Sportsbooks Made Bank On Parlay Bets In March: What You Should Know About The Enticing Wager

Written By Joe Boozell on May 19, 2021
parlay betting in illinois

Illinois sportsbooks profited nearly $50 million in March, an all-time monthly high. A big reason for their success? Parlay betting.

Sportsbook operators cleaned up on parlays in March, as they do most months. Illinoisans wagered $122 million on parlays then, and operators profited $21.2 million on those bets.

That was good for a hold percentage of 17.3%, which is extremely high. In total, Illinois sportsbooks held 7.9% of handle for the month, including parlays.

Excluding parlays, the books held just 5.6% of the total handle. That’s pretty standard for individual bets.

The main reason why Illinois also set an all-time handle record ($633.6 million) in March was due to March Madness betting. Illinoisans wagered $365.7 million on basketball that month, about triple what they bet on parlays.

And yet, sportsbooks made significantly more on parlays than they did on standard basketball bets (this includes the NBA as well).

Operators profited $16.2 million on standard basketball bets, about $5 million less than parlays generated on three times the handle.

You might be wondering, was March simply an outlier?

The answer is no, as it was consistent with Illinois trends. In February, basketball was the most popular sport to bet on by handle, but parlays generated the most revenue for sportsbooks. The same was true in January.

What you should know about parlay betting

Parlays, clearly, are an extremely popular way to bet.

And it’s easy to see why — the chance to win big with minimal monetary risk. If you follow enough sports betting accounts on social media, chances are that you’ll see examples of massive parlays hitting every day.

While that is obviously the best-case scenario for the consumer, just know that it is not the norm.

More times than not, parlays lose, as shown by the numbers above. Parlays are consistently the most reliable revenue driver for Illinois sportsbooks, which means they are the most reliable way to lose money if you’re a sports bettor.

As long as you’re not betting more than you can afford to lose, there’s nothing inherently wrong with placing a parlay bet. It’s just good to be aware that, generally speaking, these bets are more advantageous for the operator than they are for the user.

Did parlays contribute to Barstool’s strong March in Illinois?

Barstool personalities are frequently pushing parlay bets to their social media followers. You’ll frequently see “boosts” like these if you’re betting in Illinois:

Barstool launched in Illinois on March 11. And despite finishing second-to-last among all Illinois sportsbooks in handle, it finished fourth in revenue. Barstool registered a 12.8% hold, easily the highest clip among all books.

We don’t have the data to tell us whether Barstool customers bet more on parlays than they do at other books; the logic is purely anecdotal. However, the anecdotal evidence is also strong if you follow their personalities on social media.

Penn National Gaming also hinted at certain reasons for high Barstool hold percentages in its Q1 earnings call, citing:

  • High adoption among casual bettors.
  • Custom parlays, e.g., the “Dave Day Night Parlay.”
  • Exclusive and “boosted” bets.
  • Overindexing in younger bettors.

As always, bet responsibly.

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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, and Growing up, Boozell squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene ... you can imagine how that went.

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