Sports betting is now legal in over 30 states and most states have multiple sportsbooks offering odds either at retail locations or online. The online sites all have bet boosts, a percentage added to a winning bet, free play offers and various other promotions. But, there seems to be one common aspect to the majority of them – they are all tied to a parlay or same game parlays (SGP). Here are just a few examples of bet offers for last Thursday night’s NFL game between Baltimore and Cincinnati from the four main betting sites across the United States.
SGP Boost: Ravens moneyline, Lamar Jackson 40+ rushing yards and Mark Andrews 40+ receiving yards +200 odds
SGP Super Boost: Lamar Jackson 40+ rushing yards, Joe Burrow 200+ passing yards, was -115 now +140
No Sweat SGP: Bet a $5 SGP consisting of at least 3 legs. If the bet loses you get $5 in bet credits
Get a 33% boost on a SGP. At least 4 legs with each leg being no less than -500
No Sweat SGP: $5 No Sweat Same Game Parlay: Bet a $5 SGP consisting of at least 3 legs. If it loses you get $5 in bet credits
Bet Boost: Odell Beckham Jr 40+ receiving yards, Joe Burrow over 1.5 passing TDs, Lamar Jackson 40+ rushing yards final payout +550
Joe Cool Boost: Bengals Win and Burrow over 224.5 passing yards payout +250
50% Pro Football SGP Boost, minimum odds +400
Ja’Marr Chase Over 59.5 Receiving yards and Tyler Boyd to score a TD +325 odds
Joe Mixon and Gus Edwards over 59.5 rushing yards each +500
Odds Boost – 50% odds boost for a SGP
Double your winnings – on any bet Thursday night excluding SGP. If the bet wins you get bet credits equal to your winnings.
To their credit, BetMGM also offers the bettor the opportunity to get increased odds on a single bet regardless if it’s a straight bet or parlay but the maximum bet is severely limited.
The question that many bettors are asking is why, for the most part, are they being pushed into betting on parlays to receive incentives? The answer of course is because the hold on parlays is so high that even with better odds and/or higher payouts, the sportsbook is way ahead compared to straight wagers. According to a New Jersey report, the state is holding over 18% on parlays and that is low compared to other states. Across the U.S., holds for parlays are closer to 20% and for SGP they near 30%. And for SGP with 5 or more selections the hold is almost 50%. Thus, even with the free plays, bet boosts and bet credits for losing bets, the books are way ahead of the player.
Same Game Parlays – SGP
Prior to SCOTUS repealing PASPA, SGPs didn’t exist. While parlays have always been available in Las Vegas, and at European and online sportsbooks, they were always just combining spreads, moneylines or totals. It was only in 2019 that FanDuel decided to experiment by allowing bettors to combine props and lines in a game and it has only been in the last year that books have offered SGP+ which combines same game parlays from different games. So, a bettor can parlay anytime TD scorers in multiple games or combine them with totals, other props or moneyline
The software designed by the books is also set to protect them from correlated bets. Thus, if the outcome of one bet affects another, the system will adjust the line or props or even disallow them. For example, if one wants to combine 3 anytime TD scorers with a team total over 21.5 points the system won’t allow it. At some books like BetMGM once you put in say three TD scorers the team total option disappears. And at a book like Bet365, the odds simply don’t change. So, the payout for 3 separate TD scorers or for three TD scorers and a total over 20.5 will be provide the exact same payout. And it’s the same in every sport. In baseball, for example, it’s impossible to bet on a player to hit a home run and to record a run and an RBI. The system will know that the bets are all correlated and one way or another will reject it. There are also times, the system will adjust the odds on a bet so that if you take four separate players to score a TD then it will allow you to combine it with the total points, but the total will be lower than one would get betting the total alone. Invariably bettors will add more and more bets to the SGP and at least one will lose. That actually happens more frequently than with regular parlays, which is the reason sportsbooks are anxious to offer them.
Sportsbooks are also not shy at admitting that they want bettors to wager on parlays due to the higher holds, particularly because it attracts novice and casual bettors rather than wiseguys. At a conference in 2022 Jason Robins, the CEO of DraftKings stated the following:
“What we are trying to do is get smart at limiting the sharp action, and then also making sure that we have a high parlay mix because people like that. Every quarter, the parlay as a percentage of the total bet mix goes up.”
For the longest time parlays were seen as sucker bets and gambling forums and experts always said that it was very difficult to win on a parlay and bettors should stick to betting single games. Straight bets generally have a hold between 3% and 5% and some popular offshore sites offered lower vig getting the hold down to around 1.5% to 2%. Those books were comfortable with the discounted vig due to the high volume and bet sizes they would receive. But nowadays it’s virtually impossible to get a better price on a straight bet from licensed and regulated sportsbooks in the United States and Ontario. And if there is a special promotion that does give a bet boost for a single game it’s usually limited to $10 or $20 which is insignificant to the sportsbook. But the sportsbooks have been so good with marketing and selling the parlay snake oil that they have convinced many bettors that parlays are the only way to make money. Almost every news release is about someone who broke the bank winning a parlay or SGP. For example, FanDuel recently put out a press release about someone who bet $10,000 on a 5-team parlay and won $200,000. The amount won was the headline but the $10,000 stake was put in the background. Of course, if someone else bet $20 and won $400 on the same parlay it wouldn’t be news. And just recently FanDuel also put out a press release about a person who won a 25-game parlay at almost 100,000 to 1 odds, wagered 25 cents and won over $20,000. That is indeed impressive and the person needs to be congratulated, but what is not mentioned is the fact that the true odds were probably closer to a million to one to win, not to mention the fact that since the stake was only a quarter, the bettor probably just decided to bet the 25 cents he had left in his account on a lottery ticket type bet and got lucky. For every one person like that, there are thousands every day who throw money on a crazy long shot ticket and walk away with nothing.
I spoke to a bettor from Ontario who said he’s fed up with the push to bet parlays and SGP and would rather just be given a loyalty bonus for wagers on straight bets he makes daily.
“I have always bet with Bet365,” Steve told me “and they always offered me great loyalty bonuses and promotions for any wagers. It never involved the need to bet a parlay, it was simply the amount I wagered on any bet. So, with my usual $10,000 to $15,000 wagered per week they would give me about $50 to $100 as a loyalty bonus. But ever since they got an iGaming Ontario license, I’m getting $10 for the same wagering as a loyalty bonus but I’m also offered a huge incentive for betting a SGP on specific games. Of course, I can’t bet what I want to get the incentive, as it has to involve at least 3 bets and each leg bet has to be a minimum odds of -200. I tried a few of them because of the profit incentive and lost almost every one because one of the 3 legs failed. A few bets I also loss due to injuries. That’s another issue with SGP, because it’s all props you are at the mercy of the player staying healthy throughout (Joe Burrow’s injury in the Baltimore vs. Cincinnati game is an example where bettors should have won the prop but never have a chance once he was lifted in the 2nd quarter). And worst of all, when I bet straight wagers my limits are now much lower than they were when they were operating without the Ontario license. It seems that they want to restrict low profit bets to entice everyone to bet on bet types they know they will win. I’ve also tried FanDuel, Caesars and TheScoreBet (which is owned by Penn Gaming), but I don’t like the lines there. They all seem to have poor odds on the favorite in every game. I seem to be betting more and winning less. I may need to look at offshore books again.”
A bettor from Pennsylvania is also tired of the push to bet parlays and the fact they are restricted.
“Everything revolves around parlays, the same game nonsense or the ‘boosted bets’. Yet, quite often when I put in a parlay of my own on the same game, some of the legs are ‘disallowed’. So, they only want you to bet the SGP where the book has an edge.”
So, it seems clear that the sportsbooks want bettors to wager on high hold, low risk parlays and same game parlay bets, but at what expense? If the goal is to scare off wiseguys they are doing a good job but if they want both sharp action and casual bettors, they are going to either have to offer better promotions and higher limits for single game bets or offer better odds to get the sharp action. One thing is certain, the amount of marketing and promotions on parlays and same game parlays as this great opportunity to win needs to be reduced. For every person who hits a 50/1 parlay and wins a fortune there are thousands of others who try the same bet and lose. If honesty in advertising is integral, then it’s up to the books to say that these types of wins are out of the ordinary and greatly favor the sportsbooks over the bettors.
Read more on the North American gambling industry from Hartley Henderson here at GamblersWORLD.