Teasers and Parlays: Strategic Wagers or Sucker’s Bets?

Those 6.5 for 1 odds are more generous than most you'll find. And believe it or not, they're still lower than they should be. (Station Casinos)

Those 6.5 for 1 odds are more generous than most you’ll find. And believe it or not, they’re still lower than they should be. (Station Casinos)

A couple of weeks ago, we posted three beginner’s guides to sports betting in which we covered three of the most popular sports among bettors (baseball, basketball and football). In each of these guides, we covered some of the most popular strategies that many bettors prefer to use. Since these were meant primarily for the purpose of providing novice bettors with information, we did not go into too much detail on some of the pros and cons of the strategies we mentioned. However, since parlays and teasers were brought up in multiple articles, it seems sensible to go over them at some length.

If you’ve read the aforementioned articles, then you already know that teasers and parlays are inherently linked to one another. You might also know that they can be very risky. Much of what we are about to cover will go into further detail on why you might want to avoid these strategies if you are looking for a solid return on the money you are putting down at the sportsbooks. You can be relatively certain that professional bettors are not spending most of their time on these strategies, and if you are one of the clients utilizing our handicapping consulting services, then you will find that our plays revolve around single match-ups. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t theoretically use some of them to form parlays, but you would be doing so at your own risk.

So if you want to avoid certain pitfalls that lead many sports bettors to financial ruin, you are better off playing single games. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use parlays and teasers every once in a while if you want to mix things up. And if you are going to do so, then you are going to want a solid understanding of how they work and the risks you are taking by indulging in them. That said, let’s take them individually and discuss why parlays and teasers sound appealing, as well as why they might be better avoided.

The Appeal of Parlays

Pictured: What the average bettor expects when they make a parlay. (Zack MacCarthy)

Pictured: What the average bettor expects when they make a parlay. (Zack MacCarthy)

If you haven’t read our beginner’s guides, let’s give you a quick refresher on what a parlay is. A parlay is when you place a wager on more than one team at the same time, with the stipulation that each team on which you place your bet must win their respective games, or else you will not collect your winnings. If a team breaks even with the point spread and the game results in a push, your parlay is reduced by one team. In other words, a parlay of two teams can be reduced to a single bet, while higher parlays will simply see a slight reduction in the odds of achieving a payout.

As strange as this may sound, the primary appeal of parlays is actually that they are practically next to impossible to pull of successfully. See, as you add teams to your parlay, the odds increase dramatically. Not only would winning a parlay allow you to collect more payout than winning the same number of single bets, but a parlay of six or seven teams would result in a payout so massive that it would make the payout received from the same number of single plays seem virtually miniscule by comparison.

In addition, parlays are not that difficult at some venues. There are sportsbooks that actually offer special parlay cards, which allow you to throw down just a couple of bucks to make your bet. And you know this must be popular, because they wouldn’t be charging so little if they weren’t selling their fair share of cards. These cards are usually so simple that they only take a few seconds to fill out, allowing you to fill in which teams you want to bet on and how much money you would like to put down on them.

In other words, parlays offer potentially high winnings for little effort. And if you’re the type of bettor who really looks over the stats carefully before placing a bet, then you might have a decent win rate and feel relatively confident that you can achieve success in your parlays. After all, while the odds may be stacked against you, it’s not like no one has ever won. This is especially true of parlays that only involve two or three teams, but even parlays of six or seven teams will pay off occasionally. When you think about it, there are people who have managed to fill out March Madness brackets with 100% accuracy before. And isn’t accurately guessing the fates of 64 teams exponentially more difficult than guessing the fates of less than a dozen?

You would think. And therein lies the problem. The sportsbooks want you to utilize this type of logic when placing your bet. They are actively hoping that you will be drawn to parlays like an opportunistic moth to a flame of petty cash. But you shouldn’t be, and here’s why….

The Problem with Parlays

Pictured: About $4 more than the average bettor actually wins when they make a parlay. (Alamy)

Pictured: About $4 more than the average bettor actually wins when they make a parlay. (Alamy)

After reading the above paragraphs, you may be thinking that the problem with parlays is sheer improbability. And technically, this is not untrue. There is certainly something to be said about placing a wager that you are statistically unlikely to win. After all, you generally have to maintain a win rate of more than 52% to be a profitable sports bettor, and that’s between all of the bets you place over your entire betting career. The chances of maintaining a 100% win rate for even as few as three games are not great. Of course, as we said previously, it is not impossible either. And if you’ve found a great sportsbook that offers high payouts for successful parlays, you might understandably be tempted to try your luck.

But slow your roll for a second, because the odds you’re given aren’t always as promising as they seem. While parlays of six or seven games might differ a bit in the odds given by the sportsbook, easier parlays of three teams are almost always set at odds of six to one. And you might think that placing a parlay of just a few teams gives you a greater chance of success, but in your haste to take advantage of what seems like a sure deal you have missed the fact that you are actually on something of a fool’s errand.

Why? Because the odds of winning a parlay of three teams are not six to one. There are technically eight possible outcomes, and only one of them ensures success while seven result in a loss. This means that the sportsbook actually has an edge of slightly over 12%. This is greater than the edge given to the house in popular casino games such as craps or blackjack. This means that everything we said in our article concerning the merits of sports betting versus casino games is thrown out the window when you decide to place a parlay.

It also means that everything you initially thought about parlays and the profitability that stems from placing one successfully is fundamentally untrue. If the odds were set fairly, and if you could be relatively certain that you would come out on top with a 100% win rate on your parlays, then perhaps it would make sense to use them as a main strategy for making big profits on your wagers. But Vegas oddsmakers tend to be fairly profit-minded when placing the odds on single games, so expecting them to treat parlays any differently is a little more than slightly unreasonable.

If you do decide to place a parlay at either a casino or an online sportsbook, you will be in good company. They are one of the most popular strategies used by bettors who think that they can find a way to make a quick buck. And you can usually set down virtually any amount of money that you want, meaning that you won’t risk losing money on the juice. You’ll just risk losing, y’know…everything you wager. They might be fun every once in a while, but they should never be considered a reliable way of making a quick buck.

The Appeal of Teasers

He thinks he’s sneaky for making a bet directly offered by the sportsbook. How clever. (Img Arcade)

He thinks he’s sneaky for making a bet directly offered by the sportsbook. How clever. (Img Arcade)

There are some novice sports bettors who might be a little big for their britches and might think that they have this whole parlay deal figured out. How is that, you ask? Simple. Instead of placing a basic parlay, they can just tease the odds in their favor and heighten their chances of receiving a payout. And what could sound more appealing than the opportunity to skew the odds of a game in the direction of your choosing?

A teaser works basically like a parlay. Instead of just betting on one team in one game, you are combining multiple bets into one with the stipulation that 100% of the teams you pick must win their respective games. Again, a push will lower your teaser by one team, and a loss by any team will result in a loss on the whole thing. Really, the only difference between a teaser and a parlay is in the difference you make by modifying the point spreads.

Of course, this is where the appeal comes in. Not only can you adjust the point spreads to give your team a greater chance of covering them, but you can also decide upon the number of points by which the spread will be adjusted. Depending on the number of points by which you adjust your spread, you will be given different odds. This is naturally something of a safeguard for the sportsbooks, so that they do not lose money by offering the same payouts on teasers that they would offer on parlays that had not been altered.

At first glance, it may look as if teasers address some of the major issues presented by standard parlays. The odds of nabbing that 100% win rate that you need suddenly do not seem so insurmountable. The smaller payout might not even matter to you, which is not the worst frame of mind for a bettor to have. After all, any money won from a teaser is more money than you started with. Isn’t this something to be proud of? It certainly seems as if it should be.

It seems pretty hard to see how there could be a problem with even modest winnings, especially when they appear almost handed to you on a silver platter. But bear in mind that the sportsbooks are in it for a profit. They wouldn’t offer bettors the chance to tease their bets if they thought that the practice could somehow disrupt their financial stability. So you know that there has to be a catch, and the question is simply what kind of catch there is and how much of a problem it really poses against your ability to profit by making teaser bets.

The Problem with Teasers

Get it? Because with teasers and parlays, you’ll often eat your losses. (Shutterstock)

Get it? Because with teasers and parlays, you’ll often eat your losses. (Shutterstock)

The answer to this one is actually pretty simple. As we already said, the odds on a teaser change depending upon the number of points by which you modify the point spread. And they don’t just change a little bit. You might be okay with modest winnings, but even “modest” is a bit of an exaggeration compared to what you’ll actually make from teasing your bets. If you don’t get what we mean by this, then let us just take a look at some specific numbers taken from a sportsbook that offers relatively average odds for teasers.

As we said before, parlays of three teams are usually given odds of six to one. But these odds become about nine to five if you decide to tease your parlay by six points. And the odds become three to two if you tease your bet by even one point more than that. In fact, to get odds of six to one, you would have to place a teaser of six teams and tease the point spreads by about six and a half points. Even with the odds skewed in your favor, you have to win twice as many games as you would to achieve the same payout on a standard parlay.

In other words, we aren’t even talking about modest winnings here. We’re talking about winning pretty much next to nothing on your payout unless you place a teaser on enough teams to vastly reduce your actual odds of success no matter how greatly you adjust the point spread. Much like with parlays, you simply can’t assume that the sportsbooks would provide you with such a seemingly great deal unless they knew there was a catch that would allow them to come out on top at the end of the day.

Not only do teasers pose many of the same problems as parlays, but they are arguably more problematic simply due to the fact that the increased odds have the potential to lure some bettors into a false sense of security. They may not be so hesitant to place a teaser on six teams, because they figure putting an extra six or seven points on the spread will raise their odds enough to promise them a victory. Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case.

Much like with parlays, you should not feel as if you can never place teasers just because the odds are against you. It is simply important to go in with realistic expectations. If you assume that teasers are a sure thing and that you can rely on them for the bulk of your profits, then you are going to be in for some major disappointments when you start handing over the majority of your bankroll to the sportsbooks. You should always focus on singles play, and simply use teasers when you feel like mixing things up for a little bit of fun and excitement. This will make for a rewarding experience, and will help you to keep your losses to a minimum.