Parlay betting is one of the favorite forms of wager for NFL gamblers and is the most popular form of wagering besides sides and totals narrowly beating out teasers. For years bettors have tried to hit big against the sportsbooks betting parlays. Some gamblers seem to swear by them while others never go near them.
Are NFL parlays profitable? What can I do to maximize my edge against the bookmakers in these potentially large payoff but high variance type of bets? I’ll answer these questions and more in this article.
What Are Parlays?
Parlays are single wagers that are linked together, all of which must win for the parlay to be graded as a winner. Parlays are the American equivalent to accumulators, which are widely used in popular European betting markets.
The odds on parlays are greater than individual side or total bets. For instance, a two-team parlay pays +260 and a 3-team parlay +600, and as players add more bets to a parlay their odds continue to increase. Let’s look at an example of a typical three-team parlay on an NFL Sunday:
Pittsburgh Steelers +2.5 (-110)
Indianapolis Colts +8 (-110)
San Francisco 49ers -3 (-110)
If I were to risk $100 on this three team parlay I’d have a potential payout amount of $600, good for a $500 profit. All three of the above teams would have to cover for me to win my bet. If two of my picks cover the point spread, but one of them ends in a push, the parlay then goes from three teams to two teams.
If I bet a two-team parlay and push the one of my picks, it normally just becomes a straight bet at -110 at the vast majority of online sportsbooks. In fact, if these are not the rules on two-team parlays at your sportsbook, I’d recommend finding another option because any other scenario, even a no action (refund your stake) is borderline predatory.
True Odds vs. Listed Odds
Parlays, just like every other NFL wager have built in vig for the sportsbooks. Below, we’ve compiled a table of the “true odds” on winning a parlay without the bookmaker’s juice and the typical odds offered at most online sportsbooks.
|Number Of Teams||True Odds||Standard Offshore Odds|
As you can see, the sportsbook have a considerable edge on bettors with the vig. While it is smaller, but still significant when players bet two or three-team parlays, it gets larger and larger as players add more teams to their bet.
The odds past two and three-team parlays start to get considerably worse and are downright robbery when the bettors hit 7-team parlays.
When a bettor takes a wager that is not the standard -110, the sportsbook will recalculate the parlay to fit the player’s new chosen wagers. This can be when a bettor parlays a side or total with a prop (or other non -110 bet), and though the vig will still be a factor, bettors can usually get a better price on their wager than just going with the standard odds.
For instance, if we add a plus odds bet such as +120 or +130 to other -110 wagers, we will increase our overall parlay potential payout. The increase in odds will vary but sportsbook, but is certainly something NFL bettors should try to utilize.
Parlays Are Normally a Bad Bet
As we can see from the table above, it is clear parlays have a significant bookmakers edge, especially as bettors begin to increase the number of teams. One of the main reasons for the increase in the edge is the risk and variance taken by the sportsbooks if someone should hit one of these bets for massive money. A winning ticket on a 10-team parlay pays out immensely even with the massive edge by the sportsbooks. A $100 wager has potential winnings of $30,000 which is a nice chunk of change for the sportsbooks to payout.
Also, parlays are high odds bets with a low rate of success and will increase variance more so than straight wagers on sides and totals. Also, consider that if you are betting parlays that you’re most likely not getting the best line because you aren’t line shopping.
Sportsbooks are hard to beat, especially in NFL betting where line shopping is vital. When I bet a parlay, I essentially throw line shopping out the window. Sure, I could luck out here and there and get the best numbers on all my games at the same book, but that rarely happens. Finding the best lines available at a variety of books and betting individual wagers is usually a better option.
Tips for NFL Parlays
Even though parlays are generally –EV bets, there are some situations where we can bring the sportsbooks edge down considerably and give ourselves the best chance to beat the book despite the vig.
Don’t Go Over Three
Feel free to examine the table above again as it is quite clear the bookie’s edge gets a lot larger after two and three team parlays. The true odds of +300 for two-team parlays are not far from the offered line of most sportsbooks at +260. For three-team parlays, the true odds of +597 are only slightly off from the +600 offered at most sportsbooks.
These are by far the best options for parlay bettors. As bettors add more teams, the vig continues to increase, making even 4 or 5-team parlays much worse bets than one or two teams. As we get closer towards 10 teams, the odds on parlays are among the worst bets for sports bettors.
Playing With House Money?
When bettors first deposit at a sportsbook they are rewarded with a bonus that usually comes in the form of a freeplay. Since you are essentially playing with house money, your odds will increase on all wagers since you are not staking any of your own money.
Depending on the bonus amount, a freeplay may increase your edge on the bookies by 10-20 percent. Receiving plus odds (beating the bookie’s vig) may be possible on a variety of parlay wagers with this rather large added edge.
Correlated parlays are two-team parlays that are essentially two bets on that are likely to win if one of them comes to fruition, at least in the handicapper’s mind.
In the NFL, this might happen when a high scoring team faces an opponent in which they are rather large favorites. The bettor may decide to bet the spread favorite and parlay the over because if he is right about the favored team covering the spread – he figures the game will be high scoring. If the favored team also has a poor defense, the underdog may also contribute a lot of points to the total. This situation can also be used the same way a game that a bettor predicts to be a low scoring affair. These are just examples of the reasoning behind correlated parlays, bettors have a variety of reasons for betting them.
Correlated parlays do not have quantifiable edges and bettors will have to use their own judgment in how a game will shape up. However, if you become adept at betting correlated parlays, it can be one of the only ways to gain an edge on the bookmakers via parlay.
Although, it is also pertinent to note that correlated parlays are sometimes frowned upon by sportsbooks, and many will limit the amount a bettor can wager or disallow them all together from certain accounts.
Best Sportsbooks for NFL Parlays
US-facing sportsbooks’ parlay odds have quite a bit of variation, and depending on the number of teams in the parlay, each book may offer an advantage over another.
Bovada.lv offers the best 4-team parlay odds around at 15/1, and they are also one of the most trusted books for US sports betting dating back a decade. No book comes close to matching Bovada at 15/1 on 4-team parlays. Most other sportsbooks servicing US players offer 12/1 on these bets, making Bovada the play to be for 4-team parlays.
Bet Online has a slight edge, but one that is worth your while on three-team parlays. While most other books offer 6/1 odds, Bet Online gives players 6.5/1 on this wager. This is especially significant considering two and three-team parlays have the lowest house edge. Bet Online’s parent company have been around a long time in the offshore world, and while the company has been a bit shady in some cases, they always seem to pay players. For some, that is all that matters.
5Dimes Sportsbook offer competitive odds as well on their parlays and is one of the few sites that allow bettors to parlay proposition wagers, such as player and team props with side and totals. 5Dimes is among the most trusted sportsbooks on the web and is a pioneer in offshore betting.