Sucker Bets

All men may be created equal; all bets are certainly not.  One of the best strategies you can employ for extending the life of our bankroll, and even turning a gambling profit, is avoiding certain types of wagers like the plague.  Sports wagers are a product like any other, in that the sellers of those products (sportsbooks) have high margin products and low margin products . And much like a they will employ psychological trick in the book to get you to take flier on those high margin products.  These bets are the hardways on the craps table. If you give yourself time to think through it, you never bet them. If you’re either 8 rolls into a heater or a drought, and feeling exuberant ot desperate, respectively, they start looking really good.  


The organizing principle here is that, generally, the higher the juice, the more of a sucker’s bet it is.  It’s difficult enough to ouptick the book when you are paying 5-10% juice. When that goes to 20-25%, it’s almost impossible with a few rare exceptions. Let’s review.

Parlays are the classic sucker’s bet.  The bet is structured to play on the betting public’s desire to leverage a small risk for a large payout.  Most bettors don’t want to risk $600 on a single bet, but they love the idea of winning $600 and the loss of $100 is something they can live with.  That’s exactly what a traditional three team, point spread parlay offers. It allows you to bundle three point spread brets, and pays out 6 to 1 if you hit all three.  The catch, of course, is that if you lose any leg of that parlay, you get paid nothing. Even my toddler can recognize that math is rigged (well, maybe not, but he was nodding adamantly while I wrote that last sentence, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt).   

If each spread bet has a 50% chance of hitting, then the odds of hitting all three are ½ x ½ x ½ = ⅛.  But you’re only getting paid like you’ve got a one in six shot….which leads to a shocking 12.% house edge compared to the normal 5% house edge on spread bets.  It only gets worse from there. A four team parlay, on which you have a one in 16 chance of winning, usually pays out a measly ten to one. So, if you want to the potential excitement of winning 10x your unit on a single bet but can’t bring yourself to wager 10 units, then, sure, utilize the parlay.  Just know that you are lighting money on fire at an even quicker rate than usual.

The one exception to this rule is “correlated parlays” – parlays where the legs are not independent events.  Theoretically, parlaying outcomes that have a larger than 50% overlap can produce positive expected value.


For all the same reasons that parlays are generally terrible bets, so are parlays.  Teasers employ an even more insidious psychological trick of allowing the better to add points to each leg in the teaser.  And if you haven’t experienced the “near-miss” effect of effect of betting teasers, the first time you see them, you’ll probably think they are free money.  You’re telling me I can move Denver from -9 to -3? And Carolina from +4 to +10? And Seattle from -6 to a pickem? And I get +180 on that? It all sounds too good to be true, and usually, it is.  In the vast majority of cases, those extra six, six and a half, or seven points you get to add to each leg’s spread, while enticing, just aren’t enough to overcome the fact that you have to hit every single leg to get paid. 

Numerous sites have done a great job documenting the % of outcomes that those added teaser points are likely to make the difference on, and it’s usually not nearly enough to over come the fact that you are ONLY getting +180 on a three team, six point teaser.  The big exception is if you are employing a Basic (Wong) Teaser Strategy, but to combat that strategy, many books have actually moved their payouts down. Some online books have dropped the three team, six point teaser all the way to +150, for instance! Stay away.

Buying Points

Let’s say that you like Minnesota +7 pretty well, but you’d reaaallly like it at +7.5 so that if the Vikings lose by a touchdown (a fairly likely outcome given the spread), you still cover.  Books have created a mechanism for you to get that half a point – “buying points.” Now, I’m not sure if, at some point back through the mists of time when passing for 3,000 yards in a season meant something and books were squarer, buying points may have been like teasers – dumb in most instances, but smart off of key numbers.  If that was the case then, it isn’t now.  

Books price the importance of moving on/off key numbers into the price of the point/half-point you are buying.  Moving from 6.5 to 7 on an NFL line will likely cost you something like an extra 25% of your wager, while moving from 4.5 to 5 might only cost an extra 10%.  And given that not nearly 25% or 10% of outcomes are effected by that additional half point, they will all cost you a lot more than they are worth.  

Futures, Props, and Lesser Bet Events

Sportsbooks like predictability.  They like efficient markets. It they invest a lot of resources in ensuring that the lines and odds they set are efficient – factoring in every conceivable input to arrive at the best prediction they can.  The further away an event is, the more factors that could come to bear on its outcome, and the harder it is to accurately forecast. Likewise, the less data the books’ algorithms have to work with, the less sure they are of their predictions.  And finally, the less money that is likely to be wagered on a given event, the less time and money a book is keen to invest in ensuring their predictions are right.

For all those reasons, sportsbooks tend to charge much higher juice on:

  • Futures bets (e.g., betting before the season on who will win the NCAA tournament),
  • Prop bets (e.g. whether Leveon Bell will rush for over or under 1,400 yards in the season), and
  • Any bet that just doesn’t carry the volume of action that your typical major sport spread/odds bet does.  The books just aren’t going to put NFL-worthy resources into predicting the outcomes of the Little League World Series.  So, while your book may allow you to bet on a group of Taiwanese sixth graders, it will likely charge you a bit for the privilege.

None of this is to say that there is never value in futures, prop or lower-action bets.  The very fact that there is so much less data available and attention on the line often leads to much more widely divergent prices among books than you will see for NFL spreads (which typically vary no more than a ½ point between books).  And there can be value in those differences.

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