Casino Beat: Baseball Parlay Betting

(It’s the 2010 summer sports season and time to build up your bankroll for the upcoming NFL season by working some attractive parlays with the strongest (and weakest) teams in baseball.)

Throw a fastball on your next parlay.
Photo by Eric James Miller

The Major League Baseball (MLB) season is almost over. Several teams are vying for the play-offs. Several other teams have started re-building for next year. This spells disparity, which is somewhat rare in baseball because unlike most sports, the very best teams only win about 55-60% of the time. This year is no exception. With almost two-thirds of the season over, only the New Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays have won more than 60% of their games (both are currently around 63%).

Fortunately there are four teams that have lost 65% or more of their games to date. Add in the streaking Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, trade improved Texas Rangers, resurgent (as predicted!) Philadelphia Phillies, plummeting Los Angeles Angels and there’s a total of fourteen (14) teams to look at before you step up to your favorite sports book counter.

Unfortunately, you’re not going to get even-money odds (1-to-1) on the good teams unless they’re playing each other. That’s why parlay betting (picking the outcome of two or more games with a single bet) improves the pay-out when you pick only the best teams.

Numbers are your friend when it comes to betting parlays.
Photo by Eric James Miller

For example, on Tuesday August 3, 2010 there were two heavily favored teams, the Phillies and Red Sox, playing much weaker teams (the Marlins and Indians). Warning: here comes a little math. The Phillies and Red Sox were each favored over -200 to win their games, which means you’d have to bet $200 to win $100 (or $20 to win $10) on any single game. Some people do this and manage to make money, but they have to consistently win two out of every three bets (~67%) just to break even! Since the two best teams in MLB this season have barely won 63% of their games (so far), a 67% break-even point clearly isn’t in your favor.

PARLAY ODDS: In most sports, a two team parlay with roughly even money (1-to-1) odds generally nets about 2.5-to-1. A three team parlay generally wins about 6-to-1, a four team parlay 12-to-1, etc. (rule of thumb: multiply the number of teams played by the next smallest number to get the approximate, all-even-money odds, i.e., 3 teams x 2 = 6, 4 teams x 3 = 12, 5 teams x 4 = 20, etc.)

EXAMPLE ONE: Using the example of the heavily favored Phillies and Red Sox on Tuesday August 3, bet together they paid about half of the regular payout for a two team parlay, or a little more than even money. Getting even money is much better than risking twice the amount you can win if you played each game separately. Remember, these are heavily favored teams in a mis-match.

These kind of bets aren’t “locks” though. Anything can happen in baseball because even bad teams get on hot streaks and good teams go cold. For example the St. Louis Cardinals were also heavily favored on Tuesday August 3 against a much weaker team, but the Astros clobbered them 18-4! However, savvy betters who checked the stats before they bet knew the Astros were on a six game winning streak and the Cardinals were only 5-5 in their previous ten games. It’s never a good idea to bet against hot streaks OR good teams, so even though the Cards were heavily favored, it was exactly the kind of bet to avoid.

EXAMPLE TWO: Instead of picking a team to just win a game, another way to improve your odds with a heavily favored team is to bet the Run Line, which means your team has to win by two runs or more. (you lose if they only win by one run) The Run Line odds on the Phillies and Red Sox games in Example One were much closer to even money at -130 (betting $13 instead of $20 to win $10). A three team parlay with the Phillies run line, plus two other hot but not heavily favored teams to just win their games, the Giants and White Sox (Game 1 of their double-header) paid just under the full 6-to-1 odds of a regular three team parlay! That means a $10 bet returned $60 and your $10 back. A $20 bet returned $120 plus your $20 back.

These are pretty decent payback multiples for betting just a couple of heavily favored teams together. If you feel extra lucky, bet four, five or six team parlays with strong teams (or against weak teams like the Orioles, Mariners or Pirates) to see pay outs of 10x or more.

Parlay parleyance gets easier with practice.
Photo by Eric James Miller

Of course mismatches aren’t always available and as I pointed out even the best teams in baseball don’t win an overwhelming majority of the time. In the NBA and NFL, the best teams generally win 70-80% of the time so choosing teams to put together in a parlay is somewhat easier (if you don’t bet the point spreads). But right now during these dog days of August, the good teams in MLB are aiming for the play-offs and playing every game very, very hard. Don’t always go with the heaviest favorites though because they cut into your payback odds like in Example One and they will let you down about 40% of the time like the Cardinals did to those who weren’t paying attention this past Tuesday.

To summarize the benefit of betting parlays, instead of a needing to win roughly 67% of the time to break even betting one heavily favored team at a time, you only have to hit a two team parlay like the one in Example One 50% of the time to break even. If you can catch the tail of a few hot teams, wining two out of three or three out of five bets is quite realistic. The break-even point on three team parlays like in Example Two is less than 1 out of 5 times (20%).

So try putting a few of the hottest teams in baseball together in two, three, four or five team parlays over the next few weeks. But don’t forget to follow the MLB injury and trade reports, keep an eye on team records and streaks and check out the daily odds. The rest of August presents an excellent opportunity to build up your bankroll for the upcoming NFL season, but it’s not automatic.

My top MLB picks for winning more often than not in August:
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Phillies
Cincinnati Reds
Tampa Bay Rays

Happy wagering!


4 responses on “Casino Beat: Baseball Parlay Betting

  1. Indeed the Cubs are already looking forward to next season. I think they’re something like 2-8 in their last ten games. I know better than to bet for them, but as a fan I can’t bring myself to bet against them unless I’m really desperate to round out a parlay.

    They’ll turn it around some day. But it won’t be this year.

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