Parlays Part I – Fixed Odds

Over the past few weeks, I have swerved a little off course to discuss sports other than football as baseball finished up and basketball tipped off. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming!football. I have touched on all the different possibilities for straight wagers and now over the next couple of weeks, I want to cover parlays and teasers. This past weekend was a great one for teaser players with 14 of the 16 favorites covering for their purposes, but that topic will have to wait for seven days as I think it is easier to start with parlays.

When I first started taking bets, I quickly figured out that taking parlays was very profitable and I actually changed my business model to only booking parlays. The rules I offered were extremely favorable to the House (me) in that all plays had to be 3-teams or more and payouts were much lower than what you get with offshore books nowadays. I also had a requirement that all plays must win so ties went to my pocket (and trust me, a lot of the lines I put out each week were on 3,4,6,7 and 10!). There were some tense moments even with these favorable rules. I remember staring down a couple of $5000 payouts as a teenager after two guys had each won their first 9 picks for their 10-team parlays. I got a big back door cover by the Packers to save my bankroll, my business and perhaps myself, and I’ve been a Green Bay fan ever since. Despite a few tense afternoons, parlays helped pay a lot of my expenses through high school and university. The betting world has changed dramatically thanks to the Internet and the increased competition it has brought to the industry. Parlays can now be as much of a tool for bettors as they are for the House.

Okay, story time is over, now to the mathematics portion of the show. In a previous column, I detailed the math involved in figuring out the House’s expected win percentage for straight wagers. Now I want to explain the math behind Fixed Odds parlay payouts. I can hear the collective groan now, but it really isn’t that hard. Fixed odds parlays involve football and basketball spreads and totals at standard odds (-110). Rather than having to calculate the odds of every parlay uniquely, Vegas books (and now offshore) ones have instead derived a standard set of Fixed Odds payoffs for such parlays.

Lets look at a simple 2-team parlay using a real example, the Monday Night Football game from this past weekend. St Louis -10.5 over the Rams and a game total of 43.5. Parlaying a side and the total gives us four combinations:

a) St Louis -10.5 and Over 43.5
b) St Louis -10.5 and Under 43.5
c) Chicago +10.5 and Over 43.5
d) Chicago +10.5 and Under 43.5

The odds of any one of these plays being a winner are 1-in-4 so the actual odds would be 3/1. In actual fact, most books pay 2.6/1 (you see it commonly written as 13/5) assuming all bets are at stand payoffs (-110). To clearly illustrate how this works for the house lets assume four different players each bet exactly $100 on a different one of the four possible parlays for this game. Chicago and the Under were the right picks (score was 21-16 for the Rams) so Parlay D is the winner. The House would collect $100 from Allan, Bob and Charlie (who bet A, B, and C respectively) and would pay the $260 to David (who had the winning play on Parlay D). David would also get his risk money back. In total the House had $400 in handle, collected $300 and paid out $260 for a net gain of $40, which is a 10% theoretical hold (300-260=40, 40/400=10%). For 3-team parlays, it is essentially the same calculation except there are 8 possible outcomes and the payoff is 6-1. With $100 bets on each outcome, books would collect $700 from the losing plays and pay out $600 tow the winner for a net profit of $100 on $800 in handle for a 12.5% theoretical hold. Below is a chart using standard Las Vegas payouts showing the actual odds, Las Vegas payout and the house vigorish.

# ofTeams
Las VegasPayout

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that bigger than 3-team parlays should do very well for books but in fact we don’t hold this much. It is hard to split the action on one game. It is impossible to evenly split the action in parlays. We often see the same picks over and over in different parlays and so the higher juice is simply to cover the risk of having to pay out the occasional very large bet. Any bookmaker that has had a good weekend ruined by a big 1000/1 payout on a parlay knows the feeling and would argue that the juice isn’t high enough! Remember that these odds are just the Vegas standard and there is almost an infinite range of different payout schemas above the standard 2.6/1 and 6/1 for 2-3 team parlays.

Now that the math is out of the way, lets talk a little about how they can benefit the bettor. First off, there is are always certain games where you hear people say things like If they can keep the score low, they have a chance at winning, or they need to score at least 30 points to really have a shot. Certain games have a slight correlation between the spread and total and betting these situations in a parlay can be a big advantage to bettors. This is especially true of very large spreads. On a college football game where the spread is -40 and the total is 51, it is very difficult for the favorite to cover and have the total still be Under. Granted, 42-0 or 49-0 gets it done, but if the dog even scores just a Field Goal the favorite must score 44 points to cover, but cannot score more than 48 points or the total goes over, a very limited range to win such a parlay. You can virtually remove this option from the 4 possible parlays and are now left with a situation where the payoff is 2.6/1 for just 2/1 odds against, a +30% advantage. In fact, if you play favorite/over or dog/under in situations where the spread is 40% or more of the total, you should come out ahead. These are known as correlated parlays and most well run books won’t take them for obvious reasons (they want to be in business the next week!) but it never hurts to ask. Even without the big spreads, playing the dog and the under (or favorite and over) is typically a decent play and would have been a winner this past Monday night.

I wanted to also cover how to calculate the payoffs for parlays with moneylines, off standard lines or with other sports mixed in. These are known as True Odds parlays and the payoff for each one is calculated individually. Due to time and space concerns, I will cover this topic next week and then get to Teasers the week after.

Before signing off this week, here is Kent’s Line Move of the Week. Kent is Bodog’s top bookmaker and is kind enough to share with us his insight into a key game each weekend. Here are his thoughts from the past weekend: The move of the week this week had to be Penn State for sure. I saw the line open in Vegas late Sunday with Penn State -19 (at Indiana) and by the time we opened on Monday it was up to -21. That is not an uncommonly large move early in the week and with such a high spread we didn’t pay too much attention, as most bettors prefer to avoid such large lines. However, it quickly became apparent that there was no such sentiment with our clients this week and the line was bet all the way to -26! The line was moving so fast that we moved in 1-point increments. Obviously, some large betting service was hyping this game. With the score sitting 45-25 Penn State halfway through the fourth quarter, we looked good but an interception return for a TD and another late Penn State TD gave the players the win. We also saw action on Oklahoma -39 (a win and cover over Baylor) and Boise State -29 (a win but non-cover over Louisiana Tech) so players were certainly not afraid to lay the big numbers this weekend.

My thanks to Kent and I will be back next week with part two on parlays.

The enjoyment of your wagering experience with us is my number one priority. Should you have any questions, concerns, or comments, I will personally ensure you are satisfied with your Bodog experience.

Good luck with your wagers!

I always welcome comments, questions and suggestions via email at
Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino