Most people who are familiar with the intricacies of sports betting will tell you that parlays are for suckers. In almost all cases they are right. There are situations in baseball that can be different, though. In fact, sometimes parlaying in baseball can be a good idea.
Before we look at why baseball is different, let’s look at why parlays are generally a bad idea using football as an example Let’s say we are going to parlay three games against the spread. In each game there are two possible outcomes – your team covers and you win, or your team doesn’t cover and you lose (we’ll assume that a push isn’t relevant here). If you do a three game parlay then there are eight possible outcomes of the three games as far as your bets are concerned – WWW, WWL, WLW, LWW, WLL, LWL, LLW, and LLL. Of those eight there is only one that will cause you to earn a profit – WWW. In each of the other seven you will lose the money you have bet. In order to break even over the long term, then, you would need the bet to pay at least 7/1, and you would obviously need better than that to make a profit. The problem is that three team parlays typically pay off at 6/1 or worse. The only way you can come out ahead over the long term, then, is if the three wins occurs proportionally more often than the other seven outcomes. Most bettors think that it does for them, but they are almost all wrong. Parlays are a fantastic bet for sportsbooks because their risk is far less than their reward, so their long term profit is all but assured. If they are making money then most bettors aren’t.
So, why is baseball different? Well, baseball doesn’t use point spreads. Instead, most betting on baseball is done using the moneyline. That means that the way that parlays are calculated is different. There are no fixed payouts for parlays in baseball. Instead, the parlay payout is calculated using the odds of the games you are betting on. A parlay is basically just a bet where you are making a bet on one game and then taking the profit from the bet plus the original stake and betting that on a second game, and so on for as many games as you are parlaying. To determine the potential payout for a baseball parlay, then, all you have to do is figure out what the payout for one of the games will be for the amount you are betting, and then multiply the potential profits plus the original stake by the moneyline for the second game you are betting to get the overall payout. It might all sound confusing if you aren’t a math fan, but it’s not. Say you are betting a two game parlay, and the odds on the two games are +110 and +130 and you are betting $100. One the +110 game your profit would be $110. On the second game, then, you would be betting that $110 plus the original $110, or $210 in total. If you bet $210 at +130 your profit is $273 ($210 x 1.3). Add in the $110 profit from the first game, and the total profit on that parlay would be $383. Unlike football parlays, the payout here accurately reflects the odds involved – the sportsbook isn’t skimming off the top of these bets.
It sounds like moneyline parlays are pretty attractive. They can be, and you can enjoy some really large payouts – especially if you parlay several games. There is a gigantic caution that needs to be heard, though. Just like the point spread parlays there are eight possible outcomes for a three team parlay, and only one of those outcomes will pay you off. That means that there can be long losing streaks when you are parlaying baseball. If you don’t have the bankroll to weather those streaks, and the patience to avoid changing anything just because you are losing, then betting parlays can be a fast and easy way to go broke. It can be easy to get cocky when you are betting baseball because high winning percentages are possible if you are betting moneyline favorites. If you are winning 60 percent of your games, though, then you are only going to win 21.6 percent of your parlays using those games. That means you are losing almost four out of every five parlay bets you are making. Because you are parlaying favorites your payout may not be enough to make a profit when you do win.
So, when could you use parlays effectively in baseball? There are a few possible circumstances if you are creative and aware of your real risk and potential reward. Here are three examples. None of these are approaches that you should be taking all of the time, but in the right circumstances they could potentially make sense:
Two (or more) heavy favorites – Betting favorites in baseball can be very unattractive. A team with a strong ace against a lousy team in a slump with a bad pitcher will often payoff at -200 or worse. If you bet $100 on a game at -200 you would make a profit of $50. Do that successfully on two different games and you would make a total of $100. If you were to parlay those two games instead then you would make a profit of $125 – and increase of $25 percent. Even better, your potential loss is only $100, whereas it was $200 if you had bet on the two games separately. In some situations the parlay would certainly be more attractive.
When you have a large edge in two (or more games) – Sometimes in baseball – fairly frequently, actually – you’ll find a game in which the line that is posted differs significantly and favorably from what you think it should be. For simplicity, let’s say for example that you think that a team has a 50 percent chance of winning a game. The break even odds for that situation are +100. If that team were listed at +150 then there would be significant value in betting on that team. If two such games were occurring at the same time and you were confident that the value existed and was significant then you may want to put part or all of your wager into a parlay to increase the potential return and take full advantage of your strong opinion.
To leverage a very strong opinion – Let’s say that you believe that one team is very likely to win, but that team is at -200. If you were to bet $200 on that team then you would make a profit of $100 if you were right. By taking on extra risk through parlays you could leverage that opinion significantly. Say, for example, there were two games being played on the same day featuring teams that you thought represented good value at +150. Instead of betting $200 to win on your team you could bet $100 on each of two two team parlays – each featuring the -200 team and one of the +150 teams. Each of those parlays would have a potential payoff of $275. If one was right and one was wrong then you would make a profit of $175, or $75 more than if you had just bet $200 on the -200 game. If you won both parlays then your profit would be $550 on a $200 bet.