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Parlay Cards: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

25 July 1999

Although it's tough to beat your bookie over the long haul, there are a few sports betting opportunities worth watching for.

Parlay cards are a good example. Usually, parlays are a bad idea. For example, if your bookie (or your Las Vegas Sports Book, or Internet gaming site—they're all the same for the purposes of this discussion, although there are definitely important differences) offers you a 6-1 payoff if you parlay three games correctly, you're taking way the worst of it.

The odds against getting three consecutive even-money propositions right are 7-1 (put another way, one in eight), not 6-1 (which is one in seven). Let's suppose you made such a parlay bet 1,000 times, for $100 each time. Assuming that your individual game picks are even-money propositions, you rate to win your parlay card 125 times (one-eighth of a thousand).

At the true 7-1 odds, you would enjoy 125 $800 victories (the $700 you win each time, plus your returned $100 investment), so you would get back exactly the $100,000 you had invested (125x800=100,000).

At the proffered 6-1 odds, you would "enjoy" the same 125 victories, but you would be paid only $700 each for them. 700 times 125 equals $87,500, meaning you would be a $12,500 loser. Put another way, by accepting 6-1 instead of 7-1, you're fighting a 12.5% house advantage, which is more than twice as bad as roulette, Caribbean Stud, or most of the other games you probably quit—or at least learned to play only for low stakes—long ago.

But parlays aren't always bad, despite that huge house edge, if you get to play one that isn't independent. For example, suppose your bookie allowed you to parlay three "over-under" bets on the same game: first half over-under, second-half over-under, and full game over-under. Although these are three separate bets, a parlay here is very, very different from a parlay of three independent events like Michigan over Notre Dame, Ohio State over Purdue and Florida over Georgia.

Do you see why? Suppose your three picks are:

First half total: over 21
Second half total: over 22
Full game total: over 43

If you win the first two parts of your bet—if both the first and the second halves go over—you MUST win the third part, because the game total will also go over. So here you're getting paid 6-1 on what is a 3-1 proposition (getting both the first and second half bets correct). That's a MONSTROUS overlay, if you can find a bookie dumb enough to offer it. The only reason you won't get wealthy betting this one is that your bookie will go out of business before you can retire.

Speaking of bookies going out of business… you do need to take that into consideration when you find a monster edge. Probably not so much with your local bookie—if he's been around for 20 years, he'll probably survive one bad offering—and almost certainly not with a major casino sports book, because if anyone has the deep pockets to survive such a mistake, it's a real casino.

If you favor one of the new Internet sports books with your gambling action, though, you must recognize that there is some risk—tiny in some cases, significant in others—that you may not get paid off. If an Internet sports book runs a promotion where they allow such parlays, and the "wise guys" crush them, the chance exists that the casino may close down.

I'm not in the business of recommending one Internet casino over another; a website like can help. I just want you to recognize that anytime you make a bet where a chance exists that you might not get paid if you win, you need to take that into account and adjust your expected return. This factor can turn a great bet into a good bet, a good bet into a bad one, or a bad bet into a horrible one. Stay aware, and take advantage of all the current information you can. End of lecture. Let's get back to gaming opportunities.

These kinds of great parlay situations used to come up fairly often during the Super Bowl, because of all the exotic proposition bets offered. Although usually not offered throughout the season, for the Super Bowl (and to a lesser extent other playoff games) you can make bets on the first player to score, which quarterback will throw more touchdown passes, how many rushing touchdowns, and so on.

Most sports books have wised up and no longer allow bettors to parlay these exotic bets, but stay alert: you never know when sports book will go brain dead and offer a one-time promotion without recognizing the edge it's giving away.

Sometimes the parlays on proposition bets can be a little subtle (and that subtlety is what's likely to create your best opportunity).

For example, if a sports book allowed you to parlay "Team A's quarterback will throw for more passing yardage" with "Team B will rush for more yardage," those aren't completely independent events! Although not the stone cold lock that my over-under example provided, teams that are behind tend to throw more, and teams that are ahead tend to rush more. So if Team A has more passing yardage, it's slightly more likely that Team B will have more rushing yardage…and this becomes a very tempting parlay.

Some other similar "non-independent parlay" opportunities:

  • Team A will rush for more touchdowns and Team A will win the game.
  • Team A's quarterback will throw for more passing yardage and Team A's quarterback will throw for more touchdowns.
  • Team B will score first and Team B will win the game.

I'm not about to dissect football in its entirety here, because the kinds of exotic bets change from year to year, and (sadly) most sports books have caught on. But you can now see the kind of opportunity to watch for. Anytime two or more events have a chance to be dependent upon one another, and you have a chance to parlay them as if they are independent…you've become the House, instead of the Sucker. Jump on 'em, while you have the all-too-brief chance.

©1999 by Andrew N. S. Glazer
& Casino Conquests International, LLC
All Rights Reserved

Andrew N.S. Glazer
Andrew N. S. Glazer was a blackjack, backgammon and poker pro whom Newsweek Magazine called a "poker scholar." He also was the weekly gaming columnist for The Detroit Free Press, and a regular contributor to Chance Magazine, and the top gaming information websites.

Books by Andrew N.S. Glazer:

Andrew N.S. Glazer
Andrew N. S. Glazer was a blackjack, backgammon and poker pro whom Newsweek Magazine called a "poker scholar." He also was the weekly gaming columnist for The Detroit Free Press, and a regular contributor to Chance Magazine, and the top gaming information websites.

Books by Andrew N.S. Glazer: