A March tradition that should stop: Parlaying favorites

March 14, 2019 11:54 PM

It’s become a March betting tradition in college basketball. Even though all sports fans understand that tournament action is full of upsets, far too many casual bettors try to parlay money line favorites because they “just can’t see” their chosen favorite losing the next game.

Like…nobody could see #1 Gonzaga losing as a 15-point favorite to St. Mary’s earlier this week. Until it happened.

If you’re not familiar with money lines, those are prices for which team will win a game straight up. You have to pay a premium to take favorites in those spots. You’re rewarded with higher payoffs if you correctly call an upset. In that St. Mary’s shocker, bettors had to risk around -2000 that Gonzaga would win the game (risking $2,000 to win only $100, or anything in that ratio). Taking a $100 shot on St. Mary’s to spring the upset would have earned a $1,000 profit ( 1000 on the money line). 

Because the general public loves betting favorites, but hates risking high prices for a small return…it’s now more common than ever for amateur bettors to string together favorites in multi-team parlays. Do that with enough teams, and you can push prices closer to even money. The problem is, ALL of your favorites have to win to hit a parlay. If you parlay several favorites together, and only one gets upset…you still lose the bet.

You may have fallen prey to this approach when you were a beginner. If you have a friend who’s just getting started out, you can be reasonably certain he’ll have a money line parlay in place next Thursday for power programs in the Big Dance. Many media pundits transitioning from the mainstream to new “betting broadcasting” shows are also prone to recommending this type of play.

Don’t do it this weekend as remaining conference tournaments conclude. Don’t trip into a trap when you’re Dancing. 

Sure, some of your parlays will win. You might even have a winning week or two. Fool’s gold…because you’re getting the worst of it mathematically.

  • Favorites are typically overpriced anyway
  • Parlays don’t pay off at true value
  • Most bettors have a poor sense of percentages

A team priced at -200 (roughly a 4-5 point favorite) will win straight up about 67% of the time. A team priced at -300 (roughly a 6-7 point favorite) will win straight up about 75% of the time.

You should see the problem of grouping them right away. Choosing three teams at -200 means they’ll probably go 2-1 straight up, spiking your parlay. Choosing four teams at -300 means they’ll probably go 3-1 straight up, doing the same. 

You may think you have a knack for “knowing” when a favorite won’t get upset. And the fact that most of them individually DO win straight up can trick you into thinking you’re close to solving the riddle. Pay closer to attention to how often upsets of medium and large favorites occur. 

It’s March baby! If you’re thinking “I just can’t see this favorite losing,” you need better glasses. 

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