The Five Worst Bets You Can Make In A Sportsbook

The Five Worst Bets You Can Make In A Sportsbook

Jack Andrews
Odds Explained
The Process
February 28, 2024


When it comes to sports betting not all bets are created equal. In fact there are some really bad bets you can make in a sportsbook. I’m going to count down the top five worst bets you can make in a sportsbook in that sportsbook app on your phone.

I’ve been a professional bettor for over 20 years. I’ve seen sports betting continue to grow in the U.S., but one thing has remained constant: Sportsbooks want to take your money. They offer a wide variety of betting options but some are worse than others when it comes to your expected value. Let’s expose how bad these bets can be so you can avoid them. 

Now, just to warn you, in some cases we’ll explain the math behind the wager. Don’t let that intimidate you though, it’s all pretty easy to follow. Let’s get our list started with:


5.) Futures Bets

A futures bet is a wager you make for an outcome that will be decided in the future. Who will win the Super Bowl? Or a certain division in Major League Baseball? Who will be the MVP of the NBA season? 

For a lot of new bettors, futures are attractive because they are so easy to understand. If I think Aaron Rodgers is going to lead the New York Jets to the Promised Land, I can get +1800 or 18-to-1 on the Jets to win the Super Bowl at this sportsbook. Straightforward concept. You put your money down and if the Jets do good you look like a genius for getting on that bet so early. Of course if the Jets are still the Jets that  bet becomes a bad memory.

The sportsbook has to put up lines on every team and be prepared to take wagers on any of them. As a result, the sportsbook has to pad the lines so that there is plenty of cushion to absorb unexpected results. In a market like this, there’s upwards of a 20% house edge padded in there. 

If you’re not familiar with house edge, that’s the theoretical percentage that the sportsbook keeps on each bet. 

Finding the House Edge

How can you spot that there is a high house edge in a futures market? I’ll show you.

The odds are just a way of expressing the implied probability that a team will win. If there was no house edge, the sum of these probabilities would be 100%, since there is a 100% chance that the winner of the Super Bowl is one of these teams. However, they add up to 121.5%. That extra cushion allows the sportsbook to theoretically profit about $17.70 of every $100 bet into this market. 

When you add in that the sportsbook gets to hold your money from now until the Super Bowl, it makes futures bets often a bad bet in the sportsbook.


4.) One-Way Bets

In gambling there is a commonly used phrase “getting the best of it.” It means that, win or lose, you’re on the right side of a wager. You’re getting the best of it in that situation. Well, just about anytime a sportsbook only allows you to bet one side of a wager, you can probably be sure you’re not getting the best of it.

When a sportsbook offers wagers which should be part of a two-way market, meaning you can bet on either outcome, but they only offer one side of it for you to bet on, that’s a one-way market. There is no incentive for them to offer a competitive line. They can and often do price these markets with more of a house edge than in a similar two-way market.

The exception here can be when there are boosted odds that they are making available on the wager as a promotion. However, even then, that doesn’t ensure that the wager has a positive expectation. Be very wary of any time a sportsbook won’t let you take the other side of a bet. No math to do on this one, when you see a one-way bet, you’ll probably want to say no way.


3.) Parlays

Now before some of you accuse me of trying to take the fun out of sports betting, I get why people play parlays. It allows them to risk a little to win potentially a lot. Who doesn’t love that? The lottery has used  that allure for centuries. However, when it comes to sports betting and most sports bettors, a parlay is only compounding the house edge against you.

When you compound that house edge, you are only accelerating the demise of whatever money you’ve set aside for your sports betting. Let’s walk through a quick example. Let’s say you bet three NFL games on a Sunday against the spread. All three games are coin-flips with a 50% chance of going your way.

If you flip a coin once, you have a 50/50 chance of landing on the side you choose. Flip a coin twice, and the odds you can call two correct flips in a row are cut in half. 50% * 50% = 25%. Flip a coin a third time, the odds halve again. 50% * 50% * 50% = 12.5%. You have a 12.5% chance, or one in 8eight, of calling three coin flips correctly. The fair price expressed in odds would be +700.

However, at a sportsbook, they’ll pay you only +600 on a three-team parlay that is essentially the same feat. Getting +600 when it should be +700 isn’t a great use of your money. It’s another double-digit house edge, in this case 13%.

However, had you bet each game straight up, you would have faced only a 4.5% house edge across each bet and that is not compounded together. And where in the parlay situation you are only coming out ahead 12.5% of the time, in betting all 3 games separately you actually come out ahead 50% of the time. 

The more legs you add to a parlay, the more you compound that house edge relative to your initial stake. The allure of a parlay can be powerful, but trust me, if you’re not a winning bettor, parlays are gasoline on the fire that is consuming your bankroll.

2.) Same Game Parlay

If you have regulated sports betting in your state, chances are you have already heard of the same game parlay. This is where you’re allowed to parlay things together that you seemingly shouldn’t be able to. You can parlay player prop bets that appear correlated.

For instance, a wager that the  quarterback will pass for over 250 yards, parlayed with a wide receiver gaining more than 80 yards receiving, parlayed with that same wide receiver scoring at least one touchdown. Any of those things occurring  make it more likely that the others will occur. Seems too good to be true, right?

Well, it is. This is another example of sportsbooks padding in a lot of house edge to make up for uncertainty. Knowing the correlation between all the legs of a same game parlay is hard. The average sports bettor won’t be able to figure it out. However, the sportsbook can approximate it. Then on top of that they pad in an extra 10-20% just to be safe. So in our prior example of the QB and WR both going over their projected totals and the WR scoring at least one TD, the true odds might be something like +400 or 4-to-1, however, the sportsbook might only offer +300 or 3-to-1.

In that scenario, that’s a 20% house edge on that bet. You’re not getting back anything close to your true odds. In fact, Same Game Parlays probably pack some of the highest house edges of any bet type in the sportsbook. No wonder you’re always seeing them advertised in commercials and ads.

Now it might surprise you what the worst bet you can make when sports betting is. Because it’s a bet that a lot of you think you’re getting the best of it on. 


1.) Risk-Free Bet

Yep, a risk-free bet can sometimes actually be a bad bet. Specifically if you play a risk-free bet the wrong way. Again, for anyone in a state that has regulated sports betting you’re familiar with the concept. Sign up at our sportsbook and if you lose your first bet, we’ll refund your loss in the form of a free bet up to $1,000.

Many bettors play this poorly and they leave a lot of money on the table! The first mistake they make is in trying to make sure their first bet is a sure winner. Maybe they’ll wager on a heavy favorite at -400. When you factor in the house edge, the odds of that wager winning might be about 77%. When the bet wins, they win just a quarter of what they wagered. If it was a $1,000 bet, they win $250, 77% of the time. 

Multiply those two numbers together and that’s a $192 expected value. Not bad, but had they wagered on the underdog on that game, let’s assume at odds similar to +320, then they would win $3,200, 23% of the time. Multiply those numbers together and it’s a $736 expected value. $736 is a heck of a lot more than $192.


Don’t Fall Into the Trap

But where a lot of bettors make an even bigger mistake is when they play that free bet that they are awarded if their initial bet loses. The average bettor might think if I lose this bet, I’m down $1,000 and I don’t want that. So they place a wager on an even bigger favorite to make sure the bet wins.

However, with a free bet, you don’t get your stake back. So if you bet a team at -1000, in other words laying 10 to win 1, you stand to only have $100 if your bet wins. The initial $1000 you wagered is gone, you only get the winnings. I’ve seen too many new bettors make this mistake. They come away from a promotion that seemed can’t lose with having lost some real money. 

The risk-free bet isn’t a bad bet by nature, it’s just a bet that’s very easy to turn into a bad bet. Any time you have a free bet, use it on longer odds. In fact, in both those bets, the original and the refunded free bet, you really need to take a shot with longer odds on a bigger underdog. As always don’t bet an uncomfortable amount that you can’t afford to lose.

Sportsbook don’t make it easy for you. So when they do offer you something for free you want to optimize it as best you can.

Copyright 2024 © Unabated Sports, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This site is strictly for educational and informational purposes only and does not involve any real-money betting. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call 1-800-GAMBLER. This service is intended for adults aged 18 and over only.