Don’t be suckered in by talk, parlays can pay off

Oct 7, 2003 3:55 AM

Conventional wisdom used to be that parlays were sucker bets, designed to lure in the unsuspecting sports bettor with visions of wagering small and collecting large. The reality is that parlays can be good.

Ultimately, it depends on how good your handicapping skills are.

There are two main reasons for betting parlays. First, the two (or more) outcomes upon which the parlay rests are connected in some way that makes it more likely if one wins the other will also. Second, parlay bets are acceptable wagers if you have a significant enough advantage on single bet plays.

For a handicapper with a base advantage, the parlay ROI (rate of increase) is higher than making single bets. A sage player who can hit 57 percent of his plays makes a 9 percent profit on his individual wagers. Yet by parlaying two such plays, he raises his expected ROI to almost double the profit level.

The drawback is the win percentage can be considerably lower, which makes the bet highly volatile. Recognize that you could have a brilliant 4-1 week, which would clean up on straight bets, but you would lose everything if you just played a five-team parlay. For this reason we do not recommend many-play parlays.

A true 60 percent handicapper who is tempted by the gaudy 2.02 projected ROI and elects to play a solitary five-teamer each week during the NFL season, could easily find he had gone winless over a full year. On the other hand using two or at most three selections can be a perfectly rational strategy.

The reason sports books love parlay action from the average player is that a 50 percent handicapper betting parlays will have a much worse ROI. A "coin-flipping" two-team parlay player is giving a 10 percent edge to the book, while a four-team player is giving almost 20.

On account of this, some serious players looking to avoid unwanted attention from a sports book for winning too often, wind up playing numerous parlays. The theory goes that the book will think of them as "square" and figure they are just getting lucky winners.

Parlays can also help a player get around bet limits on occasion - a book may not allow you to get down as much as you would like straight on a game, but will take additional parlay bets involving that same play.

It’s also important to distinguish between parlay "cards" and parlays off the main board. The cards are indeed often very bad bets, with such horrors as "ties lose" rules or odds that are worse than from the board. On occasion you can find a soft line on a parlay card, but mostly they are fodder for the novice sports player.

The most popular parlays tend to be playing a team with the total on the game, in the theory that there is some kind of connection between the two outcomes. Long-term research has demonstrated that neither the common "favorite and over" or "underdog and under" plays have shining prospects.

Clear correlated events do exist, especially around the Super Bowl where all kinds of crazy prop bets can be found, but books are usually wise to these nowadays and will frown upon such bets. If your handicapping is average, you are better off sticking with the straight bets. Those accomplished at selecting winners should not be ashamed to dabble with two and three team tickets.

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