Fixed Odds Parlays

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend and got enough turkey and football (if you can get enough of those two things!). Since the start of football season, I have covered most of the different types of wagers available for football bettors. All that is really left is parlays, and I will cover these in this column and next week.

Let me start with an email I got this week from Tim K:

Hey Rob. I thought I’d drop you a quick line about the worse backdoor cover I’ve experienced so far this season. As part of my weekly wager package I play a 12 team parlay, just for chuckles…I play $5 on the parlay. Well, this week it became more than chuckles the farther along the day went. I hit all 7 of the 1 o’clock games I played. As the afternoon went along I kept hitting winners. I’m 11 for 11…THEN the axe fell. I have The Chiefs laying 7. They are up 28-17. NO time left on the clock and Doug Flutie throws a meaningless TD!unless you have the Chiefs laying 7!! The Chargers cover. That play, with NO time on the clock knocked me out of winning $10,471.00.

I thought about jumping off something really tall but I figured I would miss!
Tim K

That email sums up parlays in a nutshell. Tim was 11 for 12 on the day and still lost his bet. But if he had been 12 for 12 on straight wagers, he would not have been in line for the big payday he almost had. The good news is he did win some other parlays and the day wasn’t bad overall!he just missed a great chance for a great day.

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.

Let’s look at a simple 2-team parlay using a real example, the early game on Thanksgiving this past weekend. It was Green Bay at Detroit and the line was Packers -7 and a total of 44. Parlaying a side and the total gives us four combinations:

a) Green Bay -7 and Over 44
b) Green Bay -7 and Under 44
c) Detroit +7 and Over 44
d) Detroit +7 and Under 44

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 let’s assume four different players each bet exactly $100 on a different one of the four possible parlays for this game. Detroit and the Under were the right picks (score was 22-14 for the Lions) 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 to 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.

# of Teams
Actual Odds
Las Vegas Payout
House Edge

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 and it is impossible to evenly split the action in parlays involving multiple games. 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 that there a wide range of different payout tables.

Now that the math is out of the way, lets talk a little about how parlays can benefit the bettor. First off, there 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 many books won’t take them for obvious reasons but it never hurts to ask.

Now for the weekend recap. Thanksgiving was a split as the biggest decision went the book’s way when Detroit upset Green Bay, but bettors got the best of the other two games with Miami rolling over Dallas and Mississippi blanking Mississippi State.

On Friday, bettors were in heavy on a couple of big favorites that were easy winners (LSU -10 over Arkansas and Texas -21 over Texas A&M) giving bettors a couple of nice wins. The book had a big win when Nebraska (-2.5) won in Colorado. The rest of the games were pretty evenly balanced.

Saturday got off to a rough start when books got middled on the Tennessee game. The line opened at Tennessee -10 and went as high as -13.5 so the 20-7 Tennessee win wasn’t a lot of fun. Bettors also did well with Georgia -10 over Georgia Tech, Missouri -27.5 over Iowa State and Boise St -23 over Reno. The book did well with Virginia -2 over Virginia Tech and Florida State -1 over Florida. The day ended well for the House with Miami -3 over Pittsburgh.

On Sunday, the early games had all home favorites and so action was fairly balanced but bettors came out ahead with St Louis, New England and Baltimore. The lone bright spot for books was the Bills over the Giants. The late afternoon games featured 3 road favorites and as normal they got more of the action. The Saints/Redskins game was bet very lightly compared to the rest of the late games but went the player’s way, as did Denver over Oakland. Kansas City was the third, and most heavily bet, home favorite and it took a meaningless touchdown with no time on the clock for the Chargers to cover and have Tim looking for a high ledge.

Both the Sunday and Monday night games had bettors in very heavy on the road favorite (Tampa Bay on Sunday and Tennessee on Monday) and the Overs. So, the 17-10 Jags win on Sunday and the 24-17 Jets win on Monday were very good for books and saved what could have been a rough weekend.

Next week, I will 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.

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