Are Parlays a good bet?

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Parlay betting

In short, normally no.

Everyone loves the chance of winning the lotto/lottery, as its massive international popularity proves.  The chance of winning $1m for a small stake, as low as $1, has clear appeal.

Internationally, most Governments try to take a stake, or outright ownership, of national lotteries.  How ironic then, that anyone who knows anything about odds in gambling will know that a typical lottery payout of around 50% is in fact horrendous value to the consumer versus typical casino/sportsbook payouts closer to 90%.  The governments use the excuse of ‘charitable’ or state services. Of course, it is really all about the money at the end of the day.

So, what has this got to do with parlays?  Called Accumulators (or Accas) in the UK these bets are the sports betting equivalent of the lottery. A cursory look at basic probabilities suggests the following-

  • Odds of a straight bet = 50% less Vig 10%, say 45%
  • Odds of a 2-way parlay, 45% x 45% = 20%
  • Odds of a 3-way parlay = 45% x 45% x 45% = 9%

So, even with just 3 selections on any normal average odds bet (a 50/50 chance), the chances of winning are in fact less than 1 in 10.  This means the bookie knows you will lose over 9 out of 10 of these bets.  No wonder Sportsbooks around the world have started to promote them so aggressively. (Remember, the Sportsbooks have incentives for you to lose as explained here).

Are there any circumstances where parlays are a good bet?

There are a few situations where betting on parlays makes sense, such as-

  • Sometimes, betting on favorites results in poor odds, especially on the Moneyline.  It can therefore be sometimes sensible to combine a couple of favorites into 1 bet to achieve reasonable odds.  Again, minimizing the legs in the parlay is wise
  • A keen bettor might spot good, correlated outcomes in a match that can make sense to combine in a ‘same game parlay’. An example could be a shootout with one team fighting for their lives, where combining a bet on that team with an over might make sense.  Similarly, a prop bet on a player’s points combined with a win for the same team could make sense.  Sometimes the Sportsbooks recognize this and restrict what bets can be combined, especially in same game parlays
  • Parlays can also represent a good form of ‘insurance’ or ‘hedging’. If you have a lot of money tied into one side of a regular bet, or even better a couple of straight bets, it could make sense to parlay the opposite outcomes, in case your core bets go against you.  Normally, this would be a relatively small stake in specific circumstances such as seeing more danger now (e.g. in play) than when you placed your bets.