What is rugby handicap betting, and how does it work?

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 market is predominantly offered to “even up” a market so even betting on a side deemed “inferior” to it’s opponent has a greater chance of winning.

It is similar to the real-life handicapping of amateur golfers, that 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.

In rugby, one team is handicapped by the bookmakers so that they have a virtual disadvantage compared to their opponent.

What does .5 suffix mean?

A useful note: If a handicap has a .5 suffix, it means there is no pay out if, after taking the handicap into account, the two scores of the two teams are the same. In effect, there is no draw, or tie, option. It’s a handy tactic that weights the odds slightly in the bookmakers’ favor.

So, let’s look at the final game of the 2019 Six Nations – England vs Scotland.

Let’s say that England, as the side with home advantage, were favorites 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 punters’ money.

As it turned out, the game ended in a 38-38 tie. Good news for the hypothetical bookmakers in this example, as they had decided that a draw was not an option.

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