Handicap Betting in Football: How Do Goal Handicaps (And Asian Handicaps) Work?

Many Footballs

Football handicap betting allows punters to even the market on specific games to allow for a fairer price. A handicap gives one team a theoretical head start or disadvantage to even things up a little, and this handicap is applied at the end of the game after the final score is in.

It’s a bet type more commonly found in matches where one team is a short priced favourite over their opponent. The handicap can range from 1 goal upwards and the odds on the outcome of the match will reflect the handicap awarded.

Earlier round FA Cup games are a good example of when the creative use o a handicap might come in useful, as you will sometimes see Premier League sides up against teams a division or two below.

How Football Handicapping Works

Arsenal v Norwich
Credit: Wonker Flickr

At the start of each game a bookmaker will set a price for each team to win the match. This line will reflect the probability of that team winning, so the more likely a team is to win the shorter the price will be, and the less likely the longer the price will be.

Games with short priced favourites are less attractive to the majority of punters as they aren’t getting as much value from their bet. If a team was priced at just 1/2 (1.50) to win a game then a £10 bet would only return £5; not that appealing. But by putting a handicap on that team the odds will lengthen significantly.

When teams are at such a short price it’s an indication that they should win by a comfortable margin. The handicap reduces this margin somewhat resulting in a better price for that team to win.

The handicapping will be displayed as a certain number of goals such as +1.0 or -1.0 meaning the team starts with a 1 goal lead or trails by 1 goal before the game starts. At the end of the game you will need to add or subtract the handicap number to get the ‘true’ handicapped result and find out if your bet wins or not.


Handicapped bets may look something like this:

Arsenal (-1.0) 8/13, 1.62 v Norwich (+1.0) Evens, 2.00

The above example shows that Arsenal have been given a -1.0 handicap, meaning they basically start the game 1 goal down. Norwich has been given a +1.0 handicap meaning they start the game 1 goal up.

If you backed Arsenal on this handicap, then to win the bet you would need them to win by 2 clear goals or more. If you backed Norwich to win then you would need the game to either end in a draw or any Norwich victory.

So let’s say the game finished 2-2 and you had backed Arsenal at -1.0 at odds of 8/13 (1.62). Your bet would then subtract 1 goal from the Arsenal tally meaning the handicapped score would equal 2-1 to Norwich and you would lose. If the game had finished 3-1 then after handicap the result would be 2-1 to Arsenal and you would win. If the game finished 3-2 to Arsenal then the handicapped result would be 2-2 meaning you would lose as you backed an Arsenal victory after the handicap was applied.

It’s worth noting at this point that if the game finishes a draw after the handicap some bookmakers do refund bets, but you will need to check the terms and conditions for each bookmaker prior to betting as they will vary.

Asian Handicap Betting

Man Utd v Southampton
Credit: Adfern Wiki

Another way of handling the possibility of a draw in handicap betting is to eliminate it all together. This is what happens in Asian handicap’s and it is done in one of two ways.

  1. Half goals – Instead of adding or taking away whole goals, such as +/- 1, 2, 3 goals, you take away half goals, or goals and a half such as +/- 0.5, 1.5, 2.5 goals
  2. Draw no bet – Alternatively, you can still add or take away whole goals but where the handicapped result is a draw, this results in a push or void bet, with your stake refunded

Normal handicap betting can sometimes be known as 3-way handicap betting as there can be three possible outcomes, home win, away win or draw. With Asian handicaps there can only be two outcomes, a home or away win. In the case of half goal betting, bets will be settled as a winner or a loser on this basis. In the case of full goal betting, the bet will either be a home win, an away win or a void bet.

There is a third bet type when it comes to Asian handicaps, quarter goal betting. This is essentially a combination of a full goal handicap and a half goal handicap. Next we’ll run through all three Asian handicap bet types in more detail with some examples of how this works.

Half Goal Betting

Half goal betting will be written as the team name followed by plus or minus 0.5, 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 and so on. As a team can’t score a half goal, there will always be winner for one team or the other when this is applied.

As an example of how this works, we’ll take the result from the match between Manchester United and Southampton shown in the image above, which was played in August of 2016. This match took place at Old Trafford, so Manchester United were the home team, and it was the Red Devils who won this match 2-0. The table below show a series of betting scenarios, and whether the bet would have been a winner or a loser in this case.

Handicap Manchester United Southampton
+0.5 Winner Loser
+1.5 Winner Loser
+2.5 Winner Winner
-0.5 Winner Loser
-1.5 Winner Loser
-2.5 Loser Loser

Full Goal Betting (Draw No Bet)

Full goal betting, such as plus or minus 1, 2, 3 goals, works exactly the same in Asian handicapping as normal handicapping with the exception of the draw which you cannot bet on. Instead, if there is a draw, the bet is made void and your stake would be returned. This type of wager is termed draw not bet, with the voiding of the bet when this happens known as a ‘push’.

Taking the same match in the above example, where Manchester United beat Southampton 2-0, lets see how a series of different bets would work out.

Handicap Manchester United Southampton
0 Winner Loser
+1 Winner Loser
+2 Winner Push
+3 Winner Winner
-1 Winner Loser
-2 Push Loser
-3 Loser Loser

Quarter Goal/Split Betting

This is probably the most confusing Asian handicap bet type but in reality it is simply a combination of the above two bet types bundled into one wager. These ‘quarter’ goal or split bets can also be three quarter goals which you will see written as +/- 0.25, 0.75, 1.25, 1.75, 2.25 and so on.

These bets are in fact two sperate bets, where you are betting on the half goal and full goal points and either side of that quarter goal in equal part. The table below outlines how these bets are split for the most popular markets.

Handicap 1st Part 2nd Part
+0.25 0 +0.5
+0.75 +0.5 +1
+1.25 +1 +1.5
+1.75 +1.5 +2
+2.25 +2 +2.5
-0.25 0 -0.5
-0.75 -0.5 -1
-1.25 -1 -1.5
-1.75 -1.5 -2
-2.25 -2 -2.5

Looking at the +0.25 goal handicap mark, we can see that effectively your stake is split into two with half going on the 0 handicap and half on the 0.5 goal handicap. In this example, half your stake will be void if the game is a draw (the push 0 handicap) and half will be a winner if the game is drawn (the +0.5 goal handicap).

Sometimes, to keep things simple, your bookmaker will show the quarter goal Asian handicaps in their full form. So, +2.75 will be written as (+2.5, +3) for example.

Returning back to our Manchester United 2-0 Southampton result, we can again break this down into how different Asian handicaps would be settled.

Handicap Manchester United Southampton
1st Part 2nd Part 1st Part 2nd Part
+0.25 0, Winner +0.5 Winner 0, Loser +0.5 Loser
+0.75 +0.5, Winner +1, Winner +0.5, Loser +1, Loser
+1.25 +1, Winner +1.5, Winner +1, Loser +1.5, Loser
+1.75 +1.5, Winner +2, Winner +1.5, Loser +2, Push
+2.25 +2, Winner +2.5, Winner +2, Push +2.5, Winner
+2.75 +2.5, Winner +3, Winner +2.5, Winner +3, Winner
-0.25 0, Winner -0.5, Winner 0, Loser -0.5, Loser
-0.75 -0.5, Winner -1, Winner -0.5, Loser -1, Loser
-1.25 -1, Winner -1.5, Winner -1, Loser -1.5, Loser
-1.75 -1.5, Winner -2, Push -1.5, Loser -2, Loser
-2.25 -2, Push -2.5, Loser -2, Loser -2.5, Loser
-2.75 -2.5, Loser -3, Loser -2.5, Loser -3, Loser