People who are new to sports betting inevitably come across the term sucker bet. The connotation is that such wagers are so skewed toward the house that only a sucker would make the bets. Although the meaning of the term is simple, avoiding these bets requires a bit more knowledge.
As with almost any other activity, knowledge is the key to success. Most markets don’t fit the description of a sucker bet, despite the fact that the sportsbooks have an interest in winning every bet. They also need customers who actually place bets to collect any revenue, so it’s really not in their best interest to post these markets. That would create a bad reputation.
Regardless of the natural consequences, sucker bets do exist and consumers should be aware of how to avoid them. The first piece of knowledge essential to the avoidance of sucker bets is understanding how markets that are “on the up and up” work.
Not all bets are sucker bets
All bets at legal sportsbooks in Michigan have what’s called a “vig“ built into them. This is the house’s interest in the market. If you think of wagering on sporting events as a form of entertainment, then this is the “price” the sportsbook charges for providing that amusement.
Just like any other business, sportsbooks have expenses. This includes the cost of creating odds and maintaining websites, marketing, licenses, and taxes. Again, just like any other business, they would like to turn a profit as well.
That’s why books invest in handicapping sporting events and set the odds so that they are likely to win most of the bets they offer. They are in constant competition with not only other sportsbooks for your wagering dollars but you as the bettor as well, trying to see who is best at predicting the outcomes of sporting events.
With that knowledge, bettors should approach each and every market as if the odds are stacked against you because, in reality, they are. That doesn’t mean all wagers are sucker bets, however.
As a matter of fact, the greatest expense for sportsbooks by far is bettors’ payouts. Sportsbooks tend to pay out between 90% and 95% of the dollars they accept in wagers each year. If all the markets were grossly skewed in their favor, the win for sportsbooks would be a much higher percentage than between 5% and 10%.
Some vig is the “cost of admission” but too much creates a sucker bet. How do you know what the acceptable levels are and how do you go about figuring out that threshold with each bet you’re considering? In order to ascertain that, it’s necessary to know how to figure win probability.
How to figure win probability and ID sucker bets
If you have a sportsbooks’ odds of a potential outcome of an event, you can figure out how likely the sportsbook thinks that outcome is. Using that information, you can gauge whether the book is trying to sucker you.
For example, let’s say you’re considering a moneyline bet on a Detroit Lions game. Detroit is the favorite at -136 and you are pretty confident they will win.
To figure out the win probability, you would first drop the minus sign. You would then add 100 to the line, which gives you 236. Then, divide the line by that number, which is 136/236=0.576. Then, multiply the quotient by 100 and that’s your percentage. Because Detroit is the favorite, the sportsbook believes there is a 57.6% chance Detroit wins this game.
Suppose you were considering another game in which the Lions were the underdog. Let’s say the line on Detroit winning the game is +122. Because these odds are positive, the steps are a little different.
First, you add 100 to the line, which is 122+100=222. Then take that sum and divide 100 by it, which is 100/222=0.45. Finally, multiply that quotient by 100. Again, that’s your percentage. The sportsbook thinks Detroit’s likelihood of winning this particular game is 45%.
So now that you know how to figure win percentages, you can use this information to gauge whether a sportsbook has built too much vig into its lines. Most often, sucker bets use inordinately long odds as bait.
How to sniff out sucker bets
In this context, the expected value is the amount of money you can expect to make in profit from a wager. For the sake of illustration, suppose you find a sportsbook offering +200 odds on the under on a moneyline for a Detroit Pistons game.
Using the win probability formula, you figure that this is a toss-up in the sportsbook’s opinion. The sportsbook believes the Pistons are just as likely to lose this game as they are to win it.
With that information, you might find it a bit odd that the book is willing to potentially pay out $300 on your $100 wager if they believe the game is a push. This is when you need to do your homework on the game in question.
If your own handicapping models agree that this game is a push, there’s no logic to the long odds the sportsbook is offering. They’d essentially be giving money away. It’s entirely possible the market is a sucker bet.
Sucker bets can work the other way too, however. This often takes the form of markets that ask you to stake a big wager for a comparatively small payout.
For example, say you find a college football wager that has the Michigan Wolverines as a -5,000 favorite on a men’s basketball game in a moneyline. Using the win probability formula, you ascertain the book is essentially saying the chance of Michigan being upset is less than 1%.
Once again, it’s time to compare to your own handicapping models. If you agree that there is essentially no chance that the Wolverines blow this one, the expected return on your investment is very little. You would have to wager $5,000 to make $100 in profit.
Are parlay wagers sucker bets?
Moneylines aren’t the only markets that might feature sucker bet odds, however. Any type of wager could have odds disproportionate to the expected value. Parlays are one such possibility.
The measuring stick for whether or not a parlay bet is a sucker is again your expected value. If your winnings would be greater betting on each leg individually, then it’s a strong possibility a parlay is a sucker.
One simple strategy for avoiding sucker parlays is to construct the parlays yourself. The sportsbook will give you a quote of the odds on your proposed wager. It’s then up to you whether to accept that price.
For example, let’s say you’re looking at the goal totals on four NHL games. Suppose the odds on each individual total are all -110 the way you want to bet them.
If you staked each bet individually at $110 and won, your total payout would be $840. Of that, $400 would be profit. Parlaying the four lines together only makes sense if your potential profit is greater than $400.
Suppose the sportsbook quotes you odds of +350 on your parlay proposal. This could be a sucker parlay because you are greatly enhancing your risk for less profit.
To win the bet, you have to win all four legs. If even one of the totals comes up short or goes over, you lose. For your enhanced risk, you should expect a much larger payout.
Sometimes oddsmakers will offer parlay wagers with lines you can “please.” These can often become sucker bets depending on the circumstances.
How to avoid sucker teaser bets
A common market type for teaser wagers is point spreads. Let’s say you are considering two baseball run spread markets. This is the margin of victory for the winning team in a game.
Suppose you’re looking at the run spreads for two Detroit Tigers games. The lines you want for both are set at +1.5 runs with odds of +170. Further, assume the MLB betting site is offering a teaser that moves both lines up to +3.5 for a +400 payout.
There are two considerations for bettors here. First, would your payout be better if you placed both bets individually? Then, is the payout from the teased lines worth the extra risk?
In this case, your normal profit if you staked both spreads at $100 individually on the +2.5 run-line and won would be $340. A standard parlay should offer you a far greater profit than $340.
This teaser bet should offer an even greater payout than a standard parlay, however. It asks you to defy your handicapping, which is a tremendous increase to your risk.
If you feel the Tigers are unlikely to win both games by at least four runs, then teasing the lines up to +3.5 for a potential profit of $400 isn’t worth the additional risk. You should expect an exponentially larger return for going against your predictions.
Shopping around is another key way to avoid sucker bets. If you find odds that are drastically different from all the others at one sportsbook, it’s fair to question why. Other than that, relying on your own handicapping models and doing some simple math to compare the odds a sportsbook posts will protect you from becoming a sucker.