Handicap betting: USA’s most popular sports bet explained

Basketball is one of the globe’s fastest growing sports, demonstrated in various ways. You can see many overseas players playing for NBA clubs. 

From Europe producing the likes of Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo to Africa being represented in the NBA by Cameroonians Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam.

It is a truly worldwide game, played throughout the planet and provides smart bettors with superb opportunities to get great value when putting stakes on basketball games. Hundreds of markets are available to bet on, such as total points scored, margin of victory and the winner of each quarter.

However, here, we’ll look at the most popular bet on basketball games, the handicap wager.

“Fortune Brainstorm Health” by Brainstorm Health (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The handicap bet is often referred to as a point spread but also goes by betting line. In basic terms, a basketball point spread is the forecasted final point margin that the bookie believes one team has over another.

It can work in two different ways: the perceived underdog is given a hypothetical points bonus before the game. Alternatively, the favourite has points deducted from their estimated final tally. The underdog is given a helping hand, whereas the favourite needs to overcome their opponent by a larger margin than without their handicap.

All this may sound terribly confusing and it may seem like it will some getting your head around, but here’s a simple example using real teams and real handicap examples.

For instance, in a match-up between the Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons, there was a handicap including overtime bet available in the NBA betting markets, in which the Atlanta Hawks had to win with six or more points (-5.5) or the Lakers weren’t to lose by more than 5 points (+5.5).

This means if you bet on Atlanta with the handicap and they win by, let’s say, 8 points – you win. Alternatively, if the Pistons lose by just one point, you win despite the team losing, thanks to the handicap. Handicap betting is so popular as it provides tremendous value when compared to the standard win/loss market. The US’s favourite type of bet for decades, with the betting floodgates opening recently expect to be seeing this sort of bet more and more.

“Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks” by Erik Drost (CC BY 2.0)

Last year, a Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for states to legalize sports gambling or relax existing laws. For the last 40 years, the NBA has been leading the way in welcoming this ruling.

This is expected to create a new boom in sports gaming, with NBA teams ready for a betting windfall and new, lucrative sponsors. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been a big supporter of loosening sports betting regulation and the league is set to benefit greatly, financially, from its introduction.

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