

Do Your Research

A heavy favourite may be so because they have an amazing win record, such as Manchester City in the Premier League, though they may not always win by many goals.

Remember in this case that the opposition therefore may be good value, but only on the handicap as losing is the most likely outcome, but perhaps in a hard-fought one-goal defeat. Researching results carefully will help, rather than simply being influenced by 1/3 odds.

You should also research carefully how teams compare home and away. Despite the sports science and the first-class travel, to this day many football teams’ results home and away are chalk and cheese.

If you see a team that is above its opposition in the league but has a very soft underbelly away from home, then the home side may be very good value on the handicap.

Don’t Get Carried Away

Some massive odds can be advertised for +/- 3 and +/- 4 on the handicap betting. It is very tricky however to know for sure when a football team, no matter how good they are, is going to win by 4 or 5 goals and in fact it’s very rare they do so.

Stick to the lower end of the handicap and squeeze out the value on +/- 1 and, at a push, +/- 2.

Remember the Importance of Big-Hitters

Another thing that has not changed in football, despite the large squads being rotated, is the often heavy reliance on goal scorers.

Even top teams rely on their high-scoring no.9. If the underdog is missing their top scorer and the favoured team has a big-hitter up front, then -2 could be good value. If the opposite happens, backing the underdog at +1 or even +2 sometimes can be good value.

Remember That You Don’t Need to Win the Game

Celebrating a sporting result only when you win is for a team’s supports, not serious punters.

Too often in handicap betting, players stick to the minus numbers as there is an in-built need in us to see the team we’ve backed win the game.

The smart play, especially within sports such as rugby and American football, is to back the underdog when you think they are a little better than the spread makes out.

Your team may go on to lose the game, but you are still left celebrating as long as you’ve covered the handicap.