Handicap betting – also referred to as the ‘spread’ – involves giving one selection a virtual deficit (a handicap) to overcome at the start of an event.
This type of betting line is found in nearly every sport and is predominantly offered to “even up” a market by accounting for the disparity in quality between the two sides. Sportsbooks do this in order to receive a more even betting volume on each side.
It is similar to the real-life handicapping of amateur golfers, which allows a less-talented player to compete against a better opponent by allowing them more strokes to complete a hole. Or handicapping successful horses by making them carry more weight during a race.
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What does .5 suffix mean?
Tacking on .5 to a betting handicap ensures every bet will have a winner or loser. Because you can't score .5 points in Rugby it is impossible the final score will land exactly on the spread resulting in a push ( a tie resulting in the initial stake being returned to the bettor).
So, let’s look at the final game of the 2019 Six Nations – England vs Scotland.
Let’s say England, as the side with home-field advantage, was the favorite to win the game. And bookmakers decided that they were 10.5-point favorites – that means they expect England to win the game by at least 11 points (note that .5 suffix that takes a draw out of the equation for bookmakers).
They have effectively given anyone who bets on Scotland to win 10 free points before the game has even started. England would have to overcome that starting ‘deficit’ for the bookmaker to win.
Punters looking at those numbers may decide that Scotland, with that hypothetical +10-point advantage, would be worth a bet.
If Scotland then won – or lost by fewer than 10 points – the bookmaker would pay out. If, however, England won the game by 11 points or more as the bookmaker predicted, they get to keep the bettors' money.
As it turned out, the game ended in a 38-38 tie. Good news for the hypothetical bookmakers in this example