Beating Football Parlay Tickets

Las Vegas Sportsbook
Odds boards at a sportsbook in Las Vegas. By Baishampayan Ghos (http://www.flickr.com/people/ghoseb/) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ghoseb/5186138071/) [ CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Betting football parlay cards is as ingrained in the lives of millions of Americans as eating hot dogs and apple pie at the Fourth of July and the football fun comes during the winter! No matter where you work, the odds are excellent that talk will turn to football during lunch breaks and those trips to the water cooler. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to talk about how you actually booked a football parlay card winner that week?

In gambling, to parlay a bet is to let your previous winnings ride (imagine betting $10 at blackjack and winning and letting the $20 total ride on the next hand), so a sports parlay consists of a combination of at least two wagers with the original wager and any winnings tied to the second game. To win a parlay bet, the player must choose the correct winning team for every choice. Any game that ends in a tie will be "no-action," meaning a three-team parlay becomes a two-team parlay and the tie game is not counted towards winning or losing. Of course, some illegal bookmakers count a tie as a loss. For the legally conscious, parlay wagers are available at casinos in Delaware on the east coast, and Nevada on the west coast.

The Point Spread

The more teams chosen on a parlay card the higher the payoff, so some players choose lots of games hoping to hit a big payoff. Unfortunately, choosing eight or ten consecutive winners is nearly impossible (over 1,000 to 1), especially since there is a point spread attached to each game.

Bookies assign a point spread to encourage wagering on both teams, so a game between a heavy favorite might carry a minus 14 point spread and some players will want to bet on the favorite while others will take the points and bet the weaker team. If you choose the favored team you give up 14 points.

To win a wager on the favorite the team must win by more than two touchdowns! If the final score is 28-14, exactly 14 points, then the wager is a tie, or "no-action." The favorite must win by at least 15 points to actually win the wager.

On the other hand, if you choose the underdog (non-favored team) you get 14 points added to your team's final score. In this case, if your team loses by a final score of 28-15, the point spread final is 28-29 and your team is considered the winner of the wager. A parlay wager means you must choose at least two bets to make and win them both to win the parlay.

Over - Under Wagers

Not only do bookies assign a point-spread to each game, they also assign an over-under total to each game. This allows additional bets to be made based on the total points scored in a game. If you hear "the over is 48" at the water cooler, that means a bet on the over wins if more than 48 total points are scored in the game. A bet on the under wins if less than 48 total points are scored. If the game ends with exactly 48 points scored then it is a tie, or "no-action."

Many players choose a combination of bets on their parlay card of individual teams and totals. Each bet is considered the same, payoff-wise.

If the games are bet individually in Nevada, a player must wager $11 to win $10 ($21 back when you win). On a two-team parlay, you will receive 13/5 odds. This means for every $5 you bet, a winning two-team parlay pays back $18, or $13 in winnings.

Parlay Card Odds

Most football parlay cards have a minimum wager of three games (teams and or point-spreads) and will accept up to 12 choices, but many sports books have a cap of ten picks. As a "bonus" for players who choose 9 correct out of 10, a payoff of 25 to 1 is offered. Hitting that is still extremely tough. You can expect to see at a minimum, odds like these on most parlay cards:

  • 3 Teams 6-1
  • 4 Teams 10-to-1
  • 5 Teams 20-to-1
  • 6 Teams 40-to-1
  • 7 Teams 75-to-1
  • 8 Teams 100-to-1
  • 9 Teams 150-to-1
  • 10 Teams 300-to-1

However, payoffs as high as 600-1 and even 825-1 are offered for half-point parlay cards.

The true odds of hitting parlays start at 7-1 for a 3-teamer and end at 1,023-1 for a ten-teamer, so don't get your hopes up for a 10-game winner. Instead, concentrate ​on choosing the three or four teams to cover the spread.

Beating the Parlay Cards

When choosing the best teams to cover the spread you might not be choosing the favorite in each game. In fact, from 2008 to 2012 the underdog in each game has "covered" 51.26 percent of the time. That's your first suggestion for choosing winners. Keep in mind the earlier advice to limit your parlay card to three or four teams, and for the time being, skip the point spread, just choose teams to cover.

Remember to check the parlay card carefully so you know whether ties win, or ties lose! Some clubs like South Point and the Cannery pay better odds than those listed above for their ties-win parlay cards. Also remember to see if the payoff is to-one or for-one, which will make a big difference ​ni the 3 and 4 game parlays you start with.

Your next step is to let all your emotions disappear and choose the winning team based only on past performance. If there are key player injuries you might want to skip the game. Also, be willing to bet on the dog in any game with a currently popular or long-time favorite team because the point-spread is likely to be slightly higher for the favorite. For instance, the Cowboys always have more people betting for them (even when they are playing poorly), so you might get an extra point or two. The previous two-year's Super Bowl Champions are also likely to be favored slightly higher. Check the lines and consider the dog if that underdog team is currently playing well, especially if the game is at their home stadium.

Final Notes

If you are new to football and parlay cards, consider using each team's points scored and points against to make your choices. Those totals are in most newspapers and the Internet under "standings." Divide the total points scored by how many games were played to get an average, then compare the average scored by each team match up and you'll get an idea of what the final score will be for each team.

Obviously, this is an estimate. Good luck.