You may have heard the term “parlay” in reference to someone combining one asset with another to achieve success. “I bought a new propane grill, and combined with my shopping skills I parlayed that into a great family cookout.”
At the casino or on a sports book, to parlay means something similar. Easily the most popular of all exotic wagers in sports betting, a parlay (or “combo”) is a collection of 2 or more sides or totals that you place a wager on and all of them must win in order for you to cash in.
Most bettors love the idea of having a chance at a big payoff from a small wager. But parlays are hard to win, and come with a strict set of rules. Let’s look at some of the ins and outs.
Bookies offer this category of wager to lure the gambler into a tough situation. For instance, on a 4-team parlay, going 3-1 is no different than going 0-4. You lose in either case. However, if you’d placed 4 individual bets and won 3 while losing 1, you would make a decent chunk of change. But you would have saved yourself a lot of money by betting the combo instead of placing 4 individual bets if you went 0-4.
“Correlated” outcomes are strictly against the rules, which means you cannot benefit from results that are related to one another. For instance, a finesse passing team might be pitted against a strong defensive unit in the Super Bowl. If you pick the latter squad, you cannot place a combo bet on the “under,” since that outcome is more likely to occur if the strong defense controls the contest.
Below is a table that lists the chances of hitting a combo if all wagers are “pick’em,” or evenly-matched “coin flip” scenarios – what sports books give you for each ratio, and the chance of a winner if you hit 55%. Obviously, if you’re a 55% handicapper, then there are good deals in the offing. This table shows the odds for 2-team combos all the way up to 11 teams.
|# of Teams||Your chances at 50%||Payout in Vegas||Your chances at 55%|
As you can see, for the normal bettor who only hits on 50% of their wagers, trying for a 4-0 (or 3-0, or 2-0) record on the same day is a bad idea. It gets worse the more wagers you add. A 2-teamer isn’t terrible because you expect to hit 1 out of each 3 you bet, and you get rewarded 2.6 to 1. A 3-teamer isn’t that bad either because your expected chances are 7-1, while you get paid 6-1.
Where you really see the biggest sucker bets are the 4-team combos. These wagers only work 1 out of every 15 times, yet you only get paid 10-1. Picking 8 winners and 0 losers only scores a hit once in every 255 times, but you only get paid 150-1 if successful. The 11-team parlay hits 1 out of every 2,047 times, and the payout is based on only just over 50% of that ratio.
Most of the general betting public doesn’t realize that 55% is an excellent winning percentage when it comes to sports betting. But the table also illustrates that if you pick 55% victorious teams/athletes, then every single combo listed is a profitable wager over the long term. The chances of hitting an 11-teamer drop from 2,047-1 to 716.8-1 when you pick 55%. Considering you get paid out 1,200-1, it actually isn’t a bad deal for the 55% handicappers.
In conclusion, I almost never recommend betting parlays for newer cash players. There are times when I’ll put out a 2-team combo on a football game if 2 favorites are being under-valued, but only a of couple times a year. Your best move is to stick to straight bets in football and basketball with the point spreads and totals.
Sometimes, conference vs conference match-ups are a good opportunity for a successful combo wager if 1 of the 2 conferences is under-valued. For instance, ACC football went 4-0 vs the SEC on a Saturday in 2014 – nobody expected that except a few savvy gamblers. Georgia Tech over Georgia was just one of the upsets that took place on that November day as bookies lost out to the ever-popular SEC hype train driving the lines. Another opportunity for this kind of combo bet occurs during early-season conference vs conference “challenge” tourneys in college basketball.
I know it’s tempting to try and strike it rich on a big “trifecta,” but the chances are less in your favor as the number of picks goes up. So have fun, but proceed with caution!