Parlays are the lottery tickets of sports betting. They are the only way to turn a small amount of money risked into an outsized return. Parlays often get a bad rap, however, as these wagers always build in an extremely high hold percentage for bookmakers.
This leads to the most straightforward recommendation for new or novice bettors to stay away and stick only to straight bets. The complicated math requirements increase the opportunity for bookmakers to finish in the black. And we have seen this play out in state reports for sports betting, as parlay bets consistently perform as the highest percentage of revenue generator compared to hold for sportsbooks.
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Simply avoiding these types of wagers altogether leaves opportunities on the table, however. Let’s go through the different forms of bets that sportsbooks offer and try to find some plays that could be considered +EV bets. Since this is Week 1, we will walk through more of an introduction on each type of bet before offering some recommendations for the best ones to target this week. Let’s dive into the basics.
A parlay bet combines multiple wagers into one bet. It does this by rolling over the winnings from each individual wager into the next leg of the wager. Each leg, or individual bet, in the parlay must win for the parlay to grade as a winner.
As an example, let’s look at the regular season kickoff game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Buccaneers listed as 7.5-point favorites with the total set at 50.5. All sides on these two wagers have a price listed at -110.
Say a bettor wanted to place a wager on both the spread and the total, risking $100. They could simply take $50 and bet on the Bucs -7.5, then take the other $50 and take the under 50.5. When both bets win, the bettor walks away with a profit of $90.90.
The other option is to parlay both of these bets, especially if the $100 is burning a hole in your pocket. Both legs must now win for this bet to payout, but if they do win the bettor would net $264. This sets up a framework where we know the exact payout on -110 legs of a parlay based on how many bet legs are included.
|# of Legs||Actual Odds||SportsBook Payout||Hold Percentage|
The immediate takeaway is that the actual odds are higher in every circumstance than the Sportsbooks payout. This is the vig factored in and where bookmakers earn their profit. The key to parlays, like straight bets, is finding +EV situations to capitalize on.
One other parlay wrinkle is the inclusion of moneyline wagers, or if the price on any particular bet isn’t -110. The payout can easily be calculated in these scenarios as well. We'll walk through how to do it using another example.
Let’s set our sites on a three-leg moneyline parlay for Week 1 with the Jaguars at -150, Washington at +105 and Seahawks at -135. Your wager on this parlay is $100.
To calculate, simply pick any of the three legs to start, as the order doesn’t matter. Starting with Washington at +105, figure out what the wager would profit with this pick ($105). That brings your total to $205. Now take that and calculate what a winning bet on the Jaguars -150 would be. Take your new total and figure out what you would win on the final bet, which is the Seahawks -135. Our final payout here would be $494.00.
Typically, rolling over bets instead of a parlay offers a higher payout, but the problem is you cannot do this with multiple games that start at the same time. If the legs you identify all start at different times, then almost every situation is better to roll over bets.
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Outside of seeking out +EV straight up bets to parlay, there is one other scenario where parlays aren’t like lighting money on fire: the often-discussed but rarely found correlated parlay.
In layman’s terms, a correlated parlay is a wager where the two (or more) legs are correlated or tied together. If one leg wins then the chances increase that the second leg will also win. A simplified example that no sportsbook will ever accept would be if a bettor could parlay a team’s chances of winning the Conference championship and Super Bowl together. The secret is to increase the chances of the second leg winning if the first leg ends with a favorable outcome.
Thankfully, there are other less-obvious examples that sportsbooks occasionally miss or simply think don’t matter enough to block bettors from parlaying together.
An often discussed idea is if a big underdog covers, the game typically falls short of the total. Since books allow bettors to parlay spreads and totals, the thought is if someone identifies a big underdog as likely to cover, they can increase their profitability by including the under and parlaying both bets together.
In the NFL, there have been 3,584 regular-season games from 2007-2020. There has been a closing spread with a favorite of a touchdown or greater in 1,111 games. Underdogs have covered in 580 of these games (52.2%), and when the underdog covers, 51.4% of games go below the total.
It isn’t much, but it is a slightly above average breakeven proposition, so when using PFF Greenline to identify the right games, the odds will be even better that both outcomes of the parlay hit. There are numerous other examples that we will dive into throughout the season, but for now let’s turn our attention to a new offering that is becoming increasingly popular across major sportsbooks.
Legalized sports betting has forced bookmakers to become more creative with their offerings. One of the most popular new options is the same-game parlay. They allow bettors to place parlays on correlated events that weren’t allowed at your grandparents sportsbook. The big catch is that the odds adjust based on the correlation of bets included in the parlay. Basically, the odds given aren’t reflective of uncorrelated outcomes at -110 odds like traditional parlays. There is a reduction in odds given based on the bookmakers' calculation for how likely the events are to happen together.
As an example, we can take two events that everyone intuitively knows are correlated together. The Eagles are +3.5 point underdogs on the road in Atlanta for Week 1. The first half moneyline has the Eagles at +165. A normal, two-leg parlay with one leg at -110 and a moneyline at +165 has a payout of $408.94 on a $100 bet. In a same-game parlay, because of the correlated outcome, DraftKings is paying out +184 on this same-game parlay. The change in breakeven percentage based on those two payouts is 15.5%, which is a massive change for any event in sports betting.