A question we have received over and over again is, “are parlays bad value?” or some, oftentimes more derogatory, iteration of the above.
Let’s take a look at the underlying math of parlays to determine whether they are or not.
Let’s start with the basics.
If Joe Schmo, our average sports bettor, wants to bet $100 on three separate NFL moneyline bets, his bet slip might look something like this:
- Chicago Bears ML: +255
- Atlanta Falcons ML: +165
- LA Rams ML: +830
Joe wants to bet on three NFL teams to win outright, with all three of them being underdogs in the sportsbooks’ eyes.
If he chooses to bet them individually, the combined winnings would be $1,250 plus the $300 Joe put up to get there.
But if Joe was convinced that all three of these teams were undervalued and decided to take the gamble and play them as a moneyline parlay, the payout would be a whopping $8,649 on a $100 dollar wager.
As you can see, the payouts of the same bets have multiplied significantly, but of course, the risk has also increased significantly.
And don’t forget, for any parlay to hit, every single leg has to hit. The implied probability, see how to calculate it, of the odds above is:
- Chicago Bears ML: +255 | 28.2%
- Atlanta Falcons ML: +165 | 37.7%
- LA Rams ML: +830 | 10.3%
Individually, some of these already seem fairly low.
But assuming that Vegas has priced these markets well and all of them have to hit, the probability of all three drops to: 1.095% (0.282×0.377×0.103).
At odds like these, where you’re looking at +8649 to win, you would need to hit a little over 1% of your bets to make a profit.
Difficult, but hey, we all know the main purpose is excitement and not a quick way to get rich.
Apart from the low probability of the bet hitting, the next question we have to ask ourselves is, are they bad value because of the price the sportsbooks are giving to us?
The way sportsbooks make money is by having a “hold” on each market.
That means that by adding all probabilities you can bet together, you usually end up somewhere around 105%. This means that the book has a hold of 5%.
Other phrases for a sportsbook’s hold are vig, vigorish, juice, margin, or overround, depending on where you are in the world.
The UNLV Center for Gaming Research has been collecting data on the hold ever since 1992.
This data shows that the average hold on normal markets is indeed somewhere around 5%, but when it comes to Parlays, they can go as high as the mid-30s on average.
That means the book expects to win roughly 30 cents on each dollar wagered instead of the normal 5.
With parlays being roughly six times more profitable for the books, you can see why they like bettors to play them.
As such, it is important to understand that while the payouts seem enticing, the math is against you.
You are far more likely not to get your money’s worth when comparing it to betting your selections as individual markets.
At this point, there are two considerations:
Firstly, you will find very few professionals who bet parlays to actually make money.
Parlays are a fun instrument that make watching a game or even a whole tournament more exciting. For 99% of Americans, betting is not a way to consistently make money but a way to have fun.
If you think of your betting wallet as entertainment money, then a parlay every now and then can’t hurt. As a team here at BestOdds.com, we are definitely guilty of laying down a dollar on a cheeky longshot parlay every now and then.
Secondly, parlays are not the best value when looking at the markets defined by the books. However, if you believe to have an edge on the book, parlays can be an interesting way to exploit this especially if you use parlay bonuses.
If you find that you are consistently finding edges, then 2 or 3-leg parlays can be the way to exploit this.
Long story short, enjoy betting parlays but don’t get too excited by chasing big parlay payouts.
Understand that they are long shots and behave accordingly.
Don’t overbet or risk too much and manage your betting wallet appropriately.
Biggest Parlay Bet Wins
Just for fun, let’s look at some of the biggest and luckiest parlay wins ever.
The First Basket Mega Parlay
Coming in hot at number 1, a 260,267 to 1 longshot.
This bettor did everything right. They had a theory and 50 cents worth of change and placed the ultimate longshot parlay.
A 6-leg first basket parlay turning their 50 cents into a whopping $130.000. I am not sure when we shall next see a win like this again, with odds on each leg running from the most likely +450 all the way up to +1100.
Congratulations to one lucky FanDuel bettor in Pennsylvania for this one.
The Ryder Cup Special
In 2021, one bettor pulled off the most impressive prediction I have ever witnessed.
A 150.000 to 1 long shot by predicting the precise outcomes of all matchups on Sunday. And it’s not like the winners turned out to be the favorites.
Some underdogs won, some favorites one, and a few even ended in a tie. But our lucky longshot bettor got all 12 of them right to take home just shy of a million dollars.
The 70k To 1 Nascar Thriller
Nascar is one of the most underappreciated sports to be on if you ask me.
Unlike the NFL, where it’s fairly reasonable to predict how long someone is going to play and their risk of injury etc., Nascar can flip the script any minute through major crashes, weather changes, or anything else chaotic.
This race was no different. Our bettor here racked up a bet slip of outsiders to finish in the top 10 at the historic Coke Zero Sugar 400 in Daytona.
And on this day, the Nascar gods decided to show up in full force, with almost half the entire field crashing in spectacular fashion.
This crash led to several of the favorites being eliminated. Well, have a look at what this meant to a mystery bettor who pulled off this outrageous long shot.
Bonus: The 1.6 Million To 1 From Across The Pond
It’s not just in the US that bettors love their parlays.
Across the pond, they really enjoy betting on what they call an Acca. This is the British for parlay. It stands for accumulator. Well, I take you back 22 years to August 2000.
One bettor walked into his local betting shop with 30 pence. (In those days, that was roughly 60 cents, but now it’s only 35 cents!)
Anyways, our hero placed his Acca on various season-long futures markets to predict the winner of the major soccer leagues in England, Scotland, and Europe.
For good measure, he predicted the European champions for rugby and England’s champion regional cricket team.
On 23rd May 2001, Bayern Munich of Germany defeated Valencia of Spain by penalty kicks after a tie in the final of the European Champions Soccer League; this remarkable bettor had turned his 60 cents into $1 million!
His 11-leg parlay had landed in a truly spectacular way!
Can you imagine his nerves watching those penalty kicks being taken, knowing that he had one million dollars depending on the outcome?!