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What is European Handicap – Betting Strategy Explained

Published on June 24, 2022
Updated on November 14, 2023
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What is European Handicap - Betting Strategy Explained

Even in the world’s most competitive, tightly contested sports leagues, there is typically a sizeable gap in quality between the genuine trophy contenders and the also-rans. As a result, when it comes to betting on the action, simply picking a winner via the money line may not be the most appealing option. Something more creative is needed to drive more attractive odds.

Enter handicap betting, which poses two key questions: i) who will win, and ii) by how much?

Here, we are going to focus on European Handicap (aka Three-Way Handicap), one of two prominent types of handicap betting, and take a closer look at what you need to know before getting involved in the action.

How does the European Handicap Work?

European Handicap Structure Explained

In a nutshell, European Handicap – most typically seen in football betting across the major leagues – provides three possible bets for picking the outcome of a single match (just as the money line does). The oddsmakers will set handicaps for the teams involved that reflect the difference in quality, form and motivation.

As a bettor, you can:

  1. Pick the favourite with a handicap disadvantage – here, the favourite has to win by more than the margin defined in the betting line, or you can think of it as the favourite starting the game already trailing by a defined number of goals
  2. Pick the underdog with a handicap advantage – in addition to potentially winning, the underdog can also lose, but by less than the margin defined in the betting line (essentially, they start the game already leading by a certain number of goals)
  3. Pick the draw/tie, which requires hitting the handicap margin of victory/defeat exactly

Check out the examples below for a clearer picture of European Handicap.

European Handicap Examples and Analysis

Take an English Premier League match as an example – the type of fixture where European Handicap betting is readily available. High-flying Manchester City, with a squad full of international stars, would be clear favourites to beat lowly Brighton, prompting a City money line that offers little value. But European Handicap opens up a more interesting path to backing City for a comfortable win.

The oddsmakers might choose to set a City win by 2 goals as one of the betting lines. So City to win -2 goals might appear at 11/10 (2.10) odds, with a similar line for Brighton to “win” (i.e. avoid defeat) by +2 goals, and the draw listed at 3/1 (4.00) odds.

(Note: for football games, there are often betting lines for scenarios of +/- 1, +/- 2, +/-3 and +/-4 goals, providing different levels of value depending on how you see the action unfolding and how one-sided you expect the scoreline to be.)

In our example above, remember, if you are backing City -2 under European Handicap, you require Pep Guardiola’s men to win this game by three goals. A 2-0 win is no good to you, as that is considered a draw under this type of bet.

Let’s try a slightly different one to check that you are following along. Bayern Munich are expected to beat Mainz in the German Bundesliga, and you foresee a goal-fest for Robert Lewandowski and his team-mates so you jump on long odds of 10/1 (11.00) for Bayern -3. Lewandowksi nets a hat-trick and Bayern win 5-2. So, the big question, do you win the bet?

If you said “No”, you are correct! A 5-2 scoreline means a three-goal margin of victory and, with a -3 European Handicap line, that is a draw. Had you selected the line of Bayern -2, that would have been a winning bet

European vs Asian Handicap – Key Differences

The most glaring difference is the inclusion of the draw option in the betting line, taking the possible outcomes of the bet from two to three.

In Asian Handicap, you might still see a line of City (-2) vs. Brighton (+2), but these are the only two possible outcomes that result in winning bets. Meanwhile, a 2-0 victory for City would result in a “push” (i.e. you get your stake back). The nature of Asian Handicap, with its simple betting line, makes it versatile to apply to sports like basketball where the high scores involved would make a draw option (under European Handicap) far less viable. Similarly, Asian Handicap is frequently applied to baseball, rugby and tennis as well as the NFL.

As noted above, unlike Asian Handicap, European Handicap does put a draw into the equation, thus removing the chance of a “push”. That forces a bettor to be particularly precise with their selection, though the favourable odds that are typically attached to the draw can be appealing.

Ultimately, it comes down to preference. For some, weighing up three different options may overcomplicate matters compared to the more streamlined Asian Handicap (that said, Asian Handicap quickly becomes more complex if you explore half-ball, quarter-ball options – a conversation for another day). For others, European Handicap spells opportunity.

When to Consider Betting on European Handicap?

What to watch out for when betting on European Handicap?

While the money line or winner betting is likely the best place to start when the two teams are well matched, European Handicap is a path to consider when the outcome appears a formality and it is simply a question of the margin of victory. For football, that could mean any top four team taking on an opponent that is battling relegation, or in cup competitions where the gulf in quality can be even more dramatic.

In many cases, a bettor will likely be debating how much of a handicap disadvantage to take on, but do not overlook the potential in latching onto the other end of the betting line in certain situations. Across all sports, especially team sports, the “trap game” looms large – a seemingly simple fixture that falls on the schedule just prior to a much bigger, higher stakes game. After all, no matter how many times a manager or coach pleads for peak focus, it tends to be human nature to ease off against inferior opponents while eyeing a more meaningful game on the horizon. A +2 line for an underdog can be worth a look when favourable circumstances present themselves.

Keep in mind too that, without the option of a safety net “push”, a bettor has a more daunting tightrope to walk. One goal can turn victory into defeat, so be prepared for a nail-biting ride all the way to the final whistle.

Beyond these specifics, here are a few general reminders about other factors to build into your preparation when betting on football:

  • Injuries: With relentless schedules across most major sports, including football, keep a close eye on injury updates, right down to the hour prior to the game. One key absence can be enough to derail your bet. The task of monitoring team news becomes even trickier when you factor in the growing focus on rest (or “load management”) and squad rotation, which means certain players may sit out games without much notice. On the flip side, sometimes fresher legs – even in the form of backup players – provide the ideal spark to set up a high-scoring outing.
  • Playing away from home: With fans gradually returning to stadiums, even in reduced numbers, look out for home field advantage to start to matter again from a betting perspective. Noisy crowds can have a significant effect, unnerving visiting teams and limiting their ability to communicate effectively during the game. Even the very best teams are not immune to the pressure that this can create.
  • Weather: Don’t forget to add a quick weather check as part of the process. This matters for some sports more than others, but rainy, windy or snowy conditions might sway your decision-making when determining the margin of victory for the favourite. In some circumstances, challenging weather can further level the playing field and give the underdog a real boost in keeping the score close.
  • Coast to coast travel: This is more relevant to hockey and baseball, where teams often have to take late-night flights to go from the East Coast to the West Coast, or vice versa. Travel can have a draining effect and is worth weighing up when making your pick. In the football world, the closest parallel is probably the European travel for teams in the Champions League or Europa League, or international action, where flights and jet lag can take a toll on players.
  • Schedule quirks: From time to time, the effects of the schedule can put one team on the back foot. Monitor whether either team has been through a draining week of travel or a congested fixture list. Tired bodies and minds can be tough to overcome, especially in the case of a favourite that you are counting on for a big performance.

How Widely is European Handicap Used?

As mentioned, European Handicap is largely applied for betting on football across the various leagues around the world, including the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, the Bundesliga and Major League Soccer, plus the World Cup, European Championships, and Copa America. You will find this kind of football bet as a popular market on most online betting sites.

European Handicap could be viewed as a feasible option for other sports with scorelines similar to football. While basketball and NFL are awkward fits, it is not uncommon for ice hockey and baseball games to end with scorelines of 2-1, 3-1 or 4-2, on par with football.

That said, a quick glance at popular betting sites confirms that the Asian Handicap is still the oddsmakers’ handicap of choice for baseball and ice hockey – perhaps, in part, due to the greater variance in victory margins and the difficulty in creating any appeal for bettors to wager on the draw. Baseball games, in particular, could range from a low-scoring 1-0 battle between two ace pitchers to a thumping in the neighbourhood of 15-2 or 14-1. For now, football certainly leads the way for European Handicap betting.


European Handicap brings a unique element to sports betting and is a key area to understand within the betting world – even if you bet it rarely, it is helpful to know what to look out for, especially if you frequently bet on football.

Again, when the two teams are evenly matched, you will likely take a different path to placing your bet, but, when the clash is of David vs. Goliath proportions, you can count on European Handicap to serve up a rooting interest, even in the most lopsided of matchups!

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