True odds aren’t given for parlay cards

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I read that the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, had posted something like 400 different proposition wagers that someone could bet on for the Super Bowl alone.

A few months ago, I wrote about how the goal of the sportsbooks is to simply get money on both sides of any particular wager in equal amounts. If that happens, they make money regardless of the outcome. That’s pretty much the goal, no doubt with these prop wagers. I’m sure some of them will get a bit lopsided and they’ll try and tilt the money to the other side. For the casino, it’s about the big picture, so they just need to make sure that most of these wagers have the money close enough to 50/50.

Then there are the parlay cards. This is where a bettor can take several of those proposition wagers and lump them together into a single wager. If the bettor wins all of the wagers, he wins that much more. If he loses any of the wagers, he loses.

These parlay cards generally require at least four components and frequently go up to 10, and, in some places, higher. Surely, the casinos can’t expect money to be spread out evenly over every combination. Even if there were only 10 different proposition wagers, there would be over 1,000 different ways then could be played. With 400 of them, there is nearly 26 Quintillion possible combinations (that’s 26 followed by 18 zeros!).

Casinos make up for this in a few ways. The first is that they take a larger cut vs. true odds. If each of 10 propositions is a 50/50 chance, then the bettor has a 1 in 1,024 chance of winning. So, for a 100 percent payback, the casino should pay 1,023 to 1 (or 1,024 for 1). But, they don’t. Generally, 10 out of 10 will pay about 800 for 1.

Throw in that ties lose and each of these propositions are not necessarily 50/50 anymore. If one of these wagers is Patriots -2, then if the Patriots win by 2, everyone who picked this one (on either side) loses. If this tie losing rule causes the bettor to have just a 49 percent chance of winning each prop, then the chances of hitting 10 out of 10 drops to more than 1 in 1,200.

This all means that the bettor, all things being equal, is giving up roughly 25-33 percent to the house. But, all things are not equal.

If moving the probability of winning each wager from 50 to 49 percent causes the probability of winning to drop by 20 percent, then the opposite is true as well. If the bettor can figure out how to increase his probability of winning each to 51 percent, then he now has a 1 in 840 chance of winning.

Still not true odds, but a lot closer. The more you can push up the odds of winning any one wager, the more you put the odds in your favor.

So, how does a bettor do this? If you’re a professional sports gambler, perhaps you have some ‘inside information’ on some of these wagers. If you’re not, then you have to take a long hard look at which of the propositions you choose to include.

First, you need to get rid of emotion. I’m a Rams fan going back to the days of Pat Haden. But I’m not taking the Rams +2. It’s not that I don’t believe the Rams can’t beat the Patriots. 

It’s that I know if this is where the line is set, there is a very good chance it is going to finish close to that. I can find better options. Who will win the coin toss is definitely not one of them!

Will the first score be a Field Goal/Safety or a Touchdown? This is a common one. For this one, you need to look at the recent history of these two teams. Having an idea of what each team does when they win the coin toss might give an idea as to who will get the ball first.

You do your research and try to find options which might give you a small advantage. You’re not likely to find anything with a 70 percent probability of winning. 

But as the math shows, if you get find four proposition wagers with a 55 percent chance of winning and still play the other six at the standard 49 percent, you would turn the tables on the casino.

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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