Does betting parlays in MMA make sense?

I was prompted to write the blog after I saw two good level handicappers saying that betting parlays was a bad idea and that ultimately you end up losing money when compared to just betting the sections of the parlay individually. That seemed counter to my own experience, so I wanted to analyse it properly.

From anecdotal evidence of my personal betting, I’ve found parlays to be really successful. However, it’s possible that I was remembering all the wins and discarding losses from my memory banks. I’ve got a whole database of bets to look through though, on Bet MMA, so those stats won’t lie… let’s have a look.

I ran a script that imagined every parlay bet was for 1 unit. I then split those parlays into bits and also calculated what the total winnings / losses would have been if, instead of betting 1 unit on the whole parlay, we bet 1 unit on each of the individual sections.

Now, first of all, it certainly doesn’t look to me like you net lose by betting on parlays. For everyone in the database, here are the stats.

Number of Parlays: 1263
Won: 540 (43%), Lost: 723 (57%)
Winnings: 208 (ROI: 17%)
Average Odds: 2.32

Number of Parlay Sections: 3047
Won: 2032 (67%), Lost: 1015 (33%)
Winnings: -35 (ROI: -1%)
Average Odds: 1.46

As you can see, my initial gut instinct appears to be correct. Whilst most parlays lose, it’s more profitable to bet parlays than the individual sections of the parlays. Handicappers in our directory were risking 41% of the bank balance they’d risk betting all the individual sections, whilst actually ending up with a profit compared to what would have been a loss.

What’s also very interesting, is that people appear to have bet the wrong amounts on each parlay. Whilst betting 1 unit on every parlay in our database would have returned the above profit, the actual profit was only 16.79 units fromĀ  3,574.8 units bet.

That’s very interesting and something I’ll look into more further down the article. In terms of a few more basic stats:

For the top 10 of the MMA handicapper directory.
Number of Parlays: 218
Won: 115 (53%), Lost: 103 (47%)
Winnings: 67 (ROI: 31%)
Average Odds: 2.20

Number of Parlay Sections: 512
Won: 377 (74%), Lost: 135 (26%)
Winnings: 53 (ROI: 10%)
Average Odds: 1.43

My own public tip stats
Number of Parlays: 28
Won: 15 (54%), Lost: 13 (46%)
Winnings: 48 (ROI: 170%)
Average Odds: 3.79

Number of Parlay Sections: 95
Won: 77 (81%), Lost: 18 (19%)
Winnings: 43 (ROI: 46%)
Average Odds: 1.52

Again, from both of these two sets of stats, you can see that betting parlays is more profitable. Obviously the better handicappers at the top of the leaderboard have a higher percentage of correct overall parlays and individual picks within those parlays. We would still be making money betting the individual sections but we’d be risking a lot more and not getting as good returns.

I’m going to break it down into the profit by the number of legs in the parlay and see if that makes any difference, to see if less legs = more profit or vice versa.

Parlays with 2 legs
Number of Parlays: 892
Won: 427 (48%), Lost: 465 (52%)
Winnings: 31 (ROI: 3%)
Average Odds: 2.08

Number of Parlay Sections: 1780
Won: 1191 (67%), Lost: 589 (33%)
Winnings: -42 (ROI: -2%)
Average Odds: 1.45

Parlays with 3 legs
Number of Parlays: 266
Won: 93 (35%), Lost: 173 (65%)
Winnings: 55 (ROI: 21%)
Average Odds: 2.79

Number of Parlay Sections: 792
Won: 542 (68%), Lost: 250 (32%)
Winnings: 10 (ROI: 1%)
Average Odds: 1.44

Parlays with >3 legs
Number of Parlays: 105
Won: 20 (19%), Lost: 85 (81%)
Winnings: 123 (ROI: 117%)
Average Odds: 4.87

Number of Parlay Sections: 475
Won: 299 (63%), Lost: 176 (37%)
Winnings: -3 (ROI: -1%)
Average Odds: 1.54

Another interesting breakdown is the bet amount, so let’s look at over or under 1 unit bet on a parlay.

1 unit & over parlays
Number of Parlays: 2187
Won: 996 (46%), Lost: 1191 (54%)
Winnings: -31 (ROI: -1%)
Average Odds: 2.15

Number of Parlay Sections: 3714
Won: 2316 (62%), Lost: 1398 (38%)
Winnings: -80 (ROI: -2%)
Average Odds: 1.56

Under 1 unit parlays
Number of Parlays: 306
Won: 77 (25%), Lost: 229 (75%)
Winnings: 227 (ROI: 74%)
Average Odds: 4.41

Number of Parlay Sections: 563
Won: 249 (44%), Lost: 314 (56%)
Winnings: 30 (ROI: 5%)
Average Odds: 2.31

SO now we’ve started to hit some more meaningful numbers. We can see that when it comes to the entire directory, the larger unit bet parlays are indeed losing money although very, very marginally. On the other hand, the bets you’d probably consider a bit of a punt (where people are going big odds at a much lower stake, on more legs), are paying off pretty handsomely.

There is one huge outlier bet amongst this lot, from MMA Bets UK. massive odds mma bet

That is contributing 136 units of the 227. Even without it, you’re still looking at a good profit. However, really we shouldn’t remove it because that’s kind of the point – with big parlays, you only need to hit one every so often to have a massive impact on your profitability.

That bet also goes a little way to highlighting one of the type of bets I personally think are good value; x wins by decision. I hit these up quite regularly with my personal betting and whilst there won’t be many times when you can call 5 of them correctly all on the same event, I think they’re great value.

What I personally like to do is find one bet I think is a bit of a punt but massively over-valued, then add one some “sure thing” bets, which I think have an 85%+ chance of coming off. Below are a couple of my bets along these lines; one which came off and one which didn’t.

MMA betting, Bet MMA

As you can see, I’ve gone for one underdog pick and then a load of favourites. If the dog bit comes off and one of the favourite parts doesn’t, you end up looking like a bit of a plonker. However, for me personally, as you can see from the stats above, parlaying things together is still net paying off with higher returns.

You can also see that I was inadvertently doing what the above breakdown suggests is a good plan; betting more than you might think is a good idea on these big parlays. Had I pussed out and only put 0.5 units, that’s ~20 units I’d have missed out on.

A perfect example of which can be found in my picks from this weekend’s card. I was about 70% sure that Luis Henrique was going to get a stoppage and the odds were 3.5 (aka a 28.57% chance). That’s an enormous difference. I parlayed 2 units in there with a couple of other bits for a probable 8 unit profit (if Namajunas wins) but I’ve regretted only doing 2 units on inside the distance, not just with my tips but with my personal betting. 8U of profit off a 2U bet is nice… but if you’re confident enough that the odds are sooooooooo far off, there’s no harm in doubling that in my opinion. Especially if you have access to in-play betting, recouping a potential 4 unit loss should be no bother at all. If 4 units profit does seem like a bit of a struggle to make up… well I’d suggest following someone else’s picks from the top of our directory!

Obviously you have to hit SOME of your parlays and if you have a run of 10 misses in a row at 2 units, that’s a big problem… So, well… don’t miss that many in a row! Research a LOT, be generally cautious, but bet the big value relatively big.

In terms of poor research and the example above, I added that Over 0.5 rounds pick as a bit of a throwaway add-on, having watched plenty of Leslie Smith in the past but not having watched any tape at all for this specific matchup. I watched some tape about a week after making this bet and immediately regretted it. DO NOT rely on gut instinct!

What I’d also say is that it’s a bad idea to try and aim for a certain combined odds and bump up your parlay to those odds… e.g. “I reckon I’ll try and do a 10/1 parlay this weekend; let’s see what looks good”. Just take things as they go. Sometimes I don’t think there’s any value at all in a parlay. Sometimes I just bet a really short odds prop and be happy to take a 20% profit. However, if you’ve had an event where you’ve done a lot of research and watched several fights, parlay away, I say.

Finally, as with everything, keep a note of whether you’re actually making a profit doing it. Some people will be good at this and some won’t. There’s no shame in not being that great at parlays because it takes a lot of effort, time and research. If you don’t have that time, stick to the props!

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