What is a Sucker Bet?

Common sucker bets and how to avoid them at Illinois sportsbooks

Now that legal sports betting is live here in Illinois, you have a chance to place wagers for fun and, potentially, for profit. Yep, there are ways to legitimately and legally profit from wagering on sports.

However, not all chances are created equal. Quite frankly, some wagers out there add up to a bad deal for bettors.

So, how can you tell which bets fall into that camp? We’re going to walk through what you need to watch out for here. There are wagers, known as sucker bets, that can drain the bankroll over the long term.

Speculation is part of the fun with sports betting, but if you spend too much time shooting for the moon, you’ll be hitting the deposit button much more often than you’ll be claiming winnings.

What’s a sucker bet?

First things first, it’s important to understand this distinction: A sucker bet is not only a wager that ends up as a loss. Losses are part of sports betting. It’ll happen to the best of us, and those who claim to “never lose” aren’t being truthful.

A sucker bet is one that doesn’t make sense once you realistically assess the possibilities. It could be a wager in which you would have to capture lightning in a bottle to have a prayer of cashing in, or one in which the potential return isn’t worth it compared to the risk.

For a quick test on what constitutes a sucker bet, consider what the sportsbook would be willing to pay if the wager broke your way. For example, if you have a chance to turn a nominal amount into thousands of dollars, the chances of it happening are likely minuscule.

Return vs. reality

To demonstrate, let’s consider a multi-leg parlay in which you have to be correct on each choice to win. Let’s assume that you have a 50/50 chance of being right on each selection. Here’s what the true odds for the wager are in relation to how the bet is paid out:

Parlay SizeOdds at 50% CorrectSportsbook Odds Payout
2 legs3 to 12.6 to 1
3 legs7 to 16 to 1
4 legs15 to 1 12 to 1
5 legs31 to 124 to 1
6 legs63 to 1 48 to 1
7 legs127 to 192 to 1
8 legs255 to 1176 to 1
9 legs511 to 1337 to 1
10 legs1,023 to 1645 to 1
11 legs2,047 to 11,233 to 1

As you can see, the odds of being correct on each selection to diminish with each leg added to the betting ticket. Not only that, but the sportsbook payout is less than the fair value of a 50/50 shot.

There’s nothing wrong with placing a parlay bet at a small dollar amount for a chance to win big money. That said, continually dumping lots of money on something that’s not likely to happen is a recipe for disaster.

How to calculate implied probability

We can learn a lot by studying sports betting odds. One glance at the board tells us which side is the favorite or underdog, but there’s much more to glean. We can also figure out the potential return on winning bets and what the sportsbook views as the likelihood of an outcome.

Let’s begin with the latter, which is often referred to as implied probability. For example, we’ll walk through a simple college football moneyline bet in which one side is a huge favorite:

Boston College +450
Notre Dame -500

As the oddsmakers see it, the Fighting Irish are big favorites over BC. So, what does that mean in terms of the likelihood of one side winning over the other? There’s some math involved to figure it out, but these two formulas make it easy to do so:

  • If the odds are positive: 100/(odds + 100) * 100 = implied probability
  • If the odds are negative (drop the minus sign from the odds number): Odds/(odds + 100) * 100 = implied probability

What’s the implied probability of Boston College or Notre Dame winning this game? If we work through the formulas, here’s what we come up with:

  • Boston College: 100/(450+100)*100 = 18.1%
  • Notre Dame: 500/(500+100)*100 = 83.3%

The odds already told us that Notre Dame is the more likely winner here, but the implied probability helps to make it even more apparent. While BC could certainly pull off the upset, chances aren’t great. Keep that in mind when scouting out potential underdogs.

Figure out returns from sports betting odds

Calculating potential returns from the odds board also takes some getting used to, but there are formulas. Once again, they’re different depending on the direction of the odds:

  • If the odds are positive: Amount of wager * (odds/100) = Potential profit
  • If the odds are negative (again dropping the minus sign): Amount of wager / (odds/100) = Potential profit

Let’s once again use a moneyline bet on an NFL game to determine how they work: For this fictitious NFL matchup, the odds range is much tighter:

New York Giants +110
Chicago Bears -130

Let’s say that we decided we wanted to place a $100 wager on the Bears game. Here’s what the potential return would look like on both sides:

  • Giants: $100 * (110/100) = $110
  • Bears: $100 / (130/100) = $76.92

Betting decisions should never be made solely based on the potential return. However, understanding the overall risk-to-reward ratio can help to place your wagering decisions in the proper perspective.

Importance of line shopping

While sports betting odds and lines may be in the same range at the top Illinois betting apps, that doesn’t mean that all the numbers will always be the same. Pricing inefficiencies and market action are only two factors that can impact the odds available to the public.

It’s OK to have a favorite sportsbook or two, but it’s important to get in the habit of shopping around to find the best odds. It’s worth taking the time to scout for potential ticks of difference in today’s competitive market.

DraftKings in Illinois may offer one price on a big favorite, while FanDuel may offer a line that’s more favorable, for example. It may not seem like a huge difference at first glance, but it can certainly add up over the long term.

Potential sucker bets

A sucker bet isn’t going to be listed with flashing lights at your sportsbooks of choice. Additionally, what makes sense for you and your strategy may not work as well for others. That being the case, how can we determine which bets fall into the category of sucker bets? Here are some of the key areas where you’ll want to exercise caution.

Parlays, pleasers and teasers

We can group these three bet types as they all include multiple outcomes on a single betting slip. As we demonstrated when we touched on parlays earlier, the more choices you make, the chances drop of being right on all of them.

For pleaser and teaser bets, bettors can adjust the spread one way or another on two or more outcomes. While that places some more control in the hands of the bettor, it still requires multiple outcomes breaking in your direction to have a winning ticket.

Multi-leg wagers can be an exciting way to enjoy a slate of games. If you do something small, like two or three teams, you even have a relatively reasonable chance of hitting it. Despite that, be careful that you don’t get suckered in with large money wagers in a quest for glory.

Huge moneyline favorites

A big favorite on the moneyline leads many to believe that a wager on that side will amount to a sure thing. While it’s true that the underdog has a tall task ahead to pull off an upset, it can happen. Once two sides step on a field, there’s no guarantee of what the result will be.

You may win more than you lose if you wager on huge moneyline favorites, but the returns aren’t going to be anything to write home about. If you bet $100 on a moneyline favorite at odds of -450, you stand to get back $22.22.

While not terrible, what happens when the unthinkable happens and the big underdog goes on to win? That’s right; you’re down $100 on what you thought was a sure bet. If the risk-to-reward ratio doesn’t make sense over the long term, it can be a sucker bet.

Unrealistic props, futures and live bets

If you scroll through these categories of bets, you’ll find outcomes that could deliver some eye-popping returns. Generally found in wagers with lots of choices to consider, there’s a valid reason why the odds are so astronomical.

That’s because the chances of one thing happening are remote. To visualize wagers that fall into this category, think of the Super Bowl odds for the worst team in the league or a prop on a player who sees barely any time scoring two goals in an NHL game. Dare to dream if you choose, but don’t get sucked in for lots of coin.

Spreads that don’t make sense

We have to begin here with a big caveat: Handicapping point spreads is tricky. Oddsmakers at legal and regulated sportsbooks are good at what they do, so consistently figuring out the right side to bet on is challenging.

So, where does the sucker part come into play? In two areas. First, there’s the spread that doesn’t seem to make any sense at first glance, such as an inferior NFL team being favored by a field goal. If the line doesn’t move all week, the book is trying to tell you something.

It’s a good idea to pay attention and dig deeper instead of automatically assuming that you’re right. Second, we find it in the dreaded one-point spread. If you can’t find the contest at 1.5 points and you want to bet, look to the moneyline for potentially greater value.

Sports you don’t know anything about

It’s perfectly fine to branch out and learn new sports to bet on, but don’t jump into the deep end of the pool right away. Sure, you might have some beginner’s luck, but it’s not going to last.

If you’re going all-in on a sport that you don’t know a thing about, it’s time to take a step back and assess the situation. In harsh terms, this would be akin to setting money on fire. Since most rational folks wouldn’t think of doing that, it’s probably a good time to reassess.

When beginning to wager on any new sport, start small and know that there will be some lumps to take. If you decide the sport is for you and start finding some success, you can always increase stakes later. Suckers will drain their accounts before realizing that.

Are there times when a sucker bet makes sense?

For all the examples we have walked through, there’s a time and a place in which you can justify using them. As an example, a parlay ticket can make an NFL Sunday more fun, while a teaser or pleaser could be a source of entertainment on a busy NBA betting night.

Big moneyline favorites could make sense here and there on a college football Saturday while taking a small shot at a prop bet on a favorite player or a future on your hometown team isn’t the worst thing in the world.

The important thing to remember is that you can quickly drain funds by placing too many bets with long odds. If you want to allocate a small slice of your bankroll — say, 2% — to be used solely for speculative wagers. Make sure your overall returns cover the outlay for these bets.

What are the best bets to focus on?

If you decide to go that route with a small slice of funds for entertainment purposes and the potential of a big score, then make sure that the rest of your strategy is on point. Single-game wagers afford you the chance to build out some consistency.

As such, they form the backbone of many sound handicapping strategies. If spreads are your thing, focus there, but moneylines that provide value can be useful as well. For those who have a knack for totals bets, they can also be a solid spot to focus.

If you can create consistency here and have built up a bankroll to play with, then there’s nothing wrong with the occasional guilty pleasure of a sucker bet with a small wager. Once again, make sure you have the funds to support it and that you don’t get sucked into going overboard.

What to remember about sucker bets

When it comes to sports betting, there are wagers in which the edge is clearly on the side of the house. Bets that fall into this category can be sucker bets. If you go to the well with these wagers too often, it’s just a matter of time before your bankroll comes up dry.

To spot a sucker bet, look toward those that pay out astronomical returns for nominal sums. Then take a step back and think this through. The book is willing to pay a bounty here because it knows the likelihood of the outcome happening is incredibly small.

Multi-outcome wagers are among those to watch. They can be a source of fun and entertainment, and you may even get lucky here and there. However, they can’t be relied on as a bet type that will be cashed frequently enough to justify the cost of placing them.

Playing the speculation game can be all right if you keep your expectations in check and use nominal amounts. Still, those who get sucked into wagering in big-league fashion on these wagers will be clicking the deposit button much more often than they should.

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