True Odds Parlays

Last week I covered the workings of Fixed Odds parlays and this week I will finish the discussion on parlays by discussing how True Odds parlays are calculated.

When I published a column on Fixed Odds parlays last year I got a bunch of emails from players that didn’t think the house edge on a 3-team fixed odds parlay was really 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 every reader was the same: You have been slightly misled and read next week’s column. Well, 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). Last year I had a reader ask me how a specific 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. The three picks 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. 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).

# of Teams
Actual Odds
Fixed Odds Payout
‘True’ 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.

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. In last week’s column I mentioned an email from a player (Tim) that hit 11 of 12 picks in his parlay and I had two emails this week from readers wanting to know why he hadn’t hedged his $10,000 winning parlay if he had hit his first 11 picks. Tim didn’t have a chance to hedge because 3 of his winning picks were from games that started at the same time as his losing pick on KC. I agree that if he had been 11-of-12 before the Chiefs kicked off, he could have locked in a profit.

Let me explain by using a suggestion I got from a reader last season. 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 St Louis -5.5 (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 St. Louis covered and to lose $100 if they didn’t.

He could then wager on Cleveland to guarantee some win or perhaps just cover his losses:

  • If he risked $110 on the Browns and they covered, he would break even (win $100 on the single, lose $100 on the parlay)
  • If he wagered $550 on the Browns he would make a decent profit regardless of who won. With a Cleveland cover, the profit would be $400 (win $500 on the single, lose $100 on the parlay) and a Rams cover would earn $450 (win $1000 on the parlay, lose $550 on the single).

Hedging is not something I advocate, but if you are the 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 Rams -6.5 in the parlay and taking Cleveland +5.5 or worse on a single as an example, although the line didn’t move that much this week.) You get the idea; just something to think about when you are on the verge of cashing a big parlay.

Now, for a quick look back at the weekend.

Saturday got off to a great start for the book when Syracuse (+3) beat up Notre Dame but bettors got revenge and more with big faves Navy and USC winning easily. 8pm ET was one of our busiest times this entire college season with both the SEC and Big XII Championship games kicking off at the same time. Action was very, very strong and bettors came out on LSU and very, very heavy on Oklahoma. LSU did their part for bettors but Oklahoma looked awful and Kansas State’s 35-7 win as a 14+ point dog has to rank as the biggest upset of the year (it is the highest profile for sure!) and one of the biggest wins for books. In the late game, bettors got some satisfaction when Boise St rolled past Hawaii but that one game made for a pretty good Saturday.

For the second Sunday in a row, the early action was pretty balanced. Bettors came out ahead with Philly and Baltimore but lost on Detroit (to San Diego) and the Giants (to Washington). The Vikings/Seahawks Over was one of the most heavily bet totals of the entire season and the 34-7 score (making Under the winner) helped the House avoid losses early. I was a little surprised that the Colts/Titans game didn’t get more action as its handle came in right about average.

In the 4pm games, both the Broncos/Chiefs and Pats/Dolphins games got a ton of action, but it was fairly even, with the only real opinion being a slight lean by bettors to the Pats. The other two games were a split with bettors cashing on the 49ers but losing when the Bills beat the Jets. The Denver/KC Over was good for bettors as well.

Sunday came down to the late game and bettors piled in on Carolina despite Michael Vick’s return. There was also a lot of play on the Over so the result was good on both fronts for the book. Monday saw bettors pile in on the Rams and the Over and so that result cancelled out the win from Sunday night. Sunday night went to the home dog, but Monday night went to the road favorite. The power of the home dog is one of my favorite topics when it comes to the NFL and will be the subject for next week’s column.

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