If we’re going to rank the most momentous moments in the history of the business of sports betting, there are a few that stand out.
PASPA being overturned certainly ranks at or near the top, as does the invention of the point spread. That was thanks to Charles K. McNeil, a Chicago fella back who came up with the idea in the early 1940s.
But in recent months, a new item on the menu for sports bettors has taken hold, and based on early returns, it’s not so far-fetched to say the single game parlay will one day be held up as a shining example of, well, massive profit for sportsbook operators, but also as a turning point for the sports betting industry.
Called different things by different sportsbooks — mostly because the term “same game parlay” is currently being reviewed on behalf of FanDuel by the United States Patent and Trademark Office — the idea is simple: Bettors can choose items to parlay together from the same game.
And it has exploded.
Introduced by FanDuel in late 2019, it has been quickly copied by virtually all the major online sportsbooks. And with good reason: Regular ol’ parlays have long been cash cows for the business. According to study by UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, the average Nevada sportsbook — and this was based on nearly two decades’ worth of data — has a win percentage on parlay wagers of around 30%, compared to 6% on all other wagers.
— Jason White (@JT1GHT) September 27, 2021
And while no sportsbooks were ready to hand over their financials for this story, two of them did come forward to give some idea of how popular single game parlays have become.
The numbers are sock-knocking.
At FanDuel, nearly half of all active users who bet on the NFL have placed a same game parlay on the NFL this year, and over half of new users place a same game parlay bet within their first week on the site. At BetRivers — where they currently only offer single game parlays on the NFL — over 40% of bettors have already placed a single game parlay this season, and 20% of all bets have been single game parlays.
Read that last bit again: This brand spanking new method of betting is accounting for 20% of all NFL bets at a major American sportsbook. And it really is brand spanking new. Prior to FanDuel introducing them, good luck finding a sportsbook that was willing to let you correlate anything.
“The people in the Vegas market, who have been around sports betting for years and years, we call same game parlay betting the moneyline and the total,” said Johnny Avello, the director of the DraftKings sportsbook. “But, say, when there is a correlation between a high point spread and a low total, the books wouldn’t take that kind of action.”
Business is booming
While DraftKings wasn’t willing to divulge hard data, Avello has been shocked by the popularity of the single game parlay wager, which was only introduced by the sportsbook this past August.
“I can tell you I’m really surprised at how well this is doing,” Avello said. “I thought that this would be another novelty type of bet, and it would get some action, but it’s done surprisingly well. Very well.”
Avello says his book will routinely take large parlay bets of the “regular” sort, but the sheer volume of the single game parlay is quickly starting to catch up.
“On our network, we write parlays of six figures. Big six figures,” he said. “This (single game parlays) is a lot more of a grind business, but there are a lot more users betting this than six figure parlays. There’s just a lot of volume on single game parlay.”
As for the “why,” Avello believes it’s the oldest story in the book (no pun intended): a small wager that can potentially lead to an outsized payday.
“When I look at the menu that we put out for the customer, there’s all these player props, game props, and now you’ve got the single game parlay,” Avello said. “So when I looked at everything initially, I said, ‘OK, same game parlays, why would they be that popular? Will people really want to parlay these type of props?’ But as I watch them play, I understand. You can’t get those types of returns anywhere else. When you have a chance to put six, seven different items together and you can connect, the payoffs are pretty good — enough to get you excited for a $10 bet.”
Of course, not everyone has a bright view of this shiny new toy. The professional gambler and co-founder of Unabated, Capt. Jack Andrews (a pseudonym), acknowledges the allure of the big payday as the driving force behind the popularity of single game parlays, but believes the sportsbooks have an even bigger edge than normal on these wagers.
“The average bettor has no way of knowing what the true odds are,” Andrews said. “Correlation is almost always over-priced into the equation. For instance, you may wager on events that would have correlation, like the favorite’s running back to go over his yards rushing and his team to cover the spread. Those two events are correlated. How much correlation do they have? Chances are the bettor doesn’t know, but the book does. They price their SGP with that correlation factored in plus significant padding. The bettor thinks they’re getting the best of it, but fails to realize they are absolutely not.”
As Andrews points out, correlation plays a key role in determining the price of these wagers. His example — a favorite running back and his team to cover — can be glanced at right now at FanDuel for an upcoming Thursday night game between the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos. The Browns are favored by three points (at -118), and their starting running back is projected to be D’Ernest Johnson, and his yardage prop is set at 58.5 (the over is at -114). Do a same game parlay with those two legs and the odds are +186.
But watch this …
Take the Browns giving three points, but instead of pairing that with Johnson’s rushing prop, match it instead with Broncos running back Javonte Williams rushing yardage prop (over 48.5 at the same -114) — and which is obviously uncorrelated — and the parlay will now pay +404.
Are these the “right” odds? There’s simply no way to know.
“There’s probably not a single game parlay offered that doesn’t have a house edge of at least 10%, compared to 3-6% for a straight bet,” Andrews said. “That may even be a low estimate. We’ve seen a rising trend of sportsbook hold percentage in monthly numbers since the SGP concept became popular. The SGP products aren’t created equally and different books use different pricing engines. My recommendation is if you are tempted to play SGPs, you should shop around and try to create the same parlay at different books. You’ll find the prices vary wildly.”
Same game, but different
There are many differences between the sportsbooks when it comes to pricing, as well as settling bets.
For instance, according to Kevin Hennessy, the director of publicity at FanDuel, their site is the only one that will pay out wagers if one leg of the same game parlay pushes or is voided.
Another thing FanDuel started doing — since copied to some degree by seemingly all the other sportsbooks offering this type of wager — is money back guarantees on single game parlays. Each week, FanDuel offers a $10 back offer if the SGP loses. DraftKings offers one at $25, and BetMGM offers bettors up to $25 back — provided they only miss on one leg of the parlay.
Heartbreaking same-game parlay. I just needed one fewer catch from Quez Watkins to go a perfect 0-for-8. Just soul-crushing when you're one pick away from perfection like this. pic.twitter.com/qKIPnBn2Bs
— Eric Raskin + (@EricRaskin) October 15, 2021
Another big difference: BetRivers allows users to combine different games to make a “single game” parlay, creating the potential for wildly outsized payouts. And while not all sites offer different sports, the NBA, MLB, and European soccer are offered at a handful of books, including DraftKings and FanDuel. DraftKings also offers NCAA football.
First game of the season first SGP hit pic.twitter.com/iz0lEg4PJb
— Josh Konzelman (@JKnolez) October 20, 2021
Perhaps the biggest difference between the sites is that FanDuel and Caesars are currently the only ones that appear to show the pricing for the individual markets once you click on over to the single game parlay menu. DraftKings, PointsBet, and others currently offer “bands” — as in D’Ernest Johnson over 45 yards, over 55 yards, etc. — and the parlay is priced accordingly.
Again, as Andrews pointed out, it is wildly important to price these types of bets out, no matter what your goal is.
Speaking of goals …
“We get both,” Avello said. “The guys that are shooting for the moon are betting $10, $20 to win $5,000. They are taking those type of shots. But some of them are just looking to get that point spread in an area … maybe taking a 7.5 down to six, a 10 down to 9.5, those type of things. We’re seeing a good mix.”
And based on early returns, the “mix” is all but certain to grow.
By the way, that Browns game? Throw in a Johnson anytime touchdown and a Teddy Bridgewater over 229.5 yards passing, and this very correlated same game parlay is up to +747 … just sayin.’