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For years, I've been hearing people on sports talk radio say that "parlays are sucker bets". For those who don't know, a parlay is a group of multiple bets that all have to win in order for the ticket to pay out. If any pick on the ticket loses, then the whole ticket loses. The benefit is that if you do win, the odds multiply together for potentially large payouts. They are called "sucker bets" because the potential for large payouts leads casual gamblers to make more picks on one ticket hoping for larger payouts, which dramatically increases the risk of one pick losing and causing the entire ticket to lose.

Parlays are a "sucker's bet" because they lure gamblers
with promises of large payouts, but a single wrong pick
will invalidate the entire ticket.

I do parlay bets for college and NFL football every year. My local sportsbook (I live in Vegas, so there is a legal sportsbook in every suburb) has $2 parlay cards with a minimum of 3 or 4 picks per card, so I would often do between 5 and 6 of them for a total of $10 or $20 in bets per week. Not a lot of money; pretty casual gambling. I've never won any big parlays, and have been a little bit in the red every year (usually $50-$100 down by the end of the season). I do it for fun and to have some extra investment in the games that I watch. Since starting to track my winnings a few years ago, I've been hitting just above 50% on my individual picks, and winning back about 80% of my money.

Well last year, because of the disruption of COVID, my local sportsbook wasn't offering the usual $2 parlay cards. Instead, I had to start making regular bets off the board, at the counter. Unfortunately, these bets cost $5 minimum instead of $2, so my risk more than doubled. However, the minimum number of picks on a ticket decreased to 2 instead of 4. So in response to the higher cost, I started buying more tickets, but would only put 2 or 3 "safe" picks on a single ticket. Even though I ended up spending a lot more money each week ($50+), my winnings shot up from about 80% to almost 90%! Despite spending more money, I ended up losing far less overall because I would win back all my money almost every week by winning one or two of those 2 or 3-pick tickets.

So this year, after hearing sport talk radio hosts continue to refer to parlays as "sucker bets", I decided to double-down on last year's success. I started experimenting with direct money-line bets. A money-line bet is a single bet for which team wins. No point spread, no multiple picks per card. If the team I pick wins the game, I win the bet. Of course, the downside is that picking the favorite results in much lower payouts. A $10 bet might only win $5 or less if the winning team was favored by more than just a field goal.

But I've had pretty good success with this strategy this year. My winnings have once again shot up to almost 100% (meaning I've almost won back all the money I've bet), even though I've once again had to bet a lot more each week in order to pay for all these single-pick tickets.

I might come out a winner at the end of the year!

One of the bases of that success has been that every week, I've been putting money-line bets on both the Buccaneers and the Packers. As a Bears fan, I dislike the Packers. And as a football fan who would like to see someone less insufferably smug win a SuperBowl for a change, I dislike Tom Brady. But both teams are really good and win most of their games, and I figure if they're gonna win, I might as well make money off of them. It's a win-win: either the teams I dislike lose, or I win money.

I've been betting money-line on the Buccaneers and Packers every week this season.

Anyway, this past weekend, the Buccaneers were 2-score home favorites against the Saints. The payout for a money-line was so low, that I ended up planning to put $20 down on them, which would only win back $6. It would basically pay for one other bet.

However, either I wrote down the wrong bet number, or the cashier at the sportsbook mis-heard me, or she mis-typed the number into the computer, and I ended up with a $20 money-line bet on the Saints instead of the Buccaneers. I didn't check the tickets at the counter because there was a long line behind me, and the cashier was the only one on duty, and I didn't realize the mistake until I got home and entered all the bets into my spreadsheet the next day.

I mistakenly bet $20 on the Saints to beat the Buccaneers.

I thought for sure I was going to be out $20.

But as the first half of the game went along, and the Saints defense was holding strong against the Bucs, I started thinking, "holy crap! Maybe they'll pull off this upset!". They were only up 6-0, so I was trying not to get my hopes up. But sure enough, the Saints shut out the Buccaneers and won the game. I ended up winning over $100 on this mistake. Go Saints!

It was a regular Winter Solstice Miracle! The football gods had smiled upon me.

This win brought me up to only being down $30 on the year, and I still have several parlays alive that are depending on the outcomes of the Monday and Tuesday NFL games and the college bowls this week (Go Wyoming and Hawaii!). I also still have several shoe-in playoff future bets that I haven't added to my winnings yet. One of those futures bets is on the Buccaneers making the playoffs. That will pay out $75, and will put me in the green for the year for the first time ever. I also have pending bets on the Chargers and Patriots to make the playoffs, with similar payouts.

Unless I screw up royally during the playoffs, this might be the first year that I will actually win money on football betting! And this week's "mistake" might end up being the difference.

I am also kicking myself a little bit because I had wanted to make futures bets on the Cardinals, Rams, Browns, and Bengals to make the playoffs this year, but I forgot to write those picks down before going to the sportsbook, and so forgot to actually make those picks. After Stafford was traded to the Rams, I was sure that the Rams would be a really good team this year, and even considered betting on them to win the Super Bowl. The Cardinals and the Rams are also pretty much shoe-ins for the playoffs at this point, and it's looking like one of either the Browns or the Bengals will likely get in as either the division champ or a wildcard. So I could've had more wins this year, but I won't. Bummer.

Saints beat Buccaneers Photo credit: Associated Press.
The Saints surprised me by shutting out the Buccaneers and winning me some money.

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