Upper Hand—House Always Wins

The latest belle of the sports betting ball, popular among sportsbooks and bettors alike, is the parlay wager.

“Everyone dreams of turning a little bit of cash into a big payday,” explains Steven Petrella, deputy editor for The Action Network, when asked recently in an Investopedia article why parlay wagers are so enticing for bettors.

Parlay wagers combine multiple bets (called “legs”) into one wager with the promise of a big payout—but only if all legs win. Parlay bets can be made on multiple games within one sport, on multiple types of sports events, or within a single game or event.

Recent years have seen an inordinate amount of growth in parlay bets as compared to other kinds of bets in the sports betting industry.

Regulated sportsbooks like parlay wagers for how disproportionately they favor the house. For example, Nevada’s sportsbooks made six times as much on parlay bets than on standard single outcome bets in 2021, according to the University of Nevada’s Center for Gaming Research. Data released last year by Illinois state gambling regulators shows that the win margin for online sports betting companies is 15% higher on a parlay bet than on a standard single outcome bet.

Sports bettors, drawn in by the lucrative possibility of an enormous win, are increasing how much they spend on parlay bets as contrasted with other forms of sports betting. According to the Illinois Gaming Board, online sports betting money wagered on parlay bets alone grew from 20% of all total sports bets in 2021 to 27% in 2023.

Thanks to the growing popularity of parlay bets and the corresponding advantage this grants the sportsbooks, the latter is investing heavily in using bettor and wager data to develop increasingly more attractive parlay bets. This investment puts the sportsbooks at an incredible advantage.

Impossible odds for bettors

No matter what level of skill a sports bettor might believe they have, the odds of a bettor winning a parlay bet are statistically lower than an individual bet.

  • Hard to win, easy to lose. Each parlay bet consists of two or more wagers, and if a single one of them loses, the entire parlay loses.

  • Uncertainty and confusion. Parlay betting is far more complicated than single outcome wagers, and many bettors report uncertainty about their parlay wagers. It isn’t uncommon for new bettors to be surprised at how quickly their odds diminish with each leg added to their parlay.

  • Difficult to say “no.” According to the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, impulsive betting is stimulated by the pace and options presented in a parlay wager. Since parlay bets make far more money for the sportsbook than individual bets, it is in their favor to keep the pace amped up and the options plentiful.

Bettors have a hard time resisting parlays, which multiply their betting volume but also multiply their losses. Over the long term, parlays are not a sound strategy. They are, simply put, statistically bad bets.

Big money for sportsbooks, bad news for bettors

Sportsbooks today, using big data and predictive technology together, have a far greater advantage in parlay betting than in years past.

In addition to using real-time betting data to automatically adjust prices and employ predictive technologies to craft enticing offers, sportsbooks use data to tailor promotions that will lure bettors in the door and open their wallets wider. Parlay bettors, already enticed by the big win, can be particularly vulnerable to social media messaging that showcases big parlay winners. Influencer advertising featuring admired professional sports figures also captivates the wide-eyed parlay bettor.

And one prominent aspect of parlay betting is glaringly absent from sportsbook advertising: the hundreds of thousands of losing parlay tickets.

If parlay losses are affecting you or someone you care about and you want to make a change, use our free, confidential helpline. You can call 1-833-BETOVER (238-6837) or text 402-806-7344. The Nebraska Problem Gamblers Assistance Program (NPGAP) provides support services to anyone in Nebraska.



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