Reverse bets are a type of bet you can make at most sportsbooks, but they aren’t a particularly popular bet, and they don’t even show up on the radar of most bettors. A large part of the reason for that is that the bets can be confusing if you don’t understand them. Once you figure out what they are, though, they actually make a lot of sense.
A reverse bet is essentially just two ‘if’ bets, so it makes sense that we start with looking at what an ‘if’ bet is. An ‘if’ bet is a bet on two or more teams - like a parlay is. The difference between a parlay and an ‘if’ bet, though, is that you have to win all of your games in a parlay or you lose your entire bet, while in an ‘if’ bet you can get some money back if you win just once.
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It’s easier to understand an ‘if’ bet if you think of it as an ‘if/then’ bet. If you bet a three-game ‘if’ bet and the first game wins, then the bet you planned to make on the second game is active. If the first bet doesn’t win then your bet on the second and third games don’t happen. If the second game wins then your bet on the third game is active. If the bet on the second game loses then your bet is finished, but you get to keep the proceeds from the first winning bet.
There are a few reasons why you would make an ‘if’ bet, but one of the most common is because of an inadequate bankroll. If you want to bet on two games and you only have $100 to bet on each, then you could bet $50 on each game, or you could give yourself a shot at a better ultimate profit by placing a $100 if bet.
A reverse bet is just two two-game if bets that are dependent on each other. People who are familiar with betting on horse races will understand that a reverse bet is essentially just a box of an ‘if’ bet. For example, lets say that you like Team A in one game and Team B in the other. If you just bet an ‘if’ bet on A and then B you would be out of luck if A lost - even if B subsequently won.
In a reverse bet you would make two if bets - A then B, but also B then A. Depending on the odds for the two teams you are interested in, your losses could be less in the reverse bet than if you had just bet the one ‘if’ bet. If Team B was a big underdog you could even make a profit even if only one team won. You can make reverse bets that combine a moneyline bet with a point spread, or even games in two different sports.
The concept may still be a little muddy, but an example will make it easier to grasp. Let’s say that the two teams you like are the Giants -110, and the Steelers -120, and you make a $500 reverse bet. The potential loss in a reverse bet is twice the potential loss in the potentially more expensive game. In this case you are betting to win $500 on each game, so on the Giants you would bet $550, while on the Steelers you would bet $600. Your maximum loss, then, is $1200 (the maximum loss would occur when the more expensive game loses and the less expensive game is a push). Ignoring the possibility of pushes, there are four different possible outcomes - the Giants and Steelers can both win, the Giants can win and the Steelers can lose, the Steelers can win while the Giants can lose, or both teams can win. Let’s look at each:
Both teams win: In this case you would win both of your if bets. In the first you would bet $550 on the Giants and win, generating a profit of $500. Then you would bet $600 on the Steelers, generating a profit of $500. You would generate a profit of $1000 on that ‘if’ bet. You would also bet $1000 on the other ‘if’ bet. Your total profit, then, would be $2000.
Giants win, Steelers lose: In your first ‘if’ bets - the Giants then the Steelers - you would win your first bet for a profit of $500, but then you would lose the second bet for a loss of $600. Your net result on that ‘if’ bet would be a loss of $100. On the other if bet you would lose $600 on the Steelers bet, and the ‘if’ bet would end. Your total loss would be $650.
Steelers win, Giants lose: You would lose your first ‘if’ bet - the Giants then the Steelers - and you would lose $550. On your second if bet you would win the first part for a profit of $500, but then you’d lose the second part and lose $550. Your net loss is $50. Overall your loss would be $550.
Both teams lose: You would lose $550 on the first if bet, and $600 on the second if bet, for a total loss of $1150.
So, why would you bet a reverse bet instead of a parlay? If you risk $1200 in a parlay with these two teams then you would make a profit of $3000 when you won, but you would lose your whole bet in the other three possible outcomes. Those three losses would cost you $3600.
So over the long term the expectation of the bet would be a loss of 12.5 percent of the amount you bet. In a reverse bet you would only win $2000 when you win, but your losses would only be $2350 on your three lost bets. You’d still lose money over the long term, but your long-term loss expectation would be just 7.6 percent. It’s easier to overcome a smaller expected loss with handicapping than a bigger one, so reverse bets could be more attractive in this situation.