A parlay bet is a popular form of sports wagering most gamblers are familiar with. In case you’re not, this bet is rather easy to understand. A parlay is simply a combo bet where, rather than betting several teams individually, you group them into a single wager. Using this option, the payout is greater and the risk is less, but you need all teams selected to win.
To give an example, say you’re interested this week in betting Jets -4, Patriots +3, Dolphins +2.5 and Colts -7. If your bankroll is limited to just $100, using straight wagers you’d make four separate bets of $25 to win $22.73. If you we’re feeling both lucky and in the mood to gamble, you might instead bet them all together as a four team parlay. Under the parlay option, the stakes would be $100 to win at least $1,000. To win, you’ll need to go 4-0; if one or more games push while all others win, the payout is reduced, and with any other outcome, the bet is a loss.
Parlay bets can be very tempting as they can offer some big payouts. See a recent parlay Kevin made at 5Dimes.eu and cashed in on!
Are Parlays Sucker Bets?
There is a general misconception in sports betting that all parlays are sucker bets. This is simply because most sports bettors are not familiar with how they work, or how to bet them properly. In this article, I’ll address parlay betting strategies, but first let’s look at parlay odds and how they are calculated.
The parlay odds at most Las Vegas sportsbooks are:
2 teams 2.6 to 1
3 teams 6-1
4 teams 10-1
5 teams 20-1
6 teams 40-1
7 teams 80-1
8 teams 150-1
Online the odds are similar, though some sites such as 5Dimes and BetOnline offer better odds starting with three teams and up. What’s important to note is that these are fixed odds based on a 50/50 wagering proposition. If a spread is listed at Home Team -7 / Road Team +7 this is 50/50 proposition. If, instead, the spread was Home Team -7 -105 / Road Team +7 -115, this is no longer a 50/50 proposition, and the payout will be calculated using a method bookmakers refer to as “true odds”. I’ll cover that later in this article, but first let’s take a moment to understand where fixed parlay odds are derived from.
Let’s say you decide for the next eight weeks you’re going to bet the Monday night football game, starting with a $1.00 bankroll and betting your entire bankroll each week until you go 8-0 or bust. The potential win is as follows:
Week 1: $1.00 to win $0.91: If win total profit = $0.91 (Bankroll =$1.91)
Week 2: $1.91 to win $1.74: If win total profit = $2.65 (Bankroll =$3.65)
Week 3: $3.65 to win $3.32: If win total profit = $5.97 (Bankroll =$6.97)
Week 4: $6.97 to win $6.34: If win total profit = $12.31 (Bankroll =$13.31)
Week 5: $13.31 to win $12.10: If win total profit = $24.41 (Bankroll =$25.41)
Week 6: $25.41 to win $23.10: If win total profit = $46.51 (Bankroll =$47.51)
Week 7: $47.51 to win $43.19: If win total profit = $89.70 (Bankroll =$90.70)
Week 8: $90.70 to win $82.45: If win total profit = $172.15 (Bankroll =$173.15)
The reason parlays are often sucker bets shows up in this middle column. Had you bet these in an 8 team parlay, you’d only get paid 150 to one. Essentially, a parlay is no different than betting all in each time, only parlays generally pay much worse. However, you’ll notice the odds are not poor until you get to four teams, where the sportsbook has a whopping 31.25% advantage. Two teams pay a smidgen worse than the manual parlay (all in each time) option, where three team parlays pay a smidgen better. Rarely ever is a 2 or 3 team parlay a true suckers bet.
Getting the Best Parlay Odds
As I mentioned earlier, fixed parlay odds vary greatly between online sportsbooks. Here is some info on which sites offer the best fixed parlay odds:
3 Team Parlay: BetOnline.ag pays +650 which is by far the best three team parlay odds in the industry. In fact, when betting with this option, it is the same as getting reduced juice better than -105 on each individual bet. At other sites the payouts range from +595.8 to +600. **UPDATE: As of December 8th, 2011 BetOnline has reduced their 3-team parlay odds to a standard (but still industry high) +600**
4 Team Parlay: This is the area where betting sites generally hurt the sports bettor, paying only 10 to 1, which gives them a 31.25% advantage. This can be avoided when betting at Bookmaker where the payout is +1228.3, or at 5Dimes where it is +1228.
Generally speaking, parlaying 5 teams or more teams is not a good idea; however, for sports gamblers looking for a lotto ticket, 5dimes.eu and Bookmaker.eu each offer up to 15 team parlays and have by far the best odds in the business on these.
True Odds Parlays
Earlier, I mentioned fixed odds are only given when all selections are 50/50 propositions. If one side of a line requires a greater stake than the other to yield the same payout, this is not a 50/50 proposition, and the bookmaker will now use “true odds”. What’s important to note is that true odds doesn’t actually mean the “true odds” of winning. Rather, true odds pays the same as if you bet each team individually and rolled the profit forward each time, which is what I showed in the example of 8 all in bets starting with a $1.00 stake.
To calculate true odd parlays, each bet first needs to be converted into a multiplier. To do this, take what a winning ticket would return and divide it by the amount risked. For example, at -110 a $110 stake returns $210 ($110 stake + $100 win). Calculating the multiplier as return/risk here, we plug in 210/110, which means the multiplier is 1.91. If we did the same on -115, the multiplier is 215/115=1.87.
Let’s say you’re in the mood to gamble on an 8 team parlay, but the only out available to you is a bookmaker paying 150-1 fixed odds. A trick of the trade here is to include one bet that is priced differently than -110 in order to force the bookmaker to use true odds. So, let’s say you make 7 selections priced at the standard -110 pricing and one at -115. A true parlay calculates by multiplying each modifier together. The math is 1.91 * 1.91 * 1.91 * 1.91 * 1.91 * 1.91 * 1.91 * 1.87, which equals 173.41. This bet returns 173.41 times the stake, which includes the risk amount, so the bet is 1 to win 172.41. Notice this is significantly better than the fixed odds payout of 1 to win 150 on an 8 team parlay. In short, the trick of the trade when dealing with poor fixed odds is to simply add one team to the parlay that is priced differently than the standard -110.
As you can now see, if you know how to bet parlays properly, they are not always sucker bets. There are, however, a few reasons that parlays are generally not a good move. I’ll cover these, and then cover the times it does make sense.
Top Reasons to Avoid Parlays
1) Progressive betting systems are generally regarded as poor strategy for both bankroll management and bankroll growth. Professional bettors make wagers based on their quantified edge per game. While the math can work out, doing the math for proper bet sizing on a parlay is a lot of added work with little to no upside for most sports bettors.
2) Parlay bets have higher variance than straight bets. Here you’re getting the same odds, but your chance of hitting a dry spell is greatly increased. When the odds are the same it is most often better to go with the lower variance option, which in this case is straight wagers.
3) Line Shopping – Sports bettors maximize their profit by always shopping for the best price. For example, finding -4 when other sites are -4.5, and finding reduced vig options such as -104 instead of -110. When betting parlays, you’ll need to find the most favorable odds for each team at a single betting site. This scenario is rare, so generally you’ll end up with better odds by making straight wagers at multiple betting sites.
Now, with this covered, let’s look at some times where parlays most certainly make sense:
Reduced Juice – BetOnline.ag offers 6.5 to one on three team parlays. This comes out better than betting sides at the -105 price standard reduced juice sports books offer. In sports such as NFL football where 50/50 wagering propositions are common, a sports bettor gets far superior odds by betting 3 team parlays at BetOnline.
Correlated Parlays – If a bookmaker was offering betting lines on both “will it be cloudy today?” and “will it rain today?”, if allowed, you’d be much better off betting either both as no, or both as yes, in a parlay bet as opposed to straight wagers. While this is a simplified example, there are plenty of times when outcomes are correlated in sports betting. For example, a handicapper might determine that if one team covers the spread, the game is more likely to go over or under the posted total. Also, during the final week of the NFL season, a certain team winning or losing the day game might result in a previously important night game now having no meaning in the playoff race.
Free Play Bonuses – Several online betting sites, for example Bookmaker.eu, offer players free bets based on the size of their initial deposit. Free play bonuses are not the same as cash. The difference is that a bet made with cash returns both stake and win, where a bet made with a free play returns only win. Parlays allow you the chance to use the same free play more than once, because a parlay really is only a wager that continues to place stake+win on the next selection. Remember, fixed odd three team parlays pay a little better than true odds. So when using free plays to bet 3 team parlays, you’re getting slightly better odds, and also a chance to apply that free play stake to three different bets. This is common knowledge that 3 team parlays are a great use of free play bonuses.
Circumventing Betting Limits – I’ll warn you upfront that betting sites do not take kindly to this, and it might get you banned. The basic idea here is, say you find a parlay with monster value in a small market with low betting limits. Let’s say a woman’s field hockey line opens at +150 when it should be +100. Here making ten unique two-team parlays, using the +150 bet with a random -110 each time might be advantageous, as on average you’ll get down 5 times the max bet. At -110 juice the expected ROI is less, but to get the maximum amount down on line of significant value, it might make sense. While personally I rarely use this strategy online, I do attempt to get away with it in Las Vegas from time to time. This takes a little bit of acting, such as starting to walk away from the cage and then saying wait, also give me… Know this: It is a trick of the trade advantage players use that is not for novice bettors.
This concludes our article on parlay betting. As a final tip: if you enjoy using parlays as a lottery ticket, www.Bovada.lv runs a $10,000 weekly parlay jackpot during football season, which is an added bonus on top of what a $5 stake pays on a 10 team parlay win. To learn more, see the promo section at www.Bovada.lv. If nothing else, this article gives you some great conversation material next time someone in the sports bar says, parlays are for suckers. Hopefully, it ends up being much more than that, adding extra winnings to your bankroll. Either way, we wish you the best of luck.