Using Parlays in Sports Betting
A Parlay bet, also known as an accumulator, is a form of wagering where several bets can be made on the same ticket. In a parlay, if any of the selected bets lose, the entire stake is lost. If any of the selections push (tie), the pay-out is reduced to what the rate would have been had that selection not been included. This form of wagering is extremely powerful when used correctly; however, most people use it to their detriment. We'll first put parlay betting into perspective and then explain how to bet parlays profitably.
Understanding How Parlays Work
Let's put sports betting aside for a moment and instead focus on the casino game blackjack. Imagine you buy into a table for $100, bet it all, win, and now have $200 in chips. You then decide to go all in again, win, and have $400.00. You repeat this process four more times going to $800, $1,600, $3,200 and then finally $6,400. By going all in successfully six times in a row, you've turned your $100 into $6,400 of which $6,300 is pure profit.
Imagine tomorrow you show up at the same casino, and there's a new game offered called Blackjack Parlay. How this game works is you make a wager, and if you win 6 hands in a row, the wager pays 60-1. If you lose any hand before winning 6, your full stake is lost. Would you play this game? I sure hope not as just yesterday you discovered winning 6 bets in a row paid 63-1. Why today would you play it at 60-1? Oddly enough, this is exactly what most sports bettors do.
Betting Sites Shave the Odds
As just established, the fair odds of winning a coin flip 6 times in a row are 63-1. We also know that both point spreads and total bets are 50/50 propositions just the same as flipping coins. What's amazing is to take a look at the parlay betting odds at three of the most popular US sportsbooks:
6-team Parlay Odds: BetOnline 45 to 1 | Topbet 40-1 | JustBet 35-1
Now to their credit, things are just as bad in Las Vegas as they are when betting with local bookies. How do these betting sites, sportsbooks, and bookies get away with such highway robbery? No savvy bettor would ever use such poor bankroll management that they go from betting $100 to 5 bets later betting $3200. Parlays / accumulators are bets that target naïve gamblers who don't know any better.
True Odds Parlays Explained
Despite the warning, if you decide to bet Parlays, know that Bovada.lv offers what the industry refers to as "true odds." Of course, the true odds are 63-1. When sportsbooks claim to offer true odds, what they mean is that they offer what the odds would be if you kept rolling your bet over and over paying -110 each time.
Example: Starting with $100 and going all in 6 times comes to $100 to win $90.91, $191.91 to win $173.55, $364.46 to win $331.33, $695.79 to win $632.54, $1,328.33 to win $1,207.57, $2,535.91 to win $2,305.37: leaving you with $4,841.27. As $100 was your stake, $4,741.27 is your profit. These are the exact odds you'll get betting parlays with Bovada (47.4 to 1).
Parlay Betting Strategy
There are actually times when betting parlays is better than making straight bets. In fact, the sharpest bettors in the world frequently use parlays to their advantage. We offer a few scenarios where parlays make sense, but first let us cover an important trick.
Forcing True Odds
The majority of sportsbooks gaffing the payouts on parlays only do so when bettors make wagers that involve only picks that are priced -110. If you add any other selection such as a team priced -115, or -105 to the picks, they're then forced to abandon their poor-paying fixed odds and pay based on true odds. To put this into perspective, say at JustBet you make 6 selections all -110, the payout is 35-to-1 based on fixed odds. What would happen if you instead made 5 selections priced -110 and one selection-120? To calculate, we explain how true odds parlays are calculated.
Calculating True Odds Parlays
To calculate the payouts for a true odds parlay, you'll need to convert the American odds to decimal odds using our odds converter. Here we see -110 is 1.9091, and -120 is 1.8333. With these figures, it's now just a matter of multiplication. Using the example above the math would be: (1.9091*1.9091*1.9091*1.9091*1.9091*1.8333)-1=45.49; you're being paid a return 45.49 to 1 instead of 35 to 1. Obviously it makes sense, whenever such a rule exists, to force the betting site to pay in true odds by making a selection other than -110.
With this out of the way, allow us to show you three cases where parlay betting is advised.
Best Uses of Sports Betting Parlays
The first best use of parlays comes on sites that offer their bonuses as free play credits as opposed to cash. When you bet $100 cash at -110, your bet is risk $100 to win $90.91; and when the bet wins, you receive a $190.91 return ($100 stake + $90.91 winnings). When you, instead, bet $100 free play, your bet is 100FP to win $90.91; and when the bet wins, you receive a return of just $90.91.
You see the free play is just a onetime use free bet, win or lose, and the free play is used up. If you were, instead to bet the free play in a 3-team parlay, this would give you the same payout as you'd get rolling your stake + win forward two additional times. In short, a free play used in a 3-team parlay is worth 3 times more than it is used to make a straight point spread bet.
Another good use for parlays is to circumvent betting limits. For example, Bovada often has a $1,000 max bet on NFL games. If you're a high roller and see 3-bets you'd like to wager at Bovada, doing a 3-team parlay would make most sense. The three team parlay pays 5.96-to-1. When betting all three teams separately, you're limited to risk $1,100 to win $1000. When betting them in a parlay, it works out as having bet an average of $2,185.33 to win $1,986.67 on each, and you only staked $1,000, not $1100 or the $2185.33*3 the average would require. Of course, you'll lose more often; but over the long run, it works out well for those needing to bet larger limits.
The final great use of parlay bets are a bookie's worse nightmare: correlated parlays. To explain, if you were given the option to make separate bets on whether it will be cloudy today and will rain, obviously parlaying them would be most ideal. You'd either parlay both as yes or both as no. In sports betting, such opportunities exist quite frequently, albeit with a lesser correlation. An example is a college football point spread of -21.5/+21.5 with an over/under betting total of 44.5. In this case, it probably makes sense to parlay the favorite and the over, or the underdog and the under. It doesn't always work out, but in terms of expected value, the parlay will make more sense over the straight bet.
Advice for Advantage Players
A couple final tips for bettors who enjoy reading: 5Dimes offers the ability to buy more points off a point spread than any other site. For clues on how this can be used to your advantage, you are encouraged to read the article on buying-half points in football and the basketball section of the one on point spread betting. Finally, if you enjoyed betting lots of parlays and are now discouraged by the discovery of how much of a sucker's bet random parlays are, we suggest learning a teaser betting strategy. It's a modified version of a parlay that, when used correctly, can be one of the best weapons an advantage player has in his arsenal.
A final tip: for online betting to be profitable, there needs to be far more losing than winning punters. Now that you've read this, and perhaps other articles at www.gamblingsites.org, and have become one of the few enlightened bettors able to easily beat sports betting, we suggest keeping it to yourself.
A lot of punters seem to derive joy in teaching their friends how smart they are. Do your best not to be one of them. Instead, use good bankroll management and discipline, don't teach others, and later you can impress your friends with your new Ferrari as a result. If you fall short, maybe it's a Mercedes. In either case, we here at Gambling Sites wish you the best of luck.
Author: Jim Griffin
Updated: March 2015
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