Teasers 101

I had planned on covering parlays over the next two weeks and then moving on to teasers, but the results of this weekend (and especially the Monday Night game) caused me to change my mind and reverse the order. I’ll get to what that result has to do with teasers in a moment, but for now let me start with an explanation of what a teaser is for those who are not sure.

A teaser is a combination of two or more football/basketball spreads/totals where you get a better line on each pick in exchange for a lower payout. There are an incredible number of variations in how teasers are offered (we’ll discuss why later) but generally you can tease your football lines 6, 6.5, or 7-points and your basketball lines 4, 4.5, or 5-points.

For example if you like the Eagles -8 and the Chargers +2 but aren’t sure the Eagles will win by a Touchdown or the Chargers will keep it close you could tease both these picks. If you teased 7-points you would have a 2-team Teaser with Eagles -1 and the Chargers +9. I think you can clearly see that making Philadelphia only have to win by 2 to cover (instead of 9) makes this bet easier to win. Also, the Chargers can now lose by 7 and still cover. The tradeoff is the payout is only 10/13 (this varies from book-to-book but will serve for our examples today) instead of 13/5 as a parlay would be. If you risked $65, the teaser pays $50 but the same two picks in a parlay would pay $169. You must decide if the greatly improved chance of winning is worth a 2/3 reduction in payout.

With Teasers involving three or more picks, a Push on any leg reduces the Teaser to the next lowest level. A 4-teamer where one leg is a Push would payout at 3-team levels, etc. Note that a 2-team Teaser with a push is not reduced to a 1-team Teaser as there is no such bet. Be sure to check with your book to see how 2-team teasers with a push are handled (some settle Push/Loss as a Loss, others make it a Push) so you are not surprised.

Why are Teaser payouts so much lower? Simple, it is the only bet type where balanced action can still result in losses for the book. How can that be? Here is where last night’s football game comes into play. The spread was Tampa Bay -6 and the total was 38. Using 7-point teasers and only this one game, there were four plays that could have been made:

  • Tampa Bay +1 and Over 31
  • NY Giants +13 and Over 31
  • Tampa Bay +1 and Under 45
  • NY Giants +13 and Under 45

The final score was Tampa Bay 19-13 and so every one of these was a winner last night just because the final score was within 7-points of both the posted pointspread and total. If there was $130 to win $100 on each of these plays, the House just lost $400 on $520 in handle for a 77% loss!

There were a lot of cases like this over the weekend. In fact, of the 16 games in the NFL, 14 finished within 7-points of the closing spread (only Denver/Chicago and Cleveland/Pittsburgh didn’t!) Needless to say, books didn’t fare very well on teasers this weekend.

However, don’t feel too bad for books (and I am sure you don’t) because even though it is possible to have every Teaser be a winner on balanced action, it is also possible for the House to earn over 50% from the same position. Look at the Denver/Chicago game as an example of this. The spread was Broncos -10.5 and the total was 39. Here are the four possible 2-team Teaser combinations here (again teasing 7-points):

  • Denver -3.5 and Under 46
  • Denver -3.5 and Over 32
  • Chicago +17.5 and Under 46
  • Chicago +17.5 and Over 32

We see only the third one was a winner (final score was Bears 19-10). If there was $130 to win $100 on each play, the House collected $390 but paid out $100 for a profit of $290 on $520 in handle (a 55.8% gain). Any game where both the spread and total fall outside teaser range will be good for books. There weren’t many games like this last weekend!

The third possibility is where either the spread or total pays both ways but the other line does not. This was the case in a lot of games this weekend. For an example, lets look at the Redskins/Dolphins game on Sunday Night. The spread was Miami -7 and the total was 35.5 so the final score of 24-23 Dolphins meant all 7-point teasers on the spread were winners but only teasers with the right total (the Over) were winners. Again, lets look at the four 7-point, 2-team Teaser options:

  • Miami Pick and Over 28.5
  • Miami Pick and Under 42.5
  • Washington +14 and Over 28.5
  • Washington +14 and Under 42.5

In this case, the two teasers with the Over are both winners so, in theory, the House makes $60 on the $520 in handle for a decent profit if the action was balanced. Unfortunately, the reality is that spreads get a lot more teaser play (as did the Over for this game) so there was no profit for books here.

So, now that we understand the different possible outcomes, it should become apparent that there is no equation that can be run to calculate the Theoretical Hold Percentage for Teasers like we can for straight wagers and parlays. The only way to set up Teaser payouts is to comb through the actual results and adjust accordingly. If more games fall closer to the spread and total over time, payouts on teasers will have to be lowered. If fewer games pay both ways, payouts could be raised. Also, because Teasers can be multiple picks from multiple games, it is impossible to even come close to balancing action anyway.

Over the years, teaser payouts have ebbed and flowed. In years where Teasers have been very profitable, payouts have increased because of the competition between books. In other years, payouts get lowered and some books even stop offering them (this happened in the NFL a few years ago and some books still won’t take 2-team teasers on NFL spreads!).

The fact that there is no math behind teaser payouts makes the options very different from book to book. Be sure to shop around for the best combination of points, picks and payouts to suit your needs. Also, as I stated before, be sure to ask how a 2-team Teaser with a Push and a Loss is handled. The difference doesn’t sound like much, but it can have a big impact on your bottom line.

Before I look back at the weekend’s results, I want to touch briefly on a couple of other types of Teasers, namely Sweetheart Teaser and Pleasers. Sweetheart Teasers give you even more points in your Teaser (say 10 or 13), but you must pick more teams, the payouts are further reduced and pushes make your bet a loser. Pleasers (or Reverse Teasers) are Teasers where you give up points in exchange for a better payout.

Saturday was a tough grind for the House. Bettors did very well with Michigan State (-5.5 over Penn State 41-10), Kansas (-10 over Iowa State 36-7), and USC (-23 over UCLA 47-22). The House had a big win with Iowa upsetting Wisconsin and a few smaller wins with Washington upsetting Washington State and Missouri covering against Kansas State. Michigan/Ohio State and Alabama/Auburn were heavily bet (Michigan/OSU was the most popular game on Saturday) but the action we saw was quite even. Same goes for Alabama/Auburn. Overall, we were happy to collect the vig and move on.

The keyword for this weekend in the NFL was ‘push’. In four of the five biggest decisions, the favorite rallied and the game landed on the spread. The Colts needed a 2-point conversion with 1:38 left to get a push (bettors were heavy on Indy -3). The Ravens rallied from 17-points down late in the 4th quarter and then won with a Field Goal in Overtime (bettors were heavy on Baltimore -3). The Titans were down 21-0 late in the 2nd quarter before going on a 38-3 run that made the Falcons need a late TD to get the push (bettors were heavy on Tennessee -7). The Buccaneers passed up an easy Field Goal chance to go up 7-points but then got a gift safety in the last 2-minutes to get the push in one of the strangest endings to a game I have ever seen (bettors were heavy on Tampa Bay -6). The only major decision of the weekend that actually got decided went in the book’s favor when the Redskins (+6) covered in Miami on Sunday Night.

I’ll be back next week with the first of two columns on Parlays. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino