What is a Three-Way Handicap in Hockey and NHL Betting?

In most sports betting situations, there are only two outcomes: a winner and a loser. However, most bettors may not be aware of a different scenario, the “three-way handicap.” The three-way handicap is also called the “Asian handicap” in some betting circles. 

When using a three-way handicap in hockey betting and NHL betting, bettors can back either of the teams competing, or they can bet on the draw at the end of regulation. 

How Does the Three-Way Handicap Work?

The three-way handicap is used to provide an alternative winning formula for betting on the underdog team (in other words, the team sportsbooks determine less likely to win). It provides more balance for bettors in that betting on the underdog can win in two of three ways: outright or via the draw.

For example: if the New York Islanders are hosting the Los Angeles Kings, most betting conventions would either bet on the moneyline (picking a winner outright) or on the puck line (margin of victory similar to betting against the spread in other sports). As the home team, sportsbooks will likely list the Islanders as favorites. 

When setting lines for the three-way handicap, sportsbooks will “spot” the underdog a goal. In this example, with the Islanders as the favorite, sportsbooks would treat the score of the game as “Kings 1, Islanders 0” before either team takes the ice.

With the three-way handicap, there are three possible outcomes:

  • OUTCOME A: the underdog (+1 goal) wins outright
  • OUTCOME B: the underdog (+1 goal) and the favorite are tied at the end of regulation
  • OUTCOME C: the favorite (-1 goal) has a two-goal (or more) lead at the end of regulation

Bettors are left to choose which of those three outcomes will happen. 

Occasionally, if the favorite is a vastly stronger team, the handicap could be two goals (or more) instead of just one. This would most likely occur at an Olympic level but could happen at other levels if there are significant injuries that would push the line. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Three-Way Handicapping

Like most other forms of sports betting, more research about the teams will generally lead to more success: has either team been on an extended road trip entering the game? Who are the starting goalies for each club? What do the injury reports say? All are important base-level questions to answer before placing any hockey bet, but especially for three-way handicapping.

Three-way handicapping is beneficial because it can often be used in conjunction with other betting strategies, either as a hedge on the same game or as part of a multi-game parlay. If the teams are evenly matched, betting on the underdog could increase your chances of winning by betting on Option A or B from the above example. If the favorite is a significantly better team, betting Option C is the way to go.

Pairing a three-way handicapped bet with a moneyline or puck line bet is a way to multiply winnings if you’re confident in the outcome or to hedge losses if you’re less certain.

Another key advantage is that betting on the draw is still a reasonable betting option if you haven’t done enough research. Betting on the draw means you trust the bookmakers (who in general know much more than the average bettor) to have set an even line and accurately assessed the strengths and weaknesses of each team. Oddsmakers adjust lines to keep roughly an even percentage of bets on each outcome, but the lines will change less frequently for a three-way handicap bet because the draw will always be an option.

However, one big disadvantage to three-way handicap betting is that it can be tougher to find on online sportsbooks. Because hockey betting does not have the same prevalence and popularity as NFL, NBA, or MLB betting, most sportsbooks stick to more traditional betting options (moneyline, puck line, over/under totals, etc.) for hockey betting. 

Most three-way handicapping will require you to be at a physical sportsbook location rather than through an app or on a website.

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