Pretty much anything in sport can be bet on, from a simple result to the number of goals or points scored, the players who score them or the times when they do so. If there are at least two possible outcomes, people will always wish to speculate on which is going to happen, and provided there is a bookmaker available to facilitate the action, that speculation will attract a flow of money.
Most punters who like an occasional flutter are familiar with the fixed odds or home-draw-away football betting market. The term “fixed odds” dates back to the 19th century and the origins of football gambling. During the 1880s, newspapers started offering fixed prizes for correctly predicting the outcome of games. These prizes became known as “fixed odds”. More recently, UK high street bookmakers would publish a long list of football matches and their accompanying betting odds for the coming weekend several days in advance. This was an expensive process and could not be repeated if mistakes were made or if the bookmaker needed to alter a price in response to customer demand. Consequently, once the list went to print, the betting odds became fixed. In the age of the Internet, a bookmaker has far more flexibility in this respect, and can change a price to manage his projected liability and profit margin. Nevertheless, the term has stuck, although it is perhaps now more synonymous with any market where the possible bets offered are for absolute win, draw or lose outcomes for the teams or players involved.
Football fixed odds are sometimes presented as 1X2, with 1 denoting the side playing at home, 2 the side playing away from home and X the draw. Again, this representation comes from the bookmaker’s printed coupons. Other sports that feature 1X2 betting include test match cricket and European ice hockey. Contests where there is no possibility of a draw, as in tennis, snooker and darts (with the exception of Premier League snooker and darts) feature just 12 betting (with the X omitted). 12 fixed odds are also popular for events where the likelihood of the draw is very low, for example in rugby and one day cricket, although some bookmakers may still prefer to offer a draw.
In America, things are done slightly differently. Straight prices for sides or players in a contest to win are called money line wagers. In fact, money line prices are really just the same as fractional or decimal odds, in that they present information about how much money is risked (or laid) and how much money can be won. Money lines can be positive or negative. A positive money line represents how many dollars you would win if you bet $100. For example, if the money line was +200, you would win $200 for a $100 wager. This is basically the same as 2/1 in fractional notation or 3.00 in decimal notation. A negative money line represents how many dollars you would need to bet to win $100. So, a money line of -300 means that you need to bet $300 to win $100. This is the same as 1/3 (fractional) or 1.33 (decimal).
Money lines are common where there is little possibility of a tied result. Where there is a draw a money line wager will be lost unless a price is specifically offered for a draw as in soccer, in which case it would probably be called 1X2 anyway. A money line bet, then, is simply a straight either/or bet. Americans dislike draws and will just play overtime in most of their sports until they find a winner. Money line odds are common for all the major US sports, although for NBA basketball and NFL football where a lot of points can be scored, punters usually prefer betting with a handicap. The handicap can not only eliminate the need for a draw option, it can also allow punters to back losing teams or players, provided of course they don’t lose my more than the size of the quoted handicap. Essentially, the aim of the handicap is to create a more evenly balanced market where the chance of either possible outcome resulting in a winner, and hence the odds, is more or less the same. Let’s see how this works.
Like fixed odds and money line, handicap bets also have a quoted price on each participant of a contest, including where necessary the draw option. However, the odds are such that they are similar for each participant, and this is achieved by giving one of them an artificial head start, known as the handicap. The favourite is indicated by a negative handicap and the underdog by a positive one. One advantage of a handicap bet is that one does not actually have to correctly forecast the winning player or side. If John Isner is given a +1.5 sets handicap against Andy Murray, then so long as he does not lose the match by more than 1 set, anyone betting this handicap would win their bet. By using a handicap of +1.5 sets instead of 1 set, we eliminate the possibility of a draw, since there is no such thing as a half-set in tennis. Furthermore, game handicaps in tennis offer the strange peculiarity of allowing a punter to back a player with a negative handicap and still win the bet despite the player losing the match, so long as the number of total games he has won covers the handicap. For example, we might back Murray at -3.5 games to beat Isner. Isner then wins the match 0-6, 7-6, 7-6, but since Murray has scored 4 more games than Isner, our bet is still a winner because we have covered the negative handicap.
Some handicaps, however, do use integer values, like -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 etc. What happens, then, if the handicap we have bet exactly covers the difference in the score line? Much depends on the type of handicap market. There are three main types: Asian handicap, European handicap and American point-spread.
An Asian handicap bet is a special type of football handicap bet originally popular in the Far East which allows not only full and half-ball handicaps but also quarter-ball and three-quarter-ball handicaps as well. This may not seem to make a lot of sense, since any team that beats (or loses to) a half-goal start will also beat (or lose to) a quarter-goal start. However, there is more to quarter-ball and three-quarter-ball betting than meets the eye. As for any form of handicap betting, the underdog will be awarded a head start of a handicap, and the favourite will concede a handicap of the same magnitude. For the purposes of bet settlement, the predetermined number of the handicap will be added to the real number of goals. When half-ball handicaps are applied, bets can only be won or lost, as for the Isner v Murray example – a tied bet is impossible. Where no handicap is awarded (+0 handicap), a drawn game will result in a tied bet and returned stakes. If either side win, bets backing that team will win, whilst bets backing the other will lose. Similar rules apply for -1/+1 and -2/+2 Asian handicaps.
If, however, the handicap is set at -0.25/+0.25 (or -0.75/+0.75, -1.25/+1.25, -1.75/+1.75 etc) then any bets on the match will be settled as a split stakes bet, with half the stake applied to the handicap one quarter of a goal less than the quote and half the stake applied to the handicap one quarter of a goal more. For example, with a -0.25 handicap, half the stakes will be settled as though the handicap was 0, and half as though the handicap was -0.5. It follows, then, that if a team beats a quarter-ball handicap by 0.5 or more, the backer will win the whole bet; if they lose by 0.5 or more, the backer will lose the whole bet. It is only when the result falls within a quarter of the handicap that the result is different from a conventional handicap. When a team beats the handicap by 0.25, the backer receives half stakes on a win, and half returned. For example, if £10 were staked at odds of 1.95 for Manchester United to beat Chelsea with a +0.25 goal Asian handicap, a drawn game would return a profit of £4.75 (or total return of £14.75). Half the original stake wins at odds of 1.95 whilst the other half is returned as a tie. This is known as a “half-win”. When a team fails to beat the handicap by 0.25, the backer will lose half his stake, the other half returned as a tie. This is known as a “half-loss”. In this example, a £10 bet placed on Manchester United with a -0.25 Asian handicap would see a loss of £5 if the match was drawn.
With European handicaps, no betting ties are possible at all. Common in sports like football, rugby and test match cricket, and where a handicap on the draw is also offered, whole-ball or integer handicap bets that are exactly covered by the final score will be lost. For example, if Manchester City were priced 2.00 to beat Wigan with a -1 European handicap, they would need to win the game by at least 2 goals for such a bet to be profitable. Essentially, then, a -1 goal European handicap is the same as a -1.5 goal Asian handicap, a -2 goal handicap equivalent to a -2.5 Asian handicap and so on.
As for football Asian handicaps and win-or-lose handicaps in other 2-player sports, American point spreads, typical in basketball and American football, aim to balance the chances for either side to win the bet. Like Asian handicaps, when scores are level after accounting for the handicap the stake is refunded, which American punters know as a “push”. Clearly pushes will only occur when handicaps are integer values. No push result is possible for half-point handicaps. For the lower scoring games of ice hockey and baseball, these handicaps are often known as the puck-line and run-line respectively.
Similar handicap markets exist for those punters who wish to bet on the total score of a sporting contest, or even the total score of one of the teams or players. Such markets include total sets and games handicaps in tennis, total goals in football, total frames in snooker, total points in basketball, total runs in cricket and baseball and so on. Generally speaking the settlement of these handicaps will be treated like the full-ball and half-ball Asian handicaps and the American spreads, with betting ties for handicaps covered exactly. A few UK bookmakers might declare such handicap ties as losers, particularly if they have also offered a draw option. If in doubt about what’s being offered by the bookmaker, make sure you read their rule book.