Parlays Should Mostly Be Avoided
by Trevor Whenham - 08/28/2008
Football season is here, and that means that many of you will be tempted to bet parlays. The schedules and nature of the sport make parlays very attractive to many football bettors. Most seasoned and successful bettors, though, generally avoid parlays because they don't provide the best means of making money over the long term. You need to decide for yourself if parlays are the right things for you or not. The advantages they present for you may very well outweigh the well-documented setbacks. The important thing isn't to use or avoid parlay bets at all costs. It's to be aware of the realities of them so that you can make a informed decision about whether they make sense for you or not. To help you to do that, here are four points to consider:
1. The return isn't fair - if you were to bet a game, win it, bet all of your winnings on the next game, and win three times in a row you would have more money in the end than if you had played the same three games in a parlay. That doesn't make sense, because betting on games and rolling profits into the next game is exactly what a parlay is. Sportsbooks are able to set the payouts for parlays at a lower than actual rate of return, though, because people mostly don't realize that they are doing it. That certainly helps their bottom lines, and it helps to explain why books are so eager to promote the bets to their users. The difference between what the payout is and what it should be grows significantly the more teams you have involved in the parlay. That doesn't mean that parlays are always a bad idea that must be avoided. It just means that you need to have a reason that justifies using a parlay and accounts for the extra cost. Those reasons probably exist, but you just need to make sure that laziness on your part isn't one of them.
2. Close isn't close enough - If you are regularly playing parlays then you need to make sure that you adjust your mindset accordingly to deal with them. The fact is that parlays aren't easy, and your losing rate is going to be high. If you were to win two out of every three games you bet on then you would be very wealthy. Win two out of three on a three-team parlay, though, and you are broke. You need to adjust your expectations so that you don't panic when you inevitably lose more than you win. That's the same adjustment needed for many betting situations - someone betting longshots on the money line can be comfortable with a much lower winning rate than someone who consistently backs favorites.
3. Shop around - All parlays aren't created equal. Different sportsbooks have different payouts, and different requirements to win. As with all sports betting, you can work to improve your chances of success just by looking around and finding the book that is offering the best price on the bet you want to make. It might seem like an unnecessary step, but the five minutes it takes can be the difference between profit and loss on the season.
4. Is this the best bet for me in this situation? - People are often drawn towards parlays because of the allure of high payouts and the drama and excitement of watching one win. If that's what you want from one, and you now the costs, then go for it. If you are looking at a parlay with a more determined eye on profit, though, then you need to make sure that this is the best bet for you. How confident do you feel about each of the games? Is there one that you feel you are more likely to lose? If so, then you are risking your chances to profit on the games you feel good about on the ability for a team that makes you uneasy to cover. Do the games all occur at the same time? If not, then you could do your own parlay - bet on the games individually and re-invest the profits - and have more to show for it in the end. Am I comfortable with the risk? If the downside seems too high then you could always do some sort of modified parlay - bet a portion of the profits on the next game and keep the rest. You won't make as much if you are right, but you won't lose as much if you are wrong, and you might feel less uneasy about the bet. Does a flat bet make more sense? Successful bettors are patient. They know they aren't going to make all of their money in one day, so they content themselves with slowly and gradually growing their stake. A parlay makes more than three winning flat bets, but over the long run the flat bets are certainly safer, and they are likely more satisfying, too.