Parlays Part II – True Odds

Last week I covered the workings of Fixed Odds parlays. This week I want to finish our discussion of parlays by discussing how True Odds parlays are calculated. Next week we can turn our attention to discussing teasers, that is if we aren’t too full from gobbling up Mom’s Thanksgiving dinner.

I was surprised at the large volume of emails last week’s column generated, and many of them were from players that did not know what a parlay was, so I figured this would be a good time for a quick intro. A parlay is a bet that combines several straight wagers into a single play. All picks in a parlay must win and in exchange for that extra risk, players get a much higher payoff. Sorry, I should have added that in last week for readers that are newer to betting.

Another big batch of emails were from players that were upset with me for declaring that the house edge on a 3-team fixed odds parlay is 12.5%. That can’t be true! they cried because they have been told that 3-team fixed odds parlays pay better than true odds. My reply to each and ever reader was the same. You have been slightly misled and read next week’s column. So, for all those people that wrote me on the topic, next week is here and the truth shall be revealed.

The term ‘True Odds parlay’ is slightly misleading. It is an industry term for a parlay involving picks other than football/basketball spreads/totals at standard odds (-110). These parlays are not paid out based on a fixed table but are instead paid out based solely on the odds involved in each individual parlay. Before we discuss how True Odds parlays compare to true odds, let’s look at how the payouts are calculated. It is a simple process (although a mystery to many people) where each pick is given a multiplier. Multiply all these values with the risk amount and you have the payout (including risk amount). One of the readers had asked me how a true odds parlay involving the Dolphins, Buccaneers and Texans on the moneyline would pay at an offshore book (he had played this parlay in a SportsLotto set-up and felt he was cheated a little) so lets use that as our example. His 3 plays were:

  • Miami -190
  • Tampa Bay -165
  • Houston +210

First, here is how to calculate the multiplier for a true-odds parlay – simply divide what the total payout would be (risk + win) by the risk amount. A lot of bettors, even intermediate and advanced bettors (and even a few bookmakers) don’t realize how simple these numbers are to come up with and rely on charts given to them by sportsbooks or they find on the Internet. So, for our example here are the multipliers for the 3 picks.

∑ Miami -190 means a risk of $190 to win $100. A win would return $290 so the multiplier is 290/190 = 1.526
∑ Tampa Bay -165 means a risk of $165 to win $100. A win would return $265 so the multiplier is 265/165 = 1.606
∑ Houston +210 means a risk of $100 to win $210. A win would return $310 so the multiplier is 310/100 = 3.100

Pretty simple really. To make it even easier, the multiplier for a favorite with odds of -xxx is (xxx+100)/xxx and the multiplier for an underdog with odds of +yyy is (yyy+100)/100

Next, lets multiply these out: 1.526 x 1.606 x 3.100 = 7.60

So the payoff is 7.60 times the original bet. This includes the return of the risk amount so the net win is 6.60 times the stake. If you are betting parlays, you should have a good grasp of this fundamental concept to make sure you are getting paid out properly.

Okay, that is how books calculate True Odds parlays, but does this mean they pay at true odds? Of course not. If books paid out bets at true odds, how would they expect to make a profit over time? To illustrate the relationship between Fixed Odds parlays (see last week’s column) and True Odds here is a table of how ‘standard’ picks (at -110) would fare in a True Odds parlay (right column), how they compare to the actual odds of winning (left column) and how they stack up against Fixed Odds payouts (center column).

Fixed ‘True’

# of Teams
Actual Odds
Odds Payout
Odds Payout

As you can see by the table, True Odds parlays pay slightly better than Fixed Odds except for 3-team parlays where the Fixed odds payout of 6-1 is better than the True Odds payout of 5.96-1. The actual odds are 7-1 against. So, next time somebody tells you that a 3-team, Fixed Odds parlay pays better than True Odds; you know they mean better than a True Odds parlay. If they don’t mean that, then you can set them straight.

Okay, the ugly math portion of the column is out of the way and we can talk a little more about ways to use parlays. I had one tip from a reader that I thought I would pass on. He mentioned that he always takes a single late game (or the Monday night game) in his parlays. That way, if he hits all but the last leg, he can lock in a profit by making a straight play against his final pick. As an example, imagine he had $100 risked on a 4-team parlay with San Francisco -7 (from the Monday Night football game) as the final pick and had won the first three plays on Sunday. Now, he was in position to win $1000 if San Francisco covered and to lose $100 if they didn’t. He could then wager on Philadelphia to guarantee some win or perhaps just cover his losses. If he risked $110 on the Eagles and they covered, he would break even (win $100 on the single, lost $100 on the parlay). If he wagered $550 on the Eagles he would make a decent profit regardless of who won. With an Eagles cover, the profit would be $400 (win $500 on the single, lose $100 on the parlay) and a 49ers cover would earn $450 (win $1000 on the parlay, lose $550 on the single). If the game fell San Francisco -7, the single at any amount would be a push and the parlay would pay $600 (reduced from 4-team payout of 10/1 to a 3-team payout of 6/1). Hedging is not something I advocate, but if you are type of person that believes a bird in hand is worth two in the bush, this is something to think about. Just be sure to never put yourself in a position where you can lose both (betting the 49ers -7.5 in the parlay and taking Philly +6.5 or worse on a single as an example) and if possible shoot for a position to win both (last night he could have taken Philly +7.5 on the single and so SF -7 would have paid the single as a winner and paid the parlay still, albeit at reduced payout of 6/1). You get the idea, something to think about when you are on the verge of cashing a big parlay.

Before I sign off, here is Kent’s Line Move of the Week. Kent is Bodog’s top bookmaker and each week he shares with us a little insight into a key game. This week’s comments are in regard to the Sunday Night Football game, Indy at Denver. Here is what he had to say:

This wasn’t necessarily the most interesting line move of the week when the game kicked off, but the final score made it that way. With a spread that opened Broncos -6.5 and closed at -6 (-5.5 at some books) and a total that opened 44 and closed at 42.5, Overtime was a torturous affair for bookies. With Denver leading 20-17 late and the Colts with the ball deep in their own end with no timeouts, some Colts bettors were actually cheering for the Broncos defense and Broncos bettors were cheering for the Indy offence. A little mixed up but that happens. For the Broncos to cover, they needed to either run back an interception, but a Bronco touchdown in overtime would at least get the Denver bettors a push so that was the hope of many. Colts bettors didn’t want to take any chances and 20-17 was a good score. As it turned out, the Colts forced OT and now bookmakers had a dilemma, were they going to take it in the head, or in the gut? If Denver scored a TD, they won by 6 and the score lands on the spread so most bettors get a push and the House makes no money. A Field Goal by either team and the total lands 43 so the House gets slightly middled (there wasn’t much action at 44 or 43.5 luckily). Safety anyone? Indy kicked the Field Goal, we collected on the spread (there was Denver action) but we had to pay out a little on the total. Not the most exciting line ever, but the fact that it was going to land on the spread or the total made it interesting.

Thanks Kent and I will be back next week with a look at Teasers. Have a happy (and safe) Thanksgiving.

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!

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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino