“These same game parlays are insane! How much longer is FanDuel gonna keep it around?” asks “Jerry” on Twitter, in a comment featured in a commercial aired during a New York Knicks broadcast on Wednesday night. The answer, Jerry, is somewhere between a “very long time” and “forever.”
If you’re unfamiliar, this brand of parlays allows bettors to string together two, eight, or perhaps 15 events from a single game (see example below), all of which must succeed for the bet to win. Some of these events, such as which player will score the first touchdown, are exceedingly unpredictable. They can be fun, especially during standalone prime time games. And it is exhilarating to turn a crisp digital $10 into $662, or $3 into $3,000. But growing sportsbook glamorization and encouragement of it has grown from full bloom to too much.
These same game parlays are insane. How much longer is fanduel gonna keep it around?? pic.twitter.com/7qLOafaETg
— Jerry ⬅️ (@Paranormal_Bass) October 1, 2020
The parlay train has only one ultimate destination: a zeroed bankroll. The odds are stacked much higher against the bettor on parlays, and the true odds much lower, than what is offered on traditional straight bets on the spread or moneyline or totals. UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research shows that the annual Nevada sportsbook win percentage on bettor parlay wagers hovers around 30%, while on all other bets it’s around 6%. The Las Vegas Strip was built on slot machine revenue, but some percentage of the chandeliers and buffet charcuterie boards were financed by losing parlay wagers.
Perfect, easy parlays!
Addendum to this column: https://t.co/3lBmcJmTvq
Here's @betmgm's 'Basketball Parlay Generator,' which is basically a roulette spin or lottery Quik Draw.
Generator produced this at 25-1 odds. The $50 stake was auto-populated. pic.twitter.com/cGqBrTwZEC
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) February 22, 2021
Above you can see the Hollywood Squares-style sampling of the various parlay-related offers I’ve received via email — or seen displayed prominently on the apps — from this week. Examples come from BetMGM, William Hill, SugarHouse (aka BetRivers), PointsBet, FanDuel, Unibet, FOX Bet, and DraftKings. You’ll catch them at 100% of the other outlets at one time or another. Some promotions require parlays of five legs or longer, others offer “insurance,” a valuable proposition for the type of person who spends $9.99 for a two-year warranty on $25 headphones.
It’s a foolish errand for me to tell recreational bettors how to enjoy their disposable shekels for a potential multiplier of 30 to 300 on a small stake in exchange for the entertainment. But some of the promotional material and descriptive language creates an illusion of achieving riches, and may create affinity for a style of wagering that will more quickly lead to bankroll burnout or dangerous chasing. Not a terrific long-term strategy, as opposed to educating patrons about better-value propositions that may extend enjoyment over a longer period of time. Some regulators such as the DC Lottery believe sports betting is another species of lottery games. This is not true. But parlays are as close as it gets.
Ultimately, my unsolicited advice to sportsbooks is to tone it down and turn up the transparency and reality of what it is.
Moderation and modern books
Some have aided the effort of illustrating the balance of entertainment and reality, including longtime, respected oddsmaker Chris Andrews, the South Point sportsbook director in Las Vegas, who previously spoke about parlays with my colleague Gary Rotstein.
“Psychologically, the average player says I can make a helluva score for a 10-teamer,” Andrews says, regardless of the odds of more than 1000/1 of doing so.
“I wouldn’t say never bet them,” says Andrews, who has been a big sports bettor himself over the years. “I bet ‘em occasionally when I saw what I felt was an advantage on my end, but not very often.”
And consider the view of Roxy Roxborough, who knows more about bookmaking than I am poised to garner in two more decades of scribbling online.
If I had a family member that wanted to gamble on sports, I would be much happier if they were betting $10 parlay cards with the worst of it instead of dime straight bets with a small percentage against him.
— Roxy Roxborough (@RoxyLasVegas) September 10, 2019
However, online sportsbooks born since the federal PASPA ban fell in May 2018 have helped create somewhat of an alternative reality around parlay betting. Physical parlay cards aren’t much of a thing anymore, in part because the vast majority of betting is now occurring online and less so among guys sitting back in armchairs at sportsbook lounges, enjoying the camaraderie around dramatic plays on the field.
Another voice from Las Vegas, Josh Applebaum of the Vegas Sports and Information Network, opined on parlays last year.
“Parlays are the penny slot of sports betting,” Appelbaum told Inside Hook last February. “In my book, I have a chapter on why you should avoid parlays. Simply put, they make a killing for the house. Average Joes are roped in by the get-rich-quick mentality of striking it big, but they are playing right into the sportsbooks’ hands.”
Role of social media, too
And then there’s the amplification on social media and in quasi-sports media. (“He won $1 million in parlays in 50 days. He chartered a plane to the Virgin Islands and hired a chef. And with it, came the haters.”)
$2 ➡ $24,767.07
It was the bettor's FIRST bet 🤯 pic.twitter.com/qJrRliZXwE
— DraftKings Sportsbook (@DKSportsbook) December 7, 2020
Nine CBB picks, nine CBB winners.
👀 $20 parlay wins $7,090 👀 pic.twitter.com/ruIVnr17rv
— BetRivers (@BetRivers) December 2, 2020
And did you catch the maniacal $40,000 6-leg parlay that won Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) $600,000 in the 2020 flick Uncut Gems? It went like this:
- Celtics win the opening tip
- Celtics -1
- Celtics leading at halftime
- Garnett surpasses his projected point total
- Garnett surpasses his projected rebound total
- Garnett surpasses his projected blocked-shots total
Maybe the takeaway from Uncut Gems for some, however, is that you’ll be better served avoiding the kind of emotional torment endured by Ratner.
I’m not privy to the full financials of the popular sportsbooks that are rapidly extending footprints across the U.S., nor the nature of the pressures they face to show profit.
Indeed, business is business, and it is a fact that settled parlay bets buttress the bottom line more than futures wagers or anything else on the menu. But the clientele should not be taken for granted, taken advantage of, and turned into parlay junkies. They’re fun, on a limited or occasional basis, but with any regularity, a recipe for getting hammered.
If a sportsbook were a grocery store? Put some vegetables and protein near the entrance, not the heavily marked-up packaged sugary snacks. Or at least include nutritional information somewhere off the back page.
Good health is a better look on all involved.