What is a Handicap?
In sports and in sports betting, a handicap is a penalty applied against the stronger competitor, so that they might match the abilities of the weaker competitor more closely. For example, a horse racing handicap is a physical weight added to the better horses during their run. Handicaps are common in betting, where they are more likely to be theoretical. Players make bets which are adjusted for the handicap (usually as set by the bookmaker), and bet on the weaker team’s margin of victory against their opponents with the handicap taken into account.
Handicap bets are commonly seen in sports betting, particularly in straight heads-up matches such as football games. Where one team is better than the other and likely to win, the bookmaker will struggle to attract interest in bets for the weaker team. However, a handicap bet assumes that the playing field has been leveled, by adding hypothetical points to the weak team’s final score or by taking points from the stronger team’s result. Players then bet over or under the handicap – meaning that their bet covers the victory of the underdog team, but also the margin of their victory.
Handicaps are also found in horse racing, where they account for more than half of all races run. In a handicap race, the horses are raced against other animals at all skill and form levels. The competitors are assessed for their ability in prior contests and are assigned a rating. During the race, the highest rated horses will be hindered by additional weight. This is to ensure that all horses have an equal chance of winning or, at least, a most likely chance. This means a horse with typically long odds and a low chance could snatch the win – giving gamblers the chance to land a huge win. As well as making straight bets on these handicap races, players can bet on the handicap spread itself, just as they do in sports betting.